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 2016-17, 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 – 2016-2017
Preference Reversals in Donation
Advisors: Paul Slovic, PhD and Marcus Mayorga, MS
Generally, people make decisions based on available information. We tend to think that our decisions are originally from our own deliberation. However, these decisions can be influenced by choices presented to us. A previous study by Hsee (1998) suggests that these evaluations can be inconsistent when people are presented either with one choice or with many choices at once. We test whether this hypothesis applies in a donation scenario. Using an online survey, participants will see the picture of or the level of money of either one donation box (with low or high existing amounts of money) or two donation boxes (with low and high amounts of money in each). In the Single condition, they will choose an amount of money to donate to the box. In the Joint condition, they will choose both the box and the amount. We hypothesize that in the Single condition, people tend to donate more in the high money box. In contrast, for the Joint condition, more people will choose the low money box with a higher amount of money than people who donate to the high money box. Yet, when comparing two conditions, people will donate more in the Joint condition. This is because they have reversed their preferences in the presence of an alternative. This would also apply when they are provided only the amount of money in the box without the picture of the box(es). The findings will provide us with a better understanding of preference reversals that involve money and altruistic behavior. Ultimately, we may be able to apply this result to increase donation in the real-world practices.
The Similarity Effect and Altruism
Advisors: Paul Slovic, PhD and Marcus Mayorga, MS
Many models try to explain people’s decisions in multi-alternative scenarios but these models have not yet tested for the effect of interpersonal relationship that might affect people’s choices. For example, Tversky (1972) introduced the Similarity Hypothesis: people tend to choose a dissimilar item over two similar items in the same set. To expand this finding and have a better understanding of what the impact of interpersonal relationships might have, we use an online survey of the Giving and the Taking conditions with a set of two similar items and one dissimilar item. In the Giving condition, subjects will choose to give away one M&Ms® jar from the set, with the only distinction being the colors of the M&Ms®. Further, recipient types are various (i.e. lover, acquaintance, unknown, child in need) to test for effects of interpersonal relationship with altruism regarding the type of recipient. The hypothesis for this Giving condition is that regardless of the recipient types, people still choose to give away the similar item to the recipient and keep the dissimilar item to the self. In the Taking condition, subjects will choose to keep a toothpaste; however, the only available clue is the quantity of each choice. We hypothesize in this Taking condition that people will use this clue and choose the dissimilar one. The findings will expand the knowledge of this effect by examining the interaction between similarity and altruism, and the interaction between similarity and categorical information (that is, color and quantity).
Influence of Act-Based Birthing Classes on Parenting Stress and Depressive Symptoms
Advisors: Jennifer Ablow, PhD and April Lightcap, MS
The present study will examine the relationship between participation in the prenatal Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)-based birthing classes titled Birth Your Way, and future parenting stress. This thesis asks the question does participation in ACT-based birthing classes, Birth Your Way, effect maternal (1) parenting stress and (2) depressive symptoms at 1 month postpartum. Participants (41 low-income mothers) were randomly assigned to either the treatment (those who received the Birth Your Way class) or control (those who did not receive the Birth Your Way class) conditions. Maternal reports of stress/anxiety as well as depression were collected prenatally and 1-month postpartum. Additionally, levels of maternal experiential avoidance were collected prenatally and 1-month postpartum. A regression analysis found that when controlling for demographic and labor/delivery risk factors, participation in Birth Your Way did has a marginally significant effect on parenting stress or depressive symptoms 1-month postpartum. Post-hoc analysis found that when controlling for demographic and labor/delivery risk factors, the effect that participation in the birth class had on maternal levels of experiential avoidance is marginally significance. This thesis discusses the limitations of a behavior intervention such as Birth Your Way, the reasons why an insignificant result may have been found, as well as further directions for Birth Your Way based on the results of the study. The results of the current work have important implications for future prenatal interventions and the role that ACT-based interventions can play in improving maternal and child health.
The Effectiveness of a Value Based Text Message Intervention on Unhealthy Food Craving and Consumption
Advisors: Nicole Giuliani, PhD and Elliot Berkman, PhD
The most recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics estimates that, among adults in the United States over the age of 20, 32.7% are overweight, 37.9% are obese, and 7.7% are extremely obese. Separately, research has shown that a rise in BMI is associated with an increase in health risks, including certain types of cancers (e.g., colorectal-cancer, breast cancer, renal cell). In contrast to many existing interventions, which focus on effortful down-regulation of food craving to reduce unhealthy food intake, this study tests the effectiveness of a personal values-based intervention. Middle-aged obese and overweight participants (N=105) were randomly assigned to receive healthy eating text messages that align with their core values or generic healthy eating text messages derived from public health campaigns (e.g., by the American Heart Association). We hypothesized that participants who received the core value text messages (vs. generic text messages) would show a decrease in craving and consumption of unhealthy foods. Craving and consumption measures were collected using standard self-report questionnaire measures (Block FFQ and FCI) and analysis is undergoing using repeated measures ANOVAs. Anticipated results will indicate a significant decrease in the craving and consumption of unhealthy foods in the value based text messages condition than the generic text messages condition. The implications of these results on healthy eating and obesity will be discussed.
The Double-Drift Illusion Affects Both the Perception of Where the Target Is and the Memory of Where It Was
Advisor: Paul Dassonville, PhD
To successfully hit a curveball, how does your conscious perception of the curving ball effect where your bat actually swings? From evading car accidents to using basic hand-eye coordination, we often rely on our perceptions of the world to help guide our actions. Successfully perceiving and interacting with a moving object requires the brain to encode how the object’s edges (global motion) and the object’s internal texture (local motion) are moving through space. In order to quickly process moving objects, the brain typically assumes that these motions are in agreement. However, this assumption is a simple shortcut that does not always reflect the true physical world, often leading to a visual illusion. Previous research has shown that the perceived trajectory of an object with contrasting global and local motion is a combination of the two motion directions.
The purpose of this thesis was therefore to investigate the relative influence of the local and global motions over time and how the memory of the stimulus’ previous locations are affected by the perceived trajectory. We assessed the change in the observer’s memory of the trajectory’s starting location by asking the observer to compare the onset location with a probe that could be presented before or after motion onset (-250, 0, 250, 500 or 1000ms). Participants maintained fixation in the center of the screen while an object containing leftward, rightward, or no internal motion traveled upward for 500ms in the periphery. The global motion of the stimulus was adjusted for each observer so that the perceived double-drift trajectory appeared purely vertical. For probes presented 250ms before motion onset, the local motion induced a small but significant distortion of the perceived starting location. This bias grew significantly with later probe presentations, reaching a plateau for delays of 250ms or longer. Given that a delay period enhances the effect of the illusion, these results suggest that at least a portion of the distortion in the perceived trajectory of a double-drift stimulus is caused by a bias in the memory of its earlier locations, which are pushed in a direction opposite the local motion.
Effect of Identity Manipulation on Aggressive Behavior
Advisor: Elliot Berkman, PhD
The identity-value model (IVM) of self-regulation proposes that self-regulation is the result of a value-based calculation between a variety of goal inputs, and that identity relevant choices are more likely to be enacted given their high subjective value (Berkman et al., 2015). The current project tests this model by investigating the link between identity and aggression, a behavior that has been demonstrated to result from self-control failure (DeWall et al., 2005). Participants (N=128) were randomly assigned to recall either a small (easy recall) or large (difficult recall) number of autobiographical instances of aggressive behaviors, leading participants to believe they either did or did not have an aggressive disposition (Schwarz et al., 1991), and measured aggressive inclinations on a subsequent aggression task. We predicted that participants who had to report more instances of aggressive behavior would experience greater difficulty in recalling these examples, implying they could not be typical or frequent. Thus, subjects in the difficult recall condition will conclude they are less aggressive compared to participants in the easy recall condition. Preliminary results indicate that ease of recall had no effect on aggressive behavior, as scores on the aggression task were not dependent on whether participants recalled a small or large number of aggressive behaviors. These results run contrary to the IVM’s main prediction, suggesting that the relationship between identity and successful self-control may not be robust, though further testing using different methodology will be needed to confirm this.
The Sequela of Maternal Trauma: Attachment Relationships and the Development of Empathy in the Next Generation
Advisors: Jennifer Ablow, PhD and Jeff Measelle, PhD
Surprisingly few studies have examined how child empathy develops within the context of the primary attachment relationship, or how maternal trauma and contextual factors contribute to individual differences in infant’s empathy. This study originated with two central aims: (1) determine whether infant displays of empathy differ according to their quality of attachment; and (2) explore the extent to which maternal trauma and contextual factors contribute to these differences. Thus, this study sought to advance our understanding of how maternal characteristics are related to 17-month-old’s empathy within the attachment context, and to identify mechanism(s) by which the capacity for empathy is transmitted across generations. As predicted, considering child characteristics such as temperament and contextual factors such as family socioeconomic status (SES), restricted maternal empathic responsiveness resulting from a history of trauma further was associated with empathic dysregulation in infants. Infants who were securely attached were significantly more empathically reactive to their mother’s distress in comparison to insecure infants, in particular, infants classified as disorganized. Further, a regression model predicting empathy revealed a significant effect of effortful control (EC) on infant’s global empathy score such that infants with higher EC expressed significantly higher levels of empathy. Family SES was non-significantly related to empathy and none of the interactions with attachment were significant. These results suggest that multiple conditions of risk negatively impact infant empathy development; however, characteristics of the baby such as their ability to regulate attention and emotion—EC—may protect them against the negative effects of familial processes.
Understanding Cross-modal Spatial Processing during Visual and Tactile Tasks Using fMRI
Advisors: Alexander J. Bies, PhD and Margaret E. Sereno, PhD
Real-world spatial navigation is a relatively complex process that recruits multisensory modalities to integrate spatial information over time and space (Wolbers, & Hegarty, 2010). Previous studies have revealed cross-modal plasticity of cortices in congenially blind and sighted people during tactile navigation (Gagnon et al., 2012; Kuper, Chebat, Madsen, Paulson, & Ptito, 2010), but little is known about the neural basis underlying tactile navigation, especially without previous learning. To understand cross-modal spatial processing in normal humans, this study examined the brain areas activated by spatial tasks with visual images and tactile substitutions in sighted participants (N=8) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In experimental conditions, the tasks required different spatial abilities – a map rotation task tested mental rotation ability, and path and orientation tasks tested spatial orientation ability. In corresponding controls, participants performed shape judgment tasks on the same or similar stimuli instead. Brain activation patterns were similar among the three types of tasks. In the visual experiment, experimental tasks were associated with higher levels of activation in the precuneus, superior parietal lobule, postcentral gyrus and frontal gyrus, whereas activation in occipital, parahippocampal, and insular cortices was not significantly different between experimental and control conditions. In the tactile experiment, we observed similar superior parietal lobule, precentral, postcentral and frontal gyri activation in all tasks. Our results indicate engagement of navigation-related areas (including parietal, precuneus and parahippocamplal cortex) during completion of a variety of visual-spatial tasks, and recruitment of a subset of these regions, including regions important for egocentric spatial processing, during tactile spatial tasks. Remarkably, shared activation in intraparietal and precuneus cortex during visual and tactile spatial tasks demonstrates cross-modal spatial processing between haptic and visual modalities during these navigation-related tasks.
Ha Eun Kim
Cortical Thickness: An Introduction and Comprehensive Review of the Current Literature
Advisors: Don Tucker, PhD and Ariel Wightman, BS
Cortical thickness of the cerebral cortex provides valuable information about normal and abnormal brain anatomy. For the past 30 years, lots of research and studies have revealed the association of cortical thickness and various neurodevelopmental disorders as well as regional differences in normal brain function. Thus, it is crucial to understand and summarize what has been discovered so far. The aim of this review was to examine all available published cortical thickness research on Google Scholars and to provide a comprehensive summary of current studies. The literature search encompassed all relevant cortical thickness studies published until January 2017 on Google Scholars. The articles were found through using the key term cortical thickness. With 134 papers initially found, duplicates were removed and several papers were individually found and included to provide more specific information in this paper, which eventually lead to total of 119 papers. The papers were inspected twice and were categorized into five different groups according to the paper’s relevant topics in terms of cortical thickness as follows. I, brief summary of the different cortical thickness extraction mechanisms; II, studies in healthy normal participants; III, studies in neurodevelopmental disorders; IV, studies in neuropathological disorders and V, studies in all other disorders. Summaries of research on more specific disorders were addressed in each subcategory. These outcomes indicate the importance of cortical thickness research and need for further analysis in the future.
Maternal Emotional Dysregulation and Parenting Behaviors
Advisors: Leslie Roos, MS and Phil Fisher, PhD
Positive parenting behavior is essential to predicting numerous positive child outcomes such as school success, appropriate child behavior, and mental health. We have investigated pathways through which maternal emotional dysregulation, assessed via DERs (Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale), impacts the familial relationship between mother and child. Observing parenting behaviors and maternal responsiveness to children’s distress by the PICCOLO (Parenting Interactions with Children: Checklist of Observations Linked to Outcomes) scale allows direct intervention for the poor parenting behaviors. Previous research suggests that maternal emotional dysregulation in particular can have negative impacts including reduced emotional support for the child or an increase in child’s physical aggression (Skowron, Kozlowski, & Pincus, 2010; Tzoumakis, Lussier, & Corrado, 2015; Hughes & Gullone, 2010). However, the mechanisms through which emotional dysregulation impact parenting behaviors are less understood. Maternal parenting stress (assessed via the Parental Stress Index (PSI)) may serve as a key mediator in the maternal emotional dysregulation and parent-child relationship due to difficulties of managing distress and effective parenting, such as providing emotional support or appropriate discipline practices in the presence of one’s own mental health symptoms or emotion dysregulation. This research can further the knowledge of parental mental health and parenting techniques by using video coding (PICCOLO) of mother-child interaction in tandem with caregiver reports of parenting practices, such as responsiveness to child distress. It is expected that mothers with a difficulty in regulating their own emotions will be affected in their ability to engage in positive parenting practices (e.g. responsiveness, teaching, affection, encouragement). Focusing on maternal emotion dysregulation may provide valuable information for interventions that seek to disrupt intergenerational transmission of emotional dysregulation and negative caregiving experiences.
The Effects of an Educational Intervention on the Willingness to Fund Mental Health Prison Programs for Mentally Ill Offenders
Advisors: Robert Mauro, PhD and Robert Rocklin, JD
Social and political stigmas follow criminality and mental illness within the general population. For mentally ill criminals, these two characteristics are combined causing the effects of the stigmas to be heightened. Previous research has shown that the general negative stigma towards mental illness has negative effects on the allocation of funding for mental health programs (Skitka and Tetlock, 1993; Corrigan, Watson, & Gracia, 2004). The lack of funding for mental health programs is exacerbated in prisons. Mentally ill inmates frequently do not receive the treatment that they need. Failing to treat mental illness in the prison systems exacerbates the disorders, creating additional problems post-release within the community. In the present study, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that assesses varying characteristics about themselves (i.e. demographics, political affiliations, thoughts on current government spending, etc.). Through random selection, approximately half of the participants were asked to read a fact sheet about the benefits that funding has on mentally ill prisoners in correctional mental health facilities. Each participant was then asked to allocate hypothetical funds to different mental health populations. If lack of knowledge about the societal costs and benefits of mental health treatment for criminal populations was a major factor in limiting individuals’ willingness to fund treatment for this population, then those participants who received the educational intervention should demonstrate a greater willingness to fund mental health prison programs relative to alternative mental health programs. The data collection is still underway and the results are pending.
The Role of Recall in Self-Enhancing Social Comparisons of Academic Performance
Advisors: Colton Christian, MS and Sara Hodges, PhD
Comparing oneself to others is a regular part of human existence. Yet, when making these comparisons, people are notoriously biased, reporting that they are better than others on an array of positive dimensions. One explanation that has been provided for self-enhancement on positive dimensions is recall (Chambers & Windschitl, 2004). When asked to compare themselves to others, people may be more likely to recall positive information about the self than for another person. This difference in recall may lead to self-enhancement. The present study seeks to explore self-enhancing social comparisons in relation to feedback and recall in classroom settings by examining how accurately students predict their own grade and the class average before taking an exam, and how well they incorporate feedback into their comparative judgments (i.e. their relative standing) when recalling their own performance after the exam. Participants were more accurate at predicting and recalling the class average than their own scores, and consistently predicted their own performance to be above average, though this difference was only significant for males. Contrary to our predictions, the degree to which participants self-enhanced in recalling their exam score did not significantly correlate with their overall comparative judgments. We also explored whether sex, future persistence in the field, or theories of intelligence were related the accuracy of recalling or predicting test scores.
The Modulation of Perceptual Weights Facilitated by the Expectations of Forthcoming Evidence
Advisors: Ulrich Mayr, PhD and Atsushi Kikumoto, MS
The process of decision making consists of the integration of multiple sensory inputs leading to a perceptually congruent output. However decisions may not always accurately reflect the information presented due to various noise being incorporated as evidence to form a decision. Some of this noise can be influenced by expectations, modulating imminent decisions and precipitate biases. An example of this can be observed when stimuli that are viewed more recently bias our perception of it occurring more frequently (Summerfield & Lange, 2014). The present study inquires into the effects of expectations in modulating decisions in the presence of inconsistent evidence and how this impacts the perceptual weight of the presented evidence. Participants were instructed to view a Stream of randomly oriented Gabor patterns followed by a binary decision to categorize the summation of the stream as cardinal or diagonal. The stream was preceded by a neutral, diagonal, or cardinal cue with the latter two indicating a 70% probability the summation of the stream to be congruent with the cue. A logistic regression analysis of the Gabor patterns and the corresponding decisions revealed an underweighting of the evidence when the cueing is incompatible. The analysis also reveals a dampening of this underweighting as evidence accumulates, which may reflect an update of prior expectations.
Effects of Cognitive Frames and Emotion on Personal Risk Perception
Advisor: Robert Mauro, PhD
Substantial research has explored why individuals take risks in their everyday lives. For example, previous research has investigated the “Framing Effect.” Individuals tend to avoid taking risks when decisions are framed in terms of gains, but tend to take risks when the same decision is framed in terms of losses. Affect has an impact on the framing effect. Positive affect is associated with greater risk taking when a decision is framed in terms of a loss, but positive affect is not associated with greater risk taking when the decision is framed in terms of a gain (Cheung 2011). Although substantial research has examined how individuals make decisions, there is little research that focuses on how specific emotions impact risk-taking decisions.
This study examines the effect of specific emotions (happiness, anger, fear and sadness) on risk taking decisions of the sort that individuals make in everyday life. Participants were asked to imagine being in four scenarios. These scenarios varied on whether the risk was physical or social and whether it was framed in terms of a loss or a gain. Furthermore, the participants were asked to imagine having a specific emotion while in the described situations. They are then asked to make a choice and record and rank possible consequences to their decision. It is hypothesized that: 1) Decisions that are framed in terms of a loss will result in higher rates of risk taking. 2) Decisions that are framed in terms of a loss will result in higher rates of risk taking when they are paired with negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness) than when they are paired with positive emotions (happiness). 3) Decisions that are framed in terms of a gain will produce higher rates of risk taking when paired with positive emotions than when paired with negative emotions. Understanding the impact of affect on risk-taking is important for the development of interventions designed to address risk-taking in adolescents and young adults.
Dylan M.N. Vas
The Effect of Motivation on Mind-wandering and Sustained Attention
Advisors: Matthew K. Robison, MS and Nash Unsworth, PhD
Cognitive psychology has recently developed a heightened interest in the common experience of mind-wandering (Callard et al., 2013). People mind-wander frequently, which is associated with decreased cognitive performance (e.g. Stawarczyk et al., 2011; Unsworth & McMillan, 2013; Seli et al., 2015). Previous work has shown that mind-wandering rates relate to cognitive abilities, such as working memory capacity, reading comprehension, and attention control. In addition, previous research has also found that contextual variables, like motivation, can influence mind-wandering and task performance. The present study seeks to expand on these findings by examining attention control via reaction time in the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT), probing for thought content (on task, task-related interference, external distractions, mind-wandering, mind-blanking), and requesting self-reported levels of motivation. Results showed that reports of being on task decreased over time, while mind-blanking and spontaneous mind-wandering rates increased. Higher motivation ratings were associated with faster reaction times, more on task reports, and lower rates of mind-wandering and mind-blanking. The results provide evidence that sustained attention worsens over time, and this was accompanied by thought content changes over time. Additionally, motivation was found to be a valid predictor of both task performance and fewer instances of off-task thought.
What Did You Say She was Like? Features of Gossip Associated with Hearsay Accuracy and Consensus
Advisors: Cory Costello, MS and Sanjay Srivastava, PhD
When gossiping about a person, how does one’s verbal responses affect the impression formed by the gossipers? The current project explores the impacts of nine types of verbal responses on the accuracy and consensus. We coded one-hundred and fourteen gossip conversations from a previous study for nine specific responses and eight global features of the conversations. After using profile correlation and focusing on the effect sizes, our results suggest that certain types of responses may be associated with accuracy and consensus. This project should help shed light on the conversational features associated with accuracy and consensus of impressions formed through gossip.
Real World Object Naming from Infant Perspective
Advisor: Caitlin Fausey, PhD
Babies learn what words mean through experience – but what is the relevant experience? Here, we begin to answer this question by capturing infant-perspective experiences in their everyday lives at home. Infants ages 9 to 24 months (N = 7) wore a head-camera at home (M = 4.09 hours). We identified moments in which someone held an object in view and then transcribed the speech surrounding these moments (+/- 30 seconds). We hypothesized that the rate at which caregivers name objects-in view is not constant, but rather changes over this developmental period. Caregivers are especially likely to name visually large, centered, objects-in-view just as infants are learning to say those names (e.g., 11-13 months). Caregiver sensitivity to naming moments that are optimal for learning would be consistent with a growing body of evidence that social partners helpfully tune how they interact with infants (Brand et al., 2002; Fernald, 1985; Roy et al., 2009). Developmentally changing synchrony between seen objects and heard names is likely to be a key feature of relevant input to early word learning. Our hypothesis was supported in that there was in increase in object in-hand naming over the first year of life, with a peak at 13 months. A drop in object in-hand naming at 26 months followed this peak.
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.