Reading Dr. Mark Yates
Dr. Mark Yates, Associate Professor of Psychology, specializes in psycholinguistics, a field that studies how humans understand and produce language. According to Yates, “I’m interested in a seemingly very simple question, ‘How do people read?’ Although the question seems simple and reading is something many of us do automatically, there is a great deal we still don’t understand about the reading process. My own research usually concentrates on the first step in the reading process: visual word recognition.”
Yates came to USA in 2004 as an assistant professor fresh from his Ph.D. at the University of Kansas. He teaches PSY 120, Introduction to Psychology, PSY 416, Cognition, and PSY 501 and PSY 502, the graduate Research Design and Stats courses. He likes the Intro class because most of the students are not Psychology majors. Not surprisingly, some of these non-majors decide to major in Psychology. “It’s an extremely rewarding experience,” Yates says, “to have a student let you know that they enjoyed the course so much they decided to change what they want to major in.”
The Cognition course is quite challenging and aligns with his research. According to Yates, “It’s unlike any other psychology class they have taken, and some of the theories can be quite abstract. I enjoy coming up with new ways to explain these concepts.”
Yates likes the graduate courses for the same reason he is excited about teaching Cognition: “Students come into the stats classes with a sense of trepidation. I like the challenge of taking difficult concepts and explaining them to a group of students so that they understand them.”
An undergraduate business major at LSU, Yates soon realized he wanted a different career path. He says taking an Introduction to Psychology course oriented his direction: “Listening to the professor explain how we could answer questions about who we are, using the scientific approach, was inspiring. I changed my major to psychology as a result of that class.”
While at LSU, he says he also “realized [he] wanted to do language research.” He had always had an interest in reading, so language research was a natural fit for him at the University of Kansas. There, he says he became “very interested in how the sound of a word influences our ability to read it,” adding that he “was studying things like whether pseudo homophones (nonwords that sound like words, e.g., brane) were able to access the meaning of their base word (e.g., brain).” His research led him also to focus on “phonological neighbors,” words which “differ by a phoneme.” Yates offers the following examples: “bait has hate, bet, and bake as phonological neighbors.” His dissertation focused on this research and the topic remains a key part of his ongoing lab investigations.
The focus of Yates’ scientific inquiries is basic rather than applied, but, Yates says, “the research we do obviously has applications to real world problems. The most striking example comes in the research I have been doing for the last couple of years where I have been looking at how individual differences in skilled readers influences word recognition and reading.”
A first generation college student, Yates grew up on a farm in Louisiana and says his parents would have been “happy for me or my siblings to stay and take over the farm,” but his parents also placed a high value on education and made sure that their children went to good schools to gain the preparation necessary for university success. He and his siblings all have earned graduate degrees.
Yate’s research on reading carries over to his personal life: he loves to read fiction. He also enjoys watching baseball and listening to music. His favorite meals are southern home-style cooking, but he has also recently discovered how much he likes Indian food. He and his wife have two children, 10 years and 5 years old.