Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Dierker, Rose Win $2.8M NSF Award for Innovative Approach to Teaching Statistics

Lisa Dierker

Wesleyan professors Lisa Dierker and Jennifer Rose were recently awarded a $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to extend and disseminate their research on passion-driven statistics. The grant begins in the fall of 2018 and extends through 2023.

Recognizing the rapidly increasing importance of data-oriented skills in the modern workforce, passion-driven statistics was developed as a novel approach to make statistics and quantitative methods courses more accessible and engaging, particularly for traditionally marginalized students. It moves away from canned exercises, toward more applied, real-world, project-based learning experiences.

”An empowering curriculum needs to rise to many challenges,” Dierker said. “Those include promoting inquiry across a wide range of disciplines, building new skills as challenges arise, facilitating the use of modern computing tools, providing support for students regardless of educational background, and framing statistics as an exciting set of tools for understanding a complex world. We are confident in and excited about this project’s ability to do all of that.”

New Assistant Professor May ’05 Researches Suicide Risk and Prevention

Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May

Alexis May ’05

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May ’05, who joined the Department of Psychology this fall. May will be among the speakers at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns on Sept. 14–15.

Q: Welcome (back) to Wesleyan, Professor May! You earned your BA from Wesleyan in psychology and neuroscience and behavior in 2005. Please tell us about your journey since then.

A: After gaining substantial clinical research experience in the psychology department as a project coordinator for [Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita] Ruth Striegel Weismann, I was sure of my passion for clinical science but wasn’t sure how I wanted to pursue that professionally. I took the opportunity presented by this uncertainty to move cross-country to Santa Cruz, Calif., and work some “random” jobs. I landed in a position coordinating a suicide prevention crisis line. I loved the work but was frustrated by how little empirical knowledge there was about suicide prevention. This prompted my decision to return to school to pursue a degree in clinical psychology with a focus on suicide research. I completed my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of British Columbia, my clinical internship at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and my postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. Throughout my positions I’ve maintained my focus on understanding the phenomena of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the service of improving prevention and intervention efforts. Suicide is a devastating, complex, and unsolved problem. I feel very fortunate I get to spend my time working towards better solutions.

Q: How is it being back as a faculty member? Has Wesleyan changed much since your time as a student?

A: I was excited to see how much the psychology department has grown and diversified. I was also thrilled to learn about the addition of the Quantitative Analysis Center—it is a huge resource to both students and faculty. Overall, the students seem as skilled, passionate, and creative as ever!

Kim, Johnson ’18, Rothschild ’19, Coauthor Study on Self-Related Memory Advantage

Kyungmi Kim

Kyungmi Kim, assistant professor of psychology, is the coauthor of a paper published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review on Aug. 8. Jenne Johnson ’18 and Danielle Rothschild ’19 also contributed to the article.

The paper is titled “Merely presenting one’s own name along with target items is insufficient to produce a memory advantage for the items: A critical role of relational processing.”

Many studies have shown that information processed in relation to our “self” vs. someone else has an advantage in memory, termed the self-reference effect (SRE). Early studies of the SRE used tasks in which participants made explicit self-referential (Does the word nice describe you?) or other-referential judgments (Does the word friendly describe Angelina Jolie?) of target items at encoding, highlighting the memory benefit of explicit semantically-based associations between self and target items. However, an important subsequent finding was that even in the absence of any explicit task demand to make self-referential judgments, there is a memory advantage for target items presented simultaneously with self-relevant (e.g., one’s own name) vs. other-relevant (e.g., another person’s name) information at encoding.

In the study, Kim and her colleagues aimed to clarify the processes underlying this “incidental” self-memory advantage assessing two possibilities: an incidental SRE arises due to a mere co-presentation of a target item with self-relevant information or a relational processing between a target item and self-relevant information at encoding.

During encoding, words were presented in two different colors either above or below a name (the participants’ own someone else’s). Participants performed either a relational encoding task (i.e., a location judgment task, “Is the word above or below the name?”) or a non-relational encoding task (i.e., a color judgment task, “Is the word in red or green?”). In the subsequent surprise memory test, the researchers found a self-memory advantage for both items and their associated source features (name, location, and color) under a relational encoding context but not under a non-relational encoding context. These findings add to the current understanding of how the self affects long-term memory by providing clear evidence for a critical role of relational processing between target items and self-relevant information in eliciting a self-memory advantage. By demonstrating the modulation of an incidental self-memory advantage by encoding contexts, these findings further suggest that the impact of self on cognition is more dependent on processing context than previously assumed.

Kim, a cognitive psychologist, is an expert on learning and memory, and the role of self in cognitive and affective processing. The research in her lab aims to identify psychological mechanisms through which the mind subjectively construes the external world.

This fall, she’s teaching courses on Research Methods in Cognition and Advanced Research in Learning and Memory.

Shasha Seminar 2018: Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words

Professor Emeritus of Psychology Karl Scheibe and Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Jennifer D’Andrea PhD are codirectors of this year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, Sept. 14–15.

This year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, “Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words,” will be held Sept. 14–15. It will begin with opening remarks by Leslie Shasha ’82, PhD, in Memorial Chapel at 4 p.m., followed by the keynote address by author and suicide loss survivor Eric Marcus on “Resilience in the Aftermath of Suicide.”

The Shasha Seminar, an annual educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends, explores issues of global concern in a small seminar environment. Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. Last year’s seminar for example focused on Guns in American Society.

Karl Scheibe

This year’s codirector, Professor Emeritus of Psychology Karl Scheibe, spoke with the Connection about the preparation, the program, and his hopes for what this might bring to the campus.

Q: How did you come to be codirector of the Shasha Seminar this year?

A: It came to me as an invitation. It’s like a lot of things; it grows out of your history. Having been at Wesleyan a long time, I taught a lot of students, and many of them have gone on in psychology. Occasionally, one of those former students will have an assignment for me that, as a teacher, makes sense. Leslie Shasha ’82 is a psychologist, and she wanted to have a Shasha program focus on suicide: suicide awareness, suicide prevention, treatment for people who are suffering from loss, and a whole host of related problems.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The New York Times: Defending Conservatism, and Seeking Converts

President Michael Roth ’78 reviews Roger Scruton’s new book on Conservatism, which he writes provides an “enlightening” background on a variety of important conservative thinkers, but stoops to scapegoating Muslims to “rally the troops.”

2. Hartford Courant: First Group of Students Graduates from Wesleyan’s Prison Education Program

The first-ever Wesleyan Center for Prison Education Program graduation ceremonies, held in partnership with Middlesex Community College at York and Cheshire correctional institutions on July 24 and Aug. 1, respectively, was also featured in The Washington PostABC News, Fox News, among other publications.

Robinson in The Conversation: How Gambling Distorts Reality and Hooks Your Brain

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, writes that brain science explains how gambling games hook players, including casual ones. Robinson also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences.

Designed to deceive: How gambling distorts reality and hooks your brain

To call gambling a “game of chance” evokes fun, random luck, and a sense of collective engagement. These playful connotations may be part of why almost 80 percent of American adults gamble at some point in their lifetime. When I ask my psychology students why they think people gamble, the most frequent suggestions are for pleasure, money, or the thrill.

While these might be reasons why people gamble initially, psychologists don’t definitely know why, for some, gambling stops being an enjoyable diversion and becomes compulsive. What keeps people playing even when it stops being fun? Why stick with games people know are designed for them to lose? Are some people just more unlucky than the rest of us, or simply worse at calculating the odds?

As an addiction researcher for the past 15 years, I look to the brain to understand the hooks that make gambling so compelling. I’ve found that many are intentionally hidden in how the games are designed. And these hooks work on casual casino-goers just as well as they do on problem gamblers.

Wesleyan Students Help Area Kids Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten

Amy Breitfeller ’19 interacts with Mohammed, 2 1/2, and his sister, Dania, 1 1/2, during a playgroup July 31 at Russell Library. Breitfeller was using a sand mixture to help children improve their sensory and physical development.

This summer, three Wesleyan students are helping local children prepare for a successful transition into kindergarten.

Through the five-week Kindergarten Kickstart program, Cara Bendich ’19, Amy Breitfeller ’19, and Emma Distler ’19 are working with area youth at four locations to improve their school readiness skills through the research-based, high-impact, low-cost innovative and nurturing preschool program. Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012.

For the summer 2018 session, students are hosting the Kickstart program at Middletown’s Bright and Early Children’s Learning Center, Town and Country Early Learning Center, and the Middlesex YMCA preschool. On Tuesdays, the students hold an additional playgroup at Russell Library for anyone in the community.

“Today we’re playing with moonsand, which is a mixture of flour, glitter, and baby oil,” Breitfeller said during a July 31 gathering at the library. “The children can feel and play with the sand, which promotes physical development and also aids in social skills with other children.”

Through a partnership between University-based research labs, Middletown Public Schools, and local community organizations, Kindergarten Kickstart aims to bridge the research-to-practice gap. The majority of the preschoolers will attend kindergarten this fall at Bielefield School, Farm Hill School, and Macdonough School in Middletown.

Robinson Lab Awarded Grant from National Institute on Drug Abuse

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences, is the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The grant will be awarded over two years, starting on July 1, and will support a study titled “Dissecting Cortical Contributions to Risky Decision-Making.”

Robinson and his research students will use optogenetics in rats to inhibit parts of the brain’s prefrontal cortex during the decision-making process.

“The aim would be to see how we make decisions when faced with risk,” Robinson explained. “Are certain areas of the prefrontal cortex involved in tracking the outcomes of previous choices in order to influence future decisions? Or, do they simply promote more or less risky behavior when a choice presents itself?”

The Robinson Lab focuses on the brain mechanisms underlying motivation and reward and how they come together to produce desire and risky decision-making. These findings would be relevant to various forms of addiction such as drug abuse and gambling disorders.

Robinson Lab Coauthors Study on Compulsive, Drug Addiction Behaviors

Mike Robinson studies how individuals react differently when presented with a junk food diet.

Mike Robinson

Drug and behavioral addictions like gambling are characterized by an intense and focused pursuit of a single reward above other healthier endeavors. Pursuit of the addictive reward is often compulsively sought despite adverse consequences.

In a newly published study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences explored how our decisions can become narrowly focused onto one particular choice. He and his research team used laser light (optogenetics) to activate the central portion of the brain’s amygdala (CeA), an area normally known for its role in generating responses to drug-related and fearful stimuli.

The study, titled “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. Robinson Lab members Rebecca Tom ’16, MA ’17, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and current graduate student Charlotte Freeland coauthored the article and participated in the study.

Students Share Research at Psychology Poster Session

Thesis students and research students presented their research on April 26 during the Psychology Research Poster Presentations in Beckham Hall. More than 80 students presented 69 posters at the event. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Thesis students and research students presented their research on April 26 during the Psychology Research Poster Presentations in Beckham Hall. One-hundred-and-ten students presented 69 posters at the event. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Audrey Konow ’20, Jhanelle Thomas ’18, and Gabrielle Vargas ’18 presented “’Do You Fear Being Without Your Smartphone?’ Implications for Sleep and Mental Health among Emerging Adults at University.” Their advisor is Royette Tavernier.

Weissman Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Ruth Striegel Weissman

Ruth Weissman

Ruth Striegel Weissman, the Walter A. Crowell University Professor of the Social Sciences, Emerita, was presented with the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) Lifetime Achievement Award during a ceremony in Chicago on April 21. The award honors senior AED members for their lifetime of contributions to the field of eating disorders.

In presenting the award, Marsha Marcus, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, spoke of Weissman’s “impressive history of NIH-supported research, [which] has led to findings that have elucidated eating disorders risk, epidemiology, classification, psychopathology, treatment, health care policy, and cost-effectiveness.” This scholarship “has had a major and enduring influence on the field,” Marcus said.

Weissman taught in Wesleyan’s Department of Psychology for nearly three decades, serving twice as chair of the department. She also served the University as vice president for academic affairs and provost.

In addition, Weissman was a member of the Working Group of the Eating Disorders Task Force of the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). She has served on numerous grant review committees and editorial boards. She is a member or fellow of numerous scientific societies, and has served as president of both the Academy for Eating Disorders and the Eating Disorders Research Society (EDRS). According to Marcus, Weissman was essential to the establishment and growth of both organizations, and has been recognized previously for her scholarly and organizational contributions. In 2005, Weissman was given the AED Leadership Award in Research, and in 2008 she gave the James E. Mitchell Lecture at EDRS.

Weissman currently serves as editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the leading scientific journal in the field, and as chair of the Board of Directors of the Livingston HealthCare Foundation.

Houston-Based Artist Herrick ’16 Is Named Luce Scholar

Casey Herrick ’16, a Houston-based artist and designer, was named a Henry Luce Scholar for 2018 and will be moving to Beijing this summer. (Photo courtesy Casey Herrick)

Casey Herrick ’16, a Houston-based artist and designer, was named a Henry Luce Scholar for 2018. One of 18 scholars selected from among 162 candidates, Herrick will begin with an orientation in New York starting in June, before the cohort embarks for Asia. The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to honor his parents, who were missionary educators in China. The Luce Scholars Program was launched in 1974 to “enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society.”

Upon his graduation from Wesleyan, Herrick, who majored in studio art and psychology, returned to his hometown of Houston to work as lead 3D-designer, as well as photographer, graphic designer, and video editor at ttweak LLC, an artist-based strategic communications firm. Herrick notes that his work at ttweak has provided the opportunity to work with some of the area’s most prominent institutions, including the Houston Endowment, the Texas Medical Center, the Lawndale Art Center, and the Houston Parks Board. His collaborations focus on helping the organizations communicate dynamically, with maximum effectiveness.

Transitioning out of the design field, Herrick now works as a full-time painter. At Wesleyan, he was deeply involved with Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts, serving as a photography lab assistant, a woodshop monitor, and a studio arts teaching assistant. In 2015, he received the university’s Zawisa Grant to photograph the American South, with a focus on regional identity in Louisiana and East Texas. His thesis, Safe Conduct, focused on expectations and traditions associated with gender and the role of society in boys’ coming-of-age. Featuring a 10-by-6 foot canvas, in addition to five other paintings, his thesis work earned him Highest Honors—and New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum purchased one of the paintings, “The Herndon Climb,” for its permanent collection. He was also awarded the Studio Art Program Award for departmental achievement.

Says Herrick, “I’m thrilled to be given this opportunity. This summer, I’ll be moving to Beijing to work at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts and with the city’s art community at large. Right now, I’m frantically trying to learn Mandarin. I know the words for coffee, sandwich, and horse—so I’d say I still have some work to do!”

 

For more information on fellowships and scholarships, please contact Kate Smith, associate director of fellowships, internships and exchanges, at Wesleyan’s Fries Center for Global Studies. Smith says: “Applicants are interested in fellowships and scholarships for a number of reasons; they offer opportunities to continue academic or language study and to pursue research or explore professional interests. The more students engage with their coursework and harness opportunities available at Wesleyan, the more purposeful they can be when considering these programs.”