Tag Archive for Psychology Department

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 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.”

Psychology Class Learns about Memory, Brain at Wesleyan’s Archaeology Collection

Students in the Human Memory course compared and contrasted three skulls from disparate time points in human evolution.

Students in the Human Memory course compared and contrasted three skulls from disparate time points in human evolution. (Photo courtesy of Jessie Cohen)

On Sept. 16, students enrolled in the PSYC221 Human Memory course used the Wesleyan University Archaeology and Anthropology Collections for hands-on learning.

The class, taught by Erika Fulton, visiting professor of psychology, visited the collections to learn more about memory and the brain. Students compared and contrasted three skulls from disparate time points in human evolution and used their observations to make inferences about how different parts of the brain must have evolved.

“They had to think about the relationships among a changing environment, memory demands, and brain lobe development,” Fulton said. “I think it was a fun way for them to learn a little archaeology, anthropology and psychology, and a much more engaging way to learn brain lobes than through a lecture.”

Jessie Cohen, archaeological collections manager, encourages Wesleyan faculty to take advantage of what the WUAAC has to offer. The collection contains more than 30,000 archaeological and ethnographic objects from around the world available for hands-on teaching, she 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.

Davis Foundation Supports Academy for Project-Based Learning

Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology and director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, received a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation in July. The three-year grant worth $300,000 will support the new Academy for Project-Based Teaching and Learning.

The Academy for Project-Based Teaching and Learning, which is under development, will encourage students and faculty to build knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to complex questions, problems, and challenges within and across disciplines. The cornerstones of the project-based approach include significant content at the heart of each academic discipline, and cutting edge competencies in problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity/innovation.

Dierker will oversee this program and work with Wesleyan faculty, faculty at collaborating institutions, educational consultants, and supporting staff, to coordinate pedagogical and curricular development efforts. The Academy will be housed within and supported by Wesleyan’s new Center for Pedagogical Innovation and Life Long Learning Center.

The Davis Educational Foundation grant will support faculty stipends, course relief or course overload pay in the academic year for faculty participants, honoraria and travel support for outside consultants, travel support for faculty and collaborators, evaluation and a culminating meeting of project participants.

The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’ retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarket.

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.

Seamon is Author of New Book on Memory and the Movies

Professor John Seamon has studied cognitive psychology for more than 40 years at Wesleyan.

Professor Emeritus John Seamon studied cognitive psychology for more than 40 years at Wesleyan.

John Seamon, professor of psychology, emeritus, is the author of a new book, Memory and the Movies, published August 14 by The MIT Press. The book is an outgrowth of a Psychology course, “Memory in the Movies,” which Seamon taught at Wesleyan for five years before his retirement in 2013. He is currently preparing a MOOC version of it to run on Coursera next winter.

The book examines what films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Memento, and Away From Her can teach us about how human memory works. Seamon explains that memory is actually a diverse collection of independent systems, and uses examples from movies to to offer an accessible, nontechnical description of what science knows about memory function and dysfunction. He also demonstrates how movies frequently get certain things, like amnesia, wrong.

Read more about the book on The MIT Press website.

Students Share Summer Research at Poster Session

On July 30, Wesleyan’s Summer Research Poster Session took place at Exley Science Center. More than 110 undergraduate research fellows from Math and Computer Sciences, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Quantitative Analysis Center, and Psychology presented research at the event. (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled "The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps." Bardos' faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and environmental studies.

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled “The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps.” Bardos’ faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and associate professor of environmental studies.

A poster titled "Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor" was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

A poster titled “Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor” was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Loui’s Study of Chill-Inducing Music Featured in BBC

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

When Psyche Loui first heard Rachmaninov’s Piano Concert No. 2 on the radio as a college student, she still remembers the chill that went down her spine, the fluttering in her stomach and the racing heart. Now an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan, Loui studies this phenomenon–which she refers to as “frissons” or “skin orgasms”–in her lab. She recently co-authored a paper with Luke Harrison ’14 in Frontiers in Psychology reviewing the evidence and theories in this area, and spoke to the BBC about their findings.

Loui, also an accomplished pianist and violinist, points out that the sensations associated with music can be as varied as trembling, flushing and sweating, and sexual arousal. People can often pick out particular measures in a song that trigger such sensations, allowing researchers to pinpoint specific features that are most likely to trigger the sensations in listeners.

Sudden changes in harmony, dynamic leaps (from soft to loud), and melodic appoggiaturas (dissonant notes that clash with the main melody, like you’ll find in Adele’s Someone Like You) seem to be particularly powerful. “Musical frisson elicit a physiological change that’s locked to a particular point in the music,” says Loui.

Researchers have been able to use fMRI scans to map out the regions of the brain that respond to music, and chart the mechanisms that correspond to this phenomenon.

One major component seems to be the way the brain monitors our expectations, says Loui. From the moment we are born (and possibly before), we begin to learn certain rules that characterise the way songs are composed. If a song follows the conventions too closely, it is bland and fails to capture our attention; if it breaks the patterns too much, it sounds like noise. But when composers straddle the boundary between the familiar and unfamiliar, playing with your expectations using unpredictable flourishes (like appoggiaturas or sweeping harmonic changes), they hit a sweet spot that pleasantly teases the brain, and this may produce a frisson.

For instance, violated expectations seem to startle (albeit gently) the automatic nervous system, in its most primitive region, the brain stem – producing the racing heart, the breathlessness, the flush that can signal the onset of a frisson. What’s more, the anticipation, violation, and resolution of our expectations triggers the release of dopamine in two key regions – the caudate and the nucleus accumbens, shortly before and just after the frisson. You see a similar response when people take drugs or have sex, which may explain why we find shiver-inducing songs so addictive, says Loui.