Completed Honors Projects
To view a PDF document version of the abstracts for completed Undergraduate Honors projects, click on the links below that correspond to a particular school year. To view a compilation of all of the abstracts from 1998-99 to 2015-16, click here.
The text of the current school year’s abstracts (and the two prior years) can also be found on this page by scrolling down past the school year links.
Undergraduate Honors Projects – 2015-2016
An Underadditivity of the Cellular Mechanisms Responsible for the Orientation Contrast Effects of the Rod-and-Frame Illusion
Advisors: Paul Dassonville, Ph.D. and Cris Niell, Ph.D.
If a vertical line is surrounded by a tilted frame, it is typically perceived as being tilted in the opposite direction. This rod-and-frame illusion is thought to be driven by two distinct mechanisms. Large frames cause a distortion of the egocentric reference frame, with perceived vertical biased in the direction of the frame’s tilt (i.e., a visuovestibular effect). Small frames are thought to drive the illusion through local contrast effects within early visual processing. Wenderoth and Beh (1977) found that the visuovestibular effect could be induced by a stimulus consisting of only two lines, indicating that an intact frame was not necessary to achieve the illusion. Furthermore, Li and Matin (2005) demonstrated that the Gestalt of an intact frame provided no additional impact to the illusion, as the visuovestibular effect of an intact frame was less than the sum of its parts. It is unclear whether the same is true for the local contrast effects caused by small frames. Participants performed a perceptual task in which they reported the orientation of a target line (12’ in length) presented in the context of either an intact frame (32’ on a side, tilted ± 15°) or partial frame (that is, flankers consisting of either the top and bottom of the frame in collinear locations with respect to the target line, or the left and right sides in lateral locations). Significant contrast effects occurred for all stimulus conditions, with the top and bottom flankers causing an effect substantially larger than that of the left and right flankers. Indeed, the effect of the top and bottom flankers even surpassed that of the intact frame, indicating that the overall effect of the frame was a weighted average of the two flanker conditions. These findings suggest an underadditivity of the cellular mechanisms responsible for the contextual effects of lateral and collinear flankers.
Parental Cognitive Stimulation and its Relation to Child Brain Function for Selective Attention in Low Socioeconomic Status Families
Advisors: Philip Fisher, PhD, Erik Pakulak, PhD and Jimena Santillan, MS
Selective attention is important for academic readiness and success. Past research indicates that children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) families exhibit deficits in a neural index of selective attention relative to their higher SES peers, which is consistent with the academic achievement gap seen between lower and higher SES children. Selective attention exhibits neuroplasticity, which means it can be influenced by the environment in which children develop. One of the most prominent factors children are exposed to early on is the quality of parenting they receive. Previous research has shown that parenting quality predicts behavioral measures of many cognitive abilities related to academic success. In particular, cognitive stimulation elicited by parenting behaviors may promote early development by enhancing language and vocabulary. The present study examined whether the quality of parental cognitive stimulation can shape neural indices of selective attention in children from lower SES families. We coded mother-child interactions during a free play task for parenting behaviors related to cognitive stimulation. To assess brain function for selective attention, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded during an auditory task in which children were simultaneously presented with two different stories and were instructed to attend to one story while ignoring the other. We hypothesized that greater cognitive stimulation would be associated with a greater attention effect, operationalized as the amplitude difference between the neural response to the attended vs. the unattended stories. We found a negative correlation between cognitive stimulation scores and the size of the attention effect – as cognitive stimulation on the part of the parent increased, the size of the attention effect decreased. One interpretation of these correlational results is that children with poorer selective attention may elicit more frequent and stronger cognitive stimulation behaviors from their parents. Another interpretation is that lower SES children may benefit more from less parent-guided cognitive stimulation for the development of selective attention. Both of these alternatives should be examined further by future studies.
Does a Preschool Boy’s Ability to Self-Regulate during a Stressful Task Predict Externalizing Problem Behavior?
Advisors: Philip Fisher, PhD and Leslie Roos, MS
In the present study, we examined preschool aged boys’ minute-to-minute parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity and emotional behaviors elicited in response to a stressful task, as predictive measures of child externalizing behavior problems. A sample of (N=27) preschool aged boys, varying in levels of externalizing behavior problems, participated in a matching task, while PNS activity and expression of emotions were observed and recorded as measures of self-regulation. Externalizing behavior problems were assessed using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) (Achenbach, 1991). In addition, regulation of PNS activity was assessed using constructed measures of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) during a resting baseline and during the stressful task, while emotion regulation was examined using observer-coded measures of child emotions (shame, embarrassment, anger, frustration, withdrawal, anxiety, self-determination, and pride). It was hypothesized that children reported as having greater externalizing behavior problems would have difficulty self-regulating while performing the stressful task. Results indicated that more approach behaviors were related to higher levels of externalizing behavior problems. A detailed examination of preschool age boys’ moment-to-moment display of emotions and adjustments in PNS activity elicited under a validated stressor can contribute to understanding the relation of immediate behavioral responses and RSA that may underlie externalizing problems and actual symptomatic behavior.
The Association between Competitive Motives and Pronoun Usage
Advisors: Sara Hodges, PhD and Colton Christian, MS
When individuals consider out-group members, they are more likely to project their attributes onto cooperative out-groups than competitive groups (Toma, Yzerbyt, & Corneille, 2010). However, unpublished data from the University of Oregon found significantly greater projection during face-to-face competitive interaction than during non-competitive interaction. The present study examined whether linguistic differences which might explain this finding emerged between groups of competitive and non-competitive conversation pairs. 162 students at the University of Oregon were randomly assigned into conversation pairs. Some groups were asked to simply discuss their study habits, while others were asked to determine who had the worst study habits between the two participants. Conversations were then analyzed using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). Our results demonstrated that participants in the competitive condition asked more questions, spoke with a greater degree of clout, and used more second-person pronouns than participants in the non-competitive condition. These findings suggest that face-to-face interpersonal competition directs conversational focus onto the other to a greater extent than the self. Focus on the other rather than the self, in line with previous research (Mussweiler, 2001), elicits perceived similarity and heightened projection.
Musical Boundaries and Task Switching
Advisors: Ulrich Mayr, PhD and Atsushi Kikumoto, MS
Event structure describes how we separate “ongoing, continuous experience into events” through a process known as “event segmentation” (Reimer, Radvansky, Lorsbach, & Armendarez, 2015).
Listening to music is an event that is segmented by different musical factors, such as “pitch range, dynamics, and timbre; lengthening of durations; changes of melodic contour; and metrical, tonal, and harmonic stress” (Jusczyk & Krumhansl, 1993). In the present study, we sought to investigate the role that musical boundaries had on performance in a task switching paradigm. We hypothesized that there would be a reduction in switch costs during tasks that were performed at a musical boundary.
We conducted two experiments (Experiment 1, n = 31; Experiment 2, n = 28) and found that there is a decrease in switch costs during tasks that occur at the first musical boundary, which is driven by the increase in response time on no-switch trials. Future research should investigate how specific musical elements (e.g. rhythm, melody, tempo) contribute to this effect.
The Academic Climate of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Fields: How Stereotypes Influence Perceptions
Advisors: Sara Hodges, PhD and Colton Christian, MS
Despite recent progress toward gender equality, women continue to be systematically underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. One reason for this disparity is found in the academic culture surrounding STEM fields. Within this culture, pervasive beliefs exist that men, more frequently than women, are born with the innate ability required to succeed in STEM fields. In the face of these stereotypes, women in STEM fields are not only told that their gender is at a disadvantage, but also that the incremental improvement that may come with experience will not help, because STEM ability is innate. In the current study, female and male undergraduate and graduate students in the same STEM field were paired (98 pairs) and instructed to have a conversation about the undergraduate’s interest in pursuing graduate school. We hypothesized that participants who endorse a belief in innate models of intelligence would give lower ratings to female undergraduates’ qualification for graduate school across three variables: undergraduates’ self-assessments of their qualification, graduates’ assessments of undergraduates’ qualification, and “meta-assessments” in which undergraduates guess how graduates rated their qualification. We found that endorsing a belief in innate theory of intelligence was associated with lower self- and meta-assessments of female undergraduates’ qualification for graduate school, but this effect was not found for graduates’ assessments of female undergraduates’ qualification.
Reducing Stigmatizing Attitudes toward Veterans with PTSD: The Impact of Empathic Engagement with Fictional Literature
Advisors: Sara Hodges, PhD and Brianna Delker, MS
Combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses are becoming more prevalent, yet fewer than half of veterans diagnosed with PTSD seek treatment. Stigmatizing attitudes toward military veterans with combat-related PTSD prevents veterans from seeking treatment. Fictional literature may serve as an efficient, accessible way to increase personal experience with, and empathy toward, individuals diagnosed with a mental health disorder. In prior research, increased levels of empathic engagement with fictional literature (i.e., “transportation” into the text) has been associated with increased reports of empathy. In this study, undergraduate participants (N=344) were randomly assigned to read one of three passages: a fiction passage about PTSD, a nonfiction passage about PTSD, or a non-PTSD fiction passage. Afterwards, self-report surveys assessed stigmatizing attitudes toward people with PTSD, empathic concern for the character in the vignette, and transportation into the text. We hypothesized that the fictional PTSD (vs. nonfiction PTSD) passage would decrease stigmatizing attitudes toward people with PTSD. We also hypothesized that the fictional PTSD (vs. fiction control) passage would increase empathic concern toward the character in the vignette and that this effect would be mediated by increased transportation into the text. Analysis of covariance revealed that the fictional PTSD passage was associated with more pity toward people with PTSD than the nonfiction PTSD passage, F(1, 243) = 5.16, p = .024. Empathic concern for the character was greater with the fictional PTSD passage than the fictional control passage, F(1,211) = 77.45, p < .001. Transportation into the text partially mediated the effect of the fictional passages on empathic concern, B = .15, SE = .03, 95% CI [.10, .22].
Investigating the Role of Action Experience on the Reorganization of Action Segmentation
Advisors: Dare Baldwin, PhD and Jason Wallin, MS
Human actions are dynamic and complex, yet children exhibit knowledge of the hierarchical organization of action in ways that parallel adults’ knowledge (Meyer, Baldwin, & Sage, 2011). Preschoolers segment action by modulating attention to privilege boundaries of events that coincide with the hierarchical structure. Motor engagement in self action facilitates children’s ability to discover details about action such as goal construal and intentionality of actions (Sommerville, Woodward & Needham, 2005; Cannon, et al., 2012), yet little research exists identifying the role of action production on action segmentation. The current investigation explores the role of self action on the reorganization of perceived structure using the dwell-time paradigm (Hard, Recchia, & Tversky, 2011). Dwell-time presentation consists of a self-paced sideshow depicting an actor using a syringe to extract liquid from one container and depositing it into another. Preschoolers engaged in sequenced dwell-time and action performance tasks imitating the observed action, in a framework modified from Sommerville and colleagues (2005). After a baseline dwell-time presentation, children performed self action prior to (perform-first) or after (perform-second) a secondary dwell-time presentation. Exploratory analyses identify differences and changes in dwell-time patterns. Specific attention is given towards isolating portions that exhibit the most change which provide insights to the ways that self action may reorganize one’s action segmentation.
The Effects of Colored Word Stimuli on Neural Processing and Behavior during an Emotional Stroop Task: An Event-Related Potential Investigation
Advisors: Don Tucker, PhD, Anita Christie, PhD and Jenn Lewis MS
Western associations of colors, especially of red and green, influence how individuals consciously perceive the meanings of these colors. However, very little research has investigated the underlying neural processes of localized colors presented as meaningful stimuli, like words, and the possible effects these colors have on behavior. The aim of this study was to investigate early neural responses to red and green colored word stimuli during an emotional Stroop task and the effects of these colors on behavior, including working memory and response time. Using dense-array EEG, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded following presentation of an emotional word stimuli presented in red and green ink. Additionally, total word recall and average response times for each color category were recorded. Participants recalled more red colored words than green, however, did not show significant differences in average response times while naming the color of the presented word, indicating that color may impact working memory but not response performance during the Stroop task. ERP waveform amplitude differences between color categories in components known to be involved in visual processing and discrimination, such as the C1, P1 and N1, suggest that differences in color perception occur quickly post stimulus presentation. These results suggest a bottom-up cognitive mechanism of color perception that may influence behaviors, such as working memory. Associations of the colors red and green may not simply be arbitrary, but linked to underlying differences in early neural processing which may imply biases in previous research in which an emotional Stroop task was used to investigate behavioral and neural responses.
The Role of Self Doubt and Empathic Accuracy in STEM Fields
Advisors: Sara Hodges, PhD and Colton Christian, MS
In their daily interactions, people demonstrate varying levels of empathic accuracy, a construct that refers to people’s ability to accurately infer the thoughts and feelings of others. This study examines whether feelings of self-doubt impact empathic accuracy, particularly in women, when they are interpreting feedback in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Women are underrepresented in the STEM fields as they choose not to continue their studies or not even pursue STEM fields at all. One reason for this trend might be attributed to how they interpret feedback in the domain. Seventy-two dyads composed of graduate and undergraduate students in STEM fields were recruited and held recorded conversations to discuss graduate school. Graduate students provided feedback to undergraduates interested in attending graduate school in a related field. Undergraduate students were asked about their feelings of self-doubt, and they were also asked to infer the graduate student’s thoughts regarding the undergraduate’s future prospects in graduate school. Results indicated that there was no significant difference between male and female undergraduates for self-doubt or empathic accuracy. These findings are considered in terms of other possible underlying factors contributing to women’s underrepresentation in STEM.
Make America Great Again? Do Beliefs about Societal Decline Contribute to Political Conservatism?
Advisors: Azim Shariff Ph.D. and Brett Mercier, MS
Previous researchers have linked conservative attitudes to the belief in the regression of morals and other human dynamics in relation to the world, but the research is limited. The possible link between conservative and traditional beliefs to a person’s view on the state of the world could partially explain the enduring divide between political attitudes. We hypothesized that people who perceive the world as declining will become more conservative and more supportive of traditional ideals. Using Amazon’s Mechanical-Turk, an online survey-based format, 592 participants were assigned one of four conditions to read an article describing the state of the world as improving, declining, remaining the same or did not receive an article at all. Dependent variables were measured by a three-item conservatism scale and eight-item traditionalist scale. While there were no significant differences for the conservatism scale, the results from the traditional scale supported our hypothesis suggesting that those exposed to the declining of the world article significantly displayed the most support, and those exposed to the improvement of the world article significantly displayed the least. Further research should focus on developing a stronger manipulation as well as revise the conservatism scale to avoid any predispositions people have regarding their political beliefs.
Investigating Public Perceptions of Mass Shootings
Advisors: Azim Shariff, PhD and Stephanie Kramer, MS
Recent mass shootings have captivated public attention worldwide. With this has come the journalistic narrative that explains actions carried out by white perpetrators as the product of individual aberrations, such as mental illness or being ‘disturbed’, whereas actions carried out by people of color are explained in terms of group caricatures where the individuals are labeled terrorists or ‘thugs’. This study provided experimental evidence for the validity of this narrative within a US sample. Participants were exposed to one of four purportedly real news articles which reported a mass shooting. Manipulations included the perpetrator’s ethnicity (black vs. white) and religiosity (Christian vs. Muslim). Using past research rooted in social identity theory, we hypothesize that our sample would significantly perceive Christian and white perpetrators as less violent and punishable, and more mentally unstable than compared to their Muslim and black counterparts. We predicted that these differences would relate to explicit and implicit attitudes towards Muslims and blacks. Our results showed significant differences between groups, where Muslims and blacks were perceived to possess less mental illness than their Christian and white counterparts. Methodology, limitations, and implications are discussed.
Perceived Bias in Judicial Selection Methods
Advisors: Robert Mauro, PhD and Robert Rocklin, JD, MS
Judges play a crucial role in the creation and interpretation of law. The perceived procedural fairness of the judicial system directly affects system legitimacy, and, by extension, its success. A concern has been raised that certain judicial selection methods inject political pressures into the judiciary, potentially diminishing citizens’ perception of the justice system’s legitimacy.
To test whether judicial selection method affected the perceived legitimacy of the courts, we used an undergraduate sample (n=193) to examine perceptions of four common selection methods (partisan election, non-partisan election, gubernatorial appointment and merit based selection). Participants were presented with a fictional newspaper vignette that described a wrongful termination suit brought by a union against a corporation. Vignettes varied by selection method, political leanings of the judge, and the outcome of the case. We predicted that: (1) Participants presented with the unbiased merit based selection committee would perceive this selection method as most just, independent of political leanings (self-report: liberal/conservative) and (2) Participants presented with vignettes opposing their political leanings would perceive these scenarios as the least just. Results suggested that independent of political affiliation and trial outcome, participants viewed judges who were selected to be significantly more just (F(1,154)=2.484, p = .046) than those who were elected. This suggests that without additional information, citizens would perceive judicial systems that relied on an elected judiciary as less fair than systems that rely on an unelected judiciary. These results must be replicated in a representative population to determine if these conclusions can be generalized to the larger population.
Socioeconomic Status and its Relationship to Children’s Executive Function
Advisors: Philip Fisher, PhD and Leslie Roos, MS
Executive function (EF) cognitive processes begin to develop in preschool age children and are related to important developmental outcomes, including psychopathology and school readiness (Skowron et al., 2014). Children from low socioeconomic status background have been documented to exhibit lower EF (Li Grining, 2007; Sheridan 2012; Ardila, 2005), but research to date has not considered the specific aspects of low SES environments that may impact risk. Notably, stress-related characteristics of families in low SES environments are often overlapping (e.g. low maternal education, low income, single-parent status, parental exposure to ACES) so it is unclear how such experiences may differentially affect EF function in children. The present study examined maternal socioeconomic status and its association with child’s executive function performance using an inhibitory control (IC) task. We hypothesized that children whose mothers had higher maternal risk (maternal education, income, marital status, ACES), will have poor executive function performance. IC was assessed with a computerized game that elicited ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ actions. Maternal education, marital status, and income were collected via self-report. The adverse childhood experiences (ACES; Edwards, 1998) questionnaire was used to measure mother’s negative life events experienced under the age of 18. Results showed maternal ACES was associated with children’s inhibitory control performance, such that children with poorer EF performance had mothers with higher ACES scores compared to children who had mothers with low ACES score. There was a significant relationship between marital status and EF; however, mothers who weren’t married had children with higher EF performance, than mothers who were married. Lastly, income and marital education was not significantly related to children’s EF performance. There results suggest that future research should explore more proximal factors that may account for the link between children’s EF development and maternal ACES.
Undergraduate Honors 2014-2015
Is There a Spatial Code in Abstract Sequences?
Advisors: Ulrich Mayr, PhD, and Atsushi Kikumoto
Holding representations of a range of elements (i.e., numbers, dates, and arbitrary sequences) is known to produce response interference effects, where response execution is influenced by the spatial layout of these representations. One illustration of this is the ordinal position effect, where items at the beginning of a sequence held in working memory facilitate faster left-sided responses, whereas items towards the end of the sequence facilitate faster right-sided responses. The question of investigation is whether the ordinal position effect can be seen in hierarchically organized sequences. As their basic task, participants had to localize via a key press a given color target among three, horizontally arranged color stimuli. Sequences of color targets were organized in terms of two ordered chunks (e.g., red-green-blue–green-blue-red). We hypothesized that when the within-chunk position matched with the position of the color target, responses would be faster and more accurate than in the case of a mismatch. We also predicted that congruent responses would be faster and more accurate in the first chunk compared to the second. However, we obtained no evidence for a congruency effect between the sequential and spatial position even though subjects clearly used a hierarchically organized sequential representation. A possible explanation for this null-result is that different from previous research, our paradigm allowed participants to prepare for the upcoming serial position, before having to response to the spatial stimulus. We speculate that this may have eliminated a critical condition for the expected congruency effect, namely the temporal overlap between the sequential representation and the stimulus-driven location representation.
Effects of Parent/Child Relationship Quality on Risky Decision Making
Advisors: Jennifer Pfeifer, PhD, Arian Mobasser, MS, Shannon Peake, MS, and Sarah Alberti, BS
The effects of the relationship between a parent and child is one of the biggest indicators of behavior in adolescence, though limited research has been done looking at behavior in undergraduate aged people in relation to parent/child relationship quality. This correlational study looks to examine the possible effects that parent/child relationship quality has on late adolescent aged people, specifically in regards to resiliency to risky decision making post social exclusion by peers. University of Oregon undergraduates (N=50) participated in a series of online tasks assessing risky decision making (the Stoplight task), both before and after an episode of social exclusion (assessed using Cyberball). Following the online games, subjects filled out various questionnaires assessing current and past perceived relationship quality with both parents, including EMBU and QRI. Additionally, they completed surveys such as RPI and CARE_R assessing for past risky decision making and resiliency to peer influence. We hypothesized that the stronger perceived relationship quality with parents, the more resilient subjects would be to peer influence, and risky decision making post peer exclusion. This hypothesis was not supported by significant results. The inconclusive results provide insight on the affects that parent/child relationship has on age, and suggest that adolescents are more susceptible to parent relationship quality in regards to risky decision making.
Megan P. Bruun
The Effects of Gender and Status When Talking About STEM
Advisor: Sara Hodges, PhD
Who talks more in conversations is influenced by gender and status. Within STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, the effects of gender and status may be exacerbated by women’s underrepresentation. In this study, dyads (n = 77) made up of undergraduate and graduate students in the same STEM discipline talked about the undergraduates’ prospects for graduate school. It was predicted that females in mixed gender dyads would talk less because of their minority status in STEM fields. However, in same gender dyads, it was predicted that graduate students, because of their higher status, would talk more than undergraduates. Contrary to predictions, it was found that undergraduate males and females did not significantly differ in the amount of talking time. Status was found to have a main effect, such that graduate students talked significantly more than 50% of the time. The interaction of graduate gender and undergraduate gender also had a significant effect on talking time. Conversations between undergraduate males and graduate females had the closest to an even 50-50 exchange out of all of the dyad combinations.
Association between Early Life Adversity and Stress
Advisors: Jeffery Measelle, PhD and Jennifer Ablow, PhD
Early life adversity is associated with adult elevations of inflammatory markers like circulating levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). Few studies have examined whether exposure to adversity prenatally is associated with inflammation during childhood. Exposure to adversity before birth may engender disease vulnerability via alterations in inflammatory biomarkers (i.e. fetal programming of disease hypothesis). This study examines the association between exposure to prenatal vs. postnatal adversity and CRP concentrations when infants were 18 months old. We followed 105 low-SES infant-mother dyads across the perinatal transition. Our measures of psychosocial and contextual measured prenatally and at 5- and 18-months postnatally. When infants were 18 months old, resting state saliva samples were collected to assess CRP (mg/L) levels via enzyme immunoassay. Hierarchical regression analyses reveals a composite measure of prenatal maternal adversity, that uniquely predicts variability in infants’ log transformed CRP levels, B = 1.15 (SE = .05), p < .05. Maternal adversity at 5 months is not predictive of infant CRP, but maternal adversity at 18 months is marginally associated. These results raise questions about timing of exposure to adverse events as well as the potentially lasting effects on inflammatory processes when such exposure occurs very early in development.
Court Appointed Experts, Procedural Justice and Legitimacy in the Anglo-American Legal System
Advisors: Robert Mauro, PhD and Robert Rocklin, JD, MS
Justice systems cannot operate unless participants in the system perceive them as legitimate. Legitimacy, in turn, depends on whether the system is seen as procedurally just, that is, whether the processes that are used to resolve disputes are believed to be fair. Some have suggested that any departure from the Anglo-American adversarial system would call the legitimacy of the system into question. The use of court-appointed experts – rather than the traditional method of having each party call their own experts – is one such departure. In this study, we examined whether using court-appointed experts would reduce perceptions of procedural justice. We also investigated the effect of perceived defendant power on perceptions of procedural justice.
Participants were presented with four vignette scenarios describing a civil negligence trail in which the plaintiff always lost. The subjective power of the defendant (individual, corporation, or government agency), and whether the third testifying expert was court-appointed or adversarial (that is, called by one of the parties) was varied. We had two predictions: (1) Across conditions, trials involving court-appointed experts would be perceived as less procedurally just than trials involving adversarial experts, and (2) There will be an interaction between whether the expert was court-appointed or called by a party and defendant power, such that if there is a high status plaintiff and a court-appointed expert, perceptions of procedural justice will be lowest. Despite our predictions, we found that the subjective power of the defendant and the testimony of the third expert were the only significant predictors of procedural justice.
Future Planning in Relation to Impulsivity, Mindfulness, and Alcohol Use in Students
Advisors: Heidemarie Laurent, PhD and Christina Karns, PhD
Student success can potentially be predicted by the skill set an individual enters undergraduate study with. It is important to be able to plan a multiple year path through school, as well as have goals in mind motivating one’s decisions and actions. Mindfulness has been connected to student self and emotional awareness, leading to more success in school, while impulsivity has been connected to risky behaviors and less success for students. This study aimed to examine the relations between four constructs important in student lives: Future Planning, Mindfulness, Impulsivity, and Alcohol Use. Main effect of trait variables on both Future Planning and Alcohol Use were found. Using survey questionnaires within a population of 231 undergraduate students, we found that aspects of Impulsivity (Lack of Premeditation, Lack of Perseverance, and Sensation Seeking), Mindfulness (Acting with Awareness, Non-Reactivity of Inner Experience, Observing, Describing, and Non-Judgment of Inner Experience) predicted both Future Planning and Alcohol Use. This study aims to inform future studies and therapeutic techniques that could help increase student success and focus academic counseling for students who lack future orientation and/or have problematic drinking behaviors.
Impacts of Early Adversity on Physiological and Performance Indices during a Social Stressor
Advisors: Philip Fisher, PhD and Leslie Roos, MS
Children who have experienced early life stress (ELS) experience later life deregulation of stress response systems and associated problems such as anxiety (Edge et al., 2009). The present study examined how early childhood adversity is related to multiple indices of young adults trait level and acute-induced anxiety. We hypothesized that elevated childhood adversity would be associated with reporting higher levels of trait and acute-induced distress. Subjects (N=64) completed a self-report Risky Families Questionnaire (RFQ; Taylor et al., 2004), State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-T; Speilberger at al., 1983) and three in-lab visual analog scales (VAS). VAS measured stress, anxiety and insecurity prior, immediately after, and 20 minutes post social stressor. Heart rate was assessed as indices of arousal. To induce acute distress, subjects participated in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST; Kirschbaum et al., 1993). A positive correlation was found between RFQ and trait anxiety (r (66) = .26, p< .05). Although RFQ was not related to elevated levels of self-reported distress to a social stressor, ANOVA analyses showed a significant interaction between RFQ and active condition in relation to heart rate during the TSST (F (3,64)= 4.20, p< .05). Higher RFQ predicted higher arousal when a social stressor was present.
Mind Wandering and the Neurotic
Advisors: Nash Unsworth, PhD and Matt Robison, MS
Utilizing the mind wandering probe technique and a battery of fluid intelligence, working memory capacity and attention control tasks, we looked to replicate that higher frequency of mind wandering relates to poor cognitive functioning. We sought to find if personality also relates to increased rates of mind wandering. We used the 44-item five-factor personality inventory (John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991). Correlations indicated that those higher in neurotic traits mind wandered more frequently and exhibited lower working memory capacity. However, multiple regression analysis revealed that attention control fully mediated these relationships. Attention control maintained a significant relationship with neuroticism holding constant mind wandering and working memory capacity. This suggests that neuroticism relates to higher rates of mind wandering under conditions where attention control needs to be maintained.
Association between Maternal Stress and Child Socio-Emotional Behaviors — A Bio-Ecological Perspective
Advisors: Jeffrey R. Measelle, Ph.D. and Jennifer C. Ablow, Ph.D.
In the present study, guided by the bio-ecological perspective, we first examined how different levels of concurrent maternal stress associate with children’s socio-emotional behaviors at five years of age. In addition, we examined the predictive role that prenatal maternal stress factors have on young children’s behavior problems trajectory. A high-risk sample of 105 primiparous mothers, by virtue of their low socioeconomic status and history of depression, participated in the present investigation. Mothers’ stress factors were measured regarding their: 1) maternal mental health; 2) maternal experiential stress; 3) socio-economic status; and 4) maternal relationship quality both during prenatal period (T1) and five-year postnatal (T4). Child internalizing and externalizing behavioral problem were measured using MacArthur Health and Behavior Questionnaire. Two sets of multivariate regressions suggested that for concurrent associations, there was a significant independent association between maternal mental health stress and children’s internalizing behaviors at age of five controlling for the effect of child gender and negative affectivity, whereas there wasn’t any significant concurrent associations between stress factors and externalizing behaviors. For investigation of prenatal stress factors, we detected a marginalized independent association of maternal experiential stress controlling for all stress factors at 5 years of age and our theoretical controls. Similarly, there weren’t any significant associations between prenatal stress factors and externalizing behavior at the age of five. Our results provide a potential discussion of genetic connection between mother and her child’s internalizing symptoms along with an intervention implication on programs that focus on reducing maternal experiential stress during prenatal period.
Responding to Disclosure of Mistreatment: The Long-Term Impact of Listening Skills Education
Advisors: Jennifer Freyd, PhD and Kristen Reinhardt, MS
Negative reactions to a disclosure of mistreatment can be more emotionally detrimental to the discloser than not disclosing the event at all, while positive reactions to disclosures can yield significant benefits, such as desensitization towards negative feelings and thoughts (Radcliffe, Lumley, Kendall, Stevenson, & Beltran, 2010). Previous research from Foynes and Freyd (2011) has shown that providing educational material on supportive listening significantly lowered the unsupportive behavior of listeners. This present study extends the work of Foynes and Freyd (2011) by examining the impact that a supportive listening skills tip-sheet has on a sample of 64 participants after the disclosure of a mistreatment and at a 6-month follow-up time period. We hypothesized that the listening tips would have a long term, positive impact on the listeners’ and disclosers’ self-rated ability to listen to disclosures of mistreatment, improve both participants’ satisfaction in the relationship, and enhance participants’ self-reported listening skills through the listening tips learned during the study. Results indicate that participants who receive the listening tips have lower ratings of unsupportive behaviors after the intervention in comparison to the control group who did not receive the listening tips at this time point.
The Effects of Loss on Children’s Perceptions of their own Internalizing and Externalizing Symptomatology
Advisors: Jeffrey Measelle, PhD, Jennifer Ablow, PhD, and Ariel Carter-Rodriguez
Experiencing loss, due to figurative and/or literal death, during early development may increase children’s likelihood for developing certain negative health outcomes later in life. Currently, there is limited research on the extent to which loss impacts the physical and psychological health of children within the field of psychology. The present study explored childhood loss and the influence this might have on youth’s development. We hypothesized that loss as reported on the Life Events Questionnaire (LEQ) would predict child’s self reported symptomatology (internalizing and externalizing) on the Berkeley Puppet Interview (BPI) and mothers’ reports of child behavior problems on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC). We also hypothesized that children’s BPI reports would be associated with mother reports (CBC).
The Relationship between Emotional Eating and Heart Rate Following Acute Stress
Advisors: Philip Fisher, PhD and Leslie Roos, MS
The United States is at the forefront of an obesity epidemic with two-thirds of the population classified as overweight or obese (Flegal, 2010). Activity within the autonomic nervous system indicative of a biological stress response may be present in individuals that report emotional eating behaviors (Dallman, 2010). Prior research supports that heart rate analysis accurately evaluates activity within the autonomic nervous system (Pomeranz et al., 1985). However, there is a gap in understanding if increased heart rate induced by acute stress exposure may leave an individual more susceptible to emotional eating behaviors. Using the Three-Factoring Eating Questionnaire (TFEQ; Stunkard, 1985), The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST; Kirschbaum, 1993), a RS800CX training computer and polar wearlink+ transmitter heart rate sensor, we measured the relationship between emotional eating, acute stress and heart rate in (N=75) undergraduates. Results indicated that after controlling for BMI and overall perceived stress for the duration of the experiment, emotional eating was associated with a significant increase in heart rate from baseline during the acute stressor (F(1, 36) = 2.829, p <.05). These results suggest that interventions that target stressful psychosocial experiences may buffer an individual’s stress response and the associated emotional eating behaviors that lead to weight gain and obesity.
Self-Evaluations and Divergent Graduate-Level Participation in STEM”
Advisor: Sara Hodges, PhD
This study serves as an attempt to pinpoint factors contributing to women’s underrepresentation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. In particular, this study examines factors that may increase this underrepresentation as students transition from the undergraduate to graduate level. Previous research suggests it may be important to study female undergraduates’ self-assessments of their STEM abilities, assessments that may be formed in part after receiving feedback from graduate students. In the current study, undergraduate and graduate students in the same STEM field were paired into 73 dyads to discuss the undergraduate’s preparation for graduate school. We hypothesized that female undergraduates’ STEM self-assessments via their inferences of graduate students’ will be more negative than 1) male undergraduates’ STEM self-assessments and 2) the graduate students’ assessments of the undergraduates. Neither hypothesis was supported by significant results, although both univariate ANOVAs showed trends towards more negative self-assessments made by females. We discuss how these results may affect undergraduate women’s decisions about continuing to graduate school in a STEM field.
Impacts of Depression and Trauma on Predictors of Future Infant-Caregiver Attachment
Advisors: Heidemarie K. Laurent, PhD and Rosemary E. Bernstein, MS
Mother-infant attachment has been linked to important social-emotional outcomes later in life. Disorganized attachment, a style where the caregiver is a source of fear, is particularly detrimental. The current study attempts to determine whether or not depression, trauma or the interaction of the two are predictive of two scales that in turn predict future attachment. We hypothesized that mothers who have experienced trauma and/or depression would identify more angry faces and fewer sad faces in the IFEEL picture task (IFP) and would also score higher on maternal helplessness and fear on the Caregiver Helplessness Questionnaire (CHQ). A sample of 44 new mothers was tested when their infants were 12 and 24 weeks as a part of a longitudinal study. Linear regression analyses revealed that the interaction of postnatal depression and physical abuse was predictive of the number of angry faces seen. Mothers with higher postnatal depression and experiences of physical abuse saw more angry faces while mothers low in postnatal depression and high on experiences of physical abuse saw fewer. All other analyses were nonsignificant. Implications for early identification and prevention of attachment disorganization are discussed.
Examining Motherhood as a Force for Cognitive Plasticity
Advisor: Dare Baldwin, PhD
New mothers face significant learning requirements and must develop skills necessary for their infant’s survival. Perhaps the hormonal changes that presage birth, and are maintained by breastfeeding, enhance mothers’ cognitive preparation to cope with the learning challenges of motherhood. We propose a study with several aims: to examine the extent to which motherhood facilitates women’s ability to learn across a variety of tasks; to investigate whether breastfeeding might extend a potential period of heightened cognitive plasticity in new mothers; and to see if greater learning ability predicts better acquisition of skills central to motherhood, such as breastfeeding. We anticipate that mothers will outperform non-mothers on learning tasks, that breastfeeding mothers will show a slower decline in learning performance after giving birth than non-breastfeeding mothers, and that those showing strong learning performance will display higher levels of breastfeeding success. Should our findings confirm these predictions, this information will broaden perceptions about what motherhood potentiates and may provide a frame to study learning enhancement in adults.
Disclosure of Substance Addiction during Pregnancy: A First Step in Accessing Services
Advisors: Phil Fisher, PhD and Amanda Van Scoyoc, MS
Maternal addiction is predictive of negative child outcomes. Children whose mothers struggle with addiction during pregnancy are more likely to have poor perinatal outcomes, developmental delays, and mental health struggles later in childhood. Beyond the impact of prenatal exposure, maternal substance addiction is a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. Pregnancy is the optimal time for women to access treatment services. Early access to services decreases prenatal exposure and enables women to begin parenting unimpeded by substance use. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 women (Mean age 27.3) who accessed substance abuse treatment services either during pregnancy or immediately following the birth of their child. Interviews elicited information about women’s decisions to disclose or not disclose their addiction to healthcare professionals as well as women’s overall pathways to accessing treatment. All interviews were transcribed and then iteratively coded to identify themes in women’s beliefs regarding disclosure of substance use. Findings identify the importance of women’s beliefs about child welfare involvement due to addiction to pregnancy. These beliefs can both act as a barrier to accessing care and a motivator to becoming clean. Pregnancy is a pivotal moment in women’s lives that provides a crucial opportunity for them to get help, not just for themselves, but also for their children. Out research suggests that treatments and interventions that allow women to access care and disclose their use without fear of consequence are necessary for women to have a healthy and drug-free pregnancy.
The Role of Rhythmic Brain Activity in Long Term Memory Retrieval
Advisor: Ed Awh, PhD
This study aims to elucidate the relationship between Working Memory (WM) and Long Term Memory (LTM) on a neurological basis. In WM tasks, it has been well documented that the alpha frequency signal (8-12 Hz) occurs at the onset of the stimulus. This study seeks to answer whether or not a similar neural pattern exists during a LTM task when the subject retrieves spatial information and holds it in mind.
Additionally, when does this signal occur? I predicted that the alpha signal would reoccur upon retrieval of the spatial stimuli thus revealing a re-representation into working memory. To get at these hypotheses, participants (N=27) participated in a LTM task over the course of two days. Day 1 involved the studying of various objects’ spatial location on a circular array. On day 2, participants were tested on the items and their brain activity recorded. Results revealed that the alpha signal (8-12 hz) indeed did occur upon retrieval of the spatial representation from LTM. The signal occurred at approximately 600 ms and was sustained through the remainder of the trial. These findings suggest that Spatial Working Memory and holding spatial info in mind retrieved from Long Term Memory rely on the same neural mechanism.
Mindfulness and Behavior: Examining Effects of Mindfulness on the Behavior of Romantic Couples Engaged in a Conflict Discussion
Advisors: Heidemarie Laurent, PhD, and Robin Hertz, MS
Previous research has suggested that mindfulness is associated with higher relationship satisfaction and suggests several possible mechanisms that explain this association. The present study investigated potential connections between mindfulness (trait mindfulness and a brief mindfulness induction) and conflict behavior in romantic couples. We hypothesized that greater levels of trait mindfulness and participation in a brief mindfulness induction would predict fewer occurrences of negative communication behaviors and increased occurrences of positive communication behaviors during a conflict discussion. Romantic couples (n=114 dyads) completed a self-report trait mindfulness questionnaire and a week later participated in a lab session that involved the couple in a conflict discussion. Research assistants coded conflict discussion videos for positive and negative communication behaviors. There were no significant associations between self-reported trait mindfulness and conflict behavior. Similarly, the mindfulness group, which participated in a brief mindfulness induction, did not differ significantly in conflict behavior compared to the other groups. Future research could examine this topic using a prolonged mindfulness intervention.
Experience of a Lifetime: Study Abroad, Trauma, and Institutional Betrayal
Advisors: Jennifer Freyd, PhD and Carly Smith, MS
Although the number of U.S. undergraduates studying abroad during college continues to increase, emerging research suggests these students are at risk for experiencing trauma (Kimble, Flack, & Burbridge, 2013; Flack et. al., 2014). The current study is the first to expand the investigation of study abroad risks to include a range of possible traumas and to examine the unique effects of institutional betrayal (i.e., an institution’s failure to adequately prevent trauma or support victims) in the study-abroad setting. In a sample of university students who had studied abroad, many respondents (45.44%, n = 79) reported personally experiencing or witnessing at least one traumatic experience while abroad. Of these students, more than a third (35.44%, n = 28) also reported experiencing at least one form of related institutional betrayal. When controlling for trauma history, the experience of institutional betrayal uniquely predicted posttraumatic outcomes for witnessing and experiencing several types of study abroad trauma. This study revealed that students experience a broader range of traumatic events during study abroad than previous research has documented. Additionally, this study extends prior research by underscoring the importance of understanding institutional impact before, during, and after a student studies abroad.
Undergraduate Honors 2013-2014
Mind-Body Dualism and Mental Illness Stigma
Advisors: Azim Shariff, PhD and Zhen Cheng, MS
Implicit theories and biases continue to be large obstacles in the attainment of adequate mental health services for those with mental illness. Mind-body dualism is a theoretical construct which claims the independence of the mind from the body and which may influence some of these biases. We hypothesized that dualistic views may lead people to hold greater stigma toward those with mental illness, as well as greater internalized stigma and differential treatment behaviors for those with mental illness, themselves. Study 1 measured the relationship between mind-body dualism and stigma variables and found that dualism was positively associated with blame. A second study primed participants with either dualistic or physicalistic theories but found no effect on stigma. The correlational findings from Study 1 were also not replicated. Study 3 targeted participants with a reported diagnosis of mental illness, and found no consistent relationship between mind-body theories and self-stigma or treatment behaviors. Interpreting from null findings must be done with caution; nevertheless these results show no reliable or homogenous relationship between this theory of mind-body dualism and mental health service selection or stigma.
Electrophysiological Correlates of Mood-Cognition Interaction in Self-Evaluative Decisions
Advisors: Don Tucker, PhD and Allison Waters, MS
We investigated the neural correlates of self-referential cognition. Previous research in this area has been largely accomplished using metabolic measures of brain activity. Building on this literature, we explored brain activity using dense array electroencephalography (dEEG) to achieve a temporal resolution more apt to capture the time scale of cognitive events. Forty undergraduates read desirable and undesirable trait-descriptive words and evaluated whether each word was self-descriptive. In a separate condition, participants evaluated the president of the United States using the same trait-descriptive words. Consistent with previous research, we observed a positivity-bias in self-appraisal behavior. This positivity bias was not contained to self-appraisal; instead it was equally present in the other-referential condition. Additionally, the amplitude of the P300 event-related potential was enhanced during self-reference in contrast to the amplitude of the P300 during other-reference; it was also enhanced following desirable words relative to undesirable words. We then conducted an exploratory, correlation analysis to better understand the relationship between appraisal bias and individual differences in trait affect. Findings are consistent with a two-dimensional model of mood constraint on evaluative decisions.
More Than Just Words: EMOTAIX-Tropes Examines Linguistic Predictors of Mental Health
Advisor: Jennifer Ablow, PhD
Given the fundamental role that language plays in our lives, it is apparent that the words people use reveal information about the ways in which they experience and interact with those around them. Examining the language use of at-risk first-time mothers is especially pertinent, as risk factors such as maternal depression and anxiety lead to adverse child outcomes including delayed emotional development, behavioral problems and lower IQ. To broaden our understanding of how language is used in emotion processing with regards to mental health, we used EMOTAIX-Tropes, a text-analysis software program aimed at assessing the emotional lexicon, to examine 105 first-time mothers’ use of emotion language (i.e. words denoting worry, happiness, anger). The women were interviewed using the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and were recorded and transcribed verbatim, then analyzed via EMOTAIX-Tropes, which divides and classifies emotion terms into semantic categories according to valence (positive or negative). Additionally, participants filled out questionnaires to assess levels of depression (CESD; Radloff, 1977), anxiety (BAI; Beck, Brown, Epstein & Steer, 1998), trauma history (TSC; Elliot & Briere, 1992), alexithymia (TAS; Bagby, Parker & Taylor, 1994), and verbal intelligence (Shipley, 1940). We hypothesized that participants’ emotion language would correlate with self-reported measures of distress, such that those with greater symptomatology would use more negative affect terms. Preliminary results revealed that self-reported distress levels are positively correlated with the use of words expressing hatred and aggression. Further analyses will examine the relationship between measures of distress and the remaining emotion word categories.
To Use or Not to Use: Stereotypes and their Effect on Empathic Accuracy
Advisors: Sara Hodges, PhD and Karyn Lewis, MS
Stereotypes have long been seen as something that people need to overcome and transcend. This study explores the ideas that stereotypes may be useful heuristics that help people make sense of the world; especially in social perception and empathic inference. We hypothesized that the act of not using one’s stereotypes when making empathic inferences would greatly compromise one’s empathic accuracy. In this study, perceivers (N = 79) were told to use or not use their currently held stereotypes when inferring the thoughts and feelings of targets talking about having divorced parents. The participants that were told to not use their stereotypes when making inferences had significantly lower empathic accuracy scores than those who were told to use them and a control. Though stereotypes may been seen as something that needs to be rid of, this study suggests otherwise. Stereotypes, when accurate, should not be ignored as they may lead to better empathic accuracy and more broadly better social perceptions.
Personality Impressions on Twitter
Advisors: Sanjay Srivastava, PhD and Nicole Lawless
This study examined the extent to which participants agreed about Twitter users’ personalities based only on the Twitter user’s profile or their social network. Participants (N=630) evaluated a random selection of Twitter users’ profiles, a set of the user’s followers, or a set of the user’s friends. Multilevel modeling techniques were used to separate perceiver and target variance in order to estimate trait level agreement. When viewing a Twitter user’s profile, participants agreed most about the degree to which users’ were thorough and agreed least about the degree to which users’ were assertive. When viewing a Twitter user’s set of followers, participants agreed most about the users’ socioeconomic status and least about the degree to which users were relaxed. When viewing a Twitter user’s set of friends, participants agreed most about the degree to which users’ needed to be the center of attention and least about having artistic interests. The findings of this study support existing literature regarding the ability of perceivers to make consistent judgments of strangers based on limited amounts of information present on social media websites. Not only did observers agree on a Twitter user’s personality characteristics when they saw the same type of information (either the user’s profile, followers, or friends), they also agreed when they saw different types of information about the user. This study extends previous literature to Twitter, a microblogging social media platform and one of the most popular social media websites in the world.
Marina P. Gross
Accessing Long-Term Memory – What Pupil Dilation Can Tell Us About Learning And Memory
Advisor: Nash Unsworth, PhD
This study investigates the role of pupil dilation in memory formation and retrieval through a delayed free recall task. Previous studies have shown the validity of pupil dilation as a proxy for attention and effort. For the first time, our study used pupillometry to investigate encoding and search processes in long-term memory as well as the primacy effect – a phenomenon that describes superior recall of the first item on a list. Participants (N = 66) learned 7 lists of 10 words each for later recall. Using eye tracking, we analyzed pupil size during list learning as well as item retrieval. Results reveal a close relationship between pupil dilation and both encoding and search processes. During encoding, attention, as indicated by pupil size, peaked at the first item only to decrease over the course of each trial. These findings are consistent with primacy-gradient models. Additionally, we provide new evidence on the primacy effect. During encoding, pupil dilation during the first item was not only much larger but also followed a different pattern than that of any other item. Our data suggest that besides rehearsal, increased attention to the first item on the list might play a role in its superior recall. Lastly, our data reveal that intense search processes at recall onset are mirrored in peak pupil dilations. At the beginning of the recall period, the pupil dilates sharply before participants begin recalling items. Additionally, when pupil was large, participants recalled words rapidly and to a higher degree. Overall, this study demonstrates how encoding and long-term memory search processes are reflected in pupil dilation. We propose future research into attention levels during encoding to understand subsequent recall performance.
Amanda R. Hammons
You LANG them!: Re-evaluating Recasts as Negative Evidence
Advisors: Dare Baldwin, PhD and Rose Maier, MS
Marcus (1993) argues that recasts (feedback on children’s speech errors provided via a corrected version of the utterance) are of little value for language acquisition: although parents recast children’s errors, they also recast well-formed utterances. Perhaps, however, parents provide pedagogical cues that distinguish recasts with corrective versus non-corrective intent. If so, children might be especially receptive to recasts accompanied by corrective intent, and update their linguistic constructions accordingly. To test this, 5- and 6-year-old children are introduced to two novel verbs in present tense forms. Both verbs take irregular past tense forms, modeled after real irregular verbs in English (e.g. ling/lang modeled after ring/rang), so children’s initial attempts to use the past tense are typically overgeneralizations (e.g. linged). The experimenter recasts these errors in two conditions: In the informative condition, pedagogical cues signaling corrective intent accompany recasts. In the uninformative condition, recasts are linguistically identical but lack pedagogical cues to corrective intent. It was predicted that if these cues help children disambiguate corrective versus non-corrective recasts, children in the informative condition should show greater preference for the correct (irregular) past tense form over the incorrect (overgeneralized) form. In this preliminary sample there was no significant effect of condition, t(16) = -.89, p < .05. This work contributes to our growing understanding of the role social information in the analysis of linguistic input.
Perceptual Bias: Contextual Effects and the Systemizing Factors of Autism
Advisors: Paul Dassonville, PhD and Scott Reed, MA
Autistic tendencies in the general population have previously been found to predict a global-to-local shift in perceptual processing. Specifically, a two-factor structure to the systemizing trait of autism has been recently found to predict this shift, with an analytical-tendencies factor associated with weakened use of global contextual cues, and an insistence-on-sameness factor associated with heightened use of local information. In the current study, we measured autistic tendencies in the general population and examined the extent to which the two systemizing factors were also predictive of low-level contextual interactions in early visual processing. Specifically, we used a flanker task to measure attractive and repulsive contextual effects on orientation perception, which are thought to be driven by contextual interactions at the single-unit level in primary visual cortex. It was found that higher autistic tendencies related to insistence-on-sameness were associated with greater contextual interactions with lateral flankers, while higher autistic tendencies associated with analytical-tendencies were associated with reduced contextual interactions with collinear flankers. These relationships were found only with these specific subcomponents of systemizing and were not related to overall autistic or systemizing tendencies. These findings suggest that distinct forms of systemizing differentially predict the magnitude of low-level contextual interactions, though future research should examine the extent to which the relationships also reflect differences in neurophysiological functioning.
Beyond Depression: Mothers with Comorbidity Differ in Neural Response to Infants’ Cry
Advisors: Heidemarie Laurent, PhD and Rosemary Bernstein, MS
Past research has illuminated how the functioning of the subcortical and prefrontal regions of the brain is affected by a major depressive disorder and in turn affects the maternal response to infant stimuli. The current study explores how comorbid anxiety disorders impact specific patterns of maternal response. We hypothesized a difference in neural response to infant cries in mothers who are comorbidly diagnosed in comparison with mothers who suffer from depression without anxiety and in comparison to mothers with no diagnosis. This hypothesis was tested in a group of 22 high risk mothers exposed to their own infant’s cry sound during functional neuroimaging. Group comparisons of neural response to own infant cry (vs. a control sound) were examined. Fixed effects analysis revealed greater activation in several areas, including those associated with speech-related auditory processing and empathy, for those mothers with depression and anxiety as compared to mothers with depression and no anxiety disorder. Areas of emotion regulation and motivation showed greater activation for mothers in the control group. Implications of these neural responses for associated behavioral responses are discussed.
Moralization of Smoking in Germany and the US
Advisors: Sara Hodges, PhD and Brian Clark, MA
Cigarette smoking has become more moralized over the last half century.
Moralization is the process by which moral value is attached to objects and activities that were previously morally irrelevant. Moralization of behaviors such as smoking is an individual-level (e.g., reflected in an individual’s attitudes towards smoking) as well as a cultural-level (e.g., reflected in anti-smoking policies) phenomenon. We studied moralization of smoking in two cultural contexts (Eugene, OR, USA and Tübingen, Germany). Participants were asked by research assistants on and around university campuses to complete a questionnaire in their native language while the research assistant waited. The questionnaire included questions about moralization of cigarette smoking and related constructs, beliefs about smokers’ volitional control over smoking, prejudice against smokers, and support for antismoking policy. These constructs were used in order to measure the attitudes that lead to relevant real-world outcomes such as differential treatment of cigarette smokers. We found that American non-smokers’ attitudes about smoking were marginally more moralistic than were those of German non-smokers and that American smokers’ attitudes about smoking and smokers were significantly more moralistic than were those of German smokers.
It’s Too Loud in Here: Effects of White Noise on Attention
Advisor: Nash Unsworth
Stochastic resonance refers to the effect of how noise strengthens a signal that enhances the potential of a subject to increase cognitive performance. Stochastic resonance works whereby external noise, specifically white auditory noise enhances internal neural signals often too weak to be detected by a sensor. This study examines this model and its effect on attentional abilities. The experiment was run on university students, paying particular attention to the variance in results, in response to a range of decibel levels in white noise. Results showed that variance in response times were significantly lower, and accuracy was significantly higher at a 60-80db range, hence displaying that perhaps white noise at that level does enhance attention.
Motivation and Executive Control: Using Eye Movements to Investigate Reward-Related Modulation during Task-Switching
Advisors: Ulrich Mayr, PhD and Jason Hubbard, MS
Recent studies have demonstrated the positive effect of motivation on executive functioning (Locke & Braver, 2008; Savine & Braver, 2010). However, the cognitive mechanisms responsible for observed improvements in performance are not fully understood. The current study investigated the effect of performance-contingent rewards (monetary incentives) on response time and attention by tracking participants’ eye movements during a cued task-switching experiment. Twenty-nine participants (16 female, 14 male) aged 18-31 (M=20.4, SD=3.14) performed two different tasks in which three objects (one target, one distractor, and one neutral object) were presented on a computer screen. Subjects were instructed to respond using corresponding keys that changed depending on the currently relevant task. Results of behavioral measures indicate that reward significantly reduced switch-costs and error rates. Preliminary results of eye-movement trajectories reveal improved performance on rewarded trials. Notably, improvements are exclusively observed during response selection, rather than the attentional selection phase. These results suggest that executive control improvements associated with reward are due to processes specifically involved with response selection.
Self-Evaluation of Trait Adjectives: An EEG and Behavioral Analysis
Advisors: Don Tucker, PhD and Allison Waters, MS
While previous studies looking at neural substrates of self-evaluative cognition have focused on fMRI and PET experimental procedures, EEG experiments in this realm are newer and less understood. This study looks to investigate event-related potentials related to self-evaluation and semantic processing while attempting to replicate previous findings regarding how positive and negative affect differentially predict endorsement patterns of good and bad words, respectively. EEG was recorded from 43 nonclinical participants as they rated whether trait adjectives were like them or not, in addition to a semantic-processing control condition where they evaluated the word’s meaning. Preliminary ERP results show differences in responses to good and bad words around the P300, while responses to good words in the self-evaluative condition show a larger late positivity potential. Behavioral results indicate that only positive affect predicts endorsement patterns for responses to good and bad words, an interesting finding that will need replication in order to be verified.
Words in Action: An Exploratory Study of the VGT Paradigm in dEEG
Advisors: Don Tucker, PhD and Catherine Poulsen, PhD
Past research has provided evidence to support the use of non-invasive imaging and brain activity measurement techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and magnetoencephalography (MEG) in pre-surgical planning for epileptic patients. The current study explores the possibility of using dense-array electroencephalography (dEEG) for the pre-surgical mapping of brain areas necessary for language functioning in epileptics. We hypothesize that we will find differences in P300 component across the visual VGT task and naming task and that we will find left lateralized effects for language. Thirteen participants took part in auditory and visual versions of the verb generation task (VGT) and a naming task. During both VGT tasks, participants made overt responses of action words in response to concrete nouns. During the naming task they overtly stated the name of the object they had seen. Data is still being collected and analysis is ongoing.
Advisors: Marjorie Taylor, PhD & Candice Mottweiler, MS
Creative ability is most frequently measured with divergent thinking tasks based on the manipulation of physical objects. While useful, this type of method does not capture the complexity or range of creative behavior. The purpose of this study was to develop new tasks that measure creative ability in the social domain and that involve the creation of a product rather than divergent thinking. We were also interested in testing the extent that creativity on our tasks was related to children’s ability to cope in real world situations. Seventy-seven children between the ages of 8 and 12 completed divergent thinking and product creation tasks focused on social or non-social content. Performance on the tasks with social content was not related to performance on the tasks with non-social content, indicating that social creativity is a distinct domain. However, creativity was not related to our measure of coping strategies.
The Effects of Causal Explanations and Attributions on Reactions to Children with Mental Health Problems
Advisors: Phil Fisher, PhD and Zhen Cheng, MS
Along with the various challenges that can accompany mental illness, stigma towards mental illness further decreases one’s quality of life. Stigma directed towards children with mental health problems may have especially adverse consequences due to the importance of positive relationships in healthy development. Research has demonstrated that our beliefs about the cause of an individual’s psychopathology are important because they can often predict the amount of stigma one will project towards adults with mental illness, however little research has examined the stigmatization of childhood psychopathology. This study investigated the relationship between stigma and mental illness in children through administering a task that required participants to read pseudo articles that provided different causal explanations for psychopathology in children, a vignette of a child diagnosed with a mental health problem, and then complete a questionnaire that measured their emotional and behavioral reactions to the child.
Count to ten, and then? – Psychophysiological Effects of Time on Aggression in Web Video Social Interactions
Advisors: Pranjal Mehta, PhD and Erik Knight, MS
Thomas Paine, the late 18th century English-American political theorist was quoted as saying that “the greatest remedy to anger is delay.” Similar to this adage, strategies such as waiting or “counting to ten” before reacting to a negative situation is a common solution prescribed by our culture to aid in reducing further aggression. However, few scientific models have set out to test the veracity of such folk wisdom and examine the effect that time has on aggression in subsequent social interactions. To address the question of how the passage of time alters our aggressive responses to negative social situations, the present study will investigate the relationship between time and aggression, and further explore whether social, affective, and physiological processes mediate one’s aggressive output. While their heart rate physiology was being measured with biopac sensors, participants filled out online questionnaires, partook in a pre-recorded, fictitious online web-video social interaction with another student, and then were instructed to participate in a decision-making paradigm (the ultimatum game) with the same student after either a short or prolonged period of time following the initial interaction. We hypothesize that if there is less time between the first and second interactions, participants will be more likely to display aggression towards the fictitious student during the decision making paradigm. Results and findings are forthcoming.
Plasticity-Based Brain Training and Aging: A Meta-Analytic Review
Advisor: Ulrich Mayr, PhD
Cognitive decline is an unfortunate hallmark of aging. Deficits can interfere with daily activities and often come at the cost of living independently. In recent years, “brain training” programs and games have become a popular option for older adults who are looking to sharpen their cognitive skills. However, despite their commercial success, it is not clear to what degree these programs produce generalized effects beyond improvement on the trained skills. To determine the size of generalized training effects, we conducted a meta-analysis of existing training studies that used plasticity-focused practice regimes. Studies were included if they sampled adults aged 50 and older, participants had no cognitive impairment, and they had a control group. This led to a final sample of 32 studies. Preliminary results suggest a small-to-moderate overall effect size. In addition, we found that the effect size declined along the near-to-far transfer continuum as assessments become more dissimilar to training type, and with the sample size of the study. Particularly surprising is the fact that the effect size is negatively correlated with duration of the practice regimen. For far-transfer outcome measures with large sample sizes and long durations of practice, the effect size approaches zero. These results raise doubts about the promise that plasticity-related training regimes effectively counter the broad effects of cognitive aging.