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Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference

purc 2009

Each spring, Psychology undergrads present their research at a conference held at Boston College called the Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference. PURC was held May 5, 2009 in the McGuinn Fifth Floor Lounge.

At the start of the event, Professor Michael Moore presented Jenny Wong with the 2009 Peter Gray Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Psychology: 

PURC1

Book of Abstracts for PURC 2009

Table of Contents

Letter from the Undergraduate Research Conference Director

Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience

Effects of Art-making and Writing on Mood
The Effects of Acting on Memory and Theory of Mind
Music and Mathematics: An Investigation into the Claimed Link
Mental Imagery in 2D and 3D Visual Artists
The Neural Systems that Respond to Emotional Stimuli with Phylogenetic and Ontogenetic Significance
Sleep’s Facilitation of Emotional Memory: Behavioral and EEG Evidence
Age-Related Effects of Sleep on Emotional Memory
The Effects of Emotion on Memory for Spatial Location and Temporal Order
Is there an Association between Self-Rated Memory and our Relationship to Physical and Mental Calendars?
Characterizing Memory Distortions as a Function of Time and Emotionality
Exploring the Mind of the Emerald Tiger: Shadowing Ireland’s First Neuropsychologist
The Effect of Age on the Detection of Valenced Words
The Effect of Emotion and Self-Referencing on Memory
Can Young and Older Adults Be Directed to Forget Emotional Words?
The Effect of Music in Film on Arousal and Memory
Prosody in Emotion and Syntax

Behavioral Neuroscience

Delaying Reward Delivery Prevents the Formation of Habitual Responding

Developmental Psychology

Perceptual Skills in Low-Functioning Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Emotion Regulation and Coping Strategies in Young Children
Older Siblings’ Attachment to Mother and Father and its Association with Prosocial Behaviors in Sibling Interaction

Social and Personality Psychology

Body Posture and Contextual Information Stronger Cues to Emotion than Facial Expression
The Effect of Response Format on Participants’ Recognition of Emotion from Facial Expression
The Psychological Construction of Pride
The Deconstruction of Emotional Experience
Individual Differences in Social Learning
Emotion Language and Visual Awareness of Emotional Faces
What Do People Want to Feel? Emotion Regulation as a Function of Utility
Contextual Variation of Pleasure in Emotion
Attitudes Toward Anger and Anger Reactivity
Energy in Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Letter from the Undergraduate Research Conference Director

April 25, 2009

Dear Conference Participants,

The Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference at Boston College is a remarkable event. This meeting brings together a talented and accomplished group of psychology majors who have completed outstanding research projects. Their high level of scholarship can be seen in these abstracts, their theses, and their poster presentations at the conference.

Preparation for the conference was largely the work of the students. Others also played significant roles in getting the job done. Dr. Christina Leclerc and Jill Waring are PURC Committee members who brought to conference preparation the highest standards of professionalism. They provided the perfect blend of scholarship and enthusiasm for the enrichment of abstracts and implementation of logistics. Mike Ring of the Psychology Department staff contributed significantly to all aspects of the conference enterprise, including a superb job of editing and laying out this brochure.

Finally, to the student scholars, I say -- you are the heart and soul of the conference and, on behalf of the Psychology Department, I thank you, congratulate you, and wish you the best of good fortune in what promises to be a bright professional future.

Joseph J. Tecce
Coordinator
Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference

Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience

Effects of Art-making and Writing on Mood

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Katelyn Coleman
Advisor: Ellen Winner

We examined three hypotheses concerning the effects of art making on mood:
(1) disengagement is a more effective cognitive strategy for mood improvement than is venting; (2) drawing should lead to a greater positive change in mood valence than writing; and (3) having a lasting, tangible product after art-making should lead to more positive mood valence rather than participating in the process with no final product.

Eighty college undergraduates were shown a sad film clip that caused a decrease in mood valence. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: writing (participants were instructed to write about anything they wanted), drawing-permanent (participants were instructed to draw anything they wanted), drawing-temporary (participants were instructed to draw anything they wanted on dry-erase boards, which they were asked to erase immediately upon completion), or drawing-process (participants were instructed to draw anything they wanted on a board on which marks that were made disappeared shortly after being made). Participants rated their mood valence and arousal after this task and reported whether they felt that they had used the drawing or writing task to improve their mood through either venting their negative feelings or disengaging from their negative feelings. Valence became more positive in all conditions after the drawing and writing interventions. Change in valence was significantly greater in the drawing-permanent than the writing condition. There were no differences in valence change across the three drawing conditions. Participants who disengaged did not show any greater mood improvement than participants who vented. There were no effects on mood arousal. Findings show that drawing has a greater immediate positive effect on mood valence than does writing, drawing improves mood valence regardless of whether a concrete product exists after completion, and disengagement and venting are comparably effective mood improvement strategies.

Keywords: art making, short-term mood repair, venting, disengagement, writing

The Effects of Acting on Memory and Theory of Mind

Senior Thesis
Jessica A. DeLuca
Advisor: Ellen Winner

This study had two goals: (1) to investigate why previous research has shown that acting out a text dramatically results in greater memory retention than reading the same text silently; and (2) to determine whether acting out a text leads to greater understanding of the character’s mental states (theory of mind) and greater empathy for the character than reading the text silently. A total of 40 undergraduate participants were given either Richard III’s tent monologue from Shakespeare’s Richard III or a prose summary of Richard III’s life from Wikipedia. By giving participants both a dramatic and a dry prose text to act out or read, it was possible to determine whether greater memory for acting out a text is due to the fact that the participants embody the cognition of the speaker or simply to the fact that the text was read aloud. Participants were randomly assigned to a read silent vs. act aloud condition for 15 minutes, read/acted both texts, and then were given a memory recall task for each text. After each text they were also given a measure assessing their understanding of Richard’s mental states, and a measure assessing their empathy for Richard. Those who had acted out the texts had greater verbatim recall than their silently reading counterparts. This finding shows that the memory effect from acting out a text is due simply to reading aloud, and not necessarily from the type of text. In addition, those in the acting condition scored higher on the mental states measure but not the empathy measure. This finding shows that acting out a text allows us to take the perspective of the other and therefore to deepen our understanding of the character’s mental states. The fact that there was no empathy benefit from acting out the text supports previous findings showing that, contrary to conventional wisdom, acting does not increase empathy.

Keywords: acting, embodied cognition, memory, theory of mind, empathy

Music and Mathematics: An Investigation into the Claimed Link

Senior Thesis
Katherine C. Redman
Advisor: Ellen Winner

It is often said that mathematicians have a special affinity for music. The justification for this claim is twofold: many mathematicians say that they love music; and there are formal parallels between music and mathematics (there is a mathematical basis to music). This claim, however, is not actually based on systematic evidence. Previous research has proven inconclusive and ambiguous. To demonstrate that mathematicians are more musical than the rest of us, the current study compared mathematicians to another group of professionals—individuals trained in psychology—and administered a variety of musical measures. Participants were first given a questionnaire about their history of musical training, their musical preferences, and the role of music in their life. Participants were also asked whether they saw any relationship between their work and music. Three musical tasks were then administered to participants evaluating their ability to choose and match a series of musical excerpts based on their structure, expression, and aesthetic taste (Mozart vs. Salieri). Contrary to hypothesis, there were no differences between mathematicians and psychologists. Mathematicians did not report having had more formal music training than did psychologists; nor did they report valuing music more than did psychologists. Finally, mathematicians did not perform better than psychologists on tasks requiring them to hear the structure or the expressive properties of music; nor were they more likely to prefer Mozart to Salieri than were the psychologists. The present study has failed to show that mathematicians value music in their lives more so than psychologists, and has failed to show that mathematicians have a superior “musical ear.”

Keywords: music, mathematics, musical structure, musical expression, aesthetic taste

Mental Imagery in 2D and 3D Visual Artists

Senior Thesis
Nicole D. Porter
Advisor: Ellen Winner

The capacity for mental imagery is the capacity to visualize objects and spatial relationships in the absence of a visual stimulus. It seems plausible to hypothesize that those who have visual arts training and skill should have superior mental imagery skill compared to those who do not have visual arts training and skill. However, past research has yielded inconsistent findings. In order to resolve these inconsistencies, this study examined two kinds of artists separately (26 who worked in 2D media and 17 who worked in 3D media) and examined two kinds of imagery separately (object and spatial imagery). Object imagery is imagery for the details of objects, including color, contour, etc. Spatial imagery is the ability to manipulate objects in the mind—to rotate images, to enlarge them, and other such manipulations. Past research suggests that superior object imagery ability is coupled with inferior spatial imagery ability, and vice versa. It was hypothesized that 2-D artists should excel in object but not spatial imagery, and 3-D artists should excel in spatial but not object imagery. The 3D artists exhibited superior performance on the spatial imagery tasks when compared to their 2D counterparts. They also performed marginally better than a control group of psychology majors. Contrary to past studies, this study revealed no differences between the three groups on the object imagery tasks. These findings reveal a cognitive difference between artists who choose to work in two vs. three dimensions, with those working in three dimensions showing superior spatial imagery.

Keywords: visual art, spatial imagery, object imagery, cognitive ability, visualization

The Neural Systems that Respond to Emotional Stimuli with Phylogenetic and Ontogenetic Significance

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Joaquin O. de Rojas
Advisor: Elizabeth A. Kensinger

Neural and behavioral responses to emotional stimuli often are discussed within an evolutionary, or phylogenetic, framework. Although some of the information that elicits an emotional response is likely to have had evolutionary significance (e.g., snakes, spiders), many other stimuli would not have been evolutionarily relevant (e.g., guns, grenades). The present study re-analyzed data from two fMRI studies (Kensinger et al., 2007; Kensinger & Schacter, 2008) to examine whether the neural systems that respond to emotional stimuli differ depending upon whether those stimuli were of phylogenetic or ontogenetic, or learned, significance. Participant arousal scores, valence scores, and reaction times to stimuli were analyzed in order to rule out any stimulus-type biases. Neuroimaging data were then analyzed, revealing that when stimuli were ontogenetic, activity was increased in regions of the anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices. By contrast, when stimuli were phylogenetic, activity was increased in a region spanning the lingual and fusiform gyri. These results suggest that there can be differences in how emotional stimuli are processed, and those differences can depend upon the stimuli’s evolutionary significance. Furthermore, the processing of learned emotional stimuli may elicit stronger activity in cognitive control regions than the processing of more evolutionarily relevant emotional stimuli.

Keywords: ontogenetic, phylogenetic, evolution, fMRI, emotion

Sleep’s Facilitation of Emotional Memory: Behavioral and EEG Evidence

Senior Thesis
Alison Wagoner
Advisor: Elizabeth A. Kensinger

Scenes composed of a central visually arousing object elicit an emotional response that results in a pervasive memory tradeoff: the central arousing components of the scene are remembered well but the neutral peripheral elements are forgotten. A significant variable that affects the evolution of this tradeoff is sleep, which has been implicated in the changes that underlie learning and memory. However, the physiological mechanisms of this effect are unclear, particularly concerning the varying contributions of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and slow wave sleep (SWS) and the respective role of each in strengthening different memory subsystems that may be involved in the memory tradeoff. The present study hypothesizes that individuals presented with a complex visual scene that contains a negative arousing object placed on a neutral background will exhibit a memory tradeoff and that late sleep, which is dominated by REM sleep, facilitates the consolidation of emotional declarative memories and that individuals who spend greater periods of time in REM will perform better on a recognition task for previously viewed images. This study examines memory performance after a 7-hour retention period filled with sleep following a pre-sleep learning period. During the retention period, participant’s sleep was recorded and monitored with digital EEG acquisition software. After the retention period, participants performed an unexpected, self-paced recognition task. The results confirmed that sleep in general facilitates memory for negatively arousing emotional information at the expense of its background. Projected polysomongraphic (PSG) results from this study may be expected to mirror those seen in a study done by Wagner et al., (2001) in which emotional material was strongly enhanced after a period of late retention in which REM sleep was predominant.

Keywords: REM sleep, memory, tradeoff, emotion, PSG

Age-Related Effects of Sleep on Emotional Memory

Senior Thesis
Alicia Kinton
Advisor: Elizabeth A. Kensinger

When individuals are presented with a complex visual scene that includes an emotional component, memory for the emotional element is often well remembered at the expense of memory for peripheral (nonemotional) details. The present study examined the effects of sleep and age on this central/peripheral tradeoff, in order to determine how the formation of emotional memories changes over time and across the lifespan. The evolution of memory for negative and neutral scenes was assessed and compared across delays of 12 daytime hours spent awake and 12 nighttime hours including sleep, for a young adult group and an older adult group. Young adults demonstrated a memory tradeoff for central emotional versus peripheral nonemotional elements of scenes when memory for visual detail was evaluated, while older adults did not. This tradeoff was especially pronounced after periods of sleep for young adults, while sleep had no effect on older adults’ memory. Age-related changes in cognitive processing and sleep thus diminished the emotion-induced memory tradeoff and sleep’s preferential enhancement for emotional memory details, respectively. However, when memory for gist content was evaluated, older adults did exhibit this central/peripheral tradeoff after periods of sleep.
In turn, sleep may continue to preserve gist memory across the lifespan, while age-related declines in sleep-dependent consolidation processes for visual details lead to reductions in recollection with aging.

Keywords: aging, sleep, memory, emotion, tradeoff

The Effects of Emotion on Memory for Spatial Location and Temporal Order

Senior Thesis
Katherine Schmidt
Advisor: Elizabeth A. Kensinger

In the present experiment we examined and compared the effects of emotion on memory for item presentation, spatial location, and temporal order. Memory for an item contains more than simply memory for what the item is. Other details of the memory, such as where it is or when it is, are important as well. The “where” of memory refers to spatial location, and the effects of emotion on this type of memory have previously been studied. What has been much less extensively studied is the effect of emotion on memory for the “when,” which refers to temporal order. The current study aims to see how the “what,” “where,” and “when” of memory are affected by emotion, and whether these effects are the similar or different. Participants studied complex visual scenes, and were later tested on their memory for the items within the scene along with the spatial location and temporal order of the items. Participants showed emotion-enhanced memory in each of the three memory tasks. Further, it was shown that participants were more likely to recall the item if it was positively valenced and also if the item was highly arousing. Spatial location memory showed an enhancement for highly arousing items, but this effect of arousal was only seen when location memory was “perfect,” as opposed to just “very good.” Memory for temporal order was better for both negatively valenced items and highly arousing items. Therefore, we found that arousal enhanced memory for each type of memory studied in this experiment, whereas valence affected only recall memory and temporal order memory, with recall memory showing a benefit for positively valenced items and temporal order memory showing a benefit for negatively valenced items.

Keywords: memory, emotion, spatial location, temporal order, enhancement

Is there an Association between Self-Rated Memory and our Relationship to Physical and Mental Calendars?

Undergraduate Research Project
Larissa Jones
Advisor: Elizabeth A. Kensinger

When referring to our ability to remember dates and times of events in the past or present we often point to a person’s ability to use their “mental calendar.” Previous research has suggested that episodic memory stores information about temporally dated episodes and events and temporal spatial relations between these events. However, what do these spatial relations look like in our minds and how are they structured in respect to an individual’s perception of time? The purpose of this study was to further investigate how our spatial experience of time (mental calendars) as well as the use of physical calendars may influence or be influenced by our self-rated memory abilities. To accomplish this, data collected in February 2008, from the previous study “What does your calendar look like?” was reanalyzed using SPSS. The eight-page survey given in the previous study asked participants about their mental calendar (i.e., what does a year made up of months look like in your mind?), their use of physical calendars, and for a self-assessment of their episodic memory. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze self-rated memory by use of physical calendars as well as other variables. Logistic regression procedures were used to determine the associations. Preliminary data analysis suggests that the majority of people who use two types of physical calendars have higher self-rated memory scores then those who primarily use one. Preliminary findings show that self-rated memory may be affected by our use of physical calendars.

Keywords: calendar, temporal, mental imagery, episodic memory, spatial representation

Characterizing Memory Distortions as a Function of Time and Emotionality

Undergraduate Research Project
Jenny Wong
Advisors: Maya Tamir and Elizabeth A. Kensinger

Findings in memory research have consistently demonstrated that memories are not perfect cognitive renderings of prior events. One of the goals of this experiment was to determine how certain types of memory distortions varied according to emotional content of the memory and the delay after which a memory is recalled. Younger adults (aged 18-35) were presented with a set of positive, negative, and neutral narratives and were asked to recall from each one as much as they could remember after delays of zero, one, and four days. The details contained in the participants’ recalls were then scored as accurate, as affective (positive or negative) distortions, or as neutral (factual or novel detail) distortions according to how they corresponded with the original narratives. We found that overall memory accuracy decayed over time but was not influenced by emotion. However, the percentages of both negative and positive detail distortions were greater for the negative narratives across all time points, whereas the percentage of factual distortions were lower for the negative narratives. This result suggests that negative emotion can lead the individual to distort the affective components of what is recalled.

Keywords: narratives, memory distortions, recall delay, emotion, autobiographical memory

Exploring the Mind of the Emerald Tiger: Shadowing Ireland’s First Neuropsychologist

Undergraduate Research Project
Colleen Maher
Advisors: Gene Heyman, Elizabeth A. Kensinger, and E. Teresa Burke

Recently, the nation of Ireland took a surprising jump into the limelight as its image transitioned from “quaint land of 40 shades of green” to “Emerald Tiger.” After luring electronics companies with low tax rates and an EU subsidy, Ireland’s economy boomed. In many ways, this successful conversion both led to and aptly reflects changes occurring in Ireland across the disciplines. In the summer of 2008, I journeyed to the “Land of Saints and Scholars” to explore the evolution of psychology- its study and clinical applications- in this spirited nation during its golden age. For four weeks, I assisted in the lab of Dr. E. Teresa Burke of University College Dublin. As Ireland’s first neuropsychologist, Dr. Burke both witnessed and facilitated many “firsts” for her country. As a pioneer, she possesses unique insight into advances in psychological exploration, realistic health care applications, and the advantages and disadvantages of working on a small island with a stark contrast between its traditional rural and rapidly expanding urban population. By speaking with academic authorities and assisting in projects, including a quality of life survey for patients with spinal cord lesions and an analysis of the effects of electroconvulsive therapy on memory function, my time in Dublin introduced me to an often overlooked side of the “Emerald Tiger.”

Keywords: advanced study grant, neuropsychology, international research, electroconvulsive therapy, quality of life

PURC3

The Effect of Age on the Detection of Valenced Words

Senior Research Project
Liz Choi
Advisor: Elizabeth A. Kensinger and Katherine Mickley

Some evidence demonstrates that the processing of emotional information differs between young and older adults. Several studies have revealed a positivity bias in older adults, who are more likely to remember positive information than negative information, compared to younger adults. Yet, whether or not a positivity bias occurs during the attentional stage of processing and how it may effect the processing of subsequent information still needs to be considered. The current study investigated valence-related changes in emotional processing of young and older adults through a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task, in which an emotional item (first target) is presented temporally close to another word (second target) among a series of words. Participants, of which 25 were younger adults and 22 were older adults, completed 340 trials of an RSVP task, in which they were asked to record the target words presented in blue font. Both younger and older adult participants were more likely to report neutral target words if those words followed positive or negative arousing words than if those words followed neutral arousing words. Furthermore, older adults did not demonstrate a greater detection of positive words, and thus a positivity bias in older adults was not evident. These results indicate the preservation of automatic processing in aging, specifically the similarity of emotion effects on attentional processing in younger and older adults.

Keywords: aging, attentional processing, emotion, positivity bias, valence

The Effect of Emotion and Self-Referencing on Memory

Undergraduate Research Project
John McLaren
Advisor: Elizabeth A Kensinger

Several areas of the human brain are thought to be part of a self-referential processing network. This default system is always turned on, meaning we are perpetually thinking about ourselves. Many of these same regions are ones that are active when we process emotional information, leading to questions about the overlap between self-referential processing and emotion processing. In this study, we examined the interaction between self-referential processing and emotion processing in the context of a memory study. In the first half of the experiment, we asked participants to view a series of incomplete sentences (e.g “There was a ____ outside”). An object would appear below each sentence and the participant’s task was to decide how plausibly that object could fill in the blank of the sentence. Occasionally, the participants would be asked to consider a “self”-referential event (e.g. “I saw a ____ outside”), and they would have to think about their own lives when making their plausibility rating. In the “other”, non self-referential sentences, the participant was asked to determine the general plausibility of the event. Some of the objects that participants processed were of negative emotional content (e.g., snake), others were positive (e.g., sundae), and others were neutral (e.g., blender). In the second part of the experiment, we presented the participants with a series of emotionally positive, negative, or neutral images. They determined whether each image was one they had seen in the previous task. The results indicated that emotional information showed no self-referential processing advantage. Rather, there was a self-referential processing benefit in memory performance only for neutral information. These results suggest that there may be overlap between the memory benefit conveyed by self-referential processing and by emotional processing, such that combining the two types of processes does not lead to additive benefits in memory.
 
Keywords: memory, emotion, positivity effect, self-referential processing

Can Young and Older Adults Be Directed to Forget Emotional Words?

Undergraduate Research Project
Jaclyn Portelli
Advisors: Elizabeth A. Kensinger and Brendan Murray

Forgetting is traditionally considered a passive process, in which information degrades over time. Recent behavioral evidence by Anderson & Green (2001), however, suggests that using executive control processes can also facilitate forgetting—that is, forgetting can be an active process. Anderson & Green demonstrated that young adults could forget previously learned information when directed to, while current research in our own laboratory has indicated that older adults (aged 65+) can also engage in voluntary forgetting. However, little is known about how the emotionality of to-be-forgotten information affects the forgetting process. Recent research on aging, cognition, and emotion (Mather & Carstensen, 2005) has indicated that older and young adults prioritize emotional information in different ways, and as such, it was expected that older and young adults might show differential patterns of suppression. The current study employs Anderson and Green’s “think/no-think” task, using both neutral and valenced information, to explore this possibility. The study consisted of three phases: learning, think/no-think, and test, in which the participants studied 80 semantically unrelated word pairs. The word pairs featured a neutral cue with a neutral target, a positive target, or a negative target. Results suggest that emotionality of the learned information does not affect suppression—neutral and emotional information are suppressed similarly. Additionally, we found no age-by-study-type interaction. Young and older adults recalled “think” words better than control words, which in turn, were better recalled than “no-think” words.

Keywords: aging, emotion, forgetting, memory, word pairs

The Effect of Music in Film on Arousal and Memory

Undergraduate Research Project
Amelia Micheli
Advisor: Elizabeth A. Kensinger

Music can elicit a wide range of emotions, from sadness and anger to happiness and excitement. As a result, movie soundtracks can greatly enhance a film-viewing experience. Although little research has been completed in this area, the arousal viewers experience as a result of music may influence their memory for the film. Some research has in fact shown that a higher arousal level induced by a film’s soundtrack predicts better performance on objective memory tasks (Romiti 2008). The next question to ask is whether arousing music that is not part of the film’s original soundtrack can enhance memory in a similar way. The current study extends the findings of Romiti by randomly assigning participants to one of three conditions: (1) a control group in which participants watch a film clip with no music, (2) a “with music” group in which participants watch the film clip with its accompanying soundtrack (high arousal), and (3) a “new music” group in which participants view the film clip with equally arousing music, but the soundtrack is not the accompanying one for the movie. Participants then completed an arousal scale and objective and temporal memory tasks. The results suggest that arousal elicited by music does, in fact, improve memory for film, even if the music is not part of the film’s original soundtrack.

Keywords: memory, music, arousal, emotion, film

Prosody in Emotion and Syntax

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Kelly Sagar
Advisor: Hiram Brownell

Speech prosody refers to the properties of speech beyond the actual words we speak. Prosody can include, among other features, pitch, amplitude, timing of the spaces between words, and the duration of sounds. We use these features to perceive language fully. Pitch is one of the several components of speech prosody that serves as an important cue for conveying the syntactic structure and emotional content of a sentence. To discover the extent that each hemisphere uses pitch as a prosodic cue to differentiate between happy and angry sentences or questions and statements, a dichotic listening task was used to study the contralateral effects of pitch variation. Participants were asked to complete two tasks in an experiment using e-Prime computer software. In the emotion task, they were asked to identify whether the sentence played to the target ear was happy or angry, and in the syntax task they were asked to judge whether the sentence was a question or a statement. Accuracy and reaction time were both measured and analyzed. As expected a right hemisphere advantage was found for the processing of emotional prosody. In the syntax task, no significant results were found in the analysis of accuracy, but the more sensitive measure of reaction time revealed compelling evidence of a right hemisphere advantage. Because both tasks revealed this right hemisphere advantage, this experiment lends further support to the right hemisphere hypothesis of speech prosody.

Keywords: speech prosody, emotion, syntax, pitch, dichotic listening

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Behavioral Neuroscience

Delaying Reward Delivery Prevents the Formation of Habitual Responding

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Kristen D. Donohue
Advisors: Jon Horvitz, Michael Numan, and Cecile Morvan

A range of behaviors is disrupted under conditions of compromised dopamine (DA) transmission, yet certain reflexive or habitual behaviors generally remain intact. It appears that some habitual behaviors and responses that are triggered by strong external cues exhibit a reduced dependence on DA; however, this only seems to be the case for behaviors where the amount of time between the onset of the stimulus cue and the receipt of reward is fairly short. Here, we examined the hypothesis that a behavior becomes less vulnerable to dopamine receptor blockade as a result of extended training, when there is a short time interval separating the onset of the stimulus cue and the delivery of the reward, but not when this time interval is increased.

Keywords: dopamine, Pavlovian cued approach response, CS-US Interval, extended training, habitual behavior

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Developmental Psychology

Perceptual Skills in Low-Functioning Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Amanda Redash
Advisor: Ellen Winner

High-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been shown to exhibit an unusual way of processing visual information. They show a local processing bias, focusing on the local elements of a figure rather than on its global, gestalt properties (Mottron & Belleville, 1993). This processing bias allows them to perform exceptionally well on the Block Design Task (BDT) of the Wechsler Intelligence Scales in the context of relatively low performance on other subtests. The current study investigated visual processing among twelve low-functioning children with a diagnosis of ASD. Participants were given the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test to assess nonverbal and verbal intelligence. They had a mean nonverbal IQ of 68.66 and a mean verbal IQ of 41. They were also given a modified version of the BDT that has been used to assess spontaneous mental segmentation, including an unsegmented version that required mental segmentation for successful completion and a segmented version that did not (Caron, Mottron, Berthiaume, & Dawson, 2006). Contrary to findings with high-functioning individuals with ASD, participants performed significantly more accurately and more quickly on the segmented version than on the unsegmented version. Thus they did not show a local processing bias. The local processing bias found among high-functioning individuals was not found in these lower functioning individuals with ASD. Local processing bias appears to require a certain level of IQ.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, local processing bias, mental segmentation, IQ

Emotion Regulation and Coping Strategies in Young Children

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Alexandra Parnass
Advisors: Karen S. Rosen and Jennifer E. Drake

Emotion regulation and coping strategies in young children between the ages of 6 and 8 (M age = 90.4 months) were examined in 40 intact families. Mothers’ and fathers’ reports of their children’s emotion regulation, children’s responses to a coping measure, and observations of children’s actual conflict behavior in their relationship with their younger siblings, were assessed during a two-hour home visit. A relation between children’s responses to the coping measure and parents’ perception of their children’s emotion regulation was expected to be found; however this expectation was confirmed only for children’s coping strategies for shame and sadness and only for mothers’ ratings of their child’s emotion regulation. Most noticeable from the results is the lack of connection between what the children proposed as their own coping strategies in the role play in comparison to what they predicted as the best choice for the story protagonist. Finally, children who selected “support seeking” as the best coping strategy on the coping measure were more likely to rate high on conflict within the sibling relationship. The results contribute to a growing body of literature on coping strategies and emotion regulation.

Keywords: emotion regulation, young children, coping strategies, conflict, family

Older Siblings’ Attachment to Mother and Father and its Association with Prosocial Behaviors in Sibling Interaction

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Daniel R. Sugrue
Advisors: Karen S. Rosen and Jennifer E. Drake

Security of attachment between older siblings (M age = 90.4 months) and their fathers and mothers was examined in relation to prosocial behaviors displayed by the children in an interaction with their younger siblings (M age = 57.8 months). Forty two-parent families participated in a two-hour home visit. Older children completed a self-report measure that assessed security of attachment to each parent. Sibling interactions were videotaped as the siblings participated in a variety of semi-structured activities; the tapes were coded for the prosocial behaviors of cooperation, affection, sensitivity, and imitation. Older siblings in secure mother-older child dyads demonstrated more frequent displays of affection and sensitivity towards their young siblings. These correlations support the idea that the security of the parent-child relationship fosters particular prosocial behaviors in the child. However, there were no significant correlations between secure attachment in the father-older child dyad and the frequency of prosocial behaviors. The findings of the current study both lend support to past studies that have examined the impact of the mother-child attachment relationship on the child’s behavior in other significant relationships and illuminate distinctions between mothers and fathers in their impact on their children’s prosocial behaviors.

Keywords: attachment, prosocial behavior, siblings, mothers and fathers, family relationships

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Social and Personality Psychology

Body Posture and Contextual Information Stronger Cues to Emotion than Facial Expression

Jennifer Gallucci
Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Advisor: James A. Russell

Many theorists believe facial expressions are biologically based signals of emotion, but recent research suggests that information gathered from the context (Aviezer et al., 2008) may override the meaning of the facial expressions in perceiving emotions in others. Aviezer et al. (2008)’s context included both body posture and external situation. In my study, these two were separated. Participants (N = 48) were asked to judge the emotion expressed in photographs of a male or female model showing an expression of disgust in the face and either disgust, anger, sadness, or fear in the body posture. The four face/posture pairings were displayed either with or without additional external situational information. When posture indicated an emotion other than disgust, posture was the stronger cue to emotion than the facial expression, and in all but one (an angry posture), additional external situational information was stronger than posture alone. For anger, the posture of anger is so strong that adding external situational information did not affect the results. Facial expressions are thus not the sole or even the strongest cue in the recognition of emotions in others.

Keywords: emotion recognition, facial expression, posture, context

The Effect of Response Format on Participants’ Recognition of Emotion from Facial Expression

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Kristen E. Hewett
Advisor: James A. Russell

The forced choice response format has been the most common method in facial expression studies, producing the higher level of recognition, but the ramifications of “forcing” participants to choose labels from a list has been debated (Russell, 1994). The intent of this study is to compare a forced choice with a free labeling method in which participants can provide any label they want. Undergraduate Boston College participants (N = 60) provided emotion labels for 10 posed facial expressions (happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, disgusted, embarrassed, compassionate, ashamed, and contemptuous) in forced choice (with 14 options) and free labeling formats. Free labeling was presented prior to the forced choice format, and there were four different random orders of the facial expressions. As expected, recognition of the target emotion was significantly higher using the forced choice format than the free labeling format. Interestingly, an emotion by format interaction was also found, with higher recognition for forced choice for social emotions (embarrassment, compassion, shame, and contempt) and disgust, but higher free labeling performance for basic emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, and surprise). This result suggests that participants’ recognition of some facial expressions is dependent on the details of the response format.

Keywords: facial expressions, emotion, forced choice, response format, free labeling

The Psychological Construction of Pride

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
William R. Sugrue
Advisor: Lisa Feldman Barrett & Kristen Lindquist

There has been much debate regarding the nature of emotional experience. Some researchers argue for the “natural kinds perspective,” which posits emotions are non-reducible entities that each involve distinct facial behaviors, subjective experience, physiological responses etc. An alternative view is that emotions are psychologically constructed mental phenomena that consist of more basic parts. The present study aims to provide support for a recent psychological constructionist model of emotion known as the Conceptual Act Model (Barrett, 2006). This view holds that emotions result when people categorize an instance of core affect using their conceptual knowledge about emotion. The goal of this study was to demonstrate that the experience of pride could be produced when knowledge of pride and positive affect were combined. Participants were primed with knowledge of pride or happiness or they completed a neutral manipulation. Next participants were induced to feel pleasant or neutral. Afterwards participants’ emotional state was gauged by the amount of time they spent on a computerized mental rotation task. It was predicted that participants in the pride prime, pleasant affect condition would spend significantly longer on the task compared to participants in the other conditions. Consistent with predictions, participants in the pride prime, pleasant affect condition spent marginally longer on the task compared to participants in the other conditions. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Keywords: conceptual act model, core affect, conceptual knowledge, categorization, constructed events

The Deconstruction of Emotional Experience

Senior Thesis
Andrew J. Dolman
Advisors: Prof. Lisa Feldman Barrett and Kristen Lindquist

This study tests the hypothesis that emotions are psychologically constructed events (Barrett, 2006). In this view, people experience an emotion when they instantaneously use their conceptual knowledge about emotion (or what they know about an emotion) to categorize an instance of core affect. We tested this hypothesis by parsing emotions into more basic psychological parts. To do so, participants viewed a perceptual load (“Dynamic Visual Noise” or DVN) intended to impede conceptual processing during experiences of emotion. We predicted that participants would experience less discrete instances of emotion on trials where they could not access conceptual knowledge of emotion as compared to control trials.  Contra our predictions, when participants viewed DVN, they did not have less discrete experiences of emotion compared to control trials.  Alternate explanations for our findings are discussed.

Keywords: emotion experience, embodied cognition, conceptual knowledge, perceptual load, emotional granularity

Individual Differences in Social Learning

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Krystal H. Yu
Advisor: Lisa Feldman Barrett and Eliza Bliss-Moreau

People learn about the affective value of stimuli—whether things are harmful or helpful, represent threat or reward—through direct experience with them. People can also learn, however, by watching others interact with the stimuli of import. This sort of social learning is critical for survival in complex environments because it is more efficient than having to rely solely on direct experiences. While previous research has demonstrated that social learning does occur, individual differences in social learning have never been documented. People vary in their sensitivity to valence and their level of empathic concern while watching others. We hypothesized that these individual differences impact how people learn affective information through social observation. In the current study, participants first completed behavioral and self-report measures of individual differences. They then completed a social learning paradigm where learning was assessed through physiological measurements. Our findings indicate that sensitivity to valence is more important than empathy in social learning. Implications for the impact of sensitivity to valence versus empathy are discussed.

Keywords: social learning, individual differences, observational conditioning, affective value, empathy

Emotion Language and Visual Awareness of Emotional Faces

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Mara Ricciardelli
Advisor: Maria Gendron and Lisa Feldman Barrett

Recent research has examined the role that language plays in the perception of emotion by manipulating language accessibility via semantic satiation and assessing its influence on both emotion labeling and perceptual matching tasks. The present research expands on this work by examining whether language plays a role in the process of prioritizing faces depicting emotion versus other content for visual awareness. Specifically, it was hypothesized that semantically satiating emotion words would influence whether faces depicting emotion or houses are the first percept resolved in a binocular rivalry task. Consistent with predictions, participants were more likely to see houses first when emotion was satiated compared to when house language was satiated. Interestingly, participants were just as likely to see a house when mental state words were satiated as when emotion words or house words were satiated. These findings build on the broader literature on linguistic relativity by suggesting that language does more than represent an already existing reality, it literally shapes what reality we see.

Keywords: emotion perception, semantic satiation, language, linguistic relativity, binocular rivalry

What Do People Want to Feel? Emotion Regulation as a Function of Utility

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Brett Q. Ford
Advisor: Maya Tamir

Perhaps because it is seemingly obvious, the question of what people want to feel has received little empirical attention. One standard assumption made by scientists and laypeople alike is that pleasure determines what people want to feel, such that feeling pleasant emotions is always preferred. In contrast, it is proposed here that utility also determines what people want to feel, such that useful emotions may be preferred, even if they are unpleasant (Tamir, in press). In support of this counterintuitive hypothesis, the current results first demonstrate that participants who intended to confront another person preferred to increase their level of anger, an unpleasant emotion, in preparation for the confrontation. Second, the results show that anger can be useful in confrontations: Participants who were angry as they confronted their partner were more likely than others to lead their partner to concede to their demands. Third, preferences for anger were driven by the expected utility of feeling angry. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that, like other forms of self-regulation, what people want to feel often depends on what they expect to gain from it.

Keywords: emotion regulation, anger, pleasure, utility, negotiation

PURC2

Contextual Variation of Pleasure in Emotion

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Kate Stewart
Advisor: Maya Tamir

Theories of emotion generally view pleasure as a fixed property of emotion, such that discrete emotions can be distinguished, in part, by their hedonic value. One defining feature of fear, for example, is its unpleasant subjective quality, whereas one defining feature of happiness is its pleasant subjective quality. However, there is reason to believe that the pleasantness of an emotion could vary by context. The current investigation examined the pleasantness of anger in two distinct motivational contexts, which differ in the degree to which anger might be useful for goal attainment. Participants in two groups were given instructions on an upcoming task (confrontational or collaborative) and then listened to anger-inducing music. Participants rated the extent to which they felt pleasant while listening to the music. Results showed that males experienced anger as more pleasant when anticipating a confrontational (vs. collaborative) task, while females experienced anger as more pleasant when anticipating a collaborative (vs. confrontational) task. These findings support the idea that the pleasantness of emotion may vary by context and, more specifically, as a function of its motivational properties.

Keywords: anger, pleasure, contextual variation, motivation, utility

Attitudes Toward Anger and Anger Reactivity

Senior Research Project
Katie Hamlin
Advisor: Maya Tamir

An attitude is a global evaluation of an object. Such attitudes may be explicit or implicit (i.e., they may exist without conscious awareness). Previous research has shown that people hold explicit attitudes about emotions that differ from their self-reported experiences of that emotion (Robinson & Clore, 2002). It is also possible to hold positive attitudes about emotions (e.g., anger) that are traditionally viewed as negative (Harmon-Jones, 2004). This study tested whether implicit attitudes towards anger and happiness predict emotional reactivity to anger and happiness, respectively. Participants listened to a series of emotion-eliciting music clips (anger, then happiness). After each emotion induction, participants rated their experienced anger and happiness. As predicted, positive implicit attitudes towards anger (as measured by an evaluative priming task) predicted greater reactivity to anger induction. Additionally, implicit attitudes toward happiness tended to predict reactivity to a happiness induction. These results support the hypothesis that implicit attitudes towards emotions can predict emotional reactivity.

Keywords: emotion regulation, implicit attitudes, emotional reactivity, anger, emotion induction

Energy in Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Psychology Honors Program Thesis
Shannon Grady
Advisor: Donnah Canavan

This study was conducted to test the hypothesis that intrinsic motivation is energizing, while extrinsic motivation is relatively draining. Thirty-one participants were randomly assigned to either the Intrinsic or the Extrinsic Motivation Condition. All participants completed sets of Sudoku puzzles. There was no reward in the Intrinsic Motivation Condition, but in the Extrinsic Motivation Condition, participants could win a $60 gift certificate if they correctly completed the most puzzles. Then there was an opportunity to do more puzzles without reward or to skip on to completing a questionnaire describing their experience. Finally, participants in a Contrived Zeigarnik effect chose whether to recomplete the task. The results revealed that participants in the Intrinsic Motivation Condition persisted longer at the task, performed better on the easy puzzles, and indicated greater effort, enjoyment, and investment. Only at the end of the experiment did the Intrinsic Motivation Condition show linguistic differences in the words they chose to describe their experience of energy. There were no differences on the Zeigarnik measure. Taken as a whole, the results lend support to the hypothesis that Intrinsic as compared to Extrinsic Motivation leads to both behavioral measures of persistence and performance as well as linguistic preferences that indicate greater energy.

Keywords: energy, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, persistence, Zeigarnik Effect