Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Morawski Honored for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology Research

Jill Morawski (Photo by Christopher Green)

Jill Morawski is an expert on the history of modern psychological sciences. (Photo by Christopher Green)

For her ongoing contributions to the philosophical foundations of psychology, Jill Morawski, Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor and professor of psychology, is the recipient of two distinguished awards.

Morawski was most recently honored with the American Psychological Association Division 24 Award for Distinguished Theoretical and Philosophical Contributions to Psychology. The award was presented at the annual meeting of the APA, at which Professor Morawski delivered an invited address, “Chasing Psychology’s Objects: The Quest for Ontological Certainty.” It is the division’s highest award and recognizes one of its members each year for lifetime scholarly achievement.

Morawski also received the American Psychological Foundation’s 2017 Joseph B. Gittler Award. The annual Gittler Award was established through a bequest from Joseph Gittler, PhD, who wished to recognize psychologists who are making and will continue to make scholarly contributions to the philosophical foundations of psychological knowledge.

Morawski was honored for “contribut(ing) in original and profound ways to our understanding of reflexivity, subjectivity, and the place of the researcher in experimental and qualitative psychology. Her contributions can be characterized as an explication of the deep structure of the relationship between the researcher, the researcher’s epistemology, and the research object derived from the research participant. Together this frames much of her research on the subject, on the researcher, and on the laboratory practices that together unfold the ontological conditions of the experiment. Her work has ranged over the contentious nature of what is now often referred to as mechanical objectivity by philosophers and historians of science, and she has connected this work with the important elements of reflexivity entailed and sometimes addressed by the psychological community.”

Morawski has made numerous contributions to the organizations and societies that matter to the philosophical and historical foundations of psychology. This includes having held the presidency of two APA divisions, the Division of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology and the Division of the History of Psychology. She is also professor, science in society, and professor, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies.

Shasha Seminar Explores Suicide, Resilience through Film, Narrative, Community, Research

Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words was the topic of the 2018 Shasha Seminar, held Sept. 14-15 on campus.

Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. The educational forum provides Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends with an opportunity to explore issues of global concern in a small seminar environment,

The seminar was codirected by Karl Scheibe, professor of psychology, emeritus, and Jennifer D’Andrea, director of Wesleyan’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the seminar, held Sept. 14-15,

(Photos by Olivia Drake, Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19, and Caroline Kravitz ’19)

Leslie Shasha ’82, a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City., made the featured opening remarks at the Shasha Seminar. As a result of her own life experiences, she has become active in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention organization and also in the Jed Foundation. Committed to working on suicide prevention as well as with the stigma surrounding the topic of suicide, she was integral in this year’s seminar. 

Dierker, Rose Win $2.8M NSF Award for Innovative Approach to Teaching Statistics

Lisa Dierker

Wesleyan professors Lisa Dierker and Jennifer Rose were recently awarded a $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to extend and disseminate their research on passion-driven statistics. The grant begins in the fall of 2018 and extends through 2023.

Recognizing the rapidly increasing importance of data-oriented skills in the modern workforce, passion-driven statistics was developed as a novel approach to make statistics and quantitative methods courses more accessible and engaging, particularly for traditionally marginalized students. It moves away from canned exercises, toward more applied, real-world, project-based learning experiences.

”An empowering curriculum needs to rise to many challenges,” Dierker said. “Those include promoting inquiry across a wide range of disciplines, building new skills as challenges arise, facilitating the use of modern computing tools, providing support for students regardless of educational background, and framing statistics as an exciting set of tools for understanding a complex world. We are confident in and excited about this project’s ability to do all of that.”

New Assistant Professor May ’05 Researches Suicide Risk and Prevention

Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May

Alexis May ’05

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May ’05, who joined the Department of Psychology this fall. May will be among the speakers at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns on Sept. 14–15.

Q: Welcome (back) to Wesleyan, Professor May! You earned your BA from Wesleyan in psychology and neuroscience and behavior in 2005. Please tell us about your journey since then.

A: After gaining substantial clinical research experience in the psychology department as a project coordinator for [Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita] Ruth Striegel Weismann, I was sure of my passion for clinical science but wasn’t sure how I wanted to pursue that professionally. I took the opportunity presented by this uncertainty to move cross-country to Santa Cruz, Calif., and work some “random” jobs. I landed in a position coordinating a suicide prevention crisis line. I loved the work but was frustrated by how little empirical knowledge there was about suicide prevention. This prompted my decision to return to school to pursue a degree in clinical psychology with a focus on suicide research. I completed my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of British Columbia, my clinical internship at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and my postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. Throughout my positions I’ve maintained my focus on understanding the phenomena of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the service of improving prevention and intervention efforts. Suicide is a devastating, complex, and unsolved problem. I feel very fortunate I get to spend my time working towards better solutions.

Q: How is it being back as a faculty member? Has Wesleyan changed much since your time as a student?

A: I was excited to see how much the psychology department has grown and diversified. I was also thrilled to learn about the addition of the Quantitative Analysis Center—it is a huge resource to both students and faculty. Overall, the students seem as skilled, passionate, and creative as ever!

Kim, Johnson ’18, Rothschild ’19, Coauthor Study on Self-Related Memory Advantage

Kyungmi Kim

Kyungmi Kim, assistant professor of psychology, is the coauthor of a paper published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review on Aug. 8. Jenne Johnson ’18 and Danielle Rothschild ’19 also contributed to the article.

The paper is titled “Merely presenting one’s own name along with target items is insufficient to produce a memory advantage for the items: A critical role of relational processing.”

Many studies have shown that information processed in relation to our “self” vs. someone else has an advantage in memory, termed the self-reference effect (SRE). Early studies of the SRE used tasks in which participants made explicit self-referential (Does the word nice describe you?) or other-referential judgments (Does the word friendly describe Angelina Jolie?) of target items at encoding, highlighting the memory benefit of explicit semantically-based associations between self and target items. However, an important subsequent finding was that even in the absence of any explicit task demand to make self-referential judgments, there is a memory advantage for target items presented simultaneously with self-relevant (e.g., one’s own name) vs. other-relevant (e.g., another person’s name) information at encoding.

In the study, Kim and her colleagues aimed to clarify the processes underlying this “incidental” self-memory advantage assessing two possibilities: an incidental SRE arises due to a mere co-presentation of a target item with self-relevant information or a relational processing between a target item and self-relevant information at encoding.

During encoding, words were presented in two different colors either above or below a name (the participants’ own someone else’s). Participants performed either a relational encoding task (i.e., a location judgment task, “Is the word above or below the name?”) or a non-relational encoding task (i.e., a color judgment task, “Is the word in red or green?”). In the subsequent surprise memory test, the researchers found a self-memory advantage for both items and their associated source features (name, location, and color) under a relational encoding context but not under a non-relational encoding context. These findings add to the current understanding of how the self affects long-term memory by providing clear evidence for a critical role of relational processing between target items and self-relevant information in eliciting a self-memory advantage. By demonstrating the modulation of an incidental self-memory advantage by encoding contexts, these findings further suggest that the impact of self on cognition is more dependent on processing context than previously assumed.

Kim, a cognitive psychologist, is an expert on learning and memory, and the role of self in cognitive and affective processing. The research in her lab aims to identify psychological mechanisms through which the mind subjectively construes the external world.

This fall, she’s teaching courses on Research Methods in Cognition and Advanced Research in Learning and Memory.

Shasha Seminar 2018: Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words

Professor Emeritus of Psychology Karl Scheibe and Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Jennifer D’Andrea PhD are codirectors of this year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, Sept. 14–15.

This year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, “Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words,” will be held Sept. 14–15. It will begin with opening remarks by Leslie Shasha ’82, PhD, in Memorial Chapel at 4 p.m., followed by the keynote address by author and suicide loss survivor Eric Marcus on “Resilience in the Aftermath of Suicide.”

The Shasha Seminar, an annual educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends, explores issues of global concern in a small seminar environment. Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. Last year’s seminar for example focused on Guns in American Society.

Karl Scheibe

This year’s codirector, Professor Emeritus of Psychology Karl Scheibe, spoke with the Connection about the preparation, the program, and his hopes for what this might bring to the campus.

Q: How did you come to be codirector of the Shasha Seminar this year?

A: It came to me as an invitation. It’s like a lot of things; it grows out of your history. Having been at Wesleyan a long time, I taught a lot of students, and many of them have gone on in psychology. Occasionally, one of those former students will have an assignment for me that, as a teacher, makes sense. Leslie Shasha ’82 is a psychologist, and she wanted to have a Shasha program focus on suicide: suicide awareness, suicide prevention, treatment for people who are suffering from loss, and a whole host of related problems.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The New York Times: Defending Conservatism, and Seeking Converts

President Michael Roth ’78 reviews Roger Scruton’s new book on Conservatism, which he writes provides an “enlightening” background on a variety of important conservative thinkers, but stoops to scapegoating Muslims to “rally the troops.”

2. Hartford Courant: First Group of Students Graduates from Wesleyan’s Prison Education Program

The first-ever Wesleyan Center for Prison Education Program graduation ceremonies, held in partnership with Middlesex Community College at York and Cheshire correctional institutions on July 24 and Aug. 1, respectively, was also featured in The Washington PostABC News, Fox News, among other publications.

Robinson in The Conversation: How Gambling Distorts Reality and Hooks Your Brain

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, writes that brain science explains how gambling games hook players, including casual ones. Robinson also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences.

Designed to deceive: How gambling distorts reality and hooks your brain

To call gambling a “game of chance” evokes fun, random luck, and a sense of collective engagement. These playful connotations may be part of why almost 80 percent of American adults gamble at some point in their lifetime. When I ask my psychology students why they think people gamble, the most frequent suggestions are for pleasure, money, or the thrill.

While these might be reasons why people gamble initially, psychologists don’t definitely know why, for some, gambling stops being an enjoyable diversion and becomes compulsive. What keeps people playing even when it stops being fun? Why stick with games people know are designed for them to lose? Are some people just more unlucky than the rest of us, or simply worse at calculating the odds?

As an addiction researcher for the past 15 years, I look to the brain to understand the hooks that make gambling so compelling. I’ve found that many are intentionally hidden in how the games are designed. And these hooks work on casual casino-goers just as well as they do on problem gamblers.

Wesleyan Students Help Area Kids Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten

Amy Breitfeller ’19 interacts with Mohammed, 2 1/2, and his sister, Dania, 1 1/2, during a playgroup July 31 at Russell Library. Breitfeller was using a sand mixture to help children improve their sensory and physical development.

This summer, three Wesleyan students are helping local children prepare for a successful transition into kindergarten.

Through the five-week Kindergarten Kickstart program, Cara Bendich ’19, Amy Breitfeller ’19, and Emma Distler ’19 are working with area youth at four locations to improve their school readiness skills through the research-based, high-impact, low-cost innovative and nurturing preschool program. Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012.

For the summer 2018 session, students are hosting the Kickstart program at Middletown’s Bright and Early Children’s Learning Center, Town and Country Early Learning Center, and the Middlesex YMCA preschool. On Tuesdays, the students hold an additional playgroup at Russell Library for anyone in the community.

“Today we’re playing with moonsand, which is a mixture of flour, glitter, and baby oil,” Breitfeller said during a July 31 gathering at the library. “The children can feel and play with the sand, which promotes physical development and also aids in social skills with other children.”

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. The majority of the preschoolers will attend kindergarten this fall at Bielefield School, Farm Hill School, and Macdonough School in Middletown.

Robinson Lab Awarded Grant from National Institute on Drug Abuse

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences, is the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The grant will be awarded over two years, starting on July 1, and will support a study titled “Dissecting Cortical Contributions to Risky Decision-Making.”

Robinson and his research students will use optogenetics in rats to inhibit parts of the brain’s prefrontal cortex during the decision-making process.

“The aim would be to see how we make decisions when faced with risk,” Robinson explained. “Are certain areas of the prefrontal cortex involved in tracking the outcomes of previous choices in order to influence future decisions? Or, do they simply promote more or less risky behavior when a choice presents itself?”

The Robinson Lab focuses on the brain mechanisms underlying motivation and reward and how they come together to produce desire and risky decision-making. These findings would be relevant to various forms of addiction such as drug abuse and gambling disorders.

Robinson Lab Coauthors Study on Compulsive, Drug Addiction Behaviors

Mike Robinson studies how individuals react differently when presented with a junk food diet.

Mike Robinson

Drug and behavioral addictions like gambling are characterized by an intense and focused pursuit of a single reward above other healthier endeavors. Pursuit of the addictive reward is often compulsively sought despite adverse consequences.

In a newly published study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences explored how our decisions can become narrowly focused onto one particular choice. He and his research team used laser light (optogenetics) to activate the central portion of the brain’s amygdala (CeA), an area normally known for its role in generating responses to drug-related and fearful stimuli.

The study, titled “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. Robinson Lab members Rebecca Tom ’16, MA ’17, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and current graduate student Charlotte Freeland coauthored the article and participated in the study.

Students Share Research at Psychology Poster Session

Thesis students and research students presented their research on April 26 during the Psychology Research Poster Presentations in Beckham Hall. More than 80 students presented 69 posters at the event. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Thesis students and research students presented their research on April 26 during the Psychology Research Poster Presentations in Beckham Hall. One-hundred-and-ten students presented 69 posters at the event. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Audrey Konow ’20, Jhanelle Thomas ’18, and Gabrielle Vargas ’18 presented “’Do You Fear Being Without Your Smartphone?’ Implications for Sleep and Mental Health among Emerging Adults at University.” Their advisor is Royette Tavernier.