Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Wesleyan Students Help Local Preschoolers Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten

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Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 works with children in the Kindergarten Kickstart program on July 14 at Bielefield School in Middletown. The program, which is taught by Wesleyan students and local teachers, is celebrating its fifth year this summer. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Kindergarten Kickstart, a research-based, summer pre-K program for children in Middletown created by Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and her students, is celebrating its fifth year. It’s marking the occasion with an event July 20 at the Middletown Roller Skating Rink (free for any current or past Kickstart family, 4 to 6 p.m.) and using a new grant to further develop student innovation in the program.

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At left, Megan Dolan ’17 and Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 help Kindergarden Kickstart students during outdoor playtime.

Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012 as a pilot program with 15 children at MacDonough School. They designed the curriculum and taught the program together with a MacDonough teacher. Today, this five-week program serves 35 children at Bielefield and Farm Hill schools (who will be entering kindergarten at those schools plus MacDonough), with six Wesleyan undergraduates and recent alumni leading the classes and developing the curriculum. A certified teacher continues to work at each site. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including a small budget from Wesleyan’s Provost, the Foundation for Greater Hartford, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, and a seed grant from Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

The program is intended for children who could benefit from an extra pre-school experience before beginning kindergarten in the fall. 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 and improve participants’ school readiness skills through a short-term, high-impact, low-cost preschool program.

According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot.

Shusterman said Kindergarten Kickstart was started as a way to put early childhood research into practice.

Barth, Patalano Receive Major Grant from National Science Foundation

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth

Andrea Patalano

Andrea Patalano

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, and Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation. The $1,101,456 grant will support collaborative research on quantitative reasoning conducted in the Cognitive Development Lab (directed by Barth) and the Reasoning and Decision Making Lab (directed by Patalano). The research project will be conducted in collaboration with Sara Cordes at Boston College, which will receive an additional $177,496.

According to the NSF abstract, humans have an innate ability to estimate quantities yet their intuitions often contain biases that interfere with learning new ways to think about quantity. Weaving together strands of psychology, neuroscience, economics, and education, the researchers hope to shed light on the cognitive processes underlying our abilities to estimate 4 kinds of quantities: number, space, time, and probability. By comparing processes across these four distinct areas, the researchers aim to provide a unifying account of how children and adults estimate quantities, which has the potential to transform current understanding of the cognitive bases of how people learn in and across STEM disciplines. Achieving a simple unifying account is important because the ability to think well about quantity in all of these areas is fundamental to STEM learning.

7 Faculty Promoted, 4 Awarded Tenure

In its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on four faculty members. They are Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Professor of African American Studies Kali Gross, Associate Professor of English and American Studies Amy Tang, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

One faculty member, Louise Neary, was promoted to adjunct associate professor of Spanish.

In addition, six faculty members are being promoted to full professor:

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American Studies and anthropology
Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology
Cecilia Miller, professor of history
Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater
Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology
Michael Singer, professor of biology

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Associate Professor Fowler specializes in political communication and directs the Wesleyan Media project, which tracks and analyzes all political ads aired on broadcast television in real-time during elections. Her work on local coverage of politics and policy has been published in political science, communication, law/policy, and medical journals. Most recently, she co-authored Political Advertising in the United States (Westview Press, 2016). Professor Fowler teaches courses on American Government and Politics; Media and Politics; Campaigns and Elections; and Polls, Politics and Public Opinion.

Professor Gross is a scholar of African American history whose research concentrates on black women’s experiences in the United States criminal justice system between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores a crime and trial in 1887 against broader evidence of biased police treatment of black suspects as well as violence within the black community. Professor Gross will offer courses on race, gender and justice and Black Women’s Studies.

Professor Kauanui’s research lies in the fields of comparative colonialisms, indigenous politics, critical racial studies, and anarchist studies. Her book, The Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty (Duke University Press, due in 2017), explores the cultural and legal politics of the contemporary Hawaiian nationalist movement in relation to land, gender, and sexuality. Professor Kauanui teaches courses on Colonialism and Its Consequences; Race and Citizenship; United States in the Pacific Islands; Hawai’i: Myths and Realities; Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown; and Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.

Professor Kurtz’s research seeks to clarify the cognitive and social impairments associated with schizophrenia, to develop and assess behavioral treatments for these impairments, and to critically evaluate the history and current status of ideas regarding treatment of the severely mentally ill. He has received significant grant support from the NIH, and has received a Fulbright-Nehru U.S. Scholar Award for Academic and Professional Excellence. He offers courses on Schizophrenia and Its Treatment, Clinical Neuropsychology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Professor Miller is a European intellectual historian with a focus on the long eighteenth century. Her recent book, Enlightenment and Political Fiction: The Everyday Intellectual (Routledge, 2016), examines five works of fiction to argue that the accessibility of political fiction in the eighteenth century made it possible for any reader to enter into the intellectual debates of the time and that ideas attributed to philosophers and political and economic theorists of the Enlightenment actually appeared first in works of fiction. She offers courses on European Intellectual History, Political Fiction, Theories of Society, and Contemporary Europe.

Professor Tatinge Nascimento is a theater artist and scholar with a special interest in experimental performance and Brazilian contemporary theater. She has performed and published internationally, and most recently is the author of a book manuscript, The Contemporary Performances of Brazil’s Post-Dictatorship Generation, under review with Palgrave Macmillan for the series Contemporary Performance InterActions. At Wesleyan she directs main stage productions and teaches courses on acting, theory, and performance studies.

Adjunct Associate Professor Neary teaches beginning and intermediate Spanish. She is currently collaborating with a colleague on an online Spanish course for the general public, titled Wespañol, and with McGraw Hill on a test bank project for an elementary Spanish language textbook. She has served as head of Spanish, has chaired the Romance Languages and Literatures Honors Committee, and has served on the Language Resources Center Faculty Committee.

Professor Patalano is a cognitive scientist whose research focuses on mental and neural processes involved in human reasoning, judgment, and decision making. Her lines of research address indecisiveness and decision deferral, clinical and neural correlates of discounting, numeracy and choice behavior, and the role of categories in thought. She teaches courses on Cognitive Psychology, Psychological Statistics, Decision Making, and Concepts and Categories.

Professor Singer is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on the plant-feeding habits of caterpillars in the context of threats from predators and parasites of caterpillars. He uses this research focus to inform issues of broad biological interest, such as animal medication, dietary specialization, dynamics of ecological networks, and evolutionary diversification. He teaches courses on Ecology, Conservation Biology, Evolutionary Biology, and Plant-Animal Interactions.

Professor Tang’s research focuses on the relationship between aesthetic form and politics in Asian American literature and theory. Her first book, Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores how Asian American writers use structures of repetition to register, and creatively inhabit, the impasses generated by multiculturalism’s politics of identity and recognition. She teaches courses on Asian American Literature, Afro-Asian Intersections, and Literary and Cultural Theory.

Associate Professor Taylor’s multidisciplinary research investigates problems at the intersection of biology and chemistry. Her work strives to advance medicine and environmental sustainability with two long-term goals – developing bacterial enzyme inhibitors and other small molecules with medicinal applications, and engineering microorganisms to improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion. Professor Taylor has received significant grant support from both the NIH and the Department of Energy, enabling numerous impactful publications in her field. She offers courses in Organic Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, and Biomedicinal Chemistry.

Psychology Students Share Research at 10th Annual Poster Presentation

Psychology Poster Session, April 28, 2016. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS '08)

Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins, pictured in back row center, gathered with her students during the Psychology Research Poster Presentation. The Wilkins Lab broadly examines prejudice, stereotyping, and the self.

Forty-six thesis and research students presented 36 posters during the Psychology Research Poster Presentation April 28 in Beckham Hall. The 10th annual event allowed the students to share their research and ongoing studies with peers and faculty from the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division.

Photos of the poster presentation are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Psychology Poster Session, April 28, 2016. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS '08)

Psychology Poster Session, April 28, 2016. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS '08)

Dierker, Mukerji Honored as Women of Innovation

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, professor of integrative sciences, were both honored at the 12th annual Women of Innovation Awards. Presented by the Connecticut Technology Council, the awards celebrate the energy, creativity and success of women and students from Connecticut’s science and technology community.

Both professors were honored in the category of Academic Innovation and Leadership. The celebration was held April 6 in Plantsville, Conn.

Dierker was honored for her work developing a curriculum to introduce students to a passion-driven, project-based course in applied statistics, data analysis and programming. Through a growing network of high schools, community colleges, and universities as well as a massive open online course (MOOC), she is dedicated to creating real access for women and other underserved populations, both locally and across the globe.

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji

Mukerji was recognized for her research focused on the study of protein-DNA interactions to understand the mechanisms of gene expression, DNA replication and DNA repair. She previously served as dean of science and mathematics at Wesleyan, where she helped to establish the Wesleyan Math and Science Scholars program and the College of Integrative Sciences.

Wesleyan Welcomes Posse Veteran Scholars to the Class of 2020

Wesleyan's newest group of Posse Veteran Scholars. Back row, from left: Gregory Hardy, Andrew Daggon, Zachary Patterson, Daniel Rodriguez. Front row, from left: Lance Williams, Noel Salvador, Marisella Andrews, Rebecca Martinez, Gabrielle Hurlock, Mitchell Motlagh.

Wesleyan’s newest group of Posse Veteran Scholars. Back row, from left: Gregory Hardy, Andrew Daggon, Zachary Patterson, Daniel Rodriguez. Front row, from left: Lance Williams, Noel Salvador, Marisella Andrews, Rebecca Martinez, Gabrielle Hurlock, Mitchell Motlagh.

This fall, Wesleyan will welcome to campus its third cohort of Posse Veteran Scholars in the Class of 2020—a group of three women and seven men who have served in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. They come from all over the United States and have served in places such as Afghanistan, Uganda and Iraq. Their interests range from visual art and filmmaking to teaching and mathematics. One student, Marisella Andrews, is the great-granddaughter of a Wesleyan alumnus, Matias Perez, from the Class of 1917.

The group’s faculty mentor will be Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor and chair of Science in Society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Trained in experimental psychology, Morawski has turned her scholarly inquiries toward seeking better understanding of the ways that scientific psychology has shaped American culture, policy and individual lives.

“It’s exciting to have Professor Morawski join the team of deeply committed faculty mentors, without whom, this initiative would not succeed the way it has these past two years,” said Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer, and Wesleyan’s Posse Veteran liaison.

The newest group of Posse Veteran Scholars join two earlier cohorts in the class of 2018 and 2019, bringing the total number of Posse Veteran Scholars on campus to 30 next year, and the total number of veterans on campus to 32. Farias commented on the increasing presence of veterans on campus, “Those that have served, viscerally understand what selfless service is about—it’s the motivating drive to give more than they get, and it’s the keystone to developing highly functional and diverse teams, where the mission is greater than any individual need. Excellence through resiliency best captures the experience of our Posse Veteran Scholars and we look forward to seeing them continue to thrive.”

Read the original announcement about Wesleyan’s partnership with the Posse Foundation to recruit military veterans here, and see a recent PBS Newshour feature on Wesleyan’s Posse vets here.

Students Present Research at the Eastern Psychological Association’s 2016 Meeting

Sheri Reichelson '16

Sheri Reichelson ’16

Several Wesleyan students presented research at the Eastern Psychological Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting in New York, N.Y. on March 4.

Sheri Reichelson ’16 presented a poster titled “Does the Arbitrary Grouping of Physical Options Influence Children’s and Adults’ Choices?”

Reichelson received an Eastern Regional travel grant from the Psi Chi Grants Committee and Boards of Directors to fund her travel. She also is an accepted BA/MA student continuing her work next year in Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs under the supervision of Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology.

Reichelson’s research, an ongoing collaborative project between the Cognitive Development Labs and the Reasoning and Decision Making Lab (led by Andrea Patalano, chair and associate professor of psychology), investigates how the grouping of categories affects decision making in children and adults.

Samantha Hellberg '16

Samantha Hellberg ’16

Samantha Hellberg ’16 also presented a poster titled, “Effects of Adolescent Ethanol Exposure and Anxiety on Motivation for Gambling-Like Cues.” She worked with Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, and also won a Psi Chi Award.

And Rebecca Tom ’16 and Charlotte Freeland, lab manager in Robinson’s lab, presented a poster, “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward.”

Loui Studies How Brain Connectivity Reflects Aesthetic Responses to Music

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Assistant Professor of Psychology Psyche Loui has long been interested in studying the intersection of music and emotions. In her latest study, published March 10 in Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, she identified specific connections in the brain between the auditory processing regions and regions for social and emotional processing. The article is titled, “Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music.”

Loui, who also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, has previously studied how music can cause chills, or similar strong physiological reactions in people when listening to music. Together with former thesis student Matt Sachs, she set out to study what was different in the brains of people who experience these music-induced chills compared to those who don’t.

The researchers started by conducting a large online survey with more than 230 participants. From this group, they selected 10 people who reported frequently experiencing chills from music and 10 people who reported not getting chills. They controlled for musical experience, gender and personality differences. Each participant was asked to bring in a few favorite pieces of music to the lab. Since individuals respond differently to music—that is, music that is chill-inducing varies from person to person—the researchers used music provided by one participant as control stimuli for another participant.

Support Wesleyan Researchers in Crowdfunding Pilot

Four Wesleyan academic departments, from psychology to dance to chemistry to biology, are competing for grant funds through a new crowdfunding site specifically designed for research project fundraising.

experimentExperiment.com’s Challenge Grant for Liberal Arts Colleges asked scientists to define a scientific research question for the crowd with a prize for the project with the most backers. The pilot launched on Feb. 24 and concludes March 25.During this 31-day period, the goal is to reach $4,000 in funding. If so, the team is granted the money. If not, they receive nothing and no one’s pledges are charged. By backing a project, participants will receive updates, results and data from project creators.

Wesleyan research include how the brain prevents risky-decision making/addiction; the effects of using artificial sweeteners; controlling seizures with light; and the effectiveness of somatic mind-body practices on victims of the war.

On Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 p.m., Experiment will award the project with the most backers $2,000 directly through their project page.

Wesleyan’s projects include:

2016 Patricelli Center Seed Grant Winners Announced

Members of team behind TRAP House, one of the three social ventures that won a seed grant, presented their pitch before a live audience of the Board of Trustees, Patricelli Center Advisory Board and others. Presenting (from left to right) are Irvine Peck's-Agaya '18, Gabe Weinreb '18, Bashaun Brown, and Sara Eismont '18.

Members of the team behind TRAP House, one of the three social ventures awarded a seed grant, presented their pitch before members of the Board of Trustees, Patricelli Center Advisory Board and others. Presenting (from left to right) are Irvine Peck’s-Agaya ’18, Gabe Weinreb ’18, Bashaun Brown and Sara Eismont ’18.

Three social ventures started by Wesleyan students were recently awarded $5,000 seed grants in the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s annual Seed Grant Challenge. They are Kindergarten Kickstart, TRAP House and Walking Elephants Home.

The last weekend in February, all six finalists for the seed grants presented pitches for their ventures before the Board of Trustees, Patricelli Center Advisory Board and Seed Grant judges, as well as representatives of CT Innovations and the ‎State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, fellow students, and others. The event was also livestreamed. One of the other finalists, <Zim/Code>, chose to withdraw from the Seed Grant competition before selections were made, after the project received $10,000 from another funder.

The remaining finalists, Give Education and Pertiwi Initiative, were awarded smaller runner-up grants funded by members of the Board of Trustees who attended the pitches and believed all six teams were worthy of validation.

“This was the third year that we awarded seed grants in a pitch competition format,” said Makaela Kingsley, director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “I am always blown away by the finalists, and this year was no exception. From Becca Winkler’s thorough understanding of the environmental and cultural conditions in northern Thailand to Irvine Peck’s-Agaya’s deep personal commitment to her economic development work, every person who took that stage captured the audience’s attention and garnered their support. More than launching ventures, this process helps students develop creative competence and confidence that will make them effective changemakers and capable leaders. I believe it’s a critical piece of a Wesleyan education.”

Barth, Patalano Co-Author Paper on How Numeracy Affects Risky Decision Making

Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano, associate professors of psychology, recently co-authored a paper in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review along with two former Psychology Department undergraduates, Laura Machlin and Jason Saltiel.

The paper is titled, “The Role of Numeracy and Approximate Number System Acuity in Predicting Value and Probability Distortion.”

When people make “risky decisions” like choosing between two gambles with different values and different probabilities of success, their choices appear to be based on distorted versions of both the values and probabilities. Although there are many theories attempting to explain the distortion, we don’t know exactly why it happens. This study investigated whether some of this distortion comes from people’s numerical abilities (specifically, verbal numeracy and a measure of numerical approximation: the ability to rapidly discriminate sets of different numbers of elements).

“We did not find evidence for links to numerical approximation, but we found that individual differences in value and probability distortions were clearly related to numeracy skills (the higher a person’s numeracy score, the less distortion),” Barth explained.

Wilkins, Alumni Author New Paper on Threat of Racial Progress to Whites

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 by Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins, Alexander Hirsch ’13 and Michael Inkles ’12 has been published in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations

Titled, “The threat of racial progress and the self-protective nature of perceiving anti-White bias,” the paper describes two studies in which the researchers examine whether racial progress is threatening to whites, and if perceiving anti-white bias assuages that threat. The first study showed that whites primed with racial progress—by reading an article on social advancement by minorities—exhibited evidence of threat: lower implicit self-worth relative to the baseline. The second study replicated the threat effect from the first study, and examined how perceived discrimination may buffer the white participants’ feelings of self-worth. After the participants attributed a negative event to their race, their implicit self-worth rebounded. For those primed with high racial progress, greater “racial discounting” (attributing rejection to one’s race rather than to oneself) was associated with greater self-worth protection. The researchers concluded that these studies suggest changes to the racial status quo are threatening to whites and that perceiving greater racial bias is a way to manage that threat.

Read more about Wilkins’ other research here, here and here.