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Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference

purc 2013

The 2012 Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference was held Friday, May 3 in McGuinn.

Nicole Trauffer is the 2013 recipient of the Peter Gray Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Psychology. Professor Michael Moore presented the award.

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Book of Abstracts for PURC 2013

Table of Contents

The Stability of Symmetry Preferences
Lila Abboud

Situation Factors in Person Perception
Brenda Alicedo

Oxytocin in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis modulates sexually dimorphic social recognition behavior in rats
Andrea G. Alonso

To Pour or Not to Pour: The Alcohol Over-Pouring Effect in College Students
Laura Banu

Pupil dilation during emotion processing
Michelle Blair

Facing the Facts about Morality: When are morals perceived as objective truths?
Elizabeth Blevins

Emotional Memory Retrieval across the Adult Lifespan
Maria Box

Effects of emotion, age, and sleep on memory trade-off
Joana Ruby Bueno

Mental Rotation: Practice Effects and Correlates With Empathy
Mansoor Choudhry

Effects of Gender and Stereotype Threat on Mathematics and Predictive Learning Tasks
Elizabeth Corwin

The Effects of Emotion on Memory for Details
Anthony Cossette

An Analysis of Altruistic Behavior Predictors
Michael Cullen

Is the recognition of facial expressions affected by the method of experiment?
Marissa DiGirolamo

Children's Propensity to Give in Response to Increased Need and Resources
Allyse N. Fazio

The Effects of Multitasking on Item Memory and Source Memory
Brianna Fitz

On Generosity, Happiness, and Shared Enthusiasm
Alex Garinther

Context Specificity Of Concurrently Trained Excitation and Extinction
Gabriela Hidalgo

What’s math got to do with it? The effects of role model domain in alleviating gender stereotype threat
Tiffany House

Sex differences in vasopressin and oxytocin receptor binding densities in the rat brain
Marisa A. Immormino and Sterling L. Karakula

Friendship Quality in Young Adulthood: The Influence of Parental Attachment and Sibling Relationship Quality
Kristen Incarnato

How Does Drawing Repair Mood? Managing Affect Through Drawing
Ciara James

Determining an Individual's Utility Function and Predicting the Outcome of Bets
Matt Johnson

Scene stealers: The impact of object size on the perceived scale of visual environments
Emilie Josephs

Fear-cue induced inhibition of eating: Activation of brainstem nuclei
Meghana Kuthyar

The effect of shape familiarity on object-based attention
Molly LaPoint

Investigating Attitudes toward Criminal Offenders: Stigma and its Implications
Gabrielle Lewine

Can Categorical and Numerical Judgments be Swayed by Visual Processing Style?
Amy Lipton

The Effects of Verbal Labels on Numerical Discrimination in Infancy
Jacqueline Mendoza

Social novelty-seeking: The role of oxytocin in the nucleus accumbens
Jazmin Mogavero

Fear-cue induced inhibition of eating: Activation of hypothalamic orexin neurons
Jordan Newmark

Spot the Difference: The relationship between working memory and mental rotation ability
Rachel Newmiller

Ambivalence in Delay Discounting, Social Discounting, and Moral Dilemmas
Natalia Nincevic

Differentiating Theory of Mind from Emotional Facial Expression Recognition Through Training
Alexandra Pierce

The Effects of Beliefs about Emotion Utility on Preferences, Feelings, and Behavior
Emily Rhodes

The Effect of Emotion and Autistic Traits on Time Processing in Adults
Joseph Schade

Training to Shift a Universal Bias—Intentionality Assignment
Luke Silveira

The Neural Correlates for Predicting Actions Using Social vs. Nonsocial Information
Michael Stepanovic

College students' experience-based understanding of love
Nicole Trauffer

How Doctors can be Good Listeners: Effects on Medical Memory of Attending to Different Aspects of Patients’ Minds
Nick Vissicchio

The Power of Community for College Women
Allison White

Underestimating the Opponent’s Big Lead in Political Polls
Mackenna Woodring

Social play behavior in rats: The role of oxytocin in the nucleus accumbens
Christine Wu and Jazmin Mogavero

What Face Do Adults Match with Disgust Elicitors? Comparing the standard disgust face and the sick face
Anne Yoder

Fear-cue induced inhibition of eating: Activation of the central nucleus of the amygdala
Jack Young

Abstracts

The Stability of Symmetry Preferences

Lila Abboud
Advisors: Laura Young and Sara Cordes

Previous research has revealed links between preferences for symmetry and perfectionism, and preferences for asymmetry and artistic creativity. These three studies aimed to assess whether an individual’s preference for certain types of symmetrical images can be influenced and changed. To do this, in each of the three studies, participants were assigned to be conceptually-primed in one of three randomly assigned conditions: creativity, perfectionism, or neutral. In Study 1, the priming task asked participants to unscramble groups of words to form grammatically correct sentences. In Study 2, participants were asked to do the opposite, and scramble grammatically correct sentences into nonsensical groups of words. In Study 3, participants were asked to read a passage and then write a paragraph responding to the theme of the passage. In all studies, participants viewed and rated images of asymmetry, rotational symmetry, vertical symmetry, and two-fold symmetry before and after the priming task. Preference change between Time 1 and Time 2 were compared in a repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). Results found that across all studies, none of the primes were successful in altering preferences. In most cases, symmetry preferences did not significantly change from Time 1 to Time 2, showing that our prime did not affect participants’ perceptions. Additionally, across all studies, two-fold symmetry was preferred the most, followed by vertical symmetry, followed by rotational symmetry, with asymmetry preferred the least. That is, higher levels of symmetry were almost always preferred over lower levels. These findings support the idea that symmetry preferences are not easily, if at all, alterable by situational factors. Although the null results preclude strong conclusions, the results suggest that symmetry preference is more trait-like and rigid, rather than state-dependent and flexible.

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Situation Factors in Person Perception

Brenda Alicedo
Advisor: Hiram Brownell

The fundamental attribution error is concerned with initial judgments of others based on their personality, only taking a small amount of the situation into consideration. The average person will make this error because it is easier to explain behavior this way. What is interesting is certain people do not make the fundamental attribution error; they will give the stranger the “benefit of the doubt” and assume the situation explains their behavior. Based on my experience with both extremes of people, those who do not make the fundamental attribution error can be described as “kind-hearted” which can be expanded into two personality traits: altruism and empathy. My hypothesis for this study is that students who show higher levels of altruism and/or empathy will attribute another’s actions to situation, not disposition. Subjects are current BC students in one of the introduction psychology courses. Subjects were asked to take an 82-question survey on Qualtrics to determine levels of altruism, empathy and how much they make the fundamental attribution error (FAE). The FAE questionnaire was developed with 10 positive and 10 negative situations that people may find themselves in and asked which of the two explanation of the stranger’s behavior was more applicable. The results showed that students attribute behavior in positive events to the situation if they have higher levels of altruism. Levels of empathy did not predict subjects’ attributions. Overall, altruistic people will attribute positive actions to the stranger’s disposition suggesting positivity is viewed as dispositional.

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Oxytocin in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis modulates sexually dimorphic social recognition behavior in rats

Andrea G. Alonso
Advisors: Kelly M. Dumais and Alexa H. Veenema

Oxytocin (OT) is an evolutionarily conserved neuropeptide with sexually dimorphic neural circuitry that regulates a variety of social behaviors in rodents and humans via activation of the OT receptor (OTR) in the brain. We found a robust sex difference in OT receptor (OTR) binding density in the posterior part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (pBNST), a region implicated in social behavior, with female rats showing significantly lower OTR binding density than male rats. However, the functional significance of this sex difference in OTR binding density is unclear. The aim of the study was to investigate the extent to which this sex difference in OTR binding density in the pBNST modulates social behaviors differently in male compared to female rats. We measured the effects of acute pharmacological manipulations of the OT system in the pBNST on changes in social interest, social recognition, and non-social anxiety. Social interest reflects the initial motivation to approach a conspecific for the assessment of social cues. Social recognition is the ability to recognize familiar from unfamiliar individuals. We hypothesized that bilateral injections of the OTR antagonist, desGly-NH2,d(CH2)5 [Tyr(Me)2,Thr4]OVT into the pBNST, would reduce social interest and social recognition while bilateral injections of synthetic OT would enhance these behaviors in males more than in females. We found that blockade of OTR in the pBNST impaired social recognition in both sexes. Importantly, administration of OT selectively enhanced social recognition in males, but failed to do so in females. No significant effects of OTR manipulations in the pBNST were found for social interest or non-social anxiety. These results suggest that sex differences in OTR binding density in the pBNST may contribute to sex-specific regulation of social recognition.

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To Pour or Not to Pour: The Alcohol Over-Pouring Effect in College Students

Laura Banu
Advisor: Jef Lamoureux

Previous research has shown that individuals generally overestimate the sizes of standard alcoholic drinks in a free-pour volume estimation paradigm (Devos-Comboy & Lange, 2008). In addition, individuals over-pour in increasingly greater amounts as the size of the vessel they pour into increases (White et al., 2003). The reasons for these phenomena are unknown. The linear relationship between vessel size and over-pouring suggests the alcohol over-pouring effect may be due to a general perceptual bias. Research has also suggested that drinking experience may attenuate the over-pouring effect (White et al., 2003). The present study examined the potential roles of a perceptual bias and drinking experience in the over-pouring effect. To examine the role of a perceptual bias we compared performance in a free-pour paradigm to performance in a free-draw paradigm in which participants estimated the lengths of everyday objects. To test the effect of drinking experience we employed two measures of alcohol consumption: the quantity-frequency survey and the timeline followback calendar. Participants over-poured the volumes of a standard beer and standard serving of liquor into three vessel sizes and over-poured the volume of a standard glass of wine into the largest of three vessels. However, participants on average either accurately estimated or underestimated the lengths of standard everyday objects. In addition, the present study failed to demonstrate a consistent relationship between drinking experience and the over-pouring. Our findings suggest the alcohol over-pouring effect is not due to a general perceptual bias and drinking experience does not attenuate the over-pouring effect.

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Aging and Emotion Regulation: Assessing Cognitive Effort Through Pupil Dilation

Michelle Blair
Advisors: Eric Allard and Elizabeth Kensinger

Recent research suggests that age may affect one’s ability to successfully implement cognitively demanding emotion regulation strategies. Due to cognitive declines associated with age, older adults may be less able to perform strategies that rely heavily on cognitive control resources. However, few studies have examined the relationship between age and the amount of cognitive effort exerted when performing cognitive regulation strategies. This study examined the amount of cognitive effort younger and older adults exerted when engaging visual fixation preferences in response to two emotion regulation strategies that required higher cognitive demand (reappraisal) or lower cognitive demand (selective attention). Cognitive effort was assessed via changes in pupil dilation in response to positive and negative videos, and regulation success was assessed through self-reported mood throughout the experimental session. Results indicated that perhaps both younger and older adults exerted the same amount of cognitive effort when regulating their responses to emotional videos, regardless of regulation condition. Overall, participants showed greater increases in pupil dilation in response to negative videos relative to positive videos, suggesting greater levels of arousal elicited by the negative videos. However, participants did display increased pupil dilation in response to positive videos in the selective attention condition as compared to the reappraisal condition. Both younger and older adults also displayed similar mood improvement after the regulation conditions. Overall, these results suggest more age-related similarities than differences in both the cognitive effort exerted when utilizing specific cognitive emotion regulation strategies and the resultant regulatory outcomes.

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Facing the Facts about Morality: When are morals perceived as objective truths?

Elizabeth Blevins
Advisor: Liane Young

Moral statements are perceived as more objective than statements of personal preference and social convention. Researchers have investigated folk intuitions about moral objectivity by asking participants whether they think there is only one correct answer to moral questions. The current study examined the perceived objectivity of politically controversial as well as non-political morals using novel indicators of objectivity. Non-political morals were designed to vary on an additional dimension: these statements were Agreeable, Disagreeable, or Obscure (i.e., failing to provoke strong agreement either for or against). For each item, participants rated: (1) the degree to which the statement reflected a fact, preference, or moral, (2) their agreement with the statement and (3) the degree to which there could be only one correct answer to the statement (i.e., “one-answer” ratings). Within both politically controversial and non-political items, statements high in agreement were rated as more fact-like. Also, within politically controversial items, a significant interaction emerged between agreement and political orientation on “one-answer” ratings: Conservatives, but not Liberals, were more likely to claim that there could be only one correct answer in the case of controversial morals with which they agreed. However, a regression analysis demonstrated that, across participants, ratings of morals as fact-like positively predicted “one-answer” ratings, while ratings of morals as preference-like negatively predicted “one-answer” ratings. This effect did not differ between Liberal and Conservative participants, indicating that ratings of morals as fact- and preference-like may provide an alternative method of tracking perceived moral objectivity. The results suggest that Liberals score low on traditional measures of moral objectivity for controversial items, but alternate predictors reveal biases, which participants might otherwise work to suppress in their explicit responses.

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Emotional Memory Retrieval across the Adult Lifespan

Maria Box
Advisors: Jaclyn Ford and Elizabeth Kensinger

Previous research indicates that healthy aging is associated with decreases in episodic memory performance, and that this memory impairment is greater for negatively-valenced items. However, the underlying cognitive mechanisms involved in this shift are not well understood. It has been suggested that age-related shifts in positivity result from a reduction in emotional complexity in older adults. The current study used a multimodal design to examine age-related shifts in emotional memory as well as emotional processing. Healthy subjects between the ages of 19 and 82 participated in a memory task that included positive, negative, and neutral images at two separate sessions, one using ERP technology and a second using fMRI technology. The current analysis focuses on the behavioral findings from these two sessions. At encoding, subjects were shown positive, negative, and neutral images that were accompanied by a neutral title, and were asked how well the word or phrase described the image. Following the study phase, subjects were presented with each word cue and asked whether or not it had been presented previously. Emotional valence, arousal, and a list of experienced emotions were self-reported for each image. The results confirm the overall memory decline associated with healthy aging, more so for images evoking negative emotions than for those evoking positive and neutral emotions. In addition, older adults rated remembered, but not forgotten, images as more positive than younger adults. Finally, aging was associated with a trend towards reduced emotional complexity, with a decline in reported emotions for both remembered and forgotten images. Within this effect, negative emotions were reported less frequently with age, whereas reporting for positive emotions remained relatively stable. These results suggest that healthy aging influences emotional memory as well as emotional processing, with age-related changes in both valence and emotional complexity.

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Effects of emotion, age, and sleep on memory trade-off

Joana Ruby Bueno
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

When presented with complex visual scenes, individuals may demonstrate a memory trade-off with enhanced memory for central emotional elements but reduced memory for peripheral nonemotional elements. Emotional valence of scenes (i.e., negative versus positive) , age of participants, and sleep-dependent processes of consolidation have been found to modulate the memory trade-off effect. In the present study, young and older adults viewed scenes composed of a negative, positive, or neutral object placed on a neutral background. Participants performed a recognition task after a delay interval of either 12 daytime hours spent awake or 12 nighttime hours including sleep. The results revealed that young and older adults remembered scene components differently based on emotional valence. Within young adults, there was a central/peripheral trade-off for central emotional objects versus peripheral nonemotional backgrounds of negative and positive scenes. Older adults showed preferential memory enhancement for negative objects only. Memory for positive items increased after a period of sleep versus wake, but there was no interaction between delay interval and age or between delay interval and scene component.

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Mental Rotation: Practice Effects and Correlates with Empathy

Mansoor Choudhry
Advisor: Gene Heyman

Mental rotation is the process of visually imagining an object and rotating it into a different orientation, often in comparison with another similar object. This study examines three dependent measures: male and female differences, male and female differences after practice, and response times and if they are a linear function of the angle of disparity. The study utilizes 18 total participants, 9 male and 9 female. Participants completed a mental rotation task, cognitive reflection test, and empathy questionnaire. The results found a statistically significant correlation for higher empathy with faster mental rotation. Furthermore, a statistically significant (p<0.000) practice effect was observed for both males and females. There were no gender differences observed.

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Effects of Gender and Stereotype Threat on Mathematics and Predictive Learning Tasks

Elizabeth Corwin
Advisor: Jef Lamoureux

As first described by Steele and Aronson (1995), stereotype threat (ST) is a situational threat that can adversely affect performance of any group about whom a negative stereotype exists. Research on ST suggests that academic gaps that exist between racial groups, or between genders, reflect situational stereotype threat. The purpose of our study was to further explore the impact of gender ST on female college students’ ability to learn and perform mathematically related tasks. Two experiments were conducted; one using a predictive learning video game paradigm (N=121) and the other using a traditional SAT math test (N=61). Subjects were divided into two main groups: a control group that did not receive ST activating instructions, and a “threatened” group which received either explicitly or implicitly threatening instructions. We anticipated that females in the threatened condition would exhibit diminished learning and performance, while performance among males would be enhanced due to stereotype lift. Our results did not support our hypothesis but did demonstrate significant gender effects. Males showed better performance than females on the video game task both before and after hearing the presentation of the ST scripts, perhaps reflecting greater video game experience and confidence. There was at most minimal ST effect identified among females, with no clear distinction between those females exposed to implicit vs. explicit threat instructions. Interestingly, males in the control group shared a similar non-significant trend, performing better than those in the threat groups, suggesting that members of this "in-group" had paradoxically underperformed, potentially in response to stress-inducing higher expectations of the positive stereotype or the presence of "out-group" female experimenters. Findings are discussed in light of possible mediators of ST.

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The Effects of Emotion on Memory for Details

Anthony Cossette
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

Humans are adept at remembering emotional stimuli with greater accuracy and detail than neutral stimuli as has been confirmed in much of the literature on memory. But prior research has not addressed the way in which viewing an emotional stimulus centered in a particular context could be recalled later in the same context even if that item is subsequently absent, and vice versa. The purpose of this experiment is to understand how the emotional content of stimuli affects the efficiency of information processing for details in the environment and the likelihood that the same information will be remembered accurately. Participants studied a series of scenes consisting of an object of emotional or neutral valence on a background and were later asked to recall which scene component (object or background) was missing from the images that they had studied before. The results confirmed our initial hypothesis that negatively-arousing scenes are remembered best regardless of whether the recall cue is the object or its surrounding periphery. Memory accuracy was slightly increased overall for when participants were attempting to recall the absent item previously seen in an emotional context. Further research is needed to demonstrate how these mnemonic advantages may change or be retained across the adult lifespan.

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An Analysis of Altruistic Behavior Predictors

Michael Cullen
Advisor: Gene Heyman

The trait altruism has been investigated in quantitative terms and in terms of individual’s behavior. This study attempts to find a connection between traditional behavioral methods and quantitative methods for determining individual altruism. We used a measure called social discounting. An individual’s social discount rate is the rate at which their willingness to share with another person falls as that person gets further in social distance. Social distance is defined by closeness between the subject and another person. It is quantified on an ordinal scale of 1-100 people. Person #N=1 on this list of 100 people is the subject’s closest friend or family member. Conversely person #N=100 is the subject’s 100th favorite person. Rachlin and Jones of Stonybrook University have established in numerous studies that as the social distance between the subject and the person they are sharing with increases the subject will share a smaller quantity of money. The rate at which the person decreases the amount they share as social distance increases is called their social discount rate. This value is represented by the variable k, which can be used as a score of a person’s generosity (Rachlin, 2006). We test the ecological validity of the social discounting measure to investigate if altruistic behavior can really be defined by this hypothetical measure. Using an online survey, we investigated individual social behavior, demographic information, volunteering behavior and social discount rate. The social discounting data collected was orderly and followed the hyperbolic shape found in previous social discounting studies (Jones, 2010). We found no relationship between an individual’s social discount rate and their volunteering behavior. There were various predictors of both volunteering and social discount rates in the social behavior and demographic data.

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Is the recognition of facial expressions affected by the method of experiment?

Marissa DiGirolamo
Advisors: Jim Russell and Sherri Widen

Certain facial expressions are claimed to be universally recognizable signals of specific emotions (Ekman 2007). Supporting evidence had participants match each face with an emotion label from a short list. Three experiments here showed that which emotion is seen in a face depends on details of method. In two studies (Study 1, N=220; Study 2, N=220), the preceding expressions influenced how participants labeled an expression. A “standard” sad face was labeled as sad by 87% of participants when preceded by disgust expressions, but as disgust by 55% when preceded by sad expressions. Perhaps as participants view facial expressions, they eliminate the emotion labels they had already chosen when encountering a novel face. This process of elimination was supported dramatically in a third study: on average 53% of participants (N=40) chose a nonsense word for a novel expression after labeling other faces with the other labels available. Thus, the modal label for a face varies with the experimental context and can even include a nonsense word. Facial expressions may not be automatic signals of specific emotions after all.

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Children's Propensity to Give in Response to Increased Need and Resources

Allyse N. Fazio
Advisors: Tasha Posid and Sara Cordes

One’s altruistic tendencies are social values most people learn to possess. Though previous developmental research has begun to examine how children learn to share, the present study extends this line of work by investigating whether there are specific contexts that may promote these prosocial tendencies in children. Two hundred and seventy-four, 3- to 11- year olds participated in an adapted version of the Dictator Game (DG), in which children were made “poor” or “rich” in stickers, and were then presented with either “less” or “more” need. Results extend findings supporting the notion that altruistic tendencies increase with age. Furthermore, data also indicates that children responded to increased need by increasing the amount of resources that they gave away, specifically when they were “rich” in that resource. Together, this data suggests that the context under which children are encouraged to share, as well as the quantity of which they are allowed to share, may interact to promote altruism across childhood.

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The Effects of Multitasking on Item Memory and Source Memory

Brianna Fitz
Advisors: Scott Slotnick

With the prevalence of technology and electronic entertainment in modern society, many people attempt to perform two tasks simultaneously, and yet research in the field of multitasking is limited. This study sought to determine whether or not multitasking is actually possible, and, if it is possible, how multitasking affects item memory and source memory (i.e., memory for context). We also aimed to assess whether there was a correlation between measures of intelligence and the ability to multitask. Based on previous findings, we hypothesized that multitasking would be possible, but would decrease memory accuracy. Specifically, a greater deficit in source memory than item memory performance was expected, because in non-multitasking experiments source memory tasks are typically more difficult. It was also predicted that those who scored higher on the measures of intelligence would also show greater accuracy in the multitasking trials. In this experiment, participants were instructed to listen to and read different words either sequentially (in the non-multitasking condition) or at the same time (in the multitasking condition). The ability to distinguish between previously presented (old) and new words was measured, along with memory for source (i.e., heard or seen). Intelligence scores were determined by administering a number of neuropsychological tests, and the participants were ranked according to their performance on a given test. The results showed that multitasking is possible, as accuracy was significantly above chance during the multitasking trials. Although there was a deficit in item memory in the multitasking condition as compared to the non-multitasking condition, there was no significant difference in source memory performance. Furthermore, there was a significant correlation between a measure of intelligence (i.e., a neuropsychological test of memory ability) and multitasking accuracy. These results suggest that multitasking can differentially affect performance in a task specific manner, and that multitasking ability varies across participants.

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On Generosity, Happiness, and Shared Enthusiasm

Alex Garinther
Advisor: Donnah Canavan

Social energy (SE) is a state generated when a person (P) and one or more others (O) form a relationship out of their shared enthusiasm in a topic or activity (X). In Social Energy Theory, “enthusiasm” can be defined as a genuine and pronounced interest, excitement, and participation in a specific target (X). Past research on social energy has shown that this unique psychological state affects one’s cognition, emotion, and behavior. In simple terms, the social energy experience can be described as one of increased zeal, connectedness, and positivism. While social energy relationships result in a wide array of intriguing effects, the generation of socio-psychological energy seems to be the engine that drives most if not all other consequences of shared enthusiasm.

In the current study, we are interested in exploring the effects of shared enthusiasm on prosocial behavior, among other variables. Using a 2 x 2 experimental design, this study manipulated participants’ experiences of shared enthusiasm (high/low) and greedy thoughts (primed/not primed). Participants were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions: (1) high shared enthusiasm, no greed (predicted as highest in social energy) (2) low shared enthusiasm, no greed, (3) high shared enthusiasm, greed, (4) low shared enthusiasm, greed (lowest in social energy). Through a series of paper and pencil questionnaires, we gathered qualitative and quantitative data (both pre and post-manipulation). Embedded within this series of questionnaires was a simulated role-playing scenario, in which participants were ultimately faced with a spontaneous money allocation decision (alongside other dependent measures). It was predicted that participants in the “high shared enthusiasm / no greed” condition would enact the most generous responses in this money allocation task, and also report greater happiness and contentment following their decisions. Both within and between-subjects methods were used in analyzing this data.

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Context Specificity of Concurrently Trained Excitation and Extinction

Gabriela Hidalgo
Advisor: Jef Lamoureux

Most researchers find that initial acquisition of a predictive relationship is context independent; that is the learned relationship will transfer to new, different contexts or situations. However, when learning the extinction of a cue-outcome relationship the context in which extinction occurs becomes specific and significant to this learning. This context-specificity is crucial to understanding emotional intelligence, relapse following behavior therapy, and other associative learning inference effects (Nelson, Lamoureux, & Leon, 2013). Rosas & Callejas-Aguilera (2006) recently suggested that extinction of one prediction may also enhance the context-specificity of new relationships learned subsequent to extinction training. The current study sought to investigate context-specificity of both extinction and subsequently-trained excitation in a predictive learning videogame task with human participants. All participants first learned an initial stimulus-outcome relationship. Context-specificity of extinction was examined by presenting this stimulus repeatedly in the absence of the outcome in the original training context, and then testing the stimulus either in the same or a different context. Test presentations of the stimulus occurred either immediately following extinction, or after a subsequent conditioning phase with a second predictive cue. The effect of extinction on subsequently-learned associations was examined by either extinguishing the first stimulus or not, then training a second stimulus before testing it in a different context. The results showed that extinction learning of the first-trained stimulus was context-specific: testing in the alternate context either before or after training a second stimulus resulted in a recovery of initial responding. Prior extinction training did not make the second-trained prediction context-specific, however: responding to the second stimulus was similar whether or not preceded by extinction. These findings suggest that the context-specificity of extinction learning observed in many laboratories is due to a relatively specific mechanism that does not generalize to the training environment as a whole.

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What’s math got to do with it? The effects of role model domain in alleviating gender stereotype threat

Tiffany House
Advisor: Andrea Heberlein

When people are made aware of a stereotype about a group with which they identify, and this has the effect of changing their behavior, this is called stereotype threat. When the stereotype is negative, it can lead to worsened performance on tasks. For example, women who are primed with their gender identity performed worse on a math test (Shih, Pittinsky, and Ambady, 1999). Stereotype threat can be alleviated through a number of interventions, including role models (McIntyre, 2003). However, existing research is inconclusive on the importance of domain specificity for those role models (in other words, does it matter if the role models are good specifically at the type of task being presented). In the present study, female participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. In the low-competence condition, participants were presented with images of stereotypically ditzy women paired with quotes from each. In the high-competence in science condition, there were images and quotes of women who have a profession in a science or math related field. In the high-competence in non-science condition, participants saw pictures and quotes of successful women from field not related to math or science. We found that prior math ability, as measured by participants’ math SAT scores, was a confounding variable: participants in the high-competence non-science condition had a significantly higher mean SAT score. This makes it difficult to test the stereotype threat effects or its alleviation. We are continuing this study to eliminate this confound with more participants.

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Sex differences in vasopressin and oxytocin receptor binding densities in the rat brain

Marisa A. Immormino and Sterling L. Karakula
Advisors: Kelly M. Dumais and Alexa H. Veenema

Oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (VP) are sexually dimorphic neuropeptides that play a regulatory role in social behavior in rats. We previously found sex differences in OT receptor (OTR) binding densities in which females showed lower OTR binding densities in forebrain regions than males. Because of the sex differences in VP peptide synthesis in the rat brain, we also hypothesized that there will be sex differences in VP receptor binding densities. Using receptor autoradiography, we measured VP V1a receptor (V1aR; most widely expressed VP receptor) binding densities in forebrain regions of male and female rats. Our results showed that females have lower V1aR binding densities in 7 out of 14 forebrain regions analyzed, including the lateral septum, anterior piriform cortex, anterior-ventral thalamic nucleus, dentate gyrus, lateral hypothalamus, tuberal lateral hypothalamus, and stigmoid hypothalamic nucleus. To further investigate the low V1aR binding densities in females, we looked at the effects of estrus cycle phase and maternal experience. Females in estrus showed significantly higher V1aR binding densities than females in non-estrus in the anterior piriform cortex and the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Maternally experienced females showed significantly higher V1aR binding densities in the lateral septum compared to virgin females. We also observed that there is essentially no overlap in the distributions of V1aR and OTR in the rat forebrain. Overall, these findings demonstrate that OTR and V1aR binding densities are lower in females than in males in the majority of forebrain regions. The functional significance of these sex differences remains to be determined.

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Friendship Quality in Young Adulthood: The Influence of Parental Attachment and Sibling Relationship Quality

Kristen Incarnato
Advisor: Karen Rosen

Do familial relationships have a significant impact on friendship in young adulthood? In this study, different aspects of parental and sibling relationships were explored with respect to peer attachment, peer relationship quality, and peer disclosure. One hundred Boston College undergraduates age 18-22 participated in this study and completed the following questionnaires: (a) Adult Sibling Relationship Questionnaire, (b) Quality of Relationships Inventory (for sibling and peer relations), (c) Inventory of Parental and Peer Attachment (parental attachment and peer attachment), and (d) Distress Disclosure Index (with regards to friendship). With an understanding of the importance of both parental attachment and sibling relationship quality in relation to friendship, this research set out to discover which aspects of parental and sibling relationships accounted for the variance in young adult friendships. Through regression analysis it was found that positive aspects of sibling relationships (warmth, depth, support), but not parental attachment, were more highly related to peer attachment. These findings suggest the importance of sibling relationship quality for social interactions of individuals with others outside of the family.

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How Does Drawing Repair Mood? Managing Affect through Drawing

Ciara James
Advisor: Jennifer Drake and Ellen Winner

This study examined the effects of drawing on positive and negative affect by comparing different emotion regulation strategies. Participants indicated their mood by completing the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS). They then watched a film clip, serving as a negative mood induction, and were randomly assigned to one of four drawing conditions: positive memory, distraction, cognitive reappraisal, or expressive drawing. The positive memory and distraction conditions directed attention away from the negative mood induction, either through the drawing of a positive memory or of a neutral object. The cognitive reappraisal condition allowed participants to find positive aspects of the events in the negative mood induction, while the expressive drawing condition allowed participants to express their feelings in reaction to the negative mood induction. The PANAS was again completed before and after the drawing activities. I hypothesized that the positive memory condition would be the most effective emotion regulation strategy, as it would serve as a distraction from the negative mood induction and would also focus the attention of the participants on a happy memory or event. Partial support for the hypothesis was found: both the positive memory and distraction conditions had lower negative affect after the drawing activity than the cognitive reappraisal condition. The expressive drawing condition did not differ significantly in negative affect after drawing than the other conditions. There was no significant difference in positive affect after the drawing activity across the four conditions. These findings indicate that drawing a positive memory or something distracting is more effective in improving mood than using drawing as a form of cognitive reappraisal.

purc13_21

Determining an Individual's Utility Function and Predicting the Outcome of Bets

Matt Johnson
Advisor: Gene Heyman

We all value money in different ways. For example, a poor person may value a $1 gain subjectively more than a rich person would. The present study attempts to use this idea of diminishing marginal utility and build upon past economists and psychologists by graphing an individual’s utility function, and relating it to external variables like impulsiveness, financial well-being, and demographic information. This differs from previous research in that the analysis will include individual, not aggregate, utility functions. In addition to this, bets were hypothesized to be a way to test whether one’s utility function predicted their willingness to accept a hypothetical gamble; something that had not been done previously.

Individual utility functions were determined through magnitude estimation and multiple-choice procedures, and then correlated with factors from the UPPS Impulsiveness Survey, a new financial status survey, and basic demographic information. Both utility functions’ parameters were best fit by a power function, albeit different ones. This fits with previous psychophysical and economic research showing money and utility to be related via a power function. However, many economists and psychologists believe we have only one utility function to value money, but this study’s findings suggest multiple, context-dependent utility functions. Bets were surprisingly not significantly correlated to any of the utility function parameters, but were correlated with demographic and financial status factors. These factors were used in a multiple regression to predict the number of bets taken by an individual. Gender has the greatest impact on the number of bets a subject would take, with males taking more bets on average than females. Future research may more deeply examine how one’s utility function changes based on context, and use this to better predict behavior.

purc13_22

Scene stealers: The impact of object size on the perceived scale of visual environments

Emilie Josephs
Advisor: Sean MacEvoy

Traditional views posit that scene recognition draws on two information streams, one processing the identity of objects and the other computing the spatial features of the scene, which generate parallel hypotheses about scene identity that are compared to generate a final perceptual decision. However, recent work from our lab (Linsley and MacEvoy, under review) indicates that these information streams converge much earlier, with diagnostic objects capable of biasing the encoded spatial properties of scenes towards the average values associated with each scene’s category. Specifically, adaptation to scenes with extreme spatial properties produces smaller negative aftereffects in the perceived spatial properties of “average” scenes when adapting scenes have diagnostic objects in them. Linsley and MacEvoy have suggested of a mechanism by which diagnostic objects “normalize” the encoded spatial properties of scenes. In this view, scene-identity hypotheses generated solely on the basis of the spatial-parameters may sometimes be misleading, as rooms in different categories might have overlapping ranges of spaciousness. The objects in the scenes would help resolve this by bringing their encoded spaciousness in line with the average spatial parameters associated their particular category, facilitating scene recognition. An alternative interpretation, however, is that the diminished aftereffects after adaptation to scenes with objects visible reflects a conflict between adaptation to the scenes’ spatial parameters and adaptation to the size of the objects contained in the scenes. Experiment 1 shows that adaptation to objects of varying size produces aftereffects in the perceived spatial properties of scenes in the opposite direction than predicted by the conflicting-adaptation interpretation. Experiment 2 explores how these aftereffects vary with the strength of associations between objects and scenes. In summary, the results of this study offer support for the hypotheses that diagnostic objects exert a normalizing effect of scenes’ spatial properties, and demonstrate that objects carry a signal corresponding to the spatial properties of their associated scenes.

purc13_23

Fear-cue induced inhibition of eating: Activation of brainstem nuclei

Meghana Kuthyar
Advisors: Gorica Petrovich and Christina Reppucci

We are interested in exploring the instances in which environmental controls can override physiologic or homeostatic cues, and additionally the areas of the brain that might be implicated in such behavioral effects. For this study, we used a paradigm for fear-cue induced inhibition of feeding in male and female rats. Male and female rats were trained in alternating appetitive (where all rats were allowed to consume pellets) and aversive sessions (where experimental rats received tone-shock pairings, and control rats received only tones). Food-deprived rats were then tested for food consumption during presentations of the previously conditioned aversive tone cue. Male rats ate more than female rats throughout all three tests. During the first test, experimental groups of both sexes ate less than the control groups. Males extinguished this inhibition of eating by the second test, but females continued to inhibit eating throughout all three tests. There were no sex differences in the expression of freezing behavior; experimental rats froze more than control groups during the first test, and this effect was extinguished by the second test. Rats were then sacrificed and their brains were analyzed. We looked specifically at Fos-expression in both the rostral and caudal parts of the NTS (nucleus of the solitary tract) and DMX (dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve) in the brainstem. We found that during Test 3 male rats had more Fos-positive neurons in the total brainstem regions analyzed compared to female rats. Additionally, female control rats had more Fos-positive neurons in the caudal NTS than female experimental rats. The data from this study support our hypotheses that there are distinct activation patterns in the brainstem during the extinguishing of inhibition of eating, and that there are sex differences in these activation patterns.

purc13_24

The effect of shape familiarity on object-based attention

Molly LaPoint
Advisor: Sean MacEvoy

Humans can pay attention both to particular locations in space (“space-based attention”) and to specific objects (“object-based attention”). The goal of this study was to understand the role of object familiarity and complexity in the control of object-based attention. We used a well-known manifestation of object-based attention known as same-object advantage (SOA) to test this. In SOA, participants are faster at detecting a target event that takes place in a cued object than one that takes place in an uncued object, even when the distance between cue and target is kept fixed. To control shape familiarity, objects in the current study were randomly-generated irregular polygons known as Attneave shapes. Experiment 1 showed that SOA exists for these irregular shapes, even when participants are unfamiliar with them. In Experiment 2, participants first underwent training designed to familiarize them with a subset of the Attneave shapes used in Experiment 1. Again there was a significant SOA. If object-based attention is dependent upon object familiarity, we hypothesized that SOA, measured in terms of reaction time, should be greater in Experiment 2 than Experiment 1. Although there was a numerical increase in the reaction time signature of SOA in Experiment 2, this effect was not significant. While this does not strictly support our hypothesis, several aspects of this study suggest that object familiarity does play some role in mediating object-based attention.

purc13_25

Investigating Attitudes toward Criminal Offenders: Stigma and its Implications

Gabrielle Lewine
Advisors: James Dungan and Liane Young

Considering the toll that stigma takes on criminals and ex-offenders after their encounter with the U.S. justice system, there has been surprisingly little research dedicated to understanding the factors that elicit, increase, and co-vary with stigmatization. These exploratory studies investigated how two factors influenced stigma: the type of crime committed and how the crime was punished. Participants judged criminal scenarios involving harm (e.g. assault) or purity (e.g. possessing child pornography) violations. In Study 1, we explored whether emotional judgments and stigmatization of criminals would differ pre- versus post-incarceration. We discovered a significant moral violation x temporal condition interaction for several negative judgments, such that harm violators were judged more harshly pre-incarceration than post-incarceration, while purity violators were judged more harshly post-incarceration. This finding supports the idea that the justice system provides an appropriate apparatus for redeeming harm violations, whereas it does little to assuage the negative judgments and stigma associated with purity violations. Study 2 investigated the effect of varying the punishment assigned to the criminals for their crime: we explored private punishments (e.g. prison sentence) and public punishments (e.g. community service). This analysis revealed a significant moral violation x punishment interaction on the level of stigmatization. The stigma assigned after private punishments was similar between harm and purity violations, while the public punishments showed more of a disparity: purity crimes punished in the public sphere were significantly more stigmatized than harm crimes punished in the same way. This result supports the idea that purity violators are seen as more socially contagious, and thus serving their punishment in public is seen as more threatening to the community. Taken together, these findings suggest that both the type of crime committed and its punishment are salient factors in predicting stigmatization.

purc13_26

Can Categorical and Numerical Judgments be Swayed by Visual Processing Style?

Amy Lipton
Advisor: Sara Cordes

Previous research indicates that global and local processing mechanisms are relevant to domain general processes like memory, motivation, and higher-order cognitive processes like judgments of similarity. Perceptual processing style and its effect on two domains of similarity judgments were evaluated in the context of a forced choice matching task. In the first domain of judgments, categorical matches were pitted against perceptual matches. In the second domain, categorical matches were pitted against numerical matches. Adults used categorical likeness, not perceptual likeness or numerical likeness, to determine similarity. Although global or local processing styles did not influence their similarity judgments, variables such as age and sex were identified as relevant factors in the relation. These findings are an important first step in investigating the extent to which visual processing can influence cognitive processes.

purc13_27

The Effects of Verbal Labels on Numerical Discrimination in Infancy

Jacqueline Mendoza
Advisor: Sara Cordes

From a very young age, infants use verbal cues to assist them in forming categories about a variety of different things. For example, when compared to tones, infants used verbal labels to facilitate categorization of objects (Balaban & Waxman, 1997), however it is unknown whether verbal labels have the same effect on numerical discrimination. Although 10- and 11-month olds are able to discriminate small sets (2 versus 3), evidence suggests that they are able to do so only when number is confounded with continuous quantity (e.g. element area, set density, etc.; Feigenson et al., 2002; Xu, 2003). This study investigated whether supplemental verbal information assisted infants in discriminating only number (2-dot vs. 3-dot arrays) when the cumulative area and density of elements in the sets were controlled for. Using two different experimental paradigms (habituation and familiarization), we found that verbal information did not lead to infants discriminating the number of elements in an array. These results may indicate that infants were unable to discriminate sets of 2 from 3, despite hearing verbal labels associated with the sets, suggesting that either preverbal infants are unable to associate words with sets of objects (as opposed to single objects), and/or the task of discriminating sets of 2 from 3 is too difficult for infants of this age, despite additional help. 

purc13_28

Social novelty-seeking: The role of oxytocin in the nucleus accumbens

Jazmin Mogavero
Advisor: Caroline J. Smith and Alexa H. Veenema

The drive to approach and explore novel conspecifics is crucial for the facilitation of appropriate social interactions. This social novelty-seeking is impaired in psychopathologies, such as autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia. However, it is unclear how social novelty-seeking is regulated. We hypothesized that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) may facilitate social novelty-seeking by acting on the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) because 1) OT facilitates pro-social behaviors and 2) the nucleus accumbens is a brain region involved in motivational behaviors. We used a newly developed social novelty-preference test in which we showed that juvenile male rats have a natural preference to investigate a novel rat rather than a familiar (cage-mate) rat. We first showed that the OT receptor (OTR) is highly expressed in the NAcc core region in juvenile male rats. We then examined the effects of acute pharmacological manipulations of the OT-NAcc system on social novelty-preference. We demonstrated that a blockade of OTR in the NAcc core region reduced social novelty-preference in juvenile male rats. This finding suggests that OT facilitates social novelty-preference by acting on the NAcc. This knowledge may advance our understanding of the neural substrates modulating normal and impaired social novelty-seeking in humans.

purc13_29

Fear-cue induced inhibition of eating: Activation of hypothalamic orexin neurons

Jordan Newmark
Advisor: Gorica Petrovich and Christina Reppucci

Inhibition of eating is an adaptive biological response to fear, however this response can become maladaptive when chronic, such as in eating disorders. We sought to understand the neurobiological basis for the phenomenon in which environmental cues override physiological cues to influence the behavioral control of feeding. To examine these mechanisms, we utilized an animal model for fear-cue induced inhibition of eating. After learning to associate a tone with foot-shocks, rats exhibited robust inhibition of eating when presented with the tone alone despite acute food deprivation. When examining sex differences between male and female rats, we observed that female rats that had received tone-shock pairings showed inhibition of eating across all test days compared to control females, whereas male rats that had received tone-shock pairings exhibited inhibition of eating the first test day compared to male controls; however, this inhibition was extinguished on subsequent test days. In order to examine the neurobiological basis of these sex differences, we looked at activation of neurons that produce orexin (ORX) during the final test day. ORX is a neuropeptide that stimulates eating and is also involved in arousal, depending on the area it is expressed within the lateral hypothalamus (LHA). Data analysis revealed that female rats exhibited greater recruitment of ORX neurons in the LHA than male rats, and that no difference in ORX activation existed between control and experimental groups of either sex. Since ORX activation in the LHA typically results in increased eating, these results were unexpected but may be indicative that ORX’s role in arousal may be involved in sex differences in fear-cue induced inhibition of eating and should be further investigated to provide more conclusive results that could possibly contribute information on the neurobiological origins of eating disorders.

purc13_30

Spot the Difference: The relationship between working memory and mental rotation ability

Rachel Newmiller
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

Mental rotation is the cognitive process of imagining an object turning in space. How the representation of the object is stored and manipulated during this process has been a topic of interest. Working memory (WM) contains both an object subsystem (for information encoding color and form) and a spatial subsystem (for information encoding location and orientation); the former has been shown to be involved in the mental rotation of letters (Hyun & Luck, 2007). Since letters are inherently two-dimensional, this study aims to determine which subsystem of WM is more involved in the mental rotation of three-dimensional shapes. Participants were presented with three computer-based tasks: a Color WM Task and a Location WM Task, adapted from Hyun & Luck (2007), used to probe the object and spatial subsystems, respectively, and a Mental Rotation Task, adapted from Vandenberg and Kuse (1978), used to measure this spatial ability. Overall performance on the Location WM Task was significantly correlated with performance on the Mental Rotation Task; this correlation was significantly stronger than the correlation between overall performance on the Color WM Task and performance on the Mental Rotation Task. Additionally, within the Location WM Task, performance on non-match trials (where participants were challenged to identify a change in location between stimuli) was also significantly correlated with mental rotation ability. Thus, we provide evidence that the mental rotation of three-dimensional shapes involves the spatial subsystem of WM to a greater extent than the object subsystem, while discussing the possibility that the level of discrimination and/or capacity of the spatial subsystem needed to accurately identify changes in location may allow for an improved ability to classify three-dimensional shapes as being identical to or different from one another.

purc13_31

Ambivalence in Delay Discounting, Social Discounting, and Moral Dilemmas

Natalia Nincevic
Advisor: Gene Heyman

The present research examines attitudinal ambivalence in individuals’ delay discounting behaviors, social discounting behaviors, and moral dilemma decisions. Participants included 54 Boston College undergraduate students. Subjects participated in three tasks: a delay discounting task, a written social discounting task, and a moral dilemma assignment. Pairwise correlations were conducted between the delay discounting and social discounting parameters (k and s, respectively). Research found s and the undiscounted value of both the delay reward and the social reward (A and V, respectively) to be correlated. During all three tasks, participants were strategically prompted to report both their positive reactions and negative reactions towards their decisions. The researcher quantified these valence responses using the Similarity-Intensity Model (Thompson et al. 1995) to determine the intensity of participants’ ambivalence. Paired t-tests determined whether mean differences in ambivalence scores between the first immediate reward options and the crossover values for given delays (D) and social distances (N) were statistically significant. The mean difference in ambivalence scores between the first immediate reward option and the crossover value for D = 1 week were not significant, suggesting participants, on average, did not experience changes in ambivalence. The mean difference in computed ambivalence scores between the first immediate reward option and the crossover value for the 1 year delay were highly significant, suggesting participants, on average, experienced greater ambivalence as they approached the point where they preferred the smaller, immediate reward over the fixed, delayed reward. The mean differences for N=1, N=10, and N=100 were statistically significant, suggesting social discounting questions may produce ambivalent reactions, regardless of social distance. All four adaptations of the moral trolley dilemma produced mean computed ambivalence between 1.20 and 1.71, suggesting participants, on average, experienced ambivalence. Paired t-tests of mean differences in ambivalence scores found statistically significant mean differences between Dilemma 2 and Dilemma 3 and between Dilemma 2 and Dilemma 4. Together, these findings suggest people experience ambivalence as a function of their delay, but not social, discounting behaviors.

purc13_32

Differentiating Theory of Mind from Emotional Facial Expression Recognition Through Training

Alexandra Pierce
Advisor: Hiram Brownell

Previous evidence indicates that various clinical populations have difficulty in
Theory of Mind tasks, including those suffering from autism, schizophrenia, and affective disorders. The goals of this research were to determine whether Theory of Mind could be trained in a normal adult population, whether this training would generalize to different modalities of Theory of Mind, and whether Theory of Mind dissociates from basic emotion recognition. I hypothesized that after completing a training session using various stimuli designed to relate to a visual Theory of Mind evaluation, participants would demonstrate decreased reaction time when presented with various modalities of stimulus items measuring Theory of Mind, but would not improve on basic emotion recognition tasks. The training module made use of visual Theory of Mind stimuli showing varying amounts of the face at different presentation durations to encourage participants to focus on informative areas of facial expression in order to gain important information about complicated mental and emotional states of others. Results indicate that normal populations can be trained in Theory of Mind and that training will generalize from the visual to the auditory modality. Overall, participants improved in reaction time on each of three measures – tests of visual Theory of Mind, basic emotion recognition, and auditory Theory of Mind – suggesting that there may be a trainable underlying social ability. As a whole, participants were able to complete all three tasks faster, but no more accurately, following the training procedure. However, those participants who initially had poorer performance showed the most dramatic improvement. This might suggest that such a training module is most effective for individuals with slower reaction time or poorer accuracy initially. This may indicate the potential effectiveness of a similar training procedure for impaired patient populations.

purc13_33

The Effects of Beliefs about Emotion Utility on Preferences, Feelings, and Behavior

Emily Rhodes
Advisor: Maya Tamir

I sought to test whether the expected utility of anger determines how angry people want to feel, how angry they actually feel, and how they behave, as a result. To manipulate the expected utility of anger, participants in the anger = useful condition read bogus testimonials that were presumably provided by prior participants, implying the potential usefulness of anger for an important task. Control participants read testimonials that did not refer to the utility of anger. To assess how participants wanted to feel after the manipulation, participants selected music clips to listen to before completing an important task. Participants could choose from angry music clips, calm music clips, or neutral music clips. Results confirmed my hypothesis that participants who expected anger to be useful selected significantly more angry music clips than participants in the control condition. To test whether the anticipated utility of anger influenced actual anger experience, I examined participant’s ratings of anger both before and after listening to music. The results were also consistent with my hypothesis, showing that participants in the anger-useful condition became angrier after listening to the music they selected, whereas this was not the case for participants in the control condition.

Finally, to assess possible effects on behavior, participants completed a gambling task. Since anger is known to decrease risk aversion, I was expecting participants in the anger-condition to take more risks in the gambling task. As expected, these participants performed poorly and lost more money than participants in the control condition.

purc13_34

The Effect of Emotion and Autistic Traits on Time Processing in Adults

Joseph Schade
Advisors: Laura Young and Sara Cordes

This study examines how emotion and autistic traits intersect in perception of millisecond duration. The first aspect of the study will investigate how autistic traits factor into time perception in a neutral time perception task since current research on autistic individual’s time perception abilities on neutral tasks has revealed mixed results. Secondly, based on findings of emotional processing differences in autistic individuals, the study will examine if the addition of emotional information in the original timing task will alter time perception differently for individuals with high versus low autistic traits. In the current study, fifty-five undergraduate participants completed the Autism-spectrum Quotient (AQ) to assess their autistic-like traits with respect to social skills, attention switching, attention to detail, communication, and imagination. Subsequently, the participants completed a temporal bisection task. In this task individuals learned two visual anchor durations of 400 and 1600 milliseconds. In the baseline trials five novel logarithmically-spaced durations between the two anchors were displayed. Participants had to decide if the value was closer to the ‘small’ or ‘large’ anchor duration. The baseline trials were followed by emotion trials where a neutral, happy, or angry face was presented for 400 milliseconds prior to the target duration. Again, participants had to decide to which anchor value the target duration was closest. The study revealed a significant overestimation of time in participants high in the autistic trait “communication problems” (p=.03) in the baseline (no faces) condition, and a trend toward overestimation for those high in the overall AQ score and most other AQ subscales. No main effect of emotion was found on participants’ ability to process time, although participants low in the AQ subscale “attention to detail” overestimated time after presentation of the neutral and happy faces relative to the baseline condition.

purc13_35

Training to Shift a Universal Bias—Intentionality Assignment

Luke Silveira
Advisor: Hiram Brownell

The tendency of individuals to assign intentionality for the bad side-effects of a particular agent’s actions and discount intentionality for the good side-effects of a particular agent’s actions is widely demonstrated as a universal bias. The goal of this experiment was to determine whether positive textual feedback, coupled with directed consideration of an alternative perspective, could be employed to shift this candidate bias and whether the modified perspective would persist over time. Training involved participants reading through a series of vignettes, judging whether particular actions could be regarded as intentional or unintentional, and receiving textual feedback about the accuracy of their judgments. Training also required that participants provide a written rationale for the judgment deemed correct within the context of the study, thereby necessitating that participants actively consider an alternative perspective throughout the duration of the training. Three sequential studies were successful in leading participants to significantly alter their response patterns to coincide with the perspective being trained. Participants in Study I and Study IIA were being trained to regard all side-effects of an agent’s action, whether bad or good, as unintentional as long as they were not the driving motivational force for that agent’s action. By contrast, in order to affirm the generalizability of the training’s effectiveness, participants in Study IIB were being trained to regard all side-effects, good or bad, as intentional as long as the described agent was aware of the side-effect prior to making his or her decision. The generation of such an effective training protocol to shift an individual’s perspective is broadly appealing for its potential application to improving existing therapeutic measures for assisting individuals with cognitive impairments, such as stroke or brain injured patients suffering from communication deficits.

purc13_36

The Neural Correlates for Predicting Actions Using Social vs. Nonsocial Information

Michael Stepanovic
Advisors: James Dungan and Liane Young

Humans are remarkable at making sense of the unpredictable world around them. One way to make sense of a person’s actions is to appeal to their beliefs and desires. Previous work has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify a mentalizing network – a set of brain regions recruited when reasoning about beliefs (Saxe & Kanwisher, 2003). However, we make many types of predictions – about social as well as nonsocial situations (e.g. what the weather will be like), and from different sources of information (e.g. past behavior versus past desires). The current study uses fMRI to investigate what brain regions are recruited when making predictions based on social and nonsocial information. Ten participants read stories containing either nonsocial information about places/objects, or social information about people. Stories containing social information were divided into two types: depicting (1) people’s behavior/actions or (2) their beliefs/desires. For each story, participants used the information provided to predict some future outcome. Participants were then shown an actual outcome to the story that was either expected or unexpected, based on the information provided. We observed significantly greater brain activity in the mentalizing network when reading stories about social versus nonsocial information. We also observed greater activity in the mentalizing network for unexpected versus expected outcomes, particularly when making predictions about a person’s future social behavior. In addition, for one key region in the mentalizing network, the right temporo-parietal junction, the magnitude of the difference in activity during unexpected versus expected outcomes correlated significantly with participants’ psychometric autism quotient scores (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001). These results demonstrate important differences, across brain regions and individuals, in how the mentalizing network is recruited when predicting future actions.

purc13_37

College students' experience-based understanding of love

Nicole Trauffer
Advisors: Sherri Widen and Jim Russell

Love has often been described as unconditional and unwavering, but is that really how people view love? Or does love change based on other emotions? Does our understanding of love change over time based on our experience of love? In the current study, undergraduates were asked to rate how much an undergraduate girl loved her mother, best friend, boyfriend, and classmate when they made her happy, grateful, sad, or angry. Their answers were then compared to their responses to a questionnaire about their own experiences in relationships. Participants’ ratings of love were not consistent with the assumption that love is unconditional. In attributing love, participants took into account both the emotion of the protagonist and her relationship with the antagonist. In addition, differences between participants were found based on previous experience. Undergraduates rated the girl as being more consistently loving toward her mother if they were closer to their parent and as being more consistently loving toward best friend if they had a close friend. Interestingly, previous romantic relationship experience was not correlated to participants’ rating of the stories.

purc13_38

How Doctors can be Good Listeners: Effects on Medical Memory of Attending to Different Aspects of Patients’ Minds

Nick Vissicchio
Advisor: Andrea Heberlein

The purpose of this study was to determine the least cognitively taxing way for doctors to empathize with their patients. Empathy is the capacity to experience affective states more congruent with another person’s situation than one’s own (Jenkins et al,. 2011). In this study, two types of empathy were explored: empathy for feelings, which is the definition above, and empathy for goals, which is understanding a person’s ability to make plans and have morals. A previous study done by Ford (2008) found that people who focused on goals remembered more medical details about their patients than people who focused on feelings. This was the main hypothesis of the current experiment.

Participants read one of three paragraphs listing the benefits of focusing on goals, feelings, or basic biographical information (control). They then watched a slideshow with ten simulated patients who talked about their medical issues. Surprise free recall and cued recall questionnaires were administered to test their memory for these patients. Two one-way ANOVAs were carried out to determine if there was a significant difference between groups in the number of medical details recalled, and also the accuracy of the medical details recalled. Both ANOVAs did not yield a significant result (p>.05)

We still do not know the best way for doctors to empathize with their patients. Further studies aimed at addressing this problem should be sure to make a clear distinction between the different types of medical empathy being studied. Other studies should focus on this issue from a patient’s perspective rather than a doctor’s perspective. This will determine if the techniques deemed to be the least costly for doctors are actually effective from a patient’s point of view.

purc13_39

The Power of Community for College Women

Allison White
Advisors: Ellen Winner and Belle Liang

Although women have been achieving at higher levels academically, have higher GPAs, and attend college at higher rates than men, women still experience high rates of depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses, stress, and other negative emotional outcomes. Studies on the Relational Cultural Model have shown that relationships and relational health are particularly salient to female development and may play an integral role in their experiences of stress. There is little literature, however, on how relational health, emotional well-being, and stress interact to explain why adolescent girls are performing well in school but have poor emotional outcomes. In the present study, which is part of a larger study called “21st Century Athenas: Aligning Achievement and Well-Being,” eleven qualitative interviews with college women at a mid-size university in the Northeast were analyzed using a thematic, holistic approach. Results revealed that the primary sources of stress for female college seniors included finding a job and passion, academic competition, social pressure, body image concerns, and expectations from oneself and parents. The primary coping mechanisms used by these women were self-care, avoidance, and help and support seeking. By and large, relationships and relational health had significant impacts on the experiences of stress and coping among college women, and the relationship that impacted the well-being of college women the most was community relationships, suggesting that having a sense of belonging to the greater community is a salient need for college women. Implications for future research and initiatives for student services and college counseling centers are discussed.

purc13_40

Underestimating the Opponent’s Big Lead in Political Polls

Mackenna Woodring
Advisors: Laura Young and Sara Cordes

This study examined how the preferences and expectations that individuals displayed in respect to the presidential election of 2012 biased their responses to numerical processing tasks. Participants completed a survey that contained questions about their political affiliations and their expectations about the upcoming election. Participants were then asked a series of mental math questions involving simulated political polls from unnamed counties in the US that gave information about presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Participants were asked to estimate how many people out of a given random sample would vote for Obama or Romney based on the percentages provided in the polls. The polls placed one candidate ahead of the other by either a sizable 22-point margin or a slight 4-point margin. Results showed that for both Romney and Obama supporters, when the opposing candidate was presented as 22 points ahead in the polls, they significantly underestimated the amount of votes the opponent would receive. When the opposing candidate was presented a mere 4 points ahead in the polls, however, Romney and Obama supporters only slightly, but not significantly, underestimated the support of the opponent. These results, showing motivated numerical cognition in politics, suggest that a person’s preferences and expectations about an election, combined with the serious threat that their preferred candidate will lose, can cause them to make mathematical errors that show a downplaying of the support of their opponent.

purc13_41

Social play behavior in rats: The role of oxytocin in the nucleus accumbens

Christine Wu and Jazmin Mogavero
Advisors: Remco Bredewold and Alexa H. Veenema

Social play in juveniles is a highly rewarding activity and is important for the normal development of social and emotional skills in humans and animals. However, deficits in social play are observed in those with developmental neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism. Although it is known that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) modulates a variety of adult social behaviors and has been implicated in these disorders, the role of OT in juvenile social play is unknown. The aim of the study was to determine the role of OT in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) in the regulation of social play in juvenile male rats. The NAcc is part of the brain reward system and expresses the OT receptor (OTR; see poster by Jazmin Mogavero). Social play was measured by exposing the single-housed experimental rat in its home cage to an age- and sex-matched novel rat for 10 min. We demonstrated that bilateral injections of the specific OTR antagonist (OTR-A) into the NAcc reduced the duration of social play and the number of pins. This effect seems brain region specific because application of OTR-A into the anterior olfactory nucleus, an area close to the NAcc and expressing the OTR, did not alter social play behaviors. Our data indicate that OT in the NAcc is an important regulator of social play behavior in juvenile male rats. These findings advance our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying normal and impaired social play behavior.

purc13_42

What Face Do Adults Match with Disgust Elicitors? Comparing the standard disgust face and the sick face

Anne Yoder
Advisors: Sherri Widen and Jim Russell

The emotion of disgust can be expressed with different facial expressions in a variety of different contexts. The widely accepted disgust face involves a “nose scrunch”, but there are other facial expressions that have been hypothesized to convey disgust in particular situations. For example, a “sick face” (where the poser looks like he/she might vomit) is also strongly associated with disgust. This study (N= 44) looked at how participants matched sadness, standard disgust, and sick facial expressions to stories that conveyed sadness, anger, and different elicitors of disgust. Relative to the standard disgust expression, the sick face was significantly more often associated with disgust stories involving death, certain animals, hygiene, food, body products, body envelope violations, and sex. The standard disgust expression was significantly more often associated with anger and moral disgust stories. The sadness stories were significantly more often associated with the sadness stories. These results suggest that when an individual attributes disgust to another on the basis of that person’s facial expression, there are various components of the facial expression that serve as cues for disgust but not as a universal signal. Furthermore, the situational context may be more relevant to some facial cues for disgust than for other emotions.

purc13_43

Fear-cue induced inhibition of eating: Activation of the central nucleus of the amygdala

Jack Young
Advisors: Gorica Petrovich and Christina Reppucci

Previously, our lab has shown that food-deprived male and female rats will inhibit food consumption when presented with a conditioned stimulus (CS) that signals danger (e.g. a tone previously paired with footshocks). Additionally, we have shown that this effect persists much longer in females than in males. The current experiment is part of a larger study that has two aims: 1) delineate the brain areas associated with fear-cue induced anorexia and 2) determine whether there are sex-differences in brain activation patterns. Rats were trained in alternating appetitive and aversive sessions that were conducted in two distinct contexts. During appetitive sessions, food-deprived rats were trained to consume food pellets. Aversive sessions took place under sated conditions, and half of the rats (experimental groups) received a total of four electric footshocks each signaled by a tone, while the other half of the rats (control groups) received no shocks but the same number of tones. After training completion, food-deprived rats were tested in three food consumption tests which took place in the appetitive context. The CS (tone) was presented 4 times during each 10min test, but no footshocks were administered. Female rats in the experimental group significantly inhibited food intake compared to female rats in the control group during all three tests, while experimental males only inhibited intake compared to control males during the first test. Following the third consumption test, rats were sacrificed and brain tissue processed to assess activation patterns within the central nucleus of the amygdala (CEA) because our lab had previously shown that lesions of the CEA eliminate fear-cue inhibition of eating. Brain tissue was immunohistochemically stained for cFos as an indirect measure of neural activity during the final food consumption test.

purc13_44