Tag Archive for Psychology Department

Robinson Lab Researches the Effects of Junk Food Diets

Michael Robinson, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan University. (Photo by Olivia Drake/Wesleyan University)

Michael Robinson

Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, is a co-author of a paper titled “The impact of junk-food diet during development on ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’.” The paper was recently published in The Behavioral Brain Research Journal. His co-authors include Wesleyan alumni Ellen Nacha Lesser ’15, Aime Arroyo-Ramirez ‘16, and Sarah Jingyi Mi ’16.

The research looked at the developmental impacts of a chronic junk-food diet throughout development and how it blunts pleasure and affects motivation. The study found that chronic exposure to a junk-food diet resulted in large individual differences in weight gain (gainers and non-gainers) despite resulting in stunted growth as compared to chow-fed controls. Behaviorally, junk food exposure attenuated conditioned approach (autoshaping) in females, particularly in non-gainers. In contrast, junk-food exposed rats that gained the most weight were willing to work harder for access to a food cue (conditioned reinforcement), and were more attracted to a junk-food context (conditioned place preference) than non-gainers.

Read the full article here.

Barth’s Research Published on Child Cognitive Development in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, is a co-author of a paper titled, “How feedback improves children’s numerical estimation,” published in the August 2016 issue of the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. Barth’s co-authors are former members of her Cognitive Development Lab, which include Shipra Kanjlia ’11 and Jennifer Garcia ’10, former lab managers Jessica Taggart and Elizabeth Chase, and former postdoctoral fellow Emily Slusser, PhD.

The paper explores one theory of children’s cognitive development that there are fundamental developmental changes in the ways children think about numbers. This theory says numbers are arranged on a different mental scale for younger children. Changes in children’s estimates following corrective feedback have been interpreted as support for that theory.

Barth’s team tested this study and wrote about the results. “This study with second-grade children shows that the changes observed in estimation following corrective feedback are more consistent with a different theory of children’s numerical development,” said Barth. “Instead of thinking of numbers in a fundamentally different way with development, children are probably changing by gaining knowledge of numerical ordering and magnitude, and gaining facility with measurement processes.”

Read the full abstract here.

Wesleyan’s Passion Driven Statistics Curriculum Taught at Yale

This summer, Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, taught high school students from Bridgeport, Conn. about passion driven statistics as part of the Yale University-Bridgeport GEAR UP Partnership.

This summer, Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, taught high school students from Bridgeport, Conn. about passion driven statistics as part of the Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP Partnership.

Wesleyan’s Passion Driven Statistics curriculum introduces students to statistics by allowing them to ask and answer statistical questions that they care about.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Passion Driven Statistics model has been successfully implemented through the Applied Data Analysis course at Wesleyan, created by Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation. The course is taught by several faculty from Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center.

“What I want is for students to do when get out of this course is to encounter data in the world and say, ‘I can’t wait to do something with it,’ and to have an understanding of what might be possible,” Dierker said.

The program includes 15 hours of video lessons and supporting materials. It’s adapted for virtual learning on Schoology, Moodle , EdX and Coursera and is offered free of charge for teachers and learners worldwide.

Passion Driven Statistics is a new way to approach statistics by shifting the focus from solely mathematics to a uniquely-applied learning experience. Topics come from a large range of disciplines including psychology, sociology, government and environmental science. Students generate hypotheses based on existing data, conduct a literature review, prepare data for analysis, conduct descriptive and inferential statistical analyses, present research findings to expert and novice audiences, and learn statistical analysis software packages.

This past summer, the Yale University-Bridgeport GEAR UP Partnership adopted Wesleyan’s Passion-Driven Statistics curriculum for their summer program at Yale. High school students from Bridgeport, Conn. benefited from the two-week program.

This film, below, which features Wesleyan’s Lisa Dierker, Jalon Alexander and Sarah Jeffrey, follows the Bridgeport students as they complete their Passion Driven Statistics projects and present their research posters:


 

Stemler’s Study Reveals that Knowing What Not to Do Is a Critical Job Skill

Steven Stemler

Steven Stemler

Situational judgment tests (SJTs) have become an increasingly important tool for predicting employee performance.

In a recent study, Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, and two executives at pre-hire assessment firm Aspiring Minds asked current employees at several firms in India to review scenarios and then pick the “best” and “worst” choices from a set of options.

The colleagues found a statistically significant correlation between job success and those who correctly identified the ‘worst’ answers to scenarios.

Their results were surprising.

“What we found in our research is that the ability to correctly identify the ‘worst’ response to a situation is a systematically different skill than the ability to identify the ‘best’ response, and the two may not even be related,” Stemler said.

As a result, Stemler, Varun Aggarwal and Siddharth Nithyan produced a paper titled “Knowing What Not to Do Is a Critical Job Skill: Evidence from 10 Different Scoring Methods,” which was published in the September 2016 International Journal of Selection and Assessment.

Tavernier Suggests Ways Students Can Establish and Maintain Healthy Sleep

oyette Tavernier, assistant professor of psychology, is director of Wesleyan's Sleep and Psychosocial Adjustment Lab housed in Judd Hall. Here, she monitors an individual's nightly sleep patterns. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Royette Tavernier, assistant professor of psychology, is director of Wesleyan’s Sleep and Psychosocial Adjustment Lab housed in Judd Hall. Here, she monitors an individual’s sleep patterns. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

The new school year ushers in a wide array of emotions for both new and returning students – from feelings of excitement over leaving home for the first time among first-year students, to anxiety and nostalgia over post-graduation plans among seniors.

Amidst those emotions, students will face challenges in balancing their academic workload, socializing with friends, participating in extra-curricular activities, and maintaining family relationships — all within limited financial and time constraints. As the school year progresses, it may become increasingly challenging for students to strike a healthy balance across these various aspects of their university life. The unfortunate result for many students will be an ominous cloud of negative affect: levels of stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and rumination may increase over time. When students perceive that they are drowning in the sea of university demands, the first instinct is often to push themselves harder in order to stay afloat.

“Unfortunately, coping with the turbulent waves of university life inevitably results in compromises in one important human behavior – sleep,” says Royette Tavernier, assistant professor of psychology. Tavernier is a developmental psychologist whose research examines the link between sleep and psychosocial adjustment among adolescents and emerging adults.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends

Wesleyan Students Help Local Preschoolers Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten

stu_psychology_2016-0714141636

Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 works with children in the Kindergarten Kickstart program on July 14 at Bielefield School in Middletown. The program, which is taught by Wesleyan students and local teachers, is celebrating its fifth year this summer. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Kindergarten Kickstart, a research-based, summer pre-K program for children in Middletown created by Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and her students, is celebrating its fifth year. It’s marking the occasion with an event July 20 at the Middletown Roller Skating Rink (free for any current or past Kickstart family, 4 to 6 p.m.) and using a new grant to further develop student innovation in the program.

stu_psychology_2016-0714142901

At left, Megan Dolan ’17 and Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 help Kindergarden Kickstart students during outdoor playtime.

Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012 as a pilot program with 15 children at MacDonough School. They designed the curriculum and taught the program together with a MacDonough teacher. Today, this five-week program serves 35 children at Bielefield and Farm Hill schools (who will be entering kindergarten at those schools plus MacDonough), with six Wesleyan undergraduates and recent alumni leading the classes and developing the curriculum. A certified teacher continues to work at each site. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including a small budget from Wesleyan’s Provost, the Foundation for Greater Hartford, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, and a seed grant from Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

The program is intended for children who could benefit from an extra pre-school experience before beginning kindergarten in the fall. 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 and improve participants’ school readiness skills through a short-term, high-impact, low-cost preschool program.

According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot.

Shusterman said Kindergarten Kickstart was started as a way to put early childhood research into practice.

Barth, Patalano Receive Major Grant from National Science Foundation

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth

Andrea Patalano

Andrea Patalano

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, and Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation. The $1,101,456 grant will support collaborative research on quantitative reasoning conducted in the Cognitive Development Lab (directed by Barth) and the Reasoning and Decision Making Lab (directed by Patalano). The research project will be conducted in collaboration with Sara Cordes at Boston College, which will receive an additional $177,496.

According to the NSF abstract, humans have an innate ability to estimate quantities yet their intuitions often contain biases that interfere with learning new ways to think about quantity. Weaving together strands of psychology, neuroscience, economics, and education, the researchers hope to shed light on the cognitive processes underlying our abilities to estimate 4 kinds of quantities: number, space, time, and probability. By comparing processes across these four distinct areas, the researchers aim to provide a unifying account of how children and adults estimate quantities, which has the potential to transform current understanding of the cognitive bases of how people learn in and across STEM disciplines. Achieving a simple unifying account is important because the ability to think well about quantity in all of these areas is fundamental to STEM learning.

7 Faculty Promoted, 4 Awarded Tenure

In its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on four faculty members. They are Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Professor of African American Studies Kali Gross, Associate Professor of English and American Studies Amy Tang, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

One faculty member, Louise Neary, was promoted to adjunct associate professor of Spanish.

In addition, six faculty members are being promoted to full professor:

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American Studies and anthropology
Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology
Cecilia Miller, professor of history
Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater
Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology
Michael Singer, professor of biology

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Associate Professor Fowler specializes in political communication and directs the Wesleyan Media project, which tracks and analyzes all political ads aired on broadcast television in real-time during elections. Her work on local coverage of politics and policy has been published in political science, communication, law/policy, and medical journals. Most recently, she co-authored Political Advertising in the United States (Westview Press, 2016). Professor Fowler teaches courses on American Government and Politics; Media and Politics; Campaigns and Elections; and Polls, Politics and Public Opinion.

Professor Gross is a scholar of African American history whose research concentrates on black women’s experiences in the United States criminal justice system between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores a crime and trial in 1887 against broader evidence of biased police treatment of black suspects as well as violence within the black community. Professor Gross will offer courses on race, gender and justice and Black Women’s Studies.

Professor Kauanui’s research lies in the fields of comparative colonialisms, indigenous politics, critical racial studies, and anarchist studies. Her book, The Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty (Duke University Press, due in 2017), explores the cultural and legal politics of the contemporary Hawaiian nationalist movement in relation to land, gender, and sexuality. Professor Kauanui teaches courses on Colonialism and Its Consequences; Race and Citizenship; United States in the Pacific Islands; Hawai’i: Myths and Realities; Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown; and Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.

Professor Kurtz’s research seeks to clarify the cognitive and social impairments associated with schizophrenia, to develop and assess behavioral treatments for these impairments, and to critically evaluate the history and current status of ideas regarding treatment of the severely mentally ill. He has received significant grant support from the NIH, and has received a Fulbright-Nehru U.S. Scholar Award for Academic and Professional Excellence. He offers courses on Schizophrenia and Its Treatment, Clinical Neuropsychology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Professor Miller is a European intellectual historian with a focus on the long eighteenth century. Her recent book, Enlightenment and Political Fiction: The Everyday Intellectual (Routledge, 2016), examines five works of fiction to argue that the accessibility of political fiction in the eighteenth century made it possible for any reader to enter into the intellectual debates of the time and that ideas attributed to philosophers and political and economic theorists of the Enlightenment actually appeared first in works of fiction. She offers courses on European Intellectual History, Political Fiction, Theories of Society, and Contemporary Europe.

Professor Tatinge Nascimento is a theater artist and scholar with a special interest in experimental performance and Brazilian contemporary theater. She has performed and published internationally, and most recently is the author of a book manuscript, The Contemporary Performances of Brazil’s Post-Dictatorship Generation, under review with Palgrave Macmillan for the series Contemporary Performance InterActions. At Wesleyan she directs main stage productions and teaches courses on acting, theory, and performance studies.

Adjunct Associate Professor Neary teaches beginning and intermediate Spanish. She is currently collaborating with a colleague on an online Spanish course for the general public, titled Wespañol, and with McGraw Hill on a test bank project for an elementary Spanish language textbook. She has served as head of Spanish, has chaired the Romance Languages and Literatures Honors Committee, and has served on the Language Resources Center Faculty Committee.

Professor Patalano is a cognitive scientist whose research focuses on mental and neural processes involved in human reasoning, judgment, and decision making. Her lines of research address indecisiveness and decision deferral, clinical and neural correlates of discounting, numeracy and choice behavior, and the role of categories in thought. She teaches courses on Cognitive Psychology, Psychological Statistics, Decision Making, and Concepts and Categories.

Professor Singer is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on the plant-feeding habits of caterpillars in the context of threats from predators and parasites of caterpillars. He uses this research focus to inform issues of broad biological interest, such as animal medication, dietary specialization, dynamics of ecological networks, and evolutionary diversification. He teaches courses on Ecology, Conservation Biology, Evolutionary Biology, and Plant-Animal Interactions.

Professor Tang’s research focuses on the relationship between aesthetic form and politics in Asian American literature and theory. Her first book, Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores how Asian American writers use structures of repetition to register, and creatively inhabit, the impasses generated by multiculturalism’s politics of identity and recognition. She teaches courses on Asian American Literature, Afro-Asian Intersections, and Literary and Cultural Theory.

Associate Professor Taylor’s multidisciplinary research investigates problems at the intersection of biology and chemistry. Her work strives to advance medicine and environmental sustainability with two long-term goals – developing bacterial enzyme inhibitors and other small molecules with medicinal applications, and engineering microorganisms to improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion. Professor Taylor has received significant grant support from both the NIH and the Department of Energy, enabling numerous impactful publications in her field. She offers courses in Organic Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, and Biomedicinal Chemistry.

Psychology Students Share Research at 10th Annual Poster Presentation

Psychology Poster Session, April 28, 2016. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS '08)

Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins, pictured in back row center, gathered with her students during the Psychology Research Poster Presentation. The Wilkins Lab broadly examines prejudice, stereotyping, and the self.

Forty-six thesis and research students presented 36 posters during the Psychology Research Poster Presentation April 28 in Beckham Hall. The 10th annual event allowed the students to share their research and ongoing studies with peers and faculty from the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division.

Photos of the poster presentation are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Psychology Poster Session, April 28, 2016. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS '08)

Psychology Poster Session, April 28, 2016. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS '08)

Dierker, Mukerji Honored as Women of Innovation

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, professor of integrative sciences, were both honored at the 12th annual Women of Innovation Awards. Presented by the Connecticut Technology Council, the awards celebrate the energy, creativity and success of women and students from Connecticut’s science and technology community.

Both professors were honored in the category of Academic Innovation and Leadership. The celebration was held April 6 in Plantsville, Conn.

Dierker was honored for her work developing a curriculum to introduce students to a passion-driven, project-based course in applied statistics, data analysis and programming. Through a growing network of high schools, community colleges, and universities as well as a massive open online course (MOOC), she is dedicated to creating real access for women and other underserved populations, both locally and across the globe.

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji

Mukerji was recognized for her research focused on the study of protein-DNA interactions to understand the mechanisms of gene expression, DNA replication and DNA repair. She previously served as dean of science and mathematics at Wesleyan, where she helped to establish the Wesleyan Math and Science Scholars program and the College of Integrative Sciences.

Wesleyan Welcomes Posse Veteran Scholars to the Class of 2020

Wesleyan's newest group of Posse Veteran Scholars. Back row, from left: Gregory Hardy, Andrew Daggon, Zachary Patterson, Daniel Rodriguez. Front row, from left: Lance Williams, Noel Salvador, Marisella Andrews, Rebecca Martinez, Gabrielle Hurlock, Mitchell Motlagh.

Wesleyan’s newest group of Posse Veteran Scholars. Back row, from left: Gregory Hardy, Andrew Daggon, Zachary Patterson, Daniel Rodriguez. Front row, from left: Lance Williams, Noel Salvador, Marisella Andrews, Rebecca Martinez, Gabrielle Hurlock, Mitchell Motlagh.

This fall, Wesleyan will welcome to campus its third cohort of Posse Veteran Scholars in the Class of 2020—a group of three women and seven men who have served in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. They come from all over the United States and have served in places such as Afghanistan, Uganda and Iraq. Their interests range from visual art and filmmaking to teaching and mathematics. One student, Marisella Andrews, is the great-granddaughter of a Wesleyan alumnus, Matias Perez, from the Class of 1917.

The group’s faculty mentor will be Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor and chair of Science in Society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Trained in experimental psychology, Morawski has turned her scholarly inquiries toward seeking better understanding of the ways that scientific psychology has shaped American culture, policy and individual lives.

“It’s exciting to have Professor Morawski join the team of deeply committed faculty mentors, without whom, this initiative would not succeed the way it has these past two years,” said Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer, and Wesleyan’s Posse Veteran liaison.

The newest group of Posse Veteran Scholars join two earlier cohorts in the class of 2018 and 2019, bringing the total number of Posse Veteran Scholars on campus to 30 next year, and the total number of veterans on campus to 32. Farias commented on the increasing presence of veterans on campus, “Those that have served, viscerally understand what selfless service is about—it’s the motivating drive to give more than they get, and it’s the keystone to developing highly functional and diverse teams, where the mission is greater than any individual need. Excellence through resiliency best captures the experience of our Posse Veteran Scholars and we look forward to seeing them continue to thrive.”

Read the original announcement about Wesleyan’s partnership with the Posse Foundation to recruit military veterans here, and see a recent PBS Newshour feature on Wesleyan’s Posse vets here.

Students Present Research at the Eastern Psychological Association’s 2016 Meeting

Sheri Reichelson '16

Sheri Reichelson ’16

Several Wesleyan students presented research at the Eastern Psychological Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting in New York, N.Y. on March 4.

Sheri Reichelson ’16 presented a poster titled “Does the Arbitrary Grouping of Physical Options Influence Children’s and Adults’ Choices?”

Reichelson received an Eastern Regional travel grant from the Psi Chi Grants Committee and Boards of Directors to fund her travel. She also is an accepted BA/MA student continuing her work next year in Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs under the supervision of Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology.

Reichelson’s research, an ongoing collaborative project between the Cognitive Development Labs and the Reasoning and Decision Making Lab (led by Andrea Patalano, chair and associate professor of psychology), investigates how the grouping of categories affects decision making in children and adults.

Samantha Hellberg '16

Samantha Hellberg ’16

Samantha Hellberg ’16 also presented a poster titled, “Effects of Adolescent Ethanol Exposure and Anxiety on Motivation for Gambling-Like Cues.” She worked with Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, and also won a Psi Chi Award.

And Rebecca Tom ’16 and Charlotte Freeland, lab manager in Robinson’s lab, presented a poster, “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward.”