Tag Archive for Psychology Department

QAC Hosts Final Exam Evaluation, Poster Session

More than 100 students presented their quantitative analysis research Dec. 5 in Beckham Hall. 

More than 100 students presented their quantitative analysis research Dec. 5 in Beckham Hall.

On Dec. 5, the Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC) hosted its annual student research final exam evaluation event for its QAC 201 course. More than 100 students presented their projects at a poster session to fellow students, faculty, alumni and friends of Wesleyan.

Plous’s MOOC Student Honored by Jane Goodall for Compassionate Act

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. 

On Dec. 6, Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and anthropologist/primatologist Jane Goodall presented Qian Zhang of China with a Day of Compassion Award. 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.

In the summer of 2014, students from more than 200 countries enrolled in Professor of Psychology Scott Plous’s Social Psychology “MOOC” (massive open online course). The class was offered by Wesleyan, hosted by Coursera.org, and drew more than 200,000 students.

The final assignment of the course, “The Day of Compassion,” asked students to live 24 hours as compassionately as possible and to analyze the experience using social psychology.

Wilkins Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

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

Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins is the co-author of a paper titled “You Can Win But I Can’t Lose: Bias Against High-Status Groups Increases Their Zero-Sum Beliefs About Discrimination” published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2014. The article will be published again in the in the journal’s March 2015 print edition. Wilkins co-authored the article with several other researchers including Joseph Wellman, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Wesleyan, who is now at California State University, San Barnardino, and Katherine Schad BA ’13/MA ’14.

The study considered what causes people to espouse “zero-sum beliefs”—or beliefs that gains for one social group come at a cost to another group—and what the consequences are of those beliefs. The researchers found that “high-status groups” (specifically, whites and men) held zero-sum beliefs more often when they contemplated increasing bias against their own group than when they contemplated decreasing bias against their low-status counterparts (blacks and women). Furthermore, greater endorsement of zero-sum beliefs corresponded with efforts to decrease outgroups’ ability to compete in society and efforts to increase the ingroup’s ability to compete. The researchers also discuss how this pattern may perpetuate social inequality.

Stemler Published in Journal of Study Abroad, Educational Psychology

Steve Stemler, associate professor of psychology, is the co-author of “Development and Validation of the Wesleyan Intercultural Competence Scale (WICS): A Tool for Measuring the Impact of Study Abroad Experiences,” published in Frontiers: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, XXIV, 25-47, 2014.

He’s also the co-author of “Testing the theory of successful intelligence through educational interventions in Grade 4 language arts, mathematics and science,” published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(3), 881-899, 2014.

Stemler’s New Study Finds Educational Interventions Cannot Be “Scaled Up”

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

It turns out that teaching language arts, math and science to fourth graders is not the same as manufacturing cars on an assembly line. That is, the microeconomics principle of economies of scale—or the cost advantages that businesses get by increasing the scale of production—do not always apply to educational interventions.

Put another way, an intervention that works great in one specific educational setting cannot necessarily be “scaled up” to work in many other settings.

This is the finding of a major new study funded by the National Science Foundation, on which Associate Professor of Psychology Steven Stemler collaborated with colleagues at a number of other universities including Yale, Cornell and the University of Sydney. The study, carried out in 223 classrooms across the country in the early- to mid-2000s, was published in the American Psychology Association’s Journal of Educational Psychology in August. The paper is titled “Testing the Theory of Successful Intelligence in Teaching Grade 4 Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science.”

Plous’ MOOC Promotes Compassion

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous’ Social Psychology MOOC is believed to be the world’s most popular massive open online course, but its impact is being felt even beyond the hundreds of thousands of students who enrolled, according to BBC News. The story featured the results of Plous’ “Day of Compassion” assignment, in which he challenged students to live 24 hours as compassionately as possible.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do,” Plous told the BBC. “You don’t have to be a physician or in education. Anyone can look at what they can do and if they are dedicated enough they can make a difference in just 24 hours.”

In response to the challenge, a doctor in India dedicated herself to combatting sexual abuse of young girls:

One day last year a doctor walked into a school near her clinic in a rural area near New Delhi in India and taught 2,000 girls how to protect themselves against sexual abuse.

Dr. Balesh Jindal’s talks evolved into being constantly on call at her surgery for girls and their mothers and to teaching boys from impoverished backgrounds how to respect women.

She is paving a new way for women to protect themselves in India, where there has been anger at a number of high-profile rape cases and concern about the availability of sex education.

 

Grant Supports Partnership between Cognitive Development Lab, CT Science Center

Cognitive Development Lab students Ziyue Li '16 and Portia Lundie '14 spoke with children and parents at the Connecticut Science Center last spring.

Cognitive Development Lab students Ziyue Li ’16 and Portia Lundie ’14 spoke with children and parents at the Connecticut Science Center last spring.

Faculty and student researchers from Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Lab recently received a $3,000 stipend from the National Living Laboratory® Initiative, which receives support from the National Science Foundation. The award will support an ongoing collaboration between Wesleyan and the the Connecticut Science Center.

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, oversees a Living Laboratory® site at the science center’s museum. For the past year and a half, Wesleyan researchers have visited the museum on Saturdays to collect data for current studies, talk with children and their families about child developmental research, and guide visitors in hands-on activities that demonstrate important findings in developmental psychology.

The stipend will support staff at the museum, student coordination and museum visit time for the students, travel costs, signage and materials for the lab’s child development demonstrations. In 2013, the Living Laboratory Initiative awarded Wesleyan with a $300 grant for signage.

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.

Read past articles about the Cognitive Development Lab here.

Plous on Social Psych and the Michael Brown Shooting

Scott Plous, professor of psychology.

Scott Plous, professor of psychology

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous spoke to the Associated Press about the tendency of observers to see the Michael Brown shooting as black and white. Those who support Officer Darren Wilson, and those who are convinced he unjustifiably shot and killed an unarmed man, look at the same facts and see no gray area largely due to “confirmation bias,” said Plous.

“It’s the tendency to seek out and give greater weight to information that confirms what we think rather than contradicts it,” he explained.

In this particular case, with little unambiguous evidence, “people are actually acting very reasonably,” said Plous.

“There is a void, and into that void, people will bring whatever they regard as the most reasonable evidence,” he said. “People are trying to make sense of this tragedy using the most compelling evidence they have available.”

This includes their own perspectives and experiences.

“We’re forced to reconstruct, to remember, to imagine what could have taken place,” Plous said, “and those are precisely the conditions when we’re likely to see bias.”

NSF Grant Supports Shusterman’s Study on Number Word Learning

Anna Shusterman

Anna Shusterman

Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman has received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to study language structure and number word learning in children. The research is a collaboration with David Barner at the University of California-San Diego. The total grant is $1,496,636, of which $724,128 will go to Wesleyan.

According to Shusterman, the project explores how the structure of a language affects children’s acquisition of word meanings for abstract concepts. Specifically, they will consider how the pace of children’s number acquisition is affected by the presence of a “dual marker” — that is, grammatical marking to specify a precise quantity of two, rather than simply singular versus plural—in their native language. The researchers will study dialects of  Slovenian and Saudi Arabic. The study has broader implications related to understanding how aspects of language, such as syntax, facilitate conceptual development, such as mathematics.

At Wesleyan, the grant will fund a full-time project manager and post-doc, who will mentor and interact with students, for all three years of the study. Students working on the study will get exposure to cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research.

2 Faculty to Receive Tenure, 5 Promoted to Full Professor

The Board of Trustees recently conferred tenure to two Wesleyan faculty and promoted five faculty to full professor. Their promotions take effect July 1.

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, will receive tenure. Pitts-Taylor will join Wesleyan as a new faculty members and chair of the FGSS program on the same date.

They join four other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

Those promoted to full professor are Martha Gilmore, professor of earth and environmental sciences; Yuri Kordonsky, professor of theater; James Lipton, professor of mathematics and computer sciences; Brian Stewart, professor of physics; and Greg Voth, professor of physics.

Brief descriptions of their areas of research and teaching are below:

Pitts-Taylor will offer courses in feminist science studies, gender theory, and interdisciplinary body studies.

Faculty, Students Discuss Milgram’s “Shock” Experiment Research at Humanities Theory Salon

Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, along with Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14 (not pictured) presented “Body Resistance: Mapping Power and Defiance in the Milgram Experiments”, their research on the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, on May 9 at the Center for Humanities’ last theory salon of the 2013-2014 school year.

Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, along with Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14 (not pictured) presented their research on the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, May 9 at the Center for Humanities’ theory salon.

On Friday, May 9, the Center for Humanities held its last theory salon for the 2013-2014 academic year. The intimate faculty-student presentation revealed ground-breaking research on the Stanley Milgram “shock” obedience experiment, led by Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and assistants Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14.

Stanley Milgram, a psychologist from Yale University, is known for his experiment on obedience to authority figures. In the 1960s, Milgram measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their conscience. In the experiment, a subject is asked to deliver painful electric shocks to a learner, who is actually and actor. The subject believes the learner was receiving shocks, however there was no physical pain inflicted on the learner.

“Body Resistance: Mapping Power and Defiance in the Milgram Experiments” re-imagines the ways in which dissonance, power, and human behavior are taught and thought about. Rather than challenge the extent of Milgram’s contributions and their applications, the team was more interested in using archival information—largely based on Milgram’s observational notes and recordings—to analyze previously overlooked nuances. Much of the research draws on the construction of agency and, as suggested by Hoffman, Milgram’s own suspicions.

“Milgram did a lot of double-talk,” Hoffman explained, “and this led us to believe that he was attentive to the problematic nature of the work.”

Interest in these classic findings has been persistent throughout the years and, recently, is becoming more interdisciplinary. Milgram’s findings have extended outside of the realms of social psychology and have incited studies in cognitive psychology, neuroscience and legal theory.

“There is great demand for understanding behavior in terms of implicit attitudes,” Morawski said.

Barth, Alumni Co-Author Paper on Preschoolers’ Trust

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of of “Preschoolers trust novel members of accurate speakers’ groups and judge them favorably,” published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Issue 67, pages 872-883, in 2014. The paper is based on work from BA ’08/MA ’09 student Keera Bhandari’s thesis, and research by former undergraduates Kyle MacDonald ’10 and Jenn Garcia ’10, and former lab manager Elizabeth Chase.

It is known that by age 3, children track a speaker’s record of past accuracy and use it as a cue to current reliability. Through two different experiments, the Wesleyan researchers explored whether preschoolers’ judgments about, and trust in, the accuracy of a previously reliable informant extend to other members of the informant’s group.

In Experiment 1, both 3- and 4-year-olds consistently judged an animated character who was associated with a previously accurate speaker more likely to be correct than a character associated with a previously inaccurate speaker, despite possessing no information about these characters’ individual records of reliability. They continued to show this preference one week later.

Experiment 2 presented 4- and 5-year-olds with a related task using videos of human actors. Both showed preferences for members of previously accurate speakers’ groups on a common measure of epistemic trust. This result suggests that by at least age 4, children’s trust in speaker testimony spreads to members of a previously accurate speaker’s group.