UC Merced taps professor for McClatchy Chair

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJuly 6, 2012 

— Teenie Matlock, a UC Merced founding faculty member and professor of cognitive science, has been appointed to fill the McClatchy Chair in Communications at the university.

McClatchy is the country's third largest newspaper corporation and is the parent company of the Sun-Star. A few years back, the company donated $500,000 to UC Merced for the creation of the endowed chair.

"I'm very honored to be acknowledged in this way," Matlock said. "It means a lot to me and my family since I grew up in Mariposa and McClatchy news sources were important. We would rely on newspapers from the Valley to keep us informed of what was happening in the Valley, the state and the world."

Matlock left Stanford University to join UC Merced in 2004. This is not the first endowed chair at the university, according to Scott Hernandez-Jason, UC Merced spokesman.

The endowment is to acknowledge an outstanding researcher in a media-related field and to support research on communications, according to a news release.

Robert Weil, vice president for operations for McClatchy and Peter Tira, communications director for McClatchy, didn't return interview requests.

Matlock's research looks at a various communications issues. Some of it examines language, news and understanding, especially word meaning, she said.

Among her research projects, she studies how the written word affects people.

For example, last year she published a study about how the grammar in a political message can influence how people will think about how a person is electable, she said. "The way a political message is written, even at the level of grammar, can dramatically influence people's options about whether or not a politician is electable," she said.

One study, which she plans to publish later this year, looks at how people describe a car accident. What the study shows is that the way you ask the questions dramatically influences how people describe what they saw, she said. "Grammar plays an important role in shaping how we think and talk about events that we perceive important events in the world," she said.

A number of doctoral and undergraduate students work with Matlock at the university's Interactive Cognition Lab. The endowment will help continue to advance her research. "This will open the door to even more opportunities to study communications in a real-world context," she said.

In the next few years, she may explore the area of doctor-patient communication, she said.

When Matlock first came to UC Merced, she wanted to create a world-class cognitive science department, which is an emerging interdisciplinary field that combines linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology and computer science to study the mind, brain, behavior and communication, she said. "It was a right move, because now we have one of the best departments," she said.

Overall, she said, she excited to have received the distinguished recognition. She was the first one in her family to go to college.

Matlock said she hopes her story will influence other local youth to go to college, and that they'll realize the difference it can make.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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