Redefining the Classroom

Psychology students present research, prof teaches in China

Posted: June 18th, 2014

Scroll down to read about H. Russell Searight's summer professorship at Shaoxing University, China.

CONSIDER THE MIND – Seniors in Lake Superior State University's psychology program pose with project posters in the Shouldice Library foyer. In front are Brooke Lewis (left) and Lindsey Cooley. In the second row (left to right) are Brittany Sparkes, Katherine Drockton, and Shelby Ockert. Third row, from left, are psychology professor Kristina Olson-Pupek, Crystal Drake, Ashley Loader, Mindy Jones, and Jessica Roberts. In back are psychology professor Russell Searight, Burton Gough, Cameron Metz, Brandon Kwak, and Jacob Brushaber. (Photo by John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with the caption above can be found by clicking here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Lake Superior State University's psychology department recently showcased the research results of its graduating students. Topics ranged from how dance affects mood and concentration, to whether differences in color impacted memory for words.

"Senior thesis research is a capstone experience for LSSU students studying the sciences," says LSSU psychology professor Russell Searight. "Under the guidance of faculty mentors, students choose a topic, design a study, collect and analyze the data, and then produce a scientific poster."

Students share their results every spring through a public poster session in the Shouldice Library lobby on LSSU's campus. This year 13 seniors presented their findings.

A list of students who presented at LSSU, as well as a synopsis of their studies, follows.

Lindsey Cooley (Parma, Mich.) studied whether being a first-, second-, third-born or only child in a family was associated with self-esteem. Contrary to past research that has often found that first-born and only children have higher self-esteem, Cooley found that birth order did not impact self-esteem or retrospectively rated family climate. However, she also examined whether the respondents believed that their parents favored one of the siblings. Among families with a favored child, overall family climate was rated less positively when the respondent was not the favorite child.

Jacob Brushaber (Harbor Springs, Mich.) compared self-reported leadership skills and metacognition, the ability to reflect upon one’s own thought processes, between peer educators and a comparison group of students who were not in this role. Peer educators included student instructors, who typically lead review sessions for college courses, mentors, who assist new students by providing guidance about university resources and procedures, and tutors. While there were a limited number of differences between the two groups, the peer educators reported a greater level of comfort and skill in managing intergroup tension. In addition, compared with the college student controls, peer educators indicated higher level of skill in organizing information efficiently and self-assessment as well as a better understanding of their own learning capabilities.

Mindy Jones (Mesick, Mich.) addressed the impact of employment on academic performance among college students. In her sample, nearly 70% of the college student respondents indicated that they were employed-at least on a part-time basis- during the academic year. Compared with non-employed students, working students had a lower grade point average. Jones also found that employed students, while reporting conflicts between school and work demands, also indicated that there were areas in which concurrent employment benefited their academic performance. Of interest, there were no differences in level of psychological distress between employed and non-employed students.

Katherine Drockton (Sault Ste Marie, Mich.) was interested in the impact of two dance styles—ballet and contemporary-- on short-term mood states as well as on attention and concentration. Drockton found that a 20-minute ballet dance routine was associated with improved concentration and a significant reduction in negative emotional states such as tension, anger and confusion. While the contemporary dancers demonstrated a significant decline in emotional tension, the ballet dance routine was more effective in reducing feelings of sadness and anger.

Crystal Drake’s (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) interest in art therapy led to a study comparing different types of art activities on anxiety and short-term emotional well-being. Drake found that three types of artistic tasks—free form drawing, coloring in a plaid pattern or coloring a pre-drawn mandala (a symbol often used to aid in meditation) were all associated with significant reductions in emotional distress. While there were no significant differences between the three tasks, participants coloring the plaid pattern for approximately 20 minutes reported somewhat greater reductions in worry, sadness and situational anxiety.

Burton Gough (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) was interested in how room temperature might influence performance on academic tasks. He compared three classroom temperatures: 55° F (cold), 70° F (neutral) and 85° F (hot). While there were no differences in overall performance on reading and math tests between the three classroom temperatures, participants in the cold classroom did score higher on one of the math subtests assessing algebra skills. Gough also found that classroom temperature was unrelated to self-reported anxiety.

Cameron Metz (Grand Rapids, Mich.) examined whether college athletes experience lower levels of situational anxiety and specifically, public speaking anxiety, compared with college peers not involved in varsity athletics. While the two groups did not differ in trait anxiety, which is believed to be a relatively stable personality characteristic, the athletes reported less anxiety around situational life changes as well as lower levels of distress associated with public speaking. In addition, compared with the control group of non-athletes, both female and male athletes were more likely to view public speaking as a challenge that they could master rather than as a threat.

Jessica Roberts (Newberry, Mich.) investigated whether codependency, a personality trait reflecting a high level of sensitivity to others’ reactions and a strong desire for approval, was differentially associated with three attachment patterns or interpersonal styles that emerge in close relationships. Roberts found that when compared with adults who reported a secure relationship with a romantic partner, young adults who were anxious about emotional intimacy or who distanced themselves from close relationships, exhibited higher levels of codependency. In addition, codependency was associated with relationship conflict and distress.

Shelby Ockert (Cedar, Mich.) developed a mock crime scene and police line up to study the impact that two types of extraneous information would have on decisions about a suspect’s guilt or innocence. The extraneous information, a written description of the Oklahoma City bombing or a control condition, a philosophy selection, were presented to the participants immediately after viewing the crime scene but prior to being asked to recall the details of the crime. In addition, participants were asked to select a suspect from a lineup and indicate their confidence in the correctness of their selection. Contrary to expectations, the group reading the bombing account did not differ from the control condition in either the number of details about the crime correctly recalled or participants’ confidence in selecting the correct suspect from the line up.

Brandon Kwak (Perronville, Mich.) wondered whether student performance on a series of mathematics problems would differ depending on whether the task was labeled as a quiz, exam, or test. Contrary to expectations, the task’s designation was not associated with the number of problems correctly answered. Additionally, anxiety levels did not differ between the three designations. Participants’ assessment of the relative difficulty of the quiz, test or exam did predict their actual performance.

Ashley Loader (Sault Ste Marie, Mich.) extended research on the impact of color on short-term memory. Previous studies suggested that physiological arousal was higher when individuals were presented with “warm” (yellow, red) versus cool (blue, green) colors. Short-term memory is typically better under conditions of high moderate versus low levels of arousal. Loader examined whether these color-related differences impacted memory for words. Consistent with expectations, participants recalled more words printed on red paper compared with green and recall was also better for yellow versus blue paper.

Brittany Sparkes (Muskegon, Mich.) examined factors associated with the extent to which first year college students developed attachment, or a sense of belongingness, to the university. Sparkes had students complete a battery of self-report measures assessing symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as attachment to the university at the beginning and end of the fall semester. At the beginning of the semester, students indicating a stronger university attachment were more likely to report symptoms of social anxiety. In addition, at semester’s outset, students reporting depressed mood were more likely to be having sleep problems. At semester’s end, students reporting greater sense belongingness to the university only scored high on a measure of fatigue. Of note, at the end of the semester, depression and anxiety were unrelated to attachment to the University.

Brooke Lewis (Sault Ste Marie, Mich.) studied the association between young adults’ perceptions of parenting received while growing up and current anxiety levels. Lewis’ study was distinctive because she compared participants’ views of both their father and mother. Results indicated that both paternal and maternal over-protection were associated with young adults experience of higher levels of ongoing worry and discomfort across multiple life situations. While the association was weaker, there was a trend toward greater anxiety levels among young adults who described their fathers as demanding and non-responsive.

Run a Web search on "LSSU psychology" to read more about that area of study at Lake State.


LAKERS IN CHINA II – Lake Superior State University psychology professor H. Russell Searight poses with Shaoxing University students between classes on June 6. Searight joins business professor Ralf Wilhelms in Shaoxing this summer as part of an exchange program that started last fall when two Shaoxing professors – in psychology and English instruction - visited classes and exchanged ideas with LSSU faculty about instructional approaches and research. Searight is teaching classes in Shaoxing University’s Teacher Education program. In addition, he is providing faculty development training on learning disabilities and writing for scholarly publication. Searight is also visiting local preschools, elementary and high schools as well as facilities for children with developmental disabilities. Recently, more than 200 people attended a campus-wide talk that Searight provided on childhood behavioral and learning problems. There are relatively few clinical psychologists in China - only about 800, compared with more than 60,000 in the United States. Before leaving China later this month, Searight will be speaking at a regional conference on special education for local teachers. Shaoxing University, located 100 miles south of Shanghai on China's central coast - is a four-year university with 23,000 full-time students in 58 undergraduate degree programs. (Courtesy Shaoxing University)

A print-resolution photo that runs with the caption above can be found by clicking here.


CONTACTS: Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Kristina Olson-Pupek, e-mail, 635-2422