Sarah R. Allred, PhD, is an Associate Professor at Rutgers University-Camden affiliated with Psychology, Health Science, Prevention Science, and the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology (CCIB). From 2017-2021, she served consecutively as the Faculty Director and Director of the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University-Camden.
Dr. Allred is a neuroscientist and data storyteller who studies how the human brain makes clear, unambiguous (but often technically incorrect) judgments about the world from the unclear and ambiguous information at its disposal. Her research methods include behavioral psychophysics, computational modeling, and quantitative analysis of large secondary data sets. Dr. Allred’s fundamental interest in how the brain parses information underlies two distinct scholarly trajectories: publicly-engaged health equity work and basic science research in perception and memory. In her research, teaching, and service, Dr. Allred practices her belief that when scholars are in communication with public and community stakeholders as well as other scholars, the end result is both better scholarly work and a better world.
Dr. Allred will be on sabbatical for the 2022-2023 academic year.
Publicly-engaged health equity research
Dr. Allred takes creative approaches to visualize and contextualize data related to health disparities and inform evidence-based approaches to address those disparities. Recent COVID-19 projects involved tracking and interpreting municipality- and county- level COVID-19 data and then using those data to develop predictive models of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. She also used these data to explore risk and resilience at the municipality-level in response to COVID-19. In other health-equity projects, Dr. Allred has analyzed funding patters from philanthropies and suggested ways that such analysis can guide equity-focused grantmaking. She has also investigated how the choice of peer-comparators can influence judgments about a given county’s health outcomes.
Perception research
Because the world is so messy and complicated, and because the sensory signals our brains receive about the world are ambiguous, perceiving the world involves making guesses about the world. Careful experiments can reveal the strategies our brains use to make these guesses that are correct on average, even if illusions show that our brains can be spectacularly incorrect in given instances (#theDress!). Much of Dr. Allred’s work this area has involved asking humans (and, formerly, monkeys) to make basic perceptual judgments about stuff (patches of color, lines, photos, painted cubes) while she manipulates the context surrounding that stuff (spatial and temporal context). Dr. Allred’s research team then uses the patterns of people’s behavioral responses to empirically and computationally characterize the the brain’s guessing strategies. In her past work, Dr. Allred has used basic perceptual tasks to reveal the strategies the brain uses to interpret the external, physical world. In future work, Dr. Allred will explore how these same strategies might explain how humans interpret their interior world of concepts and self.
Academic-community partnerships and data capacity
In addition to incorporating public- and community- engagement in her own scholarly activity, Dr. Allred has used her scholarly expertise to develop and administer initiatives that foster partnership between academic researchers and community partners with a special emphasis on building data capacity in service of health equity. Dr. Allred serves as the Rutgers co-Lead for the South Jersey Institute for Population Health, which is funded by the Rowan-Rutgers Camden Joint Board of Governors. With Mark Aakhus (Associate Dean, School of Communication and Information, Rutgers-New Brunswick), she co-led the Community-Design for Health and Wellness Initiative from 2018-2022
Over the years, Dr. Allred has received funding as a principal investigator from a variety of sources, including the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, New Jersey Health Initiatives, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Inspira Health Network, the South Jersey Health Collaborative, the Rowan-Rutgers Camden Joint Board of Governors and a variety of internal Rutgers funding mechanisms, including funding from the Rutgers COVID-19 Center for Response and Pandemic Preparedness (CCRP2).
Dr. Allred has taught a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses, including Perception, Method and Theory in Psychology, Research Methods, Experimental Psychology, Teaching in Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, and the following special topics courses: Data Motivated Storytelling, How We Decide, and Psychology, Philosophy and Poetry of Color. She employs a variety of active learning methods, including in-class experiments, problem-solving, and frequent low stakes writing assignments.
Outside of work
When not at work, Dr. Allred can most often be found with her three children, reading or outside (or some combination). She loves traveling to places with few people and lots of mountains.
Key words:
health equity, covid-19, grantmaking, prevention science, computational modeling, statistical downscaling, data storytelling, data accessibility, context effects, cognitive load, perception, cognition, philosophy of perception.