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Three Minute Thesis Competition

Update: Our departmental winner, Sarah Donaldson, earned second place in the campus-wide 3MT finals during Grad Forum. Congrats, Sarah! Pics of our students, Sarah and Cameron Kay are below. Psychology was the only department with 2 finalists.

The Department hosted a successful Three-Minute Thesis (#3MT) Competition last week. Titles and abstracts of the presentations are below. The winner, Sarah Donaldson, will compete with students from other disciplines at Grad ForumFriday May 11 in the EMU (prelim rounds at 10:00). Sarah, Cameron Kay, and Jeff Peterson – plus a whole bunch of other grads – will all be participating in the Forum!

Congrats, all, on this excellent work!

Testosterone, Cortisol, and Risk-Taking Behaviors in Adolescents

Sarah Donaldson (Winner!)

Current evidence suggests that testosterone’s (T) influence on risk-taking behaviors is moderated by levels of cortisol (C), a “stress hormone” released by the HPA axis. Specifically, T has a positive association with risk-taking when levels of C are low. While this interaction has been demonstrated in adults, no work to-date has investigated this model in adolescents. We obtained baseline saliva samples from 149 adolescents, ages 11-17 years, who then played a simulated driving game (the Yellow Light Game; YLG) as a behavioral measure of risk. In the YLG, participants make decisions about whether to “STOP” or “GO” at several consecutive intersections, and any “GO” decisions involves a risk of crashing with another car in the game. Results showed the opposite pattern, namely that testosterone predicted a decrease in risk-taking when levels of C were low. Future work will explore this interaction and how it relates to brain activity across adolescent development.


The trident of Westeros: Morality and the Dark Triad in fictional characters

Cameron Kay

Coined by Paulhus and Williams (2002), the Dark Triad comprises three related—yet distinct—personality traits: Machiavellianism, subclinical narcissism, and subclinical psychopathy. Machiavellianism refers to a tendency to exhibit cynicism, amorality, and manipulativeness, whereas narcissism refers to a tendency towards vanity, entitlement, and superiority. Psychopathy, in contrast, refers to a combination of impulsivity and a lack of empathy. These three traits have often been linked to immorality. However, it hasn’t been shown that those high in the Dark Triad traits are necessarily perceived to be less moral. In a sample of undergraduate students, we found that fictional characters rated as being high in the Dark Triad traits were considered to be less moral than those characters rated as being low in the Dark Triad traits. This effect was greatest for psychopathy, followed by Machiavellianism, and, lastly, narcissism. A similar pattern was found in a complementary study using non-fictional people.


Intergroup Empathic Accuracy: To Use or Not To Use Stereotypes

Sara Lieber

Empathic accuracy is the similarity between what a perceiver infers a target is thinking at a specific moment and the target’s actual thought. Intergroup contexts are important for investigating empathic accuracy, and factors influencing it, within since perceptual inaccuracies have been associated with worse intergroup outcomes (Holoien et al., 2015). The only intergroup context in which empathic accuracy has been studied used new mothers as targets and found that using stereotypes to infer the targets’ thoughts was associated with better empathic accuracy (Lewis et al., 2012). However, this relationship likely varies depending on the intergroup context since the accuracy of stereotypes varies among groups. The current study investigated white perceivers’ inferences for the thoughts of Middle Eastern men. Our results indicated that perceivers’ use of the words spoken by the men during their interviews to infer the men’s thoughts was associated with better empathic accuracy, while using stereotypes was not.