"The senior research project has actually led me to enjoy the research/experimental aspect of Psychology. Before the class I didn't think I could perform well in these aspects, but now that I am doing the project I realize that I can do it and enjoy it!"
The psychology department recently showcased the research results of its graduating students. Topics ranged from what type of student resists substance abuse, to whether computer-delivered therapies might offer a low-cost alternative to traditional treatment.
Students share their results every spring through a public poster session in the Shouldice Library lobby on LSSU's campus. This year 11 seniors presented their findings.
In addition, six of these students traveled to Albion College in April to present their research at the Michigan Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference. Besides presenting their own material and listening to presentations of others, LSSU students heard a presentation by Jim Pfaus PhD, Concordia University, who is well known for his studies of brain, neuroendocrine and experiential factors that influence behavior and attraction in humans and animals.
A list of students who presented at LSSU, as well as a synopsis of their studies, follows.
Ashley A. Karjewski (Crystal Falls, Mich.) explored how people absorb and retain information under various levels of subtle distraction. Her method of distraction involved what psychologists call the Stroop Effect. In a famous example of this effect, people are asked to read the name of a color. If the word "blue" appears in red lettering, the answer comes slowly because one area of the brain settles on "red" while another brain center responsible for reading selects "blue." Karjewski showed students some words closely related to a task that needed remembering, along with words only slightly related. Her goal was to see if short-term memory varied with the mix of words her subjects read. Her runs with 20 volunteers were inconclusive. Karjewski would run the test again with more volunteers.
Sara Dombrowski (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) found that a student's innate conscientiousness helped them do better on tests. It did not influence what method they used to study the test material, though. This could be because a motivated student tends to pick up knowledge regardless of method. She also concludes that the best way to prepare college students for success on exams is to give them multiple practice tests.
Anthony T. Irwin (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) set out to see whether competitive problem solving works better in a computer chat room or in person. Not only did he look for successful outcomes, but also at a person's confidence in solving the problem regardless of environment. His hunch was that while chat-groupers may be better at problem solving, they would not feel confident of their success. His results were inconclusive. He did find that males are more confident, perhaps because in our society men are expected to take charge and feel better about it.
Thadius McKay (Alpena, Mich.) tested how subliminal cues set off our emotional states. His trials provided conflicting cues for decidedly neutral situations, setting out to test whether negative (or positive) cues swayed emotions one way or the other. Rather paradoxically, he found that negative subliminal cues created positive emotions and vice versa.
Erin Elaine Nelson (Cadillac, Mich.) tested whether criminal justice majors and non-majors have their moral judgment reinforced to an equivalent degree after watching a film on ethical behavior. Her hunch was that students inclined to public service, the CJ majors, would derive the most benefit. As it turns out, all of the students regardless of major were affected equally. Nelson guesses that this is because the 20-minute film was too short or her 32-student study group was too small.
Jamie Brown (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) measured the effect of goal-orientation and goal-setting instructions on performance. Do people perform better when goals are specifically designated as difficult and challenging, or do they just "do their best" when vaguely told to do so? She predicted that students who learn for learning's sake do better with a "do your best" request than students who are merely motivated by a good test grade or a desire not to be embarrassed. Among other challenges, her 60-student survey group was given a video game to solve. Unfortunately, the game was so enjoyable that it threw off her survey results. Everybody, regardless of motivation, did well.
Amy Zeiger (Lansing, Mich.) designed a series of computer-delivered tasks intended to decrease social anxiety. The broad implication is that if her computer-delivered model worked, the approach would provide a cheaper alternative to costlier human-delivered therapies. Her results, though small, are encouraging.
Jasmine Laisure (East Jordan, Mich.) tested whether students who display greater levels of openness learn faster and do better on a test she developed. Academic studies tie openness to intellectual curiosity and higher IQs. She gave an 18-question personality test to 16 LSSU student volunteers after they studied in pairs. As is sometimes the case in science, her results did not support her hypothesis because the study population was too small.
Amanda Epolito (East Lansing, Mich.) asked whether a student's personality, gender, or participation in sports would make them less likely to abuse alcohol. Athletes, especially women, are likelier to stay clear of substance abuse.
Kristin Nicholls (Port Austin, Mich.) studied the emotions solicited by photos of happy, angry, fearful, and neutral-looking men and women. Interestingly, subjects consistently picked up on emotional states much faster when shown women's faces. Both genders also picked up happiness within photos of the same sex; males tagged fear faster in the expressions of women. Women are more consistent with an array of expressions for both sexes.
Jennifer Wyman (Marquette, Mich.) studied whether academic stereotypes re-enforced or diminished scholastic performance. This type of study has rarely been applied to stereotypes of college majors. Wyman's assumption was that if students majoring in natural sciences, education, and social sciences were coached with stereotypical expectations, it would influence their success on a standard college math test. She first assessed the existing stereotypes using the implicit associating test. Participants were randomly told that education majors were either good or bad at math. This threat of a stereotype had no effect on a subsequent math test because no real stereotype was found in the beginning of the study.
Andrew Riehl (Milford, Mich.) set out to see if feedback determined the success of students who worked math problems of mixed ease and difficulty. In all instances, he found that feedback made all the difference, especially with very difficult problems. Mixing difficult problems with easier ones during practice sessions also helped. "Educators cannot simply apply classroom techniques to an online setting and expect them to work," Riehl concludes. "New educational tools need to be developed and utilized. This study shows that varying difficulty and providing feedback increases performance."
"Senior thesis research is a capstone experience for LSSU students studying the sciences. Under the guidance of faculty mentors, students choose a topic, design a study, collect and analyze the data, and then produce a scientific poster."
Above, Hilary Therese Edison holds a discussion about her Senior Project, Variation in Salt and Sucrose Thresholds by Gender.
Ms. Edison was accepted into the behavioral neuroscience program at Memorial University in Newfoundland Canada after graduating with honors.