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Last modified: Friday, March 31, 2006

Joseph E. Steinmetz

Distinguished Professor

Joseph Steinmetz image

Joseph Steinmetz

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Eleanor Cox Riggs Professor of Psychology
Executive Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
College of Arts and Sciences
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1987
B.S., Central Michigan University, 1977
M.A., Central Michigan University, 1979
Ph.D., The Ohio University, 1983

Joseph Steinmetz has been a "star among stars" at Indiana University Bloomington since he joined the faculty in 1987.

Within eight years of his appointment to IU's Psychology Department (recently renamed the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences), Steinmetz was named chair of the department and promoted to the rank of full professor. In 2005, he was named executive associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

"The psychology department at IU enjoys the luxury of being loaded with outstanding teachers, scholars, scientists, leaders, and administrators," says Richard McFall, professor emeritus of IU's psychology department. "Joe Steinmetz has emerged as a star among these stars, excelling on every dimension, succeeding at virtually everything he has tackled, and leaving an enduring, positive imprint on the department, university, and discipline in the process."

Steinmetz's research interest is Pavlovian conditioning (the classic example is the pairing of a bell with food to eventually elicit a salivation response in dogs even when no food is offered). His analysis of the conditioned response eye-blink reflex in rabbits has provided important insights into the plasticity of neurons, the processes that contribute to changes in neurons, and the consequences for the system as a whole when some component process is not functioning.

His work has led to in-depth studies of neuronal changes in intact behaving animals, the relevance of the cerebellum in behavior, and the role of genetics in memory processes. Steinmetz's studies — which have received ample funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — have provided a better understanding of fetal alcohol syndrome, dementia and memory disorders, and autism. His collaborations with other clinical scientists have altered the way psychologists think about autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and schizophrenia, and led to the development of pharmacological and behavioral interventions to help those with mental or developmental disabilities.

"In my 30 years at IU, I have encountered no one on the faculty who has been as successful as Joe in carrying out high-quality research. He operates a state-of-the-art neuroscience laboratory that is likely to be at the cutting edge of the field for years to come," says George V. Rebec, Chancellor's Professor of Psychology at IU.

Steinmetz is editor in chief of Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews and acts as a regular member reviewer for the NIH Study Section devoted exclusively to research on behavioral processes. He has received numerous awards, including the Indiana University Summer Faculty Research Award (1988), the Indiana University Outstanding Young Faculty Award (1990), Troland Research Award (1996), and the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Faculty Award (2000). He received an Indiana University Summer Faculty Research Fellowship (1988) and was elected fellow of the American Psychological Association (2002).

Recently, Steinmetz has begun experiments intended to reveal the neurochemical and molecular mechanisms that contribute to strengthened neuronal connections. This work will likely lead to a better understanding of dementia and how to slow its process.

In December, Steinmetz was named dean of Kansas University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a position he will start officially July 1. Though he will leave IU this summer, his accomplishments and legacy will live on.

"What is not obvious about all of this is the fact that Joe is also just an ordinary guy — a rock and roll pianist and a plain speaker, the sort of man who every once in a while drops the word 'youse' into a scientific seminar," says his former student Donald Katz, now an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brandeis University. "On top of all the professional skills, Joe is just a great person."