Deborah A. Gagnon, PhD

Professor of Psychology
Member, Health Sciences Faculty
Chair, Division of Social Sciences
Coordinator, Cognitive & Brain Science
Coordinator, Science, Health, & Values
Wells College
Aurora, NY 13026, USA


Dr. Gagnon completed her PhD in cognitive psychology at the University of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY) in 1993. She was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow with the Neuropsychology Research Group at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, Albert Einstein Medical Center (Philadelphia, PA) from 1993-1996. Dr. Gagnon has taught undergraduate and graduate students for close to 30 years at a number of institutions, including the University at Buffalo, Temple University (Philadelphia, PA), Widener University (Chester, PA), and Elmira College (Elmira, NY). Since 2004, Dr. Gagnon has taught at Wells College(Aurora, NY), where she is Professor of Psychology. At Wells, she also teaches in the Health Sciences program and is a member of the Pre-Health Advising Group, coordinates the Cognitive & Brain Science and Science, Health, & Values programs, and currently serves as Chair of the Social Sciences Division.

Research Interest

Dr. Gagnon’s research interests in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuropsychology primarily lie in the area of psycholinguistics. Specifically, her research has focused on understanding the categorical perception of speech, characterizing the phonological code underlying spoken word recognition, and the pattern and nature of word production errors in aphasic and non-aphasic individuals. In all cases, the end goal of her research has been to add to our understanding of mental process and representation in order to develop better theories and models of spoken word recognition and production. In turn, these theories and models are useful in informing the development of speech recognition technologies and therapeutic regimens to aid in the rehabilitation of speech and language disorder.

Scientific Activities



• Speech Perception & Spoken Word Recognition: Specifying the mental processes and representations underlying speech perception and spoken word recognition; Understanding the commonalities and differences between perceptual and imaged (memory) representations of speech
• Spoken Word Production: Psycholinguistic analysis and computer modeling of speech errors generated by ‘normal’ and disordered (aphasic) speech systems in order to test a leading theory of spoken word production (Dell, 1986) and apply to connectionist models of speech and language therapy; Specifying the genesis of speech paraphasias and neologisms; Understanding the interactive and contextual influences on speech error generation.
Technology Exposure Effect (TEE): Meta-analysis of research examining the effect that technology use has on behavior and neurobiology; Implications for variety of cognitive functions including memory, attention, and perception, with real-world application to library science and ‘antidotes’ such as ecopsychology

Institutional and Pedagogical:

• Recruitment and Retention; Academic Advising: Characterizing first year/first time college students; studying retention patterns and reasons for withdrawal; helping to develop pre-health advising methods and mechanisms
• History of Psychology: At Wells College, preservation and conservation of historical experimental artifacts, testing materials, and books; creating digital collections of manuscripts and artifact images; studying the pedagogical effectiveness of using artifacts in the teaching of experimental psychology, sensation & perception, and the history of psychology
• Pedagogical Innovations in Psychology: Use of case study approach in science pedagogy; use of creative self-expression (e.g., theater, mask making, etc.) as a pedagogical technique in psychology; Transformation of the psychology curriculum to be more inclusive, diverse, and multicultural in scope; Use of service learning to promote learning, application of skills, and relevancy to real world issues/problems; Design of new and innovative course offerings (e.g., cognition and culture, art and psychology, positive psychology)
• Digital Library: Digitization, storage, metadata, access, rights management, user interface, and preservation/access of special collection objects and databases; development of alternative digital scholarly communication models.


Assistant Research Professor, Department of Psychology, University at Buffalo

• Conducted experimental investigations into the nature of the speech code (see complete description of this research below under Graduate Research Assistant, Speech Research Lab).
• Served as consultant and generated study proposals for NIH R01 continuation grant submission (successfully funded).

Postdoctoral Research Associate; Adjunct Scientist, Neuropsychology Research Laboratory, Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute

• Part of team conducting psycholinguistic studies and analyses of aphasic and normal speech production. Errors collected during a picture-naming task were used to test a connectionist model of speech production (Dell, 1986), to study interactive processes, and to determine genesis of formal and phonemic paraphasias. Also developed a tongue twister paradigm with the aim of evaluating contextual influences on production errors. This research on speech production in impaired populations nicely complemented earlier research interests that had focused on speech perception/recognition in normal populations, a potential vantage point for examining the interaction between perceptual and production systems and the continuity between ordered and disordered systems.

Graduate Research Assistant, Speech Research Laboratory, University at Buffalo

• Conducted research aimed at exploring the nature of acoustic-phonetic coding processes, pre-lexical representation of spoken words, and auditory speech images in normal listeners. Specifically, one line of research examined the claim that speech is uniquely categorically perceived while another aimed to characterize the pre-lexical representation of speech as abstract phonemic, position-specific, or context-specific in nature. In this latter research, a priming approach was developed and applied across a variety of testing paradigms (phoneme monitoring, naming, matching, lexical decision) with the same word and non-word stimulus sets systematically controlled for phonological composition and word frequency.
Conclusion: The pre-lexical speech representation is position-specific in nature. Additional studies examined synthetic vs. natural speech, dynamic vs. static phonemic composition, and verbal vs. visual presentation using this same paradigm.

Fellow; Technical Consultant, Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, United States Air Force, Dayton, OH

• Developed an empirical approach to investigate the nature of information trade offs that occur when visual attention is shifted from one level of stimulus structure (local or global) to another in visual displays.
Stimuli were composed of real-world photographs, carefully composed to control for object size and placement within scene, as well as semantic relationship to global structure. This research had direct implications for graphical user interface design of complex visual displays in which users must redirect attention from external to internal environments in order to extract necessary operating information. In particular, this research was designed to inform the development of U.S. Air Force heads-up virtual cockpit displays.
• As a consultant, provided technical expertise in setting up visual object recognition laboratory for Professor Irv Biederman at the University of Minnesota and consulted on theoretical and analytic issues related to research initiated during Air Force Summer Fellowship.

Graduate Research Assistant, Image Interpretation Laboratory, University at Buffalo

• Assisted in developing studies testing Biederman’s (1982) Recognition by Components theory of visual object recognition, including preparing stimuli, writing experimental software, and configuring control board hardware. Conducted preliminary study to evaluate the effect of symmetry on object recognition. Developed SAS computational simulation of behavioral results from study comparing the effect of partial versus degraded stimulus components on speed of object recognition.


Selected Peer Reviewed Publications:
1. Schwartz, M.F., Wilshire, C., Gagnon, D.A., & Polansky, M. (2016). Origins of nonword phonological errors in aphasic picture naming. In M. Behrmann & K. Patterson (Eds.), Words and things: Cognitive neuropsychological studies in tribute to Eleanor M. Saffran. New York: Routledge.
2. Gagnon, D.A., Moore, G.M., & Shanmuganathan, G.D. (2014). Factors mediating between employee strategy awareness and commitment to organizational success. Journal of Management and Sustainability, 4 (4), 24-31.
3. Gagnon, D.A., & Martin, N. (2002). Diagnosis, prognosis, and remediation of acquired naming disorders from a connectionist perspective. In R. Daniloff (Ed.), Connectionist approaches to clinical problems in speech and language: Therapeutic and scientific applications. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
4. Dell, G.S., Schwartz, M.F., Martin, N., Saffran, E.M., & Gagnon, D.A. (1997). Lexical access in normal and aphasic speakers. Psychological Review, 104, 801-838.
5. Gagnon, D.A., Schwartz, M.F., Martin, N., Dell, G.S., & Saffran, E.M. (1997). The origins of formal paraphasias in aphasics’ picture naming. Brain and Language, 59, 450-472.
6. Martin, N., Gagnon, D.A., Schwartz, M.F., Dell, G.S., & Saffran, E.M. (1996). Phonological facilitation of semantic errors in normal and aphasic speakers. Language and Cognitive Processes, 11, 257-282.
7. Sawusch, J.R., & Gagnon, D.A. (1995). Auditory coding, cues, and coherence in phonetic perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 21, 635-652.
8. Venturino, M., & Gagnon, D.A. (1992). Information tradeoffs in complex stimulus structure: Local and global levels in naturalistic scenes. Perception & Psychophysics, 52, 425-436.