Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Honor Thesis Students Present Research at NSM Poster Session

Wesleyan’s Natural Science and Mathematics hosted a “Celebration of Science Theses” April 16 in Exley Science Center’s lobby. BA and MA honors thesis students presented their research to peers and the community.

President Michael S. Roth listens to Wei Dai ’11 explain his research on “Effect of Valency on the Dynamics and Thermodynamics of DNA-linked Nanoparticles Materials.” Dai’s advisor is Francis Starr, associate professor of physics. Wei has conducted extensive computer simulations to show nanoparticles can be linked together using DNA as 'bridges'. The resulting nanostructured materials have unusual properties that may be applicable to energy storage, drug delivery, optical materials and nanoscale devices. Dai also has published a peer-review journal article titled “Valency Dependence of Polymorphism and Polyamorphism in DNA-Functionalized Nanoparticles.” (Photo by Roslyn N. Carrier-Brault)

David Boznick, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, congratulates the BA and MA honors thesis students on their achievements.

Study Identifies Successful Binge-Eating Treatment

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Professor Ruth Striegel-Moore discovered that more than 63 percent of participants had stopped binge eating at the end of a self-guided 12 week program. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)

Binge eating can cause depression, lead to excessive weight gain and potentially cause long-term damage in binge eaters. But a new study shows that a simple, self-guided 12-week program can decrease binge eating for up to an entire year – while reducing costs of treatment.

Conducted by Ruth Striegel-Moore, the Walter A. Crowell University Professor of the Social Sciences, professor of psychology, and researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and Rutgers University, the study was aimed at finding a way to effectively treat sufferers from this disorder that affects about 3 percent of people in the United States.

“People who binge eat, eat more than other people do during a short period of time and they lose control of their eating during these episodes,” Striegel-Moore, the study’s principal investigator, says. ” Binge eating is often accompanied by depression, shame, weight gain, and loss of self-esteem, and it costs the health care system millions of extra dollars. Our studies show that recurrent binge eating can be successfully treated with a brief, easily administered program. That’s great news for patients and their providers.”

An internationally-recognized expert on eating disorders, Striegel-Moore said that Kaiser’s involvement gave her the ability to gather comprehensive data that she would not have otherwise been able to access.

The study’s results showed more than 63 percent of participants had stopped binge eating at the end of a self-guided 12-week program. In contrast,  approximately 28 percent of non-participants ceased their binge eating behavior. However, what may have been most interesting, most of the participants in the 12-week program reported that they were still binge-free a year later.

“This unique study gave research training opportunities to numerous Wesleyan students who conducted all of the interview assessments for literally hundreds of participants,” Striegel-Moore, who said that hundreds of individuals had to be interviewed to ultimately find the 124 participants. “I do not think there is another liberal arts institution in the country where students have this kind of hands-on involvement in such clinical research.”

A second study by Striegel-Moore and her team, also published in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, found that program participants saved money because they spent less on things like dietary supplements and weight loss programs.

This randomized controlled trial, conducted in 2004-2005, involved 123 members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan in Oregon and southwest Washington. More than 90 percent of them were women with an average age of 37. To be included in the study, participants had to have at least one binge eating episode a week during the previous three months with no gaps of two or more weeks between episodes, according to Kaiser Permanente.

Half of the participants were enrolled in the intervention and asked to read the book Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr. Christopher Fairburn, a professor of psychiatry and expert on eating disorders. The book details scientific information about binge eating and outlines a six-step self-help program using self-monitoring, self-control and problem-solving strategies. This includes recording food that is eaten during binging episodes as well as the feelings experienced during those episodes. The author suggests using alternative behavior to resist urges to binge and outlines skills to help with binge eating triggers.

Participants in the program attended eight therapy sessions over the course of 12 weeks during which counselors explained the rationale for cognitive behavioral therapy and helped participants apply the strategies in the book. The first session lasted one hour, and subsequent sessions were 20-25 minutes. The average cost of the intervention was $167 per patient.

All study participants were mailed fliers detailing the health plan’s offerings for healthy living and eating and encouraged to contact their primary care physician to learn about more services.

The researchers then compared these costs between the two groups and found that average total costs were $447 less in the intervention group. This included a $149 savings for the participant. Total costs for the intervention group were $3,670 per person per year, and costs for the control group were $4,098.

5 Questions With . . . Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology.

Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology.

This issue, we ask 5 Questions to…Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology. Dierker provided us with some information on her research findings.

Q. How did you become interested in researching adolescents who smoke?

A: Early in my career, I was selected as a faculty scholar by the Tobacco Etiology Research Network. This network was a multidisciplinary initiative sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and was aimed at attracting junior scholars into the field in hopes of accelerating research into the causes and mechanisms by which experimentation with tobacco leads to chronic and dependent use.

At that time, as is the case today, smoking was the single largest preventable cause of illness and death in the United States. I was attracted to both the challenge and opportunity the field represented in terms of improving public health.

Q. Why is it critical to study adolescents and nicotine dependence/addiction?

A: The sheer toll of tobacco on the health and health care costs in the United States makes this an important area of inquiry. The fact that tobacco use begins almost exclusively during adolescence and often progresses to dependence even before adulthood means that smoking prevention can be best informed by research focused on this critical period of development.

Stemler Author of Tacit Knowledge Article

Steve Stemler, assistant professor of psychology, is the co-author of “The socially skilled teacher and the development of tacit knowledge,” published in the British Educational Research Journal, Feb. 24, 2010

Kurtz Quoted in Medscape Medical News

Matthew Kurtz, assistant professor of psychology, was interviewed and quoted in a Feb. 10 issue of Medscape Medical News. The article is titled “Mixed Results for Computer-Assisted Cognitive Remediation in Schizophrenia.”

Although computer-assisted cognitive remediation can help patients with schizophrenia improve their performance on training tests, these improvements do not generalize to broader neuropsychological or
functional outcome measures, according to new research. The remediation program study is published in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“I thought this was a very well-conducted study with a strong sample size and paradoxical findings,” Kurtz says in the article. “It’s an area of research that has garnered a lot of attention in the field lately, and most of the results have been positive. The fact that they’re reporting negative findings is very important.

5 Questions With … Barbara Juhasz

Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, uses a non-invasive eye-tracking machine to examine cognitive processing. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, uses a non-invasive eye-tracking machine to examine cognitive processing. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

This issue we ask 5 Questions of…Assistant Professor of Psychology and Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Behavior Barbara Juhasz.

Q. How did you first become interested in psychology?

A. I’ve always been fascinated by how the mind works and why people behave the way they do. Since early in high school, I had the idea that I wanted to be a research psychologist. At that time, I really did not know what the field of psychology actually consisted of. Like most people, I believe, I thought psychology meant psychopathology. Once I started studying psychology at the college level, I realized that the field of cognitive psychology was what really interested me.

Q. What drove you to explore reading and eye tracking?

A. When I took a statistics class at Binghamton University, I had the opportunity to participate in a Master’s thesis project examining eye movements and reading. It was being conducted in the laboratory of Albrecht Inhoff. I had always been interested in literature and languages and was excited that my love of both psychology and reading could be combined. I was also fascinated by the eye-tracker. It is still amazing to me that by recording where a person looks on a computer screen, we can infer so much about what it happening in their mind. It is an accurate, non-invasive way to examine cognitive processing.

Q. What consistent results from eye tracking studies tell us the most about how people read?

A. Readers alternate between brief pauses, called fixations, and rapid eye movements, called saccades. Fixations last between 200-250

Eye-Tracking Study Reveals How People Make Decisions

Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, have collaborated on research examining how decisive and indecisive people differ in their processing of information.

Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, have collaborated on research examining how decisive and indecisive people differ in their processing of information by using an eye-tracking instrument in the Department of Psychology.

To determine the difference between a decisive and an indecisive person, follow the movements of their eyes.

Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, have collaborated on research examining how decisive and indecisive people differ in their processing of information, which is a little-studied area.

Their full findings are scheduled to be published in the near future, and both researchers are excited about what they found.

Patalano has spent many years studying decision-making while Juhasz has spent time tracking readers’ eye movements using a device called an eye-tracker. Since the researchers were examining the individual differences between how decisive and indecisive people search for information, they were forging new ground.

Juhasz’s EyeLink 1000 eye-tracking machine (SR Research Ltd), housed in her Eye Movement and Reading Lab at Wesleyan, provided Patalano with the equipment she needed to validate prior assumptions and record precise eye movement data.

“I’ve been using the eye movements to study reading and it’s very helpful there,” Juhasz says. “I’ve always had the idea that it would be helpful to use when studying these higher-level cognitive processes. But to be able to see that you can observe individual differences in people’s decision-making strategies was interesting.”

These individual differences are what matter to Patalano.

“There’s a lot of uniformity in the way people read,” she says. “When people are making decisions, there’s a lot more variation in behavior.”

Research suggesting that indecisive individuals utilized more information when trying to make a decision compared to decisive individuals. However, there had been conflicting findings reported in the scientific literature. The two researchers decided to look at the issue more closely themselves using an eye-movement study

For the study, 54 Wesleyan students were studied as they completed a hypothetical course selection activity. Patalano had asked subjects do course selection tasks in the past. Originally, she used a paper-based exam and transferred the test to a computer, but there was no precision eye-tracker involved in the data sampling.

For the eye-tracking course selection study, the course titles and attributes were placed on a grid and the EyeLink 1000 machine sampled participants’ eye positions every millisecond as the selection tasks were done. The data were captured and recorded.

Students were told to imagine that they had one course left to select in order to complete their class schedules and all of the presented classes would fit into their weekly schedule. Participants had to choose among five courses, labeled Courses A through E and these courses differed on the following qualities: Meeting Time, Instructor Quality, Amount of Work, Usefulness for Goals and Interest in Topic. The courses were similar in quality and the students could only pick one course. One group of participants was allowed to delay their choice while another was not given that option.

After the participants completed the course selection task, they rated themselves on a standard indecisiveness scale.

It took just under two years for Patalano, Juhasz, and undergraduate research assistant Joanna Dicke ‘10 to complete their groundbreaking research. And that was not because they were indecisive. There were simply so much data to evaluate.

The results of the study suggested three major findings.

First, there was a difference in the way people scanned the information. While decisive people narrow down a decision based on a particular attribute, indecisive people take in all of the information. Decisive people might say that all of these courses have good and bad attributes, but they selected an attribute that was most important; indecisive people saw that all information had some good and bad points.

Secondly, indecisive individuals divided their time over a greater number of attributes of their course. The decisive participants focused on fewer attributes in order to make their decision. Interestingly, indecisive individuals spent more time overall looking at nothing, that is, they looked at the blank cells in the grid while (apparently) trying to make a decision. The researchers were not sure why the indecisive individuals spent more time looking at blank spaces, but theorized that doing so allowed them to ruminate or reframe their choices before making a decision.

Patalano said that applying eye tracking to decision-making research was a relatively new methodology for individuals who study how people come to final conclusions on things like buying a car, choosing an insurance plan or selecting a college course.

This research and subsequent studies could lead to the creation of strategies to assist people who far too often struggle with decision-making.

To read the entire journal article, titled “The Relationship Between Indecisiveness and Eye Movement Patterns in a Decision Making Informational Search Task” from The Journal of Behavioral Decision Making go here.

NSF Awards Grant to Dierker, Beveridge

Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology, and David Beveridge, the University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry, received a $174,999 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant will support an inquiry based, supportive approach to statistical reasoning and applications. The award will be applied Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2012.

Blakemore ’65 Speaks on Psychologies of Global Warming

Bill Blakemore '65, an ABC News Correspondent, will speak on "The Many Psychologies of Global Warming," during a talk at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 in Memorial Chapel.

Bill Blakemore '65, an ABC News Correspondent, will speak on "The Many Psychologies of Global Warming," during a talk at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 in Memorial Chapel.

Four weeks before the nations meet in Copenhagen to try to avert the catastrophes that global warming may bring, ABC News Correspondent William Blakemore ’65 will identify many surprising psychological factors at play as people in all walks of life deal with the latest “hard news” on climate.

Blakemore will speak on “The Many Psychologies of Global Warming,” during a talk at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 in Memorial Chapel.

He’ll explore new definitions of sanity that may pertain, and give examples displaying different “psychologies, as well as manmade global warming’s place in “the long history of narcissistic insults to humanity itself.”

Two new time-line graphs of rapid and dangerous climate change will give fresh global context to the psychological challenges and experiences he has observed in the five years since he began focusing on global warming for ABC News.

Computer modelers trying to project the speed and severity of global warming’s advance often say that “the biggest unknown” in their equations is not data about ice or atmosphere, carbon or clouds, but “what the humans will do.” This talk probes that field and many states of mind already engaged.

The talk is sponsored by the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty, Department of Psychology, and the Robert Schumann Lecture Series in the Environmental Studies Program.

A follow-up discussion will be held at 4 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Wasch Center on Lawn Ave.

Sanislow Awarded NIH Grant for Psychopathology Research

Charles Sanislow, assistant professor of psychology, received a $349,939 grant from the National Institute of Health for his research titled “Cognitive Control in Borderline & Trauma Psychopathology.” The grant, awarded Aug. 24, will be applied over two years. It is a continuation of a six-year grant transferred from Yale University.

Barth, Bhandari ’08, MA ’09 Co-Author Article on Children’s Social Cognition

Keera Bhandari ’08, MA ’09 and Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, are the authors of a new article on children’s social cognition. The article, based on Bhandari’s research project for her master’s degree in psychology, is titled “Show or tell: Testimony is sufficient to induce the curse of knowledge in three- and four-year-olds.” It will appear in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2009.