January 31, 2005

Sandra Wiebe wins research honor

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Sandra A. Wiebe, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has won the International Neuropsychological Society's Nelson Butters Award, given each year to recognize high-quality post-doctoral research. She will receive $500 and will talk about her work, which focuses on understanding how children develop the thinking skills that help them solve problems and reach their goals, at the group's annual conference Feb. 2-5 in St. Louis.

"The award is very competitive - I think there were nearly 40 post-docs vying for it," said Kimberly A. Espy, an SIUC neuropsychologist who heads the research lab in which Wiebe works.

"It is a real testament to Sandra's skills, as the award most often goes to those who study how the brain works in mature adults with brain disorders."

In the SIUC lab, Wiebe and her colleagues tested 242 preschoolers, using problem-solving games and tasks.

"We found that general problem-solving was strongly related to their impulsivity and self-control (in a game where they had to wait for several minutes to open or even touch a wrapped gift), but unrelated to their ability to switch between rules (in a game where they first had to learn that a treat was always hidden in one location, then figure out when the rule changed)," she said.

"These findings suggest that in the preschool years, children's impulsivity may be a factor in the development of executive function (goal-directed behavior) and problem-solving skills."

Wiebe earned her bachelor's in 1998 at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and her doctorate in 2003 at the University of Minnesota. She is the daughter of Altona, Manitoba, residents Bill and Anne Wiebe