Tag Archive for Psychology Department

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.


Versey’s Study of Managing Work, Family Published in Developmental Psychology

Shellae Versey, assistant professor of psychology, is the author of an article titled “Managing Work and Family: Do Control Strategies Help?” published in the August 2015 issue of Developmental Psychology.

In this study, Versey questioned “How can we effectively manage competing obligations from work and family without becoming overwhelmed?”

Versey examined control strategies that may facilitate better work-life balance, with a specific focus on the role of lowered aspirations and positive reappraisals, attitudes that underlie adaptive coping behaviors. Data from the Midlife in the United States Survey (MIDUS II) was used to explore the relationship between negative spillover, control strategies, and well-being among full-time working men and women.

In this nationally representative sample, findings indicate that while positive reappraisals function as a protective buffer, lowering aspirations exacerbate the relationship between work–family spillover and well-being, with moderating effects stronger among women.

“This study extends prior research tying work-life conflict to health and mental health, and suggests further investigation is needed to consider types of resources that may be effective coping strategies in balancing work and family,” Versey explained.

Wesleyan’s Film Studies Assists Sanislow’s Lab in Mood Induction Studies

Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, published findings from his laboratory titled “Ratings for Emotion Film Clips,” in Behavior Research Methods (Volume 47, Issue 3, pages 773-787) in September 2015. Co-authors included former post doc Crystal Gabert-Quillen (now on the faculty at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey); Ellen Bartolini ’11 (currently a graduate student in clinical psychology at Widener University); and Benjamin Abravanel ’13 (currently a graduate student in the clinical science program at the University of California—Berkeley).

In mood induction studies Sanislow and his students were piloting in the lab, they noticed that film clips historically used to elicit moods in prior work were not eliciting the intended moods. For instance, a film clip from Bambi had historically been used to elicit sadness, but instead, elicited anger among Wesleyan students.

They turned to students the Wesleyan’s Film Studies Department to suggest film clips of emotional scenes, and then collected normative ratings from Wesleyan students over the course of several semesters.

“From our findings, it became clear that reactions to emotional material could vary in the context of history, culture and gender,” Sanislow said.

For instance, men reacted strongly to positive film clips, whereas women reacted more strongly to negatively film clips.

“We urge researchers to pay attention to potential systematic differences. Our work resulted in a useful set of film clips for others to study emotion,” Sanislow said. “We have already had a number of researchers interested in using the clips in their own research contact us.”

Psychology Class Learns about Memory, Brain at Wesleyan’s Archaeology Collection

Students in the Human Memory course compared and contrasted three skulls from disparate time points in human evolution.

Students in the Human Memory course compared and contrasted three skulls from disparate time points in human evolution. (Photo courtesy of Jessie Cohen)

On Sept. 16, students enrolled in the PSYC221 Human Memory course used the Wesleyan University Archaeology and Anthropology Collections for hands-on learning.

The class, taught by Erika Fulton, visiting professor of psychology, visited the collections to learn more about memory and the brain. Students compared and contrasted three skulls from disparate time points in human evolution and used their observations to make inferences about how different parts of the brain must have evolved.

“They had to think about the relationships among a changing environment, memory demands, and brain lobe development,” Fulton said. “I think it was a fun way for them to learn a little archaeology, anthropology and psychology, and a much more engaging way to learn brain lobes than through a lecture.”

Jessie Cohen, archaeological collections manager, encourages Wesleyan faculty to take advantage of what the WUAAC has to offer. The collection contains more than 30,000 archaeological and ethnographic objects from around the world available for hands-on teaching, she said.

Barth, Lesser ’15 Co-Author Paper on Spatial Estimation

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, is the co-author of an article titled “Spatial Estimation: A Non-Bayesian Alternative,” published in Developmental Science, Volume 18, pages 853-862, in 2015. The paper is co-authored by Ellen Lesser ’15, as well as former Cognitive Development Labs coordinator Jessica Taggart and former postdoctoral fellow Emily Slusser.

A large collection of estimation phenomena (for example, biases arising when adults or children estimate remembered locations of objects in bounded spaces) are commonly explained in terms of complex Bayesian models. Bayesian cognitive models seek to model human mental processes as approximations to ideal statistical inference.

In this study, Barth and her co-authors provide evidence that some of these phenomena may be modeled instead by a simpler non-Bayesian alternative.

Undergraduates and 9- to 10-year-olds completed a speeded linear position estimation task. Bias in both groups’ estimates, they suggest, could be explained in terms of a simple psychophysical model of proportion estimation.

Robinson, Students, Alumna Author Article on ‘Wanting,’ ‘Liking’ in Addiction

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the author of an article published Sept. 27 in Current Topics in Behavioral NeuroscienceTitled, “Roles of ‘Wanting’ and ‘Liking’ in Motivating Behavior: Gambling, Food, and Drug Addictions,” the article is co-authored by Adam Fischer, previously Robinson’s lab manager, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and Ellen Lesser ’15.

In this paper, the authors argue that two separate but interconnected subcortical and unconscious processes direct motivation: “wanting” and “liking.” These two processes work together but can become disassociated, especially in cases of addiction. For example, in drug addiction, repeated consumption of drugs sensitizes the mesolimbic dopamine system–the primary component of the “wanting” system–resulting in excessive “wanting” for drugs and their cues. This long-lasting change occurs independently of the “liking” system, which typically remains unchanged or may develop a blunted pleasure response to the drug. This results in excessive drug-taking despite minimal pleasure and intense cue-triggered craving that may promote relapse long after detoxification.

The authors describe the roles of “wanting” and “liking” in general motivation and review recent evidence for a dissociation of “liking” and “wanting” in drug addiction, known as the incentive sensitization theory. They also make the case that sensitization of the “wanting” system and the resulting dissociation of “liking” and “wanting” occurs in both gambling disorder and food addiction.

Davis Foundation Supports Academy for Project-Based Learning

Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology and director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, received a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation in July. The three-year grant worth $300,000 will support the new Academy for Project-Based Teaching and Learning.

The Academy for Project-Based Teaching and Learning, which is under development, will encourage students and faculty to build knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to complex questions, problems, and challenges within and across disciplines. The cornerstones of the project-based approach include significant content at the heart of each academic discipline, and cutting edge competencies in problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity/innovation.

Dierker will oversee this program and work with Wesleyan faculty, faculty at collaborating institutions, educational consultants, and supporting staff, to coordinate pedagogical and curricular development efforts. The Academy will be housed within and supported by Wesleyan’s new Center for Pedagogical Innovation and Life Long Learning Center.

The Davis Educational Foundation grant will support faculty stipends, course relief or course overload pay in the academic year for faculty participants, honoraria and travel support for outside consultants, travel support for faculty and collaborators, evaluation and a culminating meeting of project participants.

The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’ retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarket.

Cognitive Development Labs Receive Grant for ‘Living Laboratory’ Work at Connecticut Science Center

Research Assistant Anna Schwab ’16 and Lab Coordinator Lonnie Bass represented the Cognitive Development Labs at the Connecticut Science Center. 

Research Assistant Anna Schwab ’16 and Lab Coordinator Lonnie Bass represented the Cognitive Development Labs at the Connecticut Science Center.

A partnership between Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs and the Connecticut Science Center recently received a $3,000 Partner Stipend from the National Living Laboratory® Initiative, which receives support from the National Science Foundation. The Cognitive Development Labs received an additional $1,000 Educational Assistance stipend.

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, oversees the Living Laboratory® site located at the Connecticut Science Center. Since 2013, researchers from Barth’s lab have been visiting the museum on Saturdays to collect data for current studies, speak with children and families about child developmental research, and guide visitors through hands-on activities that demonstrate important findings in developmental psychology.

The National Living Laboratory® Initiative Partner Stipend will support the ongoing collaboration between Barth’s lab and the Connecticut Science Center. It will support training sessions for Wesleyan students with museum educators, signage, and researcher travel expenses. The Educational Assistance stipend will support time spent by Wesleyan student researchers on Living Lab activities.

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.

Dierker, Rose, Alexander BA/MA ’14, ’15 Co-Author Article on Sexually Transmitted Infection Rates in Mississippi

Professors Lisa Dierker and Jennifer Rose, along with Jalen Alexander BA/MA ’14,’15, are the co-authors of an article titled “It Is Complicated: Sexual Partner Characteristic Profiles and Sexually Transmitted Infection Rates within a Predominantly African American Population in Mississippi,” published in the May 2015 issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Vol. 42, No. 5.

Dierker is professor of psychology, director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation. Rose is professor of the practice and research professor of psychology for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation and director of the Institutional Review Board for Academic Affairs. Alexander is co-chair of the Center for African American Studies Advisory Board.

Mississippi has among the highest prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States. Understanding sexual networks can provide insight into risk factors for transmission and guide prevention interventions.

In this study, the co-authors obtained information from 1,437 participants, primarily African American (95 percent) adults presenting for care at an STI clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. Latent class analysis identified underlying population subgroups with unique patterns of response on a comprehensive set of 14 sexual partner variables, such as living with or having a child with a partner, partner dependence and trust, 1-time sexual encounters, multiple main partners, substance use, sexual concurrency, and incarceration.

Classes were compared on participant age, sex, sexual orientation, public assistance, lifetime partners, relationship status, and self-reported past-year STI.

The co-authors discovered that three classes emerged. Class 1 (n = 746) participants were less dependent on partners and less likely to live with or have a child with a partner; Class 2 participants (n = 427) endorsed multiple STI risk factors, including partner incarceration, 6 or more lifetime partners, sexual concurrency, one-time sexual encounters, and substance use at last sex; and Class 3 participants (n = 226) were more likely to be in dependent, committed relationships with children. Class 2 had a higher proportion of self-report past-year STIs (36.7 percent) compared with Classes 1 (26.6 percent) and 3 (26.1 percent). The researchers concluded that certain partner factors such as incarceration, substance use and concurrency may contribute to increased STI risk.