Tag Archive for Psychology Department

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.

Plous Named Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous at the AAAS fellow induction ceremony, Feb. 13. (Photo by Fijare Plous)

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous at the AAAS fellow induction ceremony, Feb. 13. (Photo by Fijare Plous)

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

He was inducted on Feb. 13 during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., part of the association’s annual meeting. Plous was one of eight fellows newly elected to the Psychology section of the AAAS this year. He was chosen “for distinguished contributions to social psychology, particularly understanding decision-making and prejudice, and for communication of psychology science to the public.”

Founded in 1848, the AAAS is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people. Fellows are members of AAAS “…whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished… Examples of areas in which nominees may have made significant contributions are research; teaching; technology; services to professional societies; administration in academe, industry, and government; and communicating and interpreting science to the public. In a tradition stretching back to 1874, these individuals are recognized for their extraordinary achievements across disciplines. Fellows are elected annually by the AAAS Council from the list of approved nominations from the Section Steering Committees.”

Plous holds a PhD in psychology from Stanford University. He is a former recipient of the SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in International Peace and Security. He joined Wesleyan’s faculty in 1990 and has interests in judgment and decision making, international security, prejudice and discrimination, the human use of animals and the environment, interactive web-based research and action teaching.

Plous is the founder and executive director of Social Psychology Network, a suite of nonprofit web sites supported by the National Science Foundation, several other organizations, and more than 3,500 members. Collectively, these sites have received more than 317 million page views.

He also is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology and the Society of Experimental Social Psychology.

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:

B_Juhasz_atGreenSt_12_2_15

B_Juhasz_12_2_15_airhead

GreenSt.KidsMakingCompoundWord12_2_15
T_Kirlew_I_Pratts12_2_15

B_JuhaszHalfDayWorkshop

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.