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Monthly Archive for January, 2010

Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, have collaborated on research examining how decisive and indecisive people differ in their processing of information.

Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, have collaborated on research examining how decisive and indecisive people differ in their processing of information by using an eye-tracking instrument in the Department of Psychology.

To determine the difference between a decisive and an indecisive person, follow the movements of their eyes.

Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, have collaborated on research examining how decisive and indecisive people differ in their processing of information, which is a little-studied area.

Their full findings are scheduled to be published in the near future, and both researchers are excited about what they found.

Patalano has spent many years studying decision-making while Juhasz has spent time tracking readers’ eye movements using a device called an eye-tracker. Since the researchers were examining the individual differences between how decisive and indecisive people search for information, they were forging new ground.

Juhasz’s EyeLink 1000 eye-tracking machine (SR Research Ltd), housed in her Eye Movement and Reading Lab at Wesleyan, provided Patalano with the equipment she needed to validate prior assumptions and record precise eye movement data.

“I’ve been using the eye movements to study reading and it’s very helpful there,” Juhasz says. “I’ve always had the idea that it would be helpful to use when studying these higher-level cognitive processes. But to be able to see that you can observe individual differences in people’s decision-making strategies was interesting.”

These individual differences are what matter to Patalano.

“There’s a lot of uniformity in the way people read,” she says. “When people are making decisions, there’s a lot more variation in behavior.”

Research suggesting that indecisive individuals utilized more information when trying to make a decision compared to decisive individuals. However, there had been conflicting findings reported in the scientific literature. The two researchers decided to look at the issue more closely themselves using an eye-movement study

For the study, 54 Wesleyan students were studied as they completed a hypothetical course selection activity. Patalano had asked subjects do course selection tasks in the past. Originally, she used a paper-based exam and transferred the test to a computer, but there was no precision eye-tracker involved in the data sampling.

For the eye-tracking course selection study, the course titles and attributes were placed on a grid and the EyeLink 1000 machine sampled participants’ eye positions every millisecond as the selection tasks were done. The data were captured and recorded.

Students were told to imagine that they had one course left to select in order to complete their class schedules and all of the presented classes would fit into their weekly schedule. Participants had to choose among five courses, labeled Courses A through E and these courses differed on the following qualities: Meeting Time, Instructor Quality, Amount of Work, Usefulness for Goals and Interest in Topic. The courses were similar in quality and the students could only pick one course. One group of participants was allowed to delay their choice while another was not given that option.

After the participants completed the course selection task, they rated themselves on a standard indecisiveness scale.

It took just under two years for Patalano, Juhasz, and undergraduate research assistant Joanna Dicke ‘10 to complete their groundbreaking research. And that was not because they were indecisive. There were simply so much data to evaluate.

The results of the study suggested three major findings.

First, there was a difference in the way people scanned the information. While decisive people narrow down a decision based on a particular attribute, indecisive people take in all of the information. Decisive people might say that all of these courses have good and bad attributes, but they selected an attribute that was most important; indecisive people saw that all information had some good and bad points.

Secondly, indecisive individuals divided their time over a greater number of attributes of their course. The decisive participants focused on fewer attributes in order to make their decision. Interestingly, indecisive individuals spent more time overall looking at nothing, that is, they looked at the blank cells in the grid while (apparently) trying to make a decision. The researchers were not sure why the indecisive individuals spent more time looking at blank spaces, but theorized that doing so allowed them to ruminate or reframe their choices before making a decision.

Patalano said that applying eye tracking to decision-making research was a relatively new methodology for individuals who study how people come to final conclusions on things like buying a car, choosing an insurance plan or selecting a college course.

This research and subsequent studies could lead to the creation of strategies to assist people who far too often struggle with decision-making.

To read the entire journal article, titled “The Relationship Between Indecisiveness and Eye Movement Patterns in a Decision Making Informational Search Task” from The Journal of Behavioral Decision Making go here.

Mac Clonan '05 talks strategy with the team during a timeout in the 2006 championship game.

Mac Clonan '05 talks strategy with the team during a timeout in the 2006 championship game.

In the past decade, the Wesleyan Men’s Water Polo Club captured two titles and appeared in six Division III National Collegiate Club Championships. For their efforts, the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) named the team the “Collegiate Club Division III Team of the Decade” for 2000-09.

Unlike many teams in their conference, the Wesleyan club runs its program without monetary or administrative support from the Department of Athletics. The students are coached by team captains, and occasionally a graduate student who has played on the team will coach without compensation. Nevertheless, the team won the 2004 and 2005 Division III Collegiate Club Championships, and placed second in this tournament in 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2006.

“We’re very proud of the accomplishments of our men’s water polo club team,” says John Biddiscombe, director of athletics and chair of the Physical Education Department. “A student-centered and directed team, it has had committed athletes and great student leadership over the decade. The members (more…)

Roy Kilgard, research assistant professor of astronomy, received a grant on Jan. 4 from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory for research titled “ULX in the Most Metal Poor Galaxies.” The award, worth $15,000, will be applied through Dec. 22, 2011.

The Green Street Arts Center hosted a Winter Solstice Celebration Dec. 18 in the Green Street Performance Studio. The event included GSAC's AfterSchool Program talent, open dance floor, music, art and fun.

The Green Street Arts Center (GSAC) hosted a Winter Solstice Celebration Dec. 18 in the Green Street Performance Studio. The event included GSAC’s AfterSchool Program talent, open dance floor, music, art and fun. Above, teaching artist Jocelyn Pleasant gives a drum lesson.

Emily Troll '10 and a GSAC AfterSchool student play piano together.

Emily Troll ’10 gives a GSAC AfterSchool Program student a piano lesson.

AfterSchool Program students received help with their homework.

AfterSchool Program students received help with their homework. Above, a volunteer teacher from Macdonough School helps.

At right, Shawn Hill, desktop support specialist for science and math, taught students photo manipulation software during the event.

At right, Shawn Hill, desktop support specialist for science and math, taught students how to use computer programs. Hill presented a short film at the Solstice.

The Winter Solstice Event was featured in The Hartford Courant on Dec. 19.

Jeff Gilarde, director of scientific imaging in the Biology Department,  spent his holiday vacation volunteering with the Habitat for Humanity of Horry County, near Myrtle Beach, S.C. Gilarde is pictured here near the tool trailer on Dec. 30, where the temperature was 38 degrees.

Jeff Gilarde, director of scientific imaging in the Biology Department, spent his holiday vacation volunteering with the Habitat for Humanity of Horry County, near Myrtle Beach, S.C. Gilarde is pictured here near the tool trailer on Dec. 30, where the temperature was 38 degrees.

Fellow volunteer Don Simon and Gilarde constructed about 32 'headers' for the entire house. These parts go over every door, window and closet to stabilize the structure and keep it hurricane safe. "It's hard work but well worth the sweat. It sure feels good to know that some family in Myrtle Beach will have a house to live in soon," he says.

Fellow volunteer Don Simon and Gilarde constructed about 32 'headers' for the entire house. These parts go over every door, window and closet to stabilize the structure and keep it hurricane safe. "It's hard work but well worth the sweat. It sure feels good to know that some family in Myrtle Beach will have a house to live in soon," he says.

Gilarde rests on the headers that he built.

Gilarde rests on the headers that he built.

Jane Eisner '77 is Wesleyan's first Koeppel Fellow in Journalism.

Jane Eisner '77 is Wesleyan's first Koeppel Fellow in Journalism.

Q: Jane, you are Wesleyan’s first Fellow in Journalism, a position endowed by a member of the class of 1979. What class will you teach this spring?

A: I’ll teach a small seminar called “The Journalist as Citizen.” We’ll explore the many ways journalism has affected democracy and civic life in America. Mostly, we’ll write and write. For that reason, this isn’t just a class for aspiring journalists – it’s for anyone with an interest in public life who wants to improve his or her writing.

Q: You graduated from Wesleyan, cum laude, in 1977 and earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in 1978. How did your time at Wesleyan prepare you for a career in journalism?

A: I really believe that the best preparation for journalism is a strong liberal arts education. The actual craft of writing and editing stories can be learned later, but fine journalism depends on an ability to analyze complex people and events, to be intellectually curious, and to care deeply about the world. And to be willing to question authority – something Wesleyan taught me!

Q: You worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer for 25 years. What various positions did you hold there? What are topics of your most memorable assignments?

A: I was so fortunate to work for the Inquirer at its zenith, when the newsroom was exciting, exacting, filled with lots of opportunities. I covered local news, city and state government, and Western Europe as the London correspondent; I oversaw the features department, ran the editorial board and then, for my last five years, wrote a national column. By the time I left, I think I wrote for every section (more…)

Joe Fins '82

Joe Fins '82

Dr. Joseph J. Fins ’82 has been elected president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. His election to this two-year term, which begins in 2011, recognizes his major contributions to bioethics, as well as his broad expertise in the field.

Fins is chief of the Division of Medical Ethics and a faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College. He is also director of medical ethics at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and chairs its ethics committee.

“I am honored to have been elected, and I look forward to encouraging the contributions of my esteemed colleagues in bioethics and the medical humanities as we work together to improve patient care, enrich medical education and inform health policy,” he says.

Fins is an authority on ethical and policy issues in brain injury and disorders of consciousness, palliative care, research ethics in neurology and psychiatry, medical education and methods of ethics case consultation. He is a co-author of the 2007 Nature paper describing the first use of deep brain stimulation in the minimally conscious state. His most recent book is A Palliative Ethic of Care: Clinical Wisdom at Life’s End (Jones and Bartlett, 2006).

A College of Letters major at Wesleyan, he received his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College, now known as Weill Cornell Medical College, in 1986. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Fins served on the Wesleyan Board of Trustees and chairs the Wesleyan Alumni Association.

John Bonin is the outgoing president of the Association for Comparative Economic Studies (ACES).

John Bonin is the outgoing president of the Association for Comparative Economic Studies (ACES).

John Bonin, the Chester D. Hubbard Professor of Economics and Social Science, tutor in the College of Social Studies, led the Presidential Address during the Allied Social Science Association American Economic Association meetings in Atlanta, Ga. Jan. 3-5.

As outgoing president of the Association for Comparative Economic Studies (ACES), Bonin spoke on “From Reputation Amidst Uncertainty to Commitment Under Stress: A Decade of Foreign-owned Banking in Transitioning Economies.”

He focused on the experiences of 10 transition countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Russia) regarding the reforming, or developing, of their banking sectors.

In all but Russia and Slovenia, foreign banks (more…)

The <em>How I Met Your Mother</em> cast sing and dance on its 100th episode.

The How I Met Your Mother cast sing and dance on its 100th episode.

The successful CBS sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, had its milestone 100th episode on Jan. 11. The show was created by Carter Bays ’97 and Craig Thomas ’97, who serve as executive producers and writers for the program. The series deals humorously with the lives of a group of friends living in New York.

How I Met Your Mother gets its title from a framing device: the main character, Ted Mosby (played Josh Radnor, with narration by Bob Saget) in the year 2030 recounts to his son and daughter the events that led to his meeting their mother. The show then proceeds to tell the comic misadventures of Ted and his friends when they are younger. One of the running jokes of the sitcom is that the identity “mother” of the title has yet to be revealed. The exuberant cast also includes Jason Segel  (I Love You, Man), Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser MD, Harold & Kumar films, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog).

For the 100th episode titled “Girls vs. Suits,” Bays and Thomas decided to celebrate the occasion with a big musical number with Neil Patrick Harris as the lead singer, backed by 65 dancers and a 50-piece orchestra. The two producers wrote a song, “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit,” which Harris sings when he has to choose between a woman bartender and his love for formal wear.

How I Met Your Mother was not an immediate hit during its early run and sometimes faced cancellation, but it had its faithful fans early on. The now popular program was recently nominated for an Emmy Award for best comedy and has become one of the mainstays on CBS’s Monday evening. The show employs playful and sometimes zany storylines and often uses flashbacks. Episodes incorporate new media that is featured on the show and online, including videos and blogs. Scripts also have included references to Wesleyan over the years.

Hollywood Reporter and TV Guide reported on the 100th episode.

Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday in Youth in Revolt, directed by Miguel Arteta '88. (Bruce Birmelin/Dimension Films)

Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday in Youth in Revolt, directed by Miguel Arteta '88. (Bruce Birmelin/Dimension Films)

The critically acclaimed film and television director Michael Arteta ’88 (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl, Six Feet Under) has directed a new film, Youth in Revolt, which is based on the cult novel by C. D. Payne. The film opened nationwide to generally positive reviews on Feb. 8.  The work had previously been shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and will be part of the upcoming Berlin Film Festival Generation lineup.

Miguel Arteta ’88

Miguel Arteta ’88

The movie stars the popular young actor Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Superbad, Juno) who plays a frustrated 16-year-old virgin named Nick Twisp. Cera’s character takes on an assertive French alter ego, Francois, to win the heart of Sheeni, a young girl (played by a talented newcomer, Portia Doubleday) who lives in the same town and loves French culture. The cast also has a stellar supporting cast, known for their sharp comic timing, including Jean Smart, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, and Mary Kay Place.

In her review in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis called the film an “often charming coming-of-age tale” and went on to praise Arteta: “As a director Mr. Arteta … has the kind of quiet talent that can be easy to overlook. He’s particularly good with actors, partly because he doesn’t crowd or push them. His scenes never feel forced or rushed, even when they skew toward the madcap. … Mr. Arteta is equally good with the supporting cast, which is packed with recognizable faces that might be distracting elsewhere but instead add different colors.”

In a recent article about Arteta in The Hartford Courant, writer Ron Dicker describes the director as showing “a refreshing mix of brain power, frankness, and vulnerability” and says that Arteta “credits [Wesleyan film professor Jeanine] Basinger for laying the technical and emotional groundwork so he could pursue his calling, fears and all. She showed him films by Frank Capra and Howard Hawks. Watch and learn, she demanded.”

Arteta also has received professional support from fellow Wesleyan alumni such as Matthew Greenfield ’90, who produced several of Arteta’s films; Mike White ’92, who wrote the screenplays for two of Arteta’s films; and film director and playwright Paul Weitz ’88 (About a Boy, In Good Company, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant).

Mike Singer, assistant professor of biology, pursues his interests in biodiversity and environmental conservation through teaching, research, outreach and personal activities.

Mike Singer, assistant professor of biology, pursues his interests in biodiversity and environmental conservation through teaching, research, outreach and personal activities.

This issue we ask 5 Questions of … Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology.

Q: Professor Singer, you are known around campus for being “the bug man,” or more specifically, “the caterpillar man.” What is your interest in entomology?

A: I’m generally interested in insects because of their diversity in form, function, and habits. Contrary to many people, I find most kinds of insects quite beautiful. They also have endless stories to tell. I’m particularly interested in a species of woolly bear caterpillar called Grammia incorrupta because of its polyphagous feeding behavior. (Polyphagous means that it eats many different kinds of plants.) Unlike most caterpillars, which have quite specialized diets, this one makes many choices about what it eats, and why it makes those choices is a subject of my research.

Q: Please give an example of plant-insect interaction and its role within ecology?

A:  I study the plant-insect interaction of herbivory (herbivores eating plants). Herbivory is very common and widespread in ecosystems, and most of it involves insects like caterpillars eating plants. Farmers and gardeners know this because they constantly try to keep insects from eating too much of their crop! In natural ecosystems, plants have to rely on other means of pest control. All plants make defensive chemicals to deter or poison herbivores, and most plants also rely on the natural enemies of herbivores, such as birds, spiders, and wasps, for protection from herbivores. This so-called tri-trophic interaction (more…)

New book by Amy Bloom '75

New book by Amy Bloom '75

Acclaimed author Amy Bloom ’75 has published a new story collection, Where the Love of God Hangs Out (Random House), which has already received several fine reviews.

The book contains two sets of four related stories and four unrelated works in which the author explores love, loss, mortality, and other human predicaments with compassion and humor. The first quartet of stories concerns the love affair between middle-aged friends William and Clare who are married to others. The other set of interlocking tales explores the relationship over 30 years between Julia and her stepson Lionel who are introduced in the story “Sleepwalking” as they mourn the death of Lionel’s jazz musician father.

In her review of the book in The New York Times, Janet Maslin writes: “Ms. Bloom, who has worked as a psychotherapist as well as a creative writing professor, clearly has great gifts in both those realms. … She writes about characters who are stunning in their verisimilitude but never really predictable in their behavior … Ms. Bloom’s characters are uncommonly fully formed, seldom young, some of them well into old age. Yet they sustain the ability to surprise one another — and themselves.”

Bloom has previously published two story collections, a novel, and a book of essays, and she also created the Lifetime series, State of Mind. Her last book, the novel Away, was a New York Times best seller.

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