Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Honors Thesis by Tolman ’10 Published in Schizophrenia Bulletin

Arielle Tolman ’10 presents her honors thesis to Wesleyan President Michael Roth. Her findings were recently accepted for publication in Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Quality-of-life for patients with Schizophrenia has been recognized as a crucial domain of outcome in schizophrenia treatment, and yet its determinants are not well understood.

Arielle Tolman ’10, who studied “Neurocognitive Predictors of Objective and Subjective Quality-of-Life in Individuals with Schizophrenia: A Meta-Analytic Investigation” as her senior honors thesis, will have the opportunity to share her research with other scientists interested in schizophrenia. This month, the editors of  Schizophrenia Bulletin accepted Tolman’s paper for publication in an upcoming edition.

“This is a real achievement, particularly at the undergraduate level,” says the paper’s co-author and Tolman’s advisor Matthew Kurtz, assistant professor of psychology.

Although other researchers have demonstrated that “quality-of-life” is not a uniform construct, Tolman conducted the first meta-analytic study

Juhasz Published in Cognition

Barbara Juhasz, assistant professor of psychology, is the co-author of “Parafoveal processing in reading is reduced across a morphological boundary,” published in Cognition, 116, pages 136-142, in 2010.

Students Present Psychology, Neuroscience Research

The Department of Psychology hosted its Research Poster Presentation April 29 in Zelnick Pavilion. Pictured is Ankit Kansal ’10 who presented his research titled “Schizophrenic Patient Decision Making.” His advisors are Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, and Matthew Kurtz, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Barth Receives NSF Grant for Cognition Research

Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, will be conducting a series of studies with children and adults in the Cognitive Development Laboratory at Wesleyan to investigate abstract and perceptual magnitude biases.

Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, was recently awarded a five-year, $761,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study “magnitude biases in mathematical cognition, learning, and development.” Barth will be conducting a series of studies with children and adults in the Cognitive Development Laboratory at Wesleyan to investigate abstract and perceptual magnitude biases.

The grant, which begins this year, comes from the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program. The program is only available to non-tenured faculty. Barth’s colleague Anna Shusterman was awarded a CAREER grant in 2009.

“The psychology department is thrilled about Professor Barth’s accomplishment,” says Lisa Dierker, chair and professor of psychology.

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


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