Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Dubar: Psychological Well-Being and Sleep Health in Troubling Times

Royette Dubar

Royette Dubar

Assistant Professor of Psychology Royette Dubar leads the Sleep & Psychosocial Adjustment Lab at Wesleyan. She’s a developmental psychologist who studies the links between sleep and a range of indices, including emotional well-being, academic performance, quality of interpersonal relationships, and technology use, in adolescents and emerging adults. She has just launched a new study on the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic among adolescents and the challenges that come with it, especially for college seniors.

Your research focuses on sleep and psychosocial well-being among young people ages 15 to 29 years old. The pandemic and near-global shutdown has been extremely disruptive to everyday life, and many college students are struggling with needing to abruptly leave their campus homes and transition to distance learning. How do you anticipate this will affect them?

While at this point, I think many students have come to understand the motivations for suspending in-person classes, the move to distance learning has, undoubtedly, been generally upsetting and stressful for students. One of the factors that leads to stress is not being able to control what’s going on. At Wesleyan, as at numerous other colleges and universities, students did not have much time to process the switch to online learning and it was not a decision they could control.

We know that not all students are fortunate enough to be able to make arrangements to go home on such short notice. [Through a petition process, Wesleyan has made it possible for a small number of students, who are housing-insecure or unable to return home, to remain on campus.] Students may also feel especially overwhelmed if they have limited resources in a range of areas. These can be tangible resources, like money; interpersonal resources, such as having someone to talk to; or even psychological resources—having the psychological strength and coping strategies to deal with this change.

In addition, a residential college campus is a very intimate social environment, and we know that within a university setting, interpersonal relationships are extremely important for emotional adjustment. Furthermore, as students often use their relationships to navigate their sense of identity and belonging, not having that direct contact with roommates and friends can potentially be detrimental to their overall well-being. This is especially true for seniors, who expected this last semester to be a heightened time of social engagement with friends and peers, visiting places for the last time, etc. For them, particularly, knowing that they’re having to leave an environment they’re really comfortable in is heartbreaking. The loss of this interpersonal contact may impact students’ psychological well-being and sleep quality.

You have studied sleep and psychological well-being among young people in the context of a natural disaster. Are there any relevant lessons for the current situation?

The study we did looked at associations between the experience of a natural disaster and coping strategies, as well as possible links with sleep among high school-aged and college-aged students on my home island of Dominica. This was a cross-sectional study, so we can’t make conclusions about directionality or causation. One variable we looked at was rumination—replaying thoughts of an event over and over in one’s mind. Typically, rumination is considered a construct that has negative implications for well-being, because this cycle may prevent an individual from adjusting to whatever negative situation they’re going through. Not surprisingly, in our study, we found that individuals who scored high on rumination also reported higher scores on PTSD symptoms from the storm, but interestingly, these individuals also scored high on measures of post-traumatic growth (the belief that one’s psychological well-being is improved as a result of going through a negative/traumatic experience). We know that individuals who are struggling to process a traumatic event often have contradicting or mixed emotions, and these can serve as a vehicle to promote personal growth. For example, in reading the news, you might feel really overwhelmed about everything that’s going on. But at the same time, that negative feeling might motivate you to reach out to a neighbor, or to do something for yourself that brings you calm.

How can faculty help to mitigate the negative psychological effects of this experience on students?

I believe that many faculty members, myself included, are using this first week of distance learning as an adjustment week, helping students to grieve and heal by talking about things going on in their lives. (This was recommended to me by a colleague, Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May, who is a clinical psychologist). We’re trying to let students know that they have the support of their professors, and that we’re all in this together. I know a lot of faculty are offering students extra flexibility, and are working to make the syllabus more manageable. Our students may have circumstances in their lives that we don’t know about, so we must create space so they can share with us if they’re comfortable. Just being empathetic with our students is really necessary at this point.

We’re all spending a lot more time on our technological devices these days, with education and every other aspect of our lives having moved online. What does the research say about the effects of technology use on sleep?

There is a good bit of research on technology use and sleep. It’s a field that’s evolving as rapidly as the technology we use, though sometimes the research lags behind a bit.  Many studies have focused on the amount of time individuals spend on technology. One theory is that there’s a sort of displacement going on, where the more time we dedicate to technology use, regardless of the type of technology, that’s time taken away from other activities, including sleep. We often don’t prioritize sleep in our lives, and this is especially true for people who are overwhelmed with other demands like school or work. There’s also research looking at bedtime procrastination—delaying the time it takes to initiate sleep (e.g., because we’re sitting in bed using our phones). And most of the content we encounter on our phones is not very soothing these days.

Another line of research looks at the content and context of technology use, particularly close to bedtime. You might see a different effect on sleep quality if you’re playing a highly arousing video game just before bed versus watching a relaxing TV show. Given that we live in a world where information is readily accessible at our fingertips, we need to be extremely diligent about pacing our exposure to news and media content that can be upsetting and depressing. Being exposed to updates about the coronavirus pandemic can motivate us to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. However, constant access to that type of information can stir up feelings of anger, frustration, confusion, and fear that might be debilitating to the point where we are not able to create that sense of calm that is required for a good night’s sleep. This can lead to a vicious cycle because when our sleep health is compromised, we tend to be more susceptible to negative emotions.

For people whose lives have been turned upside down, do you have general advice about maintaining good sleep health?

Try to keep a routine of consistent bedtimes and wake times in order to create a sense of normalcy when it comes to sleep hygiene. This is always valuable, but it’s especially important at a time when everything feels like it’s turned upside down. Also, try not to spend too much time on your phone engaging with upsetting news or information. Many smart phones have good time management features that can be helpful in limiting exposure to news and information that’s detrimental to mental health.

What are you researching currently? 

We launched a study earlier this year looking at associations among negative life experiences, spirituality, and sleep. The idea for the study came to me at church when my pastor talked about using prayer as a form of coping (particularly when we are going through certain experiences that keep us up at night). Our subjects include people who have had a negative experience (e.g., change in living and health conditions). We’re interested in how spirituality might be linked to sleep, perhaps through the use of religious practices as a form of coping. We’re also looking at age as a possible factor that may influence results because the significance of religion and spirituality may change as we age. Although this is not a question that we can assess with this study, I think it is interesting to think about the different coping strategies that individuals of different faiths are currently using to make sense of this pandemic.

Shusterman Offers Advice for Families on Transitioning to Homeschooling

Anna Shusterman with her sons Max and Reuben

Anna Shusterman with her sons Max and Reuben.

Anna Shusterman, associate professor of psychology and co-coordinator of education studies, studies learning and conceptual development in children. In this Q&A, we asked her for advice for families on transitioning children to distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Q: How should parents talk to kids about what’s happening in the world and why their daily lives look so different?

A: Full disclosure: I am not a clinician. However, as a parent and a research psychologist, I think it’s important for parents to validate their children’s emotions rather than dismissing them or telling them they are being silly. It’s also important that we’re not running around in a state of panic, as this can be too unsettling for kids. Children feel our stress and they need real social connection, so some time should be made for sitting together, talking, and reading books, when parents put their phones away, too. NPR’s Life Kit has good advice on talking to kids about scary current events.

No matter what else is happening, young children need human connection—board games, talking, working together on a project, cooking, anything together, the more child-led the better. Here’s a good commonsense report on the topic.

Q: What is your advice for parents on helping kids transition to distance learning?

A: Try to set up a gentle routine that involves getting up, getting dressed, chores, exercise, creativity, academics, regular meals, and sleep. By age 5 or 6, children can be a part of the conversation to create this schedule.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News

1. Hartford Courant: “Jeanine Basinger, the ‘Professor of Hollywood,’ Is Wesleyan University’s Homegrown Screen Legend”

Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Emerita Jeanine Basinger, whom this article notes has been dubbed “the professor of Hollywood” and “an iconic figure in American cinema, one of the most beloved and respected film history professors in the history of film studies” by The Hollywood Reporter, is interviewed on the occasion of her 60th year at Wesleyan, and the 50th since she created its film program. She talks about her next book on American film comedy, shares some of her favorite things, and muses on which actress would play her in a movie of her life.

2. Los Angeles Review of Books: “‘We Need More Vigorous Debate’: A Conversation with Michael S. Roth”

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, managing editor of Modern Intellectual History, interviews President Michael Roth in connection with his latest book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses. Roth discusses his career path from intellectual historian to university administrator and professor, and offers his unique perspective on debates surrounding freedom of speech and political correctness.

3. Los Angeles Times: “Kirk Douglas Dead at 103; ‘Spartacus’ Star Helped End Hollywood Blacklist”

Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Emerita, comments on Kirk Douglas’s legacy following the film icon’s death at 103. Recalling when she first saw him on-screen in the 1940s, she said, “He wasn’t a traditional leading man, really, in looks, and yet he had an unmistakable charisma and power on screen—not just the glamour of the movie star, though he did have that, but real acting chops. So you knew he was going to be a star.” She added, “He was a very modern American antihero type, but he could also play anything, really.”

Juhasz Studies Word Age-of-Acquisition Effects through Eye Movements

Assistant Professor Barbara Juhasz is interested in understanding how words produce a certain sensory experience when read.

Barbara Juhasz

Barbara Juhasz, Jeffrey L. Shames Professor of Civic Engagement and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of an article titled “The time course of age-of-acquisition effects on eye movements during reading: Evidence from survival analyses,” published in Memory and Cognition, January 2020.

According to the paper’s abstract:

Adults process words that are rated as being learned earlier in life faster than words that are rated as being acquired later in life. This age-of-acquisition (AoA) effect has been observed in a variety of word-recognition tasks when word frequency is controlled. AoA has also previously been found to influence fixation durations when words are embedded into sentences and eye movements are recorded. However, the time course of AoA effects during reading has been inconsistent across studies.

The current study further explored the time course of AoA effects on distributions of first-fixation durations during reading. Early and late acquired words were embedded into matched neutral sentence frames. Participants read the sentences while their eye movements were recorded. AoA effects were observed in both early and late fixation duration measures, suggesting that AoA has an early and long-lasting effect on word-recognition processes during reading.

Recent Media Hits

NewsWesleyan in the News

  1. Connecticut Public Radio: “The Struggle for Sleep: Why More School Districts Are Considering Later Starts”

Speaking as both a scholar and a mother, Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman comments in this story on the movement to push schools in the state to start later. “People ask me, as a developmental psychologist, ‘Oh, we have this mental health crisis in the state, what are we going to do, what should we be funding, what kind of resources do we need to build in?’ And I just think it’s so silly when we have such a straightforward solution that has such large, measurable impacts.”

2. The Washington Post: “For the Super Bowl, Bloomberg and Trump Are Each Spending $10 Million on Ads”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler and her colleagues on the Wesleyan Media Project write about what makes political advertising in the 2020 election cycle look so different (hint: two self-funded billionaires are blowing up existing records) and the unusual decision by candidates Michael Bloomberg and President Donald Trump to spend $10 million each to reach nearly 100 million American viewers at the same time. Fowler was also recently interviewed on Marketplace about political advertising.

3. Transitions Online: “Russian Government Reshuffle: Plus ça Change”

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, Professor of Government, analyzes the recent mass resignation of the Russian government following a surprise announcement from Russian President Vladamir Putin that he was rewriting the constitution. There is much unclear about the changes, including why Putin chose to make them at this time, and what the impact will be on Russia’s government. What is clear, Rutland writes, is that “Russia’s political system is broken” due to Putin’s constant tinkering with the country’s political institutions “to create the appearance of change while retaining power in his own hands.”

4. The Middletown Press: “Wesleyan Student Heading to Hollywood Among Writers of the Future Winners”

Kurtz, Rose Receive NIMH Award for Schizophrenia Study

Matthew Kurtz

Matthew Kurtz

Jennifer Rose

Jennifer Rose

Two Wesleyan faculty received a $492,410 Academic Research Enhancement Award (R15) from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) to support their study titled “Comparing Cognitive Remediation Approaches for Schizophrenia.”

R15 awards provide funding for small-scale, new, or ongoing health-related meritorious research projects, enhancing the research environment at eligible institutions and exposing students to research opportunities.

The R15 principal investigator Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, and R15 co-investigator Jennifer Rose, professor of the practice and director of the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, will work with a group of Wesleyan undergraduates for the duration of the three-year, randomized clinical trial that compares—for the first time—two well-studied approaches to cognitive training in schizophrenia.

Papers by Barth, Patalano, Others Published in Psychology Journals

Hilary Barth, professor of psychology; Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology; Joanna Paul ’18; and former postdoctoral fellow Chenmu (Julia) Xing are co-authors of a paper titled “Probability range and probability distortion in a gambling task,” published in Acta Psychologica in June 2019.

Barth and Emily Slusser, a former postdoctoral fellow, are the co-authors of a paper titled “Spontaneous partitioning and proportion estimation in children’s numerical judgments,” published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology in September 2019.

Barth; Patalano; Slusser; Alexandra Zax, visiting scholar in psychology; and Katherine Williams, lab coordinator; are the co-authors of a paper titled “What Do Biased Estimates Tell Us about Cognitive Processing? Spatial Judgments as Proportion Estimation,” which was published in the Journal of Cognition and Development in August 2019.

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.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Marketplace Tech: “Twitter Bans Political Ads, But Is That All Good?”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, is interviewed about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement that the platform would no longer run political ads. Fowler says implementing this ban is likely to be more complicated than it sounds, and she is skeptical that it will help to reduce the impact of disinformation and improve political discourse. Fowler was also interviewed on Marketplace Morning Report and quoted in Quartz on the ban.

2. NPR’s Throughline: “Zombies”

On Halloween, NPR’s Throughline podcast interviewed Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister as part of a deep dive into the history of zombies. Now a global phenomenon in pop culture, the idea of zombies originated in Haiti, back when it was a French colony called Saint-Domingue and many enslaved Africans were worked to death on plantations. The Haitian people ultimately rose up in revolution and defeated their colonizers. But after the revolution, many Haitians were forced back onto plantations when the French demanded reparations in exchange for recognizing their independence. “I think that the figure of the zombie is a reminder that slavery happened to people, that they freed themselves from it, that it still happens in a kind of an afterlife, and it echoes in social practices,” said McAlister. An abbreviated version of the story also aired on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

3. Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live: “Acknowledging Middletown’s Ties to Slavery”

Psychology Faculty, Students, Alumni Present Research at CDS Meeting

Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth and Kerry Brew BA '18, MA '19 were among a large group of Wesleyan faculty, students, and alumni who recently presented research at the 2019 CDS Biennial meeting.

Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth, right, and Kerry Brew ’18, MA ’19, left, were among a large group of Wesleyan faculty, students, and alumni who recently presented research at the 2019 Cognitive Development Society biennial meeting.

Numerous students, alumni, and faculty from Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs recently presented their research at the 2019 Cognitive Development Society biennial meeting, held Oct. 17–19 in Louisville, Ky. The labs are led by Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth and Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman.

Barth and Kerry Brew ’18, MA ’19 presented their poster, “Do Demand Characteristics Contribute to Minimal Ingroup Bias?” The work was done in collaboration with lab alumni Taylar Clark ’19 and Jordan Feingold-Link ’18.

Sophie Charles '20, former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax, and lab coordinator Katherine Williams presented their poster on "The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds' numerical estimates."

Sophie Charles ’20, former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax, and lab coordinator Katherine Williams presented their poster on “The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds’ numerical estimates.”

Sophie Charles ’20, lab coordinator Katherine Williams, and former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax presented their poster, “The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds’ numerical estimates.” Barth also contributed to this work.

In addition, many alumni of the Cognitive Development Labs presented at the conference, including Vivian Liu ’18 (now at New York University); Dominic Gibson ’10 (now at University of Chicago); Rebecca Peretz-Lange ’13 (now at Tufts University); Andrew Ribner ’14 (now at University of Pittsburgh); Julia Leonard ’11 (now at University of Pennsylvania); and Ariel Starr ’07 (now at University of Washington). Former lab coordinators Jessica Taggart, Talia Berkowitz, Ilona Bass, and Sona Kumar, and former postdoc Emily Slusser also presented work.

 

 

Undergraduates Share Summer Research

poster session

Ben Sullivan ’20 presents his poster titled “Tracking New York Times Coverage of Every Senator First Elected in the 1990s” during the Summer Program for Research in the Sciences Poster Session on July 25. His advisor is Logan Dancey, associate professor of government.

The Summe Program for Research in the Sciences culminated with a research poster session in the lobby of Exley Science Center, with more than 100 students participating.

The program, held May 29 to July 26, was open to frosh, sophomores and juniors currently enrolled at Wesleyan. Wesleyan science faculty members served as mentors for student research in their laboratories. In addition to the closing poster session, the students participated in weekly seminars and workshops, a symposium, and various social events. After the poster session, students displayed their posters in the hallways outside the introductory biology laboratories.

Barth, Patalano Receive $1.09M NSF Grant to Support Numerical Cognition Research

Sophie Charles ’20,

Student research assistant Sophie Charles ’20, a neuroscience and behavior major, shows the line estimation task used by the Psychology Department to understand how people make judgments about number and quantity.

Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano, both professors of psychology, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Hilary Barth, professor of psychology, and Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Collaborative research by Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano is supported by the National Science Foundation.

The three-year $1,091,303 grant, which is funded by NSF’s EHR Core Research program focused on STEM learning, includes support for Wesleyan student participation in the proposed research project, which will involve experimental studies of children’s and adults’ understanding of, and judgments about, number and quantity.

The two labs collaborate frequently, and have been working jointly on another project for the past three years supported by an earlier NSF grant. The new project is distinct, but grew out of a discovery made in the Barth lab during the earlier project related to a number line estimation task. In this task, participants are shown a line with numbers at each endpoint (e.g., 0 and 1,000) and asked to estimate where on the line a particular three-digit number would fall. The researchers found that participants had a tendency to place two numbers much farther apart on the line than they actually were when those numbers had a different first digit, even if they were quite close to each other in actuality (for example, 799 and 802). This was true even of adult participants, who have a good understanding of numbers.

Members of the Class of 2019 Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

PBK

On May 25, members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society. The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. The student also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, founded in December 1776 by five students who attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The emblem contains the three Greek letters “Phi-Beta-Kappa,” which are the initials of the Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes. This essentially means “the love of wisdom is the guide of life.”

The spring 2019 inductees are:

Caroline Adams
Yulia Alexandr
Erin Angell
William Bellamy
Cara Bendich
Zachary Bennett
Chiara Bercu
Sophie Brett-Chin
Nicholas Byers
David Cabanero
Talia Cohen
John Cote