Science & Technology

Versey’s Study of Managing Work, Family Published in Developmental Psychology

Shellae Versey, assistant professor of psychology, is the author of an article titled “Managing Work and Family: Do Control Strategies Help?” published in the Ausgust 2015 issue of Developmental Psychology.

In this study, Versey questioned “How can we effectively manage competing obligations from work and family without becoming overwhelmed?”

Versey examined control strategies that may facilitate better work-life balance, with a specific focus on the role of lowered aspirations and positive reappraisals, attitudes that underlie adaptive coping behaviors. Data from the Midlife in the United States Survey (MIDUS II) was used to explore the relationship between negative spillover, control strategies, and well-being among full-time working men and women.

In this nationally representative sample, findings indicate that while positive reappraisals function as a protective buffer, lowering aspirations exacerbate the relationship between work–family spillover and well-being, with moderating effects stronger among women.

“This study extends prior research tying work-life conflict to health and mental health, and suggests further investigation is needed to consider types of resources that may be effective coping strategies in balancing work and family,” Versey explained.

Wesleyan’s Astronomical History featured in Astronomy Magazine


Astronomy magazine has an in-depth feature in its October issue on Wesleyan’s astronomical history and the restoration of its century-old, 20-inch refractor telescope, just in time for the Van Vleck Observatory’s centennial observation this spring.

Telescopes like Wesleyan’s 28-foot-long, two-ton refractor had once been cutting edge, and a source of pride for dozens of American universities. But as they “staggered into obsolescence” over the past half century, institutions have had to make tough choices about whether to renovate or retire them. In 2014, Wesleyan hired Chris Ray and Fred Orthlieb of Pennsylvania to give its refractor a second life.

The story traces the history of giant refractors through the 18th and 19th centuries, and Wesleyan’s acquisition of its own telescopes, and how they were used.

astronomymag2“Astronomical research and the teaching of students would go hand in hand at Wesleyan, [astronomer Frederick] Slocum told his audience (at the observatory’s dedication). But in an age of giant telescopes, even a 20-inch refractor was only modest. Worse still, New England’s weather is notoriously dreadful for astronomers. To make an impact, the Van Vleck Observatory would have to focus on a single fundamental question. By collaborating with Yerkes, England’s Royal Greenwich Observatory, and a consortium of other schools, Wesleyan researchers would measure parallaxes–a way to gauge how far away stars are through the tiny displacements in their positions caused by Earth’s orbital motion around the Sun. The astronomers would find the distances to the stars, Slocum said–and that’s exactly what they did.”

Wesleyan’s refractor was used to work on this problem from the 1920s through the 1990s, and it trained generations of young astronomers during that time. “In the 1950s, popularizer Walter Scott Houston peered through it to write his ‘Deep Sky Wonders’ column for Sky & Telescope.

Read the full story, which features a six-page spread of photos taken by Wesleyan photographers Olivia Drake MALS ’08 and Laurie Kenney, here.

Gilmore a Science Team Member of 2 Space Mission Proposals Selected by NASA

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, believes that if scientists are able to measure Venus’ atmosphere and surface, we can better understand the climate, volcanic activity and the habitability of Earth-size worlds. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, believes that if scientists are able to measure Venus’ atmosphere and surface, we can better understand the climate, volcanic activity and the habitability of Earth-size worlds. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

On Sept. 30, NASA’s Discovery Program selected five planetary mission investigations for study during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for launch as early as 2020. Wesleyan’s Martha Gilmore is on two of the investigation teams.

Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is an expert on terrestrial planets. She studies the morphology and mineralogy of the surfaces of Venus and Mars using data from orbiting and landed spacecraft. She also is on the Executive Committee of NASA’s Venus Exploration Analysis Group which identifies scientific priorities and strategy for exploration of Venus.

Each of the five selected investigations will receive $3 million for one year to strengthen their proposed mission by doing in-depth concept design studies. At the end of the year, it is expected that one or two of the mission concepts will then be selected for flight.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic about this opportunity,” Gilmore said. “Venus is key to understanding how Earth-size planets operate in this solar system and in other solar systems. The driving question is why are Venus and Earth so different? Why is Earth the habitable twin planet? The measurements of Venus’ atmosphere and surface proposed by these missions are necessary to better understand the climate, volcanic activity and the habitability of Earth-size worlds.”

Wesleyan’s Film Studies Assists Sanislow’s Lab in Mood Induction Studies

Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, published findings from his laboratory titled “Ratings for Emotion Film Clips,” in Behavior Research Methods (Volume 47, Issue 3, pages 773-787) in September 2015. Co-authors included former post doc Crystal Gabert-Quillen (now on the faculty at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey); Ellen Bartolini ’11 (currently a graduate student in clinical psychology at Widener University); and Benjamin Abravanel ’13 (currently a graduate student in the clinical science program at the University of California—Berkeley).

In mood induction studies Sanislow and his students were piloting in the lab, they noticed that film clips historically used to elicit moods in prior work were not eliciting the intended moods. For instance, a film clip from Bambi had historically been used to elicit sadness, but instead, elicited anger among Wesleyan students.

They turned to students the Wesleyan’s Film Studies Department to suggest film clips of emotional scenes, and then collected normative ratings from Wesleyan students over the course of several semesters.

“From our findings, it became clear that reactions to emotional material could vary in the context of history, culture and gender,” Sanislow said.

For instance, men reacted strongly to positive film clips, whereas women reacted more strongly to negatively film clips.

“We urge researchers to pay attention to potential systematic differences. Our work resulted in a useful set of film clips for others to study emotion,” Sanislow said. “We have already had a number of researchers interested in using the clips in their own research contact us.”

Thomas’s Microfossil, Climate Change Research Published in 2 Journals

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, research professor of earth and environmental science, is the co-author of two recently published papers. They include:

Microfossil evidence for trophic changes during the Eocene–Oligocene transition in the South Atlantic (ODP Site 1263, Walvis Ridge),” published in Climate of the Past, Volume 11, pages 1249–1270 in September 2015 and “Changes in benthic ecosystems and ocean circulation in the Southeast Atlantic across Eocene Thermal Maximum 2,” published in the journal Paleoceanography, Volume 30, pages 1059-1077 in August 2015.

“Microfossil evidence” describes changes in organisms living in the oceans during a major change in the earth’s climate, a period of global cooling about 33.7 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet first became established. The seven co-authors are all women, including former Wesleyan graduate student Raquel Fenero.

The researchers examined the biotic response of calcareous nannoplankton to environmental and climatic changes during the Eocene–Oligocene transition at Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 1263 (Walvis Ridge, southeast Atlantic Ocean). During this time interval, global climate, which had been warm under high levels of atmospheric CO2 during the Eocene, transitioned into the cooler climate of the Oligocene.

In the Paleoceanography article, Thomas and her co-authors describe changes in benthic ecosystems in the oceans during a short period of global warming about 53.7 million years ago, and the effects of loss of oxygen and ocean acidification. The researchers include climate and geochemical modeling to indicate that changes in ocean circulation due to warming triggered more profound effects on living organisms at some depths than at other depths, and that the response of life forms to global warming (including feedback effects) thus may be complex. This article is the result of research done during Thomas’s stay as Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, where she co-supervised graduate student Suzy Jennions.

“Our combined ecological and modeling analysis illustrates the potential role of ocean circulation changes in amplifying local environmental changes and driving temporary, but drastic, loss of benthic biodiversity and abundance,” Thomas said.

Barth, Lesser ’15 Co-Author Paper on Spatial Estimation

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, is the co-author of an article titled “Spatial Estimation: A Non-Bayesian Alternative,” published in Developmental Science, Volume 18, pages 853-862, in 2015. The paper is co-authored by Ellen Lesser ’15, as well as former Cognitive Development Labs coordinator Jessica Taggart and former postdoctoral fellow Emily Slusser.

A large collection of estimation phenomena (for example, biases arising when adults or children estimate remembered locations of objects in bounded spaces) are commonly explained in terms of complex Bayesian models. Bayesian refers to methods in probability and statistics, in particular methods related to statistical inference.

In this study, Barth and her co-authors provide evidence that some of these phenomena may be modeled instead by a simpler non-Bayesian alternative.

Undergraduates and 9- to 10-year-olds completed a speeded linear position estimation task. Bias in both groups’ estimates, they suggest, could be explained in terms of a simple psychophysical model of proportion estimation.

Robinson, Students, Alumna Author Article on ‘Wanting,’ ‘Liking’ in Addiction

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the author of an article published Sept. 27 in Current Topics in Behavioral NeuroscienceTitled, “Roles of ‘Wanting’ and ‘Liking’ in Motivating Behavior: Gambling, Food, and Drug Addictions,” the article is co-authored by Adam Fischer, previously Robinson’s lab manager, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and Ellen Lesser ’15.

In this paper, the authors argue that two separate but interconnected subcortical and unconscious processes direct motivation: “wanting” and “liking.” These two processes work together but can become disassociated, especially in cases of addiction. For example, in drug addiction, repeated consumption of drugs sensitizes the mesolimbic dopamine system–the primary component of the “wanting” system–resulting in excessive “wanting” for drugs and their cues. This long-lasting change occurs independently of the “liking” system, which typically remains unchanged or may develop a blunted pleasure response to the drug. This results in excessive drug-taking despite minimal pleasure and intense cue-triggered craving that may promote relapse long after detoxification.

The authors describe the roles of “wanting” and “liking” in general motivation and review recent evidence for a dissociation of “liking” and “wanting” in drug addiction, known as the incentive sensitization theory. They also make the case that sensitization of the “wanting” system and the resulting dissociation of “liking” and “wanting” occurs in both gambling disorder and food addiction.

Wesleyan Astronomers Detect Shock Waves from Exoplanet

Astronomers at Wesleyan have detected shock waves produced by a high-speed “hot Jupiter” exoplanet caught in a tight orbit around its host star, io9 reported. The story explains:

It’s a potential indication of an incredibly powerful magnetic field around the planet.
Also known as “roaster planets,” hot Jupiters are so named because they have many characteristics in common with the largest gas giant in our solar system, most notably mass. But they have much hotter surface temperatures because they orbit much closer to their parent stars.

Researcher in Astronomy Wilson Cauley has published a new study on the topic in the Astrophysical Journal. io9 quotes Cauley’s website:

If the planet is moving supersonically through the stellar wind or coronal plasma, a bow shock will form between the planet and the star at an angle that is determined by the relative velocity of the planet and the plasma. If the planet has a magnetosphere, the bow shock will form where the pressure between the plasma and the magnetosphere balance. For planets with strong magnetic fields, the bow shock can form many planetary radii ahead of the planet in it’s orbit. If the compression of the stellar wind material in the bow shock is high enough, the line-of-sight column density of material in the bow shock between us and the star can be high enough to produce a visible absorption signature in the stellar spectrum. This absorption signature occurs before the planet normally transits the star.

Hughes Recipient of 2015 Bok Prize for Astronomy

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

For her outstanding contributions to Milky Way research by observational methods, Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, received the 2015 Bok Prize in Astronomy from Harvard University.

The prize, named in honor of Astronomer Bart Bok (1906–1983), is awarded to a recent holder of a PhD degree in the physical sciences from Harvard or Radcliffe who is under 35 years of age. Hughes received her PhD from Harvard in 2010, and a MA in astronomy from Harvard in 2007.

Hughes is an expert on planet formation, circumstellar disk structure and dynamics, gas and dust disk evolution and radio astronomy. She studies planet formation by observing the gas and dust in the disks around young stars, mostly using (sub)millimeter interferometers.

At Wesleyan, she teaches the courses Observational Astronomy, Radio Astronomy, Introductory Astronomy and Pedagogy Seminar.

She’s also the 2015 faculty advisor for the Wesleyan Women in Science organization (WesWIS) and serves on the American Astronomical Society Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy and acts as the liaison between CSWA and the Working Group on LGBTIQ Equality.

Cognitive Development Labs Receive Grant for ‘Living Laboratory’ Work at Connecticut Science Center

Research Assistant Anna Schwab ’16 and Lab Coordinator Lonnie Bass represented the Cognitive Development Labs at the Connecticut Science Center. 

Research Assistant Anna Schwab ’16 and Lab Coordinator Lonnie Bass represented the Cognitive Development Labs at the Connecticut Science Center.

A partnership between Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs and the Connecticut Science Center recently received a $3,000 Partner Stipend from the National Living Laboratory® Initiative, which receives support from the National Science Foundation. The Cognitive Development Labs received an additional $1,000 Educational Assistance stipend.

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, oversees the Living Laboratory® site located at the Connecticut Science Center. Since 2013, researchers from Barth’s lab have been visiting the museum on Saturdays to collect data for current studies, speak with children and families about child developmental research, and guide visitors through hands-on activities that demonstrate important findings in developmental psychology.

The National Living Laboratory® Initiative Partner Stipend will support the ongoing collaboration between Barth’s lab and the Connecticut Science Center. It will support training sessions for Wesleyan students with museum educators, signage, and researcher travel expenses. The Educational Assistance stipend will support time spent by Wesleyan student researchers on Living Lab activities.

According to its website, The Living Laboratory® initiative aims to educate the public about child development by immersing museum visitors in the process of scientific discovery. In the Living Laboratory®’s educational model, scientists (in disciplines including developmental psychology, cognitive science, educational psychology, cognitive neuroscience, social psychology and related fields) recruit participants and conduct their studies within dynamic exhibits at a local museum. Families visiting the museum are invited to participate in on-going research projects and to engage in one-on-one conversations with the scientists.

Dierker, Rose, Alexander BA/MA ’14, ’15 Co-Author Article on Sexually Transmitted Infection Rates in Mississippi

Professors Lisa Dierker and Jennifer Rose, along with Jalen Alexander BA/MA ’14,’15, are the co-authors of an article titled “It Is Complicated: Sexual Partner Characteristic Profiles and Sexually Transmitted Infection Rates within a Predominantly African American Population in Mississippi,” published in the May 2015 issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Vol. 42, No. 5.

Dierker is professor of psychology, director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation. Rose is professor of the practice and research professor of psychology for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation and director of the Institutional Review Board for Academic Affairs. Alexander is co-chair of the Center for African American Studies Advisory Board.

Mississippi has among the highest prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States. Understanding sexual networks can provide insight into risk factors for transmission and guide prevention interventions.

In this study, the co-authors obtained information from 1,437 participants, primarily African American (95 percent) adults presenting for care at an STI clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. Latent class analysis identified underlying population subgroups with unique patterns of response on a comprehensive set of 14 sexual partner variables, such as living with or having a child with a partner, partner dependence and trust, 1-time sexual encounters, multiple main partners, substance use, sexual concurrency, and incarceration.

Classes were compared on participant age, sex, sexual orientation, public assistance, lifetime partners, relationship status, and self-reported past-year STI.

The co-authors discovered that three classes emerged. Class 1 (n = 746) participants were less dependent on partners and less likely to live with or have a child with a partner; Class 2 participants (n = 427) endorsed multiple STI risk factors, including partner incarceration, 6 or more lifetime partners, sexual concurrency, one-time sexual encounters, and substance use at last sex; and Class 3 participants (n = 226) were more likely to be in dependent, committed relationships with children. Class 2 had a higher proportion of self-report past-year STIs (36.7 percent) compared with Classes 1 (26.6 percent) and 3 (26.1 percent). The researchers concluded that certain partner factors such as incarceration, substance use and concurrency may contribute to increased STI risk.

Wilkins, Wellman, Schad ’13, MA ’14 Paper Examines Reactions to Claims of Anti-Male Bias

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor of psychology, has studied perceptions of discrimination against whites and other groups who hold positions of relative advantage in society—such as heterosexuals and men—since she was a graduate student at the University of Washington. She became became interested in the topic of perceptions of bias against high status groups after hearing Glenn Beck call president Barack Obama racist. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Clara Wilkins

A paper authored by Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins, her former post-doc Joseph Wellman, and Katherine Schad ’13, MA ’14, was published in August in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 

Titled “Reactions to anti-male sexism claims: The moderating roles of status-legitimizing belief and endorsement and group identification,” the paper examines how people react to men who claim to be victims of gender bias, an increasingly common phenomenon. In particular, the researchers considered how status legitimizing beliefs (SLBs), which encompass a set of ideologies that justify existing status hierarchies, and gender identification (GID) moderated men’s and women’s reactions to a man who claimed to have lost a promotion because of anti-male sexism or another cause.

They found that for both men and women, SLB endorsement was was associated with a more positive reaction toward this man, consistent with theory that claiming bias against a high-status group reinforces the status hierarchy. With regard to group identification, they found that men evaluated the claimant more positively the more strongly they identified with their gender, while women who identified more strongly with their gender evaluated the claimant more negatively. The researchers also demonstrated that SLBs and GID moderated the extent to which the claimant was perceived as sexist. They discussed how these reactions may perpetuate gender inequality.