Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Wesleyan Launches First-Ever Creative Writing Specialization on Coursera

Wesleyan's creative writing specialization is open to anyone with a love of reading or a drive to invent a story or tell their own.

Wesleyan’s creative writing specialization on Coursera provides an opportunity to learn from some of the country’s best contemporary writers.

Wesleyan will present the first-ever creative writing specialization on the Coursera platform, beginning Feb. 9. Taught by four award-winning authors, the specialization is open to anyone with a love of reading or a drive to invent a story or tell their own.

Titled “Creative Writing: The Craft of Story,” the specialization will include four courses, plus a capstone. The courses are:

The first MOOC launches Feb. 9, with subsequent courses starting every week after that.

Juhasz, Students Teach Word Recognition Workshop at Green Street TLC

Associate Professor Barbara Juhasz, Akila Raoul ’16 and Micaela Kaye ’16 visited the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center Dec. 2 to lead a workshop on word recognition. Juhasz is associate professor of psychology, associate professor of integrative sciences and associate professor of neuroscience and behavior.

The trio worked with students enrolled in Green Street’s AfterSchool program. During this special half day program, Juhasz spoke to the Green Street students (in grades 1-5) about her word recgonition research at Wesleyan and then lead a hands-on workshop involving word games.

“Our students had a wonderful time exploring the concept of compound word recognition with our guests,” said Sandra Guze, education and program coordinator at GSTLC.

Photos of the workshop are below:

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Loui, Jung ’16, Alumni Authors of Article in Frontiers in Psychology

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrated sciences, is the co-author of a new study, “Rhythmic Effects of Syntax Processing in Music and Language” published in Frontiers in Psychology in November. The article’s lead author is Harim Jung ’16, and it is also co-authored by Samuel Sontag ’14 and YeBin “Shiny” Park ’15.

According to Loui, the paper grew out of her Advanced Research Methods in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience course, and is the precursor to Jung’s senior and master’s theses. The study uses a behavioral test to look into how music and language—two universal human functions—may overlap in their use of brain resources. The researchers show that perturbations in rhythm take up sufficient attentional resources to interfere with how people read and understand a sentence. The results support the view that rhythm, music, and language are not limited to their separate processing in the auditory circuits; instead, their structure creates expectations about tempo, harmony, and sentence meaning that interfere with each other in other sensory systems, such as vision, and in higher levels of cognitive processing.

“We think that the role of rhythm in this sharing of brain resources dedicated to music and language is an important finding because it could help people who use music as a therapy to help their language functions,” explained Loui. “For example, people who have aphasia (loss of language) due to stroke are sometimes able to sing, a fascinating paradox that led to the development of Melodic Intonation Therapy—a singing therapy designed to help aphasics recover their language functions. Rhythm is important for this therapy, but its precise role is unclear. By studying how rhythm guides the way the brain shares its processing between music and language, we might be better able to target Melodic Intonation Therapy in the future.”

Weissman Discusses Mental Health Care as Panelist

Pictured, at left, is Carlton Whitmore of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Ruth Weissman; Milton Wainberg, co-scientific director of Columbia’s Global Mental Health Program; Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization; Tia Powell of the Center for Bioethics at Montefiore Health System; and Sheryl WuDunn, moderator and author of A Path Appears. Pictured, at left, is Carlton Whitmore of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Ruth Weissman; Milton Wainberg, co-scientific director of Columbia’s Global Mental Health Program; Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization; Tia Powell of the Center for Bioethics at Montefiore Health System; and Sheryl WuDunn, moderator and author of A Path Appears.

Pictured, at left, is Carlton Whitmore of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Ruth Weissman; Milton Wainberg, co-scientific director of Columbia’s Global Mental Health Program; Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization; Tia Powell of the Center for Bioethics at Montefiore Health System; and Sheryl WuDunn, moderator and author of A Path Appears.

On Nov. 9, more than 200 people gathered to celebrate the launch of The World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research and Capacity Building in Mental Health at Columbia University, Department of Psychiatry. The event, Global Mental Health Priorities and Opportunities, provided a platform for discourse around the challenges humans are tackling in mental health.

Ruth Weissman, the Walter A. Crowell University Professor of the Social Sciences, professor of psychology, joined a panel discussion on “Global Mental Health Priorities and Opportunities,” which was moderated by Pulitzer Prize winning author Sheryl WuDunn.

Weissman and other leaders in the field discussed stigma as a barrier to improving mental healthcare and the need to train more non-clinical professionals to deal with the growing crisis of mental healthcare worldwide.

The World Health Organization collaborates with more than 700 centers in more than 80 member states working with WHO on areas such as nursing, occupational health, communicable diseases, nutrition, mental health, chronic diseases and health technologies.

Juhasz, Alumni Published in Behavior Research Methods

Associate Professor Barbara Juhaz, Yun-Hsuan Lai ’14 and Michelle Woodcock ’14 are the co-authors of a paper titled “A database of 629 English compound words: Ratings of familiarity, lexeme meaning dominance, semantic transparency, age-of-acquisition, imageability, and sensory experience,” published in Behavior Research Methods, 47(4), pages 1004-1019 in 2015.

Juhasz is associate professor of psychology, associate professor of integrative sciences, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior.

In this study, the authors collected ratings on 629 English compound words for six variables: familiarity, age of acquisition, semantic transparency, lexeme meaning dominance, imageability, and sensory experience ratings. All of the compound words selected for this study are contained within the English Lexicon Project (Balota et al., 2007), which made it possible to use a regression approach to examine the predictive power of these variables for lexical decision and word naming performance.

The database of English compound words should be beneficial to word recognition researchers who are interested in selecting items for experiments on compound words, and it will also allow researchers to conduct further analyses using the available data combined with word recognition times included in the English Lexicon Project, Juhasz explained.

Wesleyan MOOCs Topic of Academic (Technology) Roundtable

On Oct. 29, the Academic Technology Roundtable (AtR) focused on Wesleyan's Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), from design to implementation.

On Oct. 29, the Academic (Technology) Roundtable (A(t)R) focused on Wesleyan’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), from design to implementation. A(t)R lunches are designed to promote conversation, cooperation and the sharing of information, ideas and resources among faculty members, librarians, graduate students and staff.

Speakers included Jennifer Rose, professor of the practice and research professor of psychology, and Dan Mercier, instructional design director for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation.

Speakers included, at left, Dan Mercier, instructional design director for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, and Jennifer Rose, professor of the practice and research professor of psychology.

Robinson Tells CNN About Addictive Foods

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Breaking news: You may be a pizza-holic.

Mike Robinson, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, was called on by CNN to comment on a new study examining which foods can be the most addictive. Topping the list: pizza, French fries, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, cake, soda, bacon and cheese.

Although not all foods have the potential to be addictive, “it is critical to understand which ones do,” said Robinson, who was not involved in the study, told CNN.

“We are all pressed for time, and food is becoming more and more available,” but we need to think about what we are grabbing on the go, he said. Although a handful of almonds and a milkshake might have the same number of calories, they will have a different effects on your brain and your reward system, and you will be much more likely to go back to get more of the milkshake, he added.

Many of the symptoms of food addiction look like drug addiction, including that people need more and more of the food item to get the same effect. They also accept negative consequences to obtain it and feel the anxiety or agitation of withdrawal when they can’t have it. Although food withdrawal is not as intense as heroin withdrawal, neither is cocaine withdrawal. “It varies by the drug,” Robinson said.

Just like any addiction, the first step to recovery is to acknowledge there is a problem, Robinson said. “I think in the majority of cases when we have a problem with a substance, whether it’s a food or drug…we will ignore it,” he said.

Robinson suggests avoiding foods if you have trouble controlling how much of them you eat. “We are not in a situation where we will have dietary deficiencies (and) whenever possible we should be aiming to cook foods for ourselves,” he said.

Plous and the Science of Compassion Featured on NPR

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and anthropologist Jane Goodall presented Qian Zhang of China with a Day of Compassion Award from the Jane Goodall Institute. Zhang was a student in Plous's Social Psychology MOOC last summer and received the honor for intervening when she heard a boy being beaten in a neighboring apartment. 

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and anthropologist Jane Goodall presented Qian Zhang of China with a Day of Compassion Award from the Jane Goodall Institute. Zhang was a student in Plous’s Social Psychology MOOC last summer and received the honor for intervening when she heard a boy being beaten in a neighboring apartment.

NPR’s “Hidden Brain” program took a look at the science of compassion in a program featuring Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and the “Day of Compassion” exercise that he leads in his social psychology courses at Wesleyan and in his Social Psychology MOOC on Coursera.

“Scott radiates kindness,” said host and science correspondent Shankar Vedantam in introducing Plous. More than 250,000 students from around the world signed up for the first run of Plous’ MOOC. The course capstone was the Day of Compassion exercise in which “students had to spend one day being deliberately kind and generous toward others. Scott asked them to notice how these actions changed the way they felt about themselves.”

“Students often report that it’s transformative—that they’re really surprised at the reaction, that people are so overwhelmingly positive that it starts to feed on itself,” said Plous. “And by the end of the day, they report, ‘This is a different side of me that I didn’t recognize was there.'” What’s driving this? “Oftentimes, it seems that compassion is contagious. We talk about paying it forward: The idea that if you do something good for another person, that give that person a kind of lift, and that person in turn will do something good for someone else, and it sets off a chain reaction,” Plous explained.

Students in the course are asked to “think deeply about their life choices,” down to what they eat for breakfast and how they commute to work, and how those choices affect other people.

Vendantam also interviewed Kellie, a participant in Plous’ MOOC who lives in London. She used some of the psychological principles taught on the course—including the “norm of reciprocity” and the power of empathy—to form a relationship with a homeless man she met on the street. She ended up inviting him for a cup of coffee, where she talked about her own life and encouraged him to open up about his. She eventually learned that he had left home because of tension with his father, but badly missed his mother. Though he was resistant, Kellie convinced the man to allow her to call his mother.

“It was quite beautiful to watch because he started out not knowing what to say and being quite guarded and defensive. That all broke down within five minutes.” After that, she convinced him to return to his family, and bought him a bus ticket home.

“I think that day in the course with Professor Plous most definitely opened my eyes to the reasons why people don’t do something to help. […] It’s easy to say ‘I can’t make a difference,’ but everyone can make a difference,” no matter how small, she said.

 

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 August 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 cognitive models seek to model human mental processes as approximations to ideal 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.