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William J. Gehring, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus of Psychology

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

CV [pdf]

My academic interests span two lines of teaching and research: My longest-running line of research concerns the brain processes involved in detecting errors, including how those processes affect anxiety disorders and children's executive function. More recently, I have focused on higher education: I teach first-year undergraduate students evidence-based principles for learning and finding purpose in college. My research in this area uses institutional data to understand the factors within the college and the curriculum that promote or hinder academic success. Below you will find a description of my research and teaching interests. As of January 1, 2023 I am an emeritus professor residing in Asheville, North Carolina and Washington, DC.

Home: Research

The Error-Related Negativity

My laboratory research has focused on how the brain detects errors: how do we know when we've done something wrong, and what do we do to correct the error?  To learn more about this research, visit my lab website (opens in new window). On that site you can also find out about our research on childhood anxiety disorders associated with exaggerated error monitoring, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.  How the brain notices errors is also related to the executive functions important for school success in young children, which my team investigated in collaborative work with other UM researchers.


Here's an NPR Weekend Edition Sunday interview from 2001 (with a much younger version of me) on my ERN research. 

Academic Success in Higher Ed

Much of my recent research and teaching has been concerned with promoting academic success in college students. I'm especially interested in using institutional data and rigorous causal inference to understand how a college's instruction and curriculum affect undergraduate student success. See my CV for details.


You can see a list of my publications on my Google Scholar page. My CV lists PDF links for each one.

Home: Teaching

Introduction  to Cognitive Psychology

Large lecture: Enrollment 300-450 per semester (!)

An overview of theories and methods in the study of human cognition.

Cognitive Science of Academic Success

Freshman seminar: Enrollment: 18-20

Best practices for success in college, based on cognitive science and a thoughtful analysis of the state of higher education at a large public university. Cognitive science research on human learning and memory has discovered a great deal about how people can study and learn effectively. One goal of the class is to enable students to apply this research to their own course taking. Another goal is to learn and apply the science behind other important facets of success, such as managing time, avoiding technological distractions, and developing a sense of personal values and purpose.

Mind, Brain, and Evil

Freshman seminar: Enrollment: 18-20

Why do people hurt each other?  Violent and cruel behavior is everywhere, yet there is still much to be learned about the psychological and brain processes that contribute to such behavior.  How does the human mind and brain cause evil?  In this course we shall examine some of the scientific findings about violence and some of the relevant theories from psychology and neuroscience. We’ll consider how biological and psychological factors interact with an individual's social context and environment to produce violence. Our discussions will include psychological, psychiatric, neurological, and evolutionary perspectives on a wide range of violent behavior, ranging from individual acts of aggression and criminal behavior to war and genocide.  The goal is not only to learn about violence and evil, but also to consider, compare, and possibly change our own personal perspectives on the problem.


Freshman seminar: Enrollment: 18-20

Consciousness, our internal experience of ourselves and the world, is the greatest challenge still facing science. It's such a hard problem that some believe it's beyond the capability of scientific inquiry. In this course we shall examine some of the best thinking about consciousness and some of the relevant phenomena that shed light on it.  What is consciousness?  Can brain scans and observations of brain-injured patients tell us where in the brain consciousness is located?  Can computers be conscious?  What about animals?  Is your experience of the color green the same as mine, or does your green look to you more like my red looks to me? What do dreams mean?  How do you know you're not dreaming right now?  What happens to consciousness in hypnosis and meditation?  Do psychic abilities really exist?  What happens in near death experiences?  What can religious experiences and beliefs tell us about consciousness?​

Home: Contact
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