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Upstate's Dr. Usha Satish at the Institute for Human Performance.

Upstate’s Usha Satish’s highly sought after research is getting attention

As a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Dr. Usha Satish’s work studying process and decision-making is unique and highly sought-after. Satish, PhD, says she wears two hats: one as researcher and one as teacher. As a researcher, she studies how outside influences affect productivity and decision-making. As a teacher, she helps health care professionals improve their decision-making skills. When describing what she does, Satish stresses that she studies process, not content.

And while her work often stands alone in its scope and specificity, Satish is a frequent collaborator with the Harvard School of Public Health. She studies a broad spectrum of topics that tend to get a lot of attention when published. Her work on how increased levels of carbon dioxide in offices and meeting rooms was written about in The New York Times. She has also studied how lighting and thermal conditions can affect a person’s ability to concentrate, make decisions or respond in a crisis.

And if you’ve ever had trouble concentrating at work or couldn’t conjure up an answer on a test even though you studied hard—Satish has comforting words: “You could actually be extremely well versed with facts but if people don’t train themselves on how to manage the facts, your productivity is never going to be as good as it could be,” she said.

If she’s learned anything during a 30-year career studying process, Satish said she knows that everyone is different.

“There truly are no wrong or right answers. We all have different thinking styles,” she said. “There are people who ace standardized testing but then in the real world don’t quite function as well.”

Satish works out of the Institute of Human Performance with one technician. She is frequently called upon to interpret data from various process studies as well as conduct trainings both here at SUNY Upstate and other universities.

Her lab uses the Strategic Management Simulation (SMS) approach, which was founded by professor Siegfried Streufert, PhD, who created the concept nearly 70 years ago. The SMS process can be used to determine how a variety of factors may affect cognitive function, predict individual and team decision-making or enhance competency and assess and train decision-makers.

“The work we do in our labs is relatively unique,” she said. “There are not a lot of methodologies out there that actually study process of thinking the way that the SMS does. So from that perspective we have do have unique leverage. This simulation system has been around for 60 to 70 years and it’s an extremely validated methodology.”

Some of Satish’s work has involved patients with mild head injuries. “That’s a very interesting group because these people don’t show up with significant findings on their scans or even on neurological examinations but practitioners will tell you that these people will come back to the clinic because they aren’t functioning,” she said. “People will find them a little off. And there is a bulk of research that shows these people exhibit a lack of executive functioning.”

Satish and her lab are regularly exploring new research areas, as well as ways to fund that work. She wants to continue studying the effects of carbon dioxide and said she would love to study process among commercial airline pilots. She’s also looking into opportunities to study people’s shortening attention spans in the digital age.

“The newer generation just thinks differently,” she said. “They are used to different levels of intellectual stimulation and it’s important to create curriculum based on those factors. We’ve started looking for funds to study that and we’ll have more answers once we’ve started the research.”