Tag Archive for Psychology Department

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.

Cognitive Development Lab Designs Games for Family Math Night

Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs hosted Family Math Night at Edna Stevens Elementary School in Cromwell, Conn. on April 9. The event was full of games and activities for preschool children to play and get them excited about math while showing families activities that they can do at home to prepare their children for kindergarten. Assistant Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman’s students designed the math games as part of a research methods class.

Students of Anna Shusterman designed math games for Edna Stevens Elementary School’s Family Math Night. Pictured here are (top from left) Elissa Palmer ’16, Tawni Stoop ’15, Jess Taggart, Anna Shusterman, Max, Alison Denzer-King ’16, Davey Bales ’15, Olivia Mason 15, Julia Vermeulen ’15, Maddy Oswald ’14, Maddy Kidd ’14, and Reuben. Taggart is the lab coordinator for the Cognitive Development Lab’s and Max and Reuben are Professor Shusterman’s sons.

Students of Anna Shusterman designed math games for Edna Stevens Elementary School’s Family Math Night. Pictured here are (top from left) Elissa Palmer ’16, Tawni Stoop ’15, Jess Taggart, Anna Shusterman, Max, Alison Denzer-King ’16, Davey Bales ’15, Olivia Mason 15, Julia Vermeulen ’15, Maddy Oswald ’14, Maddy Kidd ’14, and Reuben. Taggart is the lab coordinator for the Cognitive Development Lab’s and Max and Reuben are Professor Shusterman’s sons.

Faculty Writing Group Meets for Encouragement, Goal of Being Published

The Wesleyan Faculty Writing Group meets frequently to work on independent writing projects in a group atmosphere. Pictured at a March meeting is, clockwise from left, Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior; Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior; Mariah Schug, visiting assistant professor of psychology; Sarah Wiliarty, associate professor of government, director of the Public Affairs Center; Lauren Caldwell, assistant professor of classical studies; and Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology.

The Wesleyan Faculty Writing Group meets frequently to work on independent writing projects in a group atmosphere. Pictured at a March meeting is, clockwise from left, Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior; Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior; Mariah Schug, visiting assistant professor of psychology; Sarah Wiliarty, associate professor of government, director of the Public Affairs Center; Lauren Caldwell, assistant professor of classical studies; and Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology.

Once a week, a group of Wesleyan faculty gather to work on individual projects. Although they come from different departments – psychology, classical studies, government, among others – they’re all working towards the same goal: to write, be published, and celebrate each others’ accomplishments.

The Wesleyan Faculty Writing Group, founded in 2010, provides an opportunity for faculty to come sit in a shared space and work on any writing projects they are pursuing. Participants are currently working on book proposals, book manuscripts, articles, reviews, grant and fellowship applications and op-eds.

“All of us have found that the occasional change of scene provided by the Writing Group – just moving outside our individual offices for a few hours once a week – can provide a welcome boost to productivity,” said Lauren Caldwell, assistant professor of classical studies.

Caldwell, who considers herself one of the group’s “regulars,” is using the group time to work on a forthcoming book, Roman Girlhood and the Fashioning of Femininity, and a book review of Susan Mattern’s The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire. She also wrote an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant

“The group also has allowed us to meet faculty outside our departments and divisions and to gain a real appreciation for the breadth of faculty research across the university,” she said.

In the past few years, Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, has had papers published in several journals including Cognitive Development, the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and Current Biology. She is now using writing group time to work on additional journal articles and a grant proposal. She credits the writing group for helping “in some way with everything” she’s published during this time.

“For me, it’s really helpful to have a quiet, dedicated space and time for writing without distraction,” Barth said. “The group members keep each other on task well. Interruptions are minimized, and that is a lot harder to impose when you are by yourself, given the many other personal and professional tasks that always need to be done.”

Mariah Schug, visiting assistant professor of psychology, also had papers published in Cognitive Development and an op-ed on same-sex marriage in The Hartford Courant while taking part in the writing group. Schug also used the group time to focus on two grant proposals she submitted this semester.

“The breaks can be very isolating for faculty. We find that working together, instead of separately in our own offices, helps us to stay focused and motivated over the breaks. We have all found the group to improve our productivity.”

The group meets at various locations on campus including a conference table in the Judd Hall Lounge, the conference room the Public Affairs Center, or in a classroom in the Allbritton Center. In 2013, the group acquired its own printer and coffee maker, “making us an official group,” Caldwell said.

Wherever the group works, they maintain a quiet atmosphere and occasionally consult with each other about writing-related issues.But unlike a writing workshop, the Writing Group does not present their work to colleagues for feedback. Participation isn’t mandatory, and faculty choose to attend when they can.

The group currently meets about once a week and meets daily throughout the summer.

For more information email Lauren Caldwell.

Psychology Majors Present Research at Poster Session April 24

More than 45 students presented their research or thesis research at the Psychology Research Poster Presentation April 24 in Beckham Hall. Oluwaremilekun Ojurongbe ’14 presented her study, “Illegality, Criminality and the Taxpayer’s Burden: The Incomplete U.S. Immigration Narrative.” Her advisor was Sarah Carney, visiting faculty with the Psychology Department.

More than 45 students presented their research or thesis research at the Psychology Research Poster Presentation April 24 in Beckham Hall. Oluwaremilekun Ojurongbe ’14 presented her study, “Illegality, Criminality and the Taxpayer’s Burden: The Incomplete U.S. Immigration Narrative.” Her advisor was Sarah Carney, visiting faculty with the Psychology Department.

Victoria Mathieson ’14 presented her research on “Identity, Appraisal, and Emotion: The Role of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy among Latino/a Middle School Students.” Her advisor was Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, associate professor of psychology.

Victoria Mathieson ’14 presented her research on “Identity, Appraisal, and Emotion: The Role of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy among Latino/a Middle School Students.” Mathieson’s advisor was Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, associate professor of psychology.

Psychology/Neuroscience’s Robinson Studies Desires of Gambling, Diet-Induced Obesity

Mike Robinson studies the role of uncertainty in gambling, and how in a certain environment, the lack of predictability can spur more malicious, compulsive, gambling

Mike Robinson studies the brain mechanisms underlying motivation and reward and how they come together to produce desire. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, who joined the faculty in January.

Q: Welcome to Wesleyan, Professor Robinson! Please fill us in on your life up to now.

A: I was born and grew up in France, in the west suburbs of Paris, but my parents are both British, so that makes me bi-national and bilingual. I went to high school in France and decided to go to university to study neuroscience at the University of Sussex in the U.K. Then I went to McGill University in Montreal, Canada to do a master’s and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology. From there, I went to the University of Michigan for a post-doc before coming to Wesleyan. So I’ve almost jumped a country per position.

Q: What brought you to Wesleyan?

A: I was attracted by the balance Wesleyan offers—both the work-life balance, and the work balance between the amount of research and the amount of teaching. I really enjoy both teaching and research, but I always felt like I’d have to compromise one or the other if I went to a research institution or a more teaching-intensive small liberal arts school. I feel like Wesleyan has the perfect balance. Plus the opportunity to be with really high-quality students, which I thought would be really stimulating and almost like working with grad students. I currently have four students in my lab, and so far I’ve been very impressed by them.

Q: What classes are you teaching this semester?

A: I’m teaching one course called “Motivation and Reward.” In the fall, I’ll be co-teaching “Intro to Neurobiology” with Jan Naegele (professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, director of the Center for Faculty Development), and a research methods course on research in animal behavior. Next spring, I’ll be teaching “Motivation and Reward” again, and an advanced research course looking at where a lot of my research is focused, which is gambling, diet-induced obesity and drug addiction.

Q: Please tell us more about your research interests.

A: I’m interested in understanding how the brain works. I’ve always wanted to do something that helps people in as direct a way as possible, considering I’m not doing human research. I started out doing research on drug addiction. My Ph.D. work looked at the ability that we may have to affect memory after it’s been created and consolidated, either strengthening or weakening it.

Wesleyan’s Coursera Classes Begin April 21 with Basinger’s “Marriage in the Movies”

Professor Jeanine Basinger is teaching “Marriage in the Movies: A History," starting April 21.

Professor Jeanine Basinger is teaching “Marriage in the Movies: A History,” starting April 21.

Always wanted to take a course with legendary film professor Jeanine Basinger? Miss the first run of Professor of Psychology Scott Plous’ wildly popular “Social Psychology” MOOC? Now’s your chance!

The next round of Wesleyan’s massive open online courses (MOOCs) is starting up this month, with “Marriage in the Movies: A History” launching April 21. Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, is teaching the course based on her book, I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies.

“This is essentially a descriptive course on stories and stars and business strategies,” says Basinger, who is also chair of film studies and curator of the cinema archives. “It provides information and shows clips for support and example. It’s not philosophical; it’s not a formalist analysis. It’s a simple study about content in the movies designed for people who love films and would like to have more information about some of them and have, what I hope, will be a fun conversation on the changes that evolved over time in stories about marriage that were made in Hollywood.”

In the course’s intro video, Basinger says the course will explore “how Hollywood had trouble telling the story and selling the story of marriage on film.”