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Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference

purc 2012

purc12

The 2012 Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference was held Friday, May 4 in McGuinn.

Abby Stemper is the 2012 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 2012

Table of Contents

Visual Imagery Skills in Artists and Non Artists
Molly Ahern

Aesthetic Judgment: A Matter of Taste?
Alexandra Alecci

The Basolateral Amygdala Interacts With The Ventral Pallidum To Regulate Maternal Behavior In Rats: Bilateral, But Not Unilateral, Inactivation of the Basolateral Amygdala to the Ventral Pallidum Circuit Severely Disrupts Maternal Behavior in Postpartum Rats
Ana Badimon, Lauren Moore, Riley Baldwin

The Basolateral Amygdala (BLA) Interacts with the Ventral Pallidum (VP) to Regulate Maternal Behavior in Rats: Concurrent Inactivation of the BLA on One Side of the Brain and the VP on the Opposite Side Disrupts Maternal Behavior
Victoria Parkes and Lauren Goverman

Subjectivity in Moral and Aesthetic Judgment Making: Actions Do Speak Louder Than Words
Daniel Baush

Cognition and Framing in Messaging about Cigarette Smoking
Sarah Collier

The differential effect of stress at encoding versus retrieval on emotional false memories
Kelley Durham

Autistic-like Traits and Local Processing in the Visual and Auditory Domains
Elizabeth Fair

Concurrent Extinction Does Not Render Aversive Conditioning Context-Specific
Andrew Farias

Object Influence on Scene Perception: An Investigation Using Out-of-Context Objects
Chris Gagne

Emotional Regulation of Positive Information and Subsequent Memory Effects
Alexander Goldowsky

Effects of Superliminal and Subliminal Facial Expression Primes on Valence Ratings of Affective Words
James Gregoire

Cyber Bullying in Relation to Gender and Trauma
Alexandra Hasse

Development of the Abstraction Principle within the Cardinal Principle Level: The Effects of Heterogeneity on Ordinal and Estimation Tasks
Brynn Huguenel

The Effects of Art Making on Testing Anxiety
Brittany M. Jeye

Fear-contextual cues inhibit eating in food-deprived male and female rats
Meghana Kuthyar

Aging, Motivation, and Emotional Memory
Eunice Lee

Do Men and Women Differ in the Differentiation of Emotional Experiences?
Renée Marchant

Racial Disparities in the Incidence of Self-Reported Anxiety Among 6th Grade Boys
Christina Martin

Brain activation patterns during fear-cue induced inhibition of feeding in food-deprived male and female rats
Heather Mayer

Sex differences in social behavior mediated by the oxytocin system
Thomas E. Mayer

A Reexamination of the Relationship between Disgust and Moral Violations
Alyssa McCarthy

Drawing as a Form of Distraction: The Role of Task and Preference
Caitlin McNally

How Emotions Affect Consumers’ Ability to Utilize Nutritional Information in their Purchasing Decisions
Allison Minogue

New paradigm to measure social novelty preference in rats: relevance to autism
Jazmin Mogavero

Investigating Influence of Suggestive Misinformation in the Formation of False Memories
Laura Paige

How Infants and Young Children Understand Small vs. Large Numbers: Manual Search Task Across Development
Cara Picano

Gender Differences in Predictive Learning: A Study on the Effects of Stereotype Threat
Emily Raiche

Comparing Positive and Negative Shared Interest in Social Energy
Sam Robinson

The Effects of Social Energy on Attachment Style
Jessica Rolincik

Confessions of a Moral Realist: The Effect of Moral Worldview on Decision-Making
Abby P. Stemper

A Cross Cultural Study of the Hook up Experiences and Motives of College Students in Ecuador and the United States
Krizia Vinck

Abstracts

Visual Imagery Skills in Artists and Non Artists

Molly Ahern
Advisor: Ellen Winner

There has been a significant amount of research linking artistic talent to strong visual imaging skills. The results, however, have tended to be varied. The present study further investigated this link by examining whether art majors were more skilled at visual imaging tasks than non-art majors. Forty-three undergraduate students, twenty non-art majors and twenty-three art majors, were administered the Big 5 Personality Inventory, the Mental Rotation Task, the Spot the Difference Task, the Vividness of Visual Imagery test, and the Shape Memory Test. Two color perception tasks and a Drawing Realism Task were also administered to the majority of participants, but excluded in the final analysis because not all participants had adequate time to complete these tasks. No difference was found between art majors and non-art majors on the visual imagery tasks. However, there was a significant difference between genders on the Vividness of Visual Imagery test, where men outscored women. There were also several notable personality differences. Art majors scored higher in openness on the Big 5 Personality Inventory than non-art majors and women scored higher than men in agreeableness. The results from this study suggest that there is no difference in visual imaging capacity between artists and non-artists. While this is possible, it is important to acknowledge some of the studies limitations that may have influenced the results. The most significant limitation being that intelligence was not taken into account.

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Aesthetic Judgment: A Matter of Taste?

Alexandra Alecci
Advisors: Angelina Hawley-Dolan and Ellen Winner

Our moral judgments are affected by our taste perception. For example, people who consume a bitter drink and are then asked to make a moral judgment show more moral disgust than those who consume a sweet or neutral drink (Eskine, Kacinik, & Prinz, 2011). Are our aesthetic judgments affected in the same way? Participants were administered a sweet, neutral, or bitter/disgusting drink and then shown a series of nonrepresentational artworks, asked to rate them on preference (“how much do you like this image?”) and quality (“how good a work of art is this image?”). There was no main effect of condition (drink) for either question, suggesting that moral judgments are more sensitive to physical disgust than are aesthetic judgments. There were, however, significant correlations between disgust ratings and ratings for both art questions. The higher the disgust rating, the less the participants liked and valued the artworks. Furthermore, there was a stronger correlation between disgust ratings and judgments of preference than for judgments of quality. This suggests that preference judgments are more susceptible to the effects of disgust than are value judgments.

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The Basolateral Amygdala Interacts With The Ventral Pallidum To Regulate Maternal Behavior In Rats: Bilateral, But Not Unilateral, Inactivation of the Basolateral Amygdala to the Ventral Pallidum Circuit Severely Disrupts Maternal Behavior in Postpartum Rats

Ana Badimon, Riley Baldwin, and Lauren Moore
Advisor: Michael Numan

The expression of maternal behavior is a primary and enduring social feature of mammals. A model of the regulation of maternal behavior proposes that the amygdala, specifically the basolateral amygdala (BLA), relays pup-related sensory stimuli to the ventral pallidum (VP) so that goal-directed appetitive behavior can occur. In a recent study performed in our lab, unilateral VP inactivation paired with contralateral BLA inactivation produced deficits in retrieval behavior in postpartum rats compared to saline controls. The neural inactivations were produced with muscimol, a GABA-A receptor agonist. To investigate the importance of the BLA-to-VP connection further, the effects of unilateral injections of muscimol into the VP on one side of the brain paired with unilateral injections of muscimol into the BLA on the opposite side of the brain were compared to unilateral injections of muscimol into either the VP or the BLA. The results showed that animals that received the unilateral muscimol injection into the VP on one side of the brain paired with the unilateral muscimol injection into the BLA on the opposite side, at doses of 15ng and 100ng, respectively, showed significant but reversible deficits in maternal behavior. In contrast, females that only received unilateral injections in the VP or in the BLA exhibited relatively intact maternal behavior. These results indicate that the BLA-to-VP circuit needs to function on at least one side of the brain for normal maternal behavior to occur. Certain parts of the neural circuit that underlies maternal behavior are believed to overlap with those of other types of prosocial behaviors, and further research may provide an understanding of neurological dysfunctions in individuals who exhibit poor maternal behavior, such as neglect and abuse.

The Basolateral Amygdala (BLA) Interacts with the Ventral Pallidum (VP) to Regulate Maternal Behavior in Rats: Concurrent Inactivation of the BLA on One Side of the Brain and the VP on the Opposite Side Disrupts Maternal Behavior

Lauren Goverman and Victoria Parkes
Advisor: Michael Numan

This study looks at the neural circuit underlying maternal behavior in postpartum rats. It focuses specifically on two areas of the brain: the basolateral amygdala (BLA), a component of the limbic system, and the ventral pallidum (VP), a region of the ventral basal ganglia. The VP is part of the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system, which is involved in general motivational processes and is also influenced by the maternal circuit. The BLA has been shown to project to the VP, which would allow it to relay important sensory inputs from pup stimuli to instigate goal-directed behaviors. While each of these two regions has been shown to be important individually for maternal behavior, their connection within the circuit has not been investigated. This study aims to show a functional connection between these two regions in relation to maternal behavior by doing asymmetrical neural inactivations to these areas. In this study, we utilized muscimol, a GABA-A receptor agonist, to temporarily inactivate neurons within the BLA on one side of the brain and the VP on the contralateral side to see if this would disrupt maternal responsiveness. Results showed that rats receiving these paired contralateral temporary lesions had major deficits in retrieval but not nursing behavior during the period of muscimol action when compared to rats with saline injections to the same regions. These results point to a significant interaction between the BLA and VP within the maternal behavior circuit in the brains of postpartum rats: When the BLA-to-VP circuit is disrupted bilaterally at a different point in the circuit in each side of the brain, retrieval behavior is severely disrupted. This experiment also shows that this circuit underlies the goal-directed, appetitive component of maternal behavior, pup retrieval, while leaving nursing behavior, a consummatory response, relatively unaffected.

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Subjectivity in Moral and Aesthetic Judgment Making: Actions Do Speak Louder Than Words

Daniel Baush
Advisors: Liane Young and Angelina Hawley-Dolan

In this study, we investigated the use of aesthetic judgments as a prime to make people more relativistic when making moral judgments. With art, particularly for those who are not trained in properly examining it, it is generally accepted that whether or not someone believes a piece of artwork is good is a matter of preference—whereas, when judging morality, whether or not an action is right or wrong is subject to a more objective judgment. The participants made judgments on sixteen works of art and sixteen moral stories presented to them in a slide show. They were placed into one of two conditions—either they received art first or they received morality first. After the art slides, the participants were presented with the questions “Do you like this?” and “Do you think this is good art?” And after the moral story slides, the questions were “Would you do this?” and “Is this wrong?” They then received a confederate response to the same questions for the same slide. The study found that the interaction between the order in which they were presented with the slides (either art first or morality first) and the domain (either art or morality) was, in fact, significant. The study revealed that making one set of judgments prior to another set does have an effect on the way judgments are perceived. When faced with a difference in opinion on morality, those participants who were presented with art first were more likely to respond more relatively than those who did not make any sort of aesthetic judgment. Furthermore, the study also showed that participants who were presented with morality first were more likely to respond more relatively when presented with a difference in opinion on art. These findings suggest that making one set of judgments can influence the way we make another set of judgments after being presented with the first set.

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Cognition and Framing in Messaging about Cigarette Smoking

Sarah Collier
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

It is in the interest of health promotion to optimize the effectiveness of messages intended to provide education or motivate changes in behavior. One of the ways in which messages can be manipulated is through the framing of a message with either the benefits of performing or the drawbacks of not performing an intended behavior. As proposed by Prospect Theory, a gain frame is believed to be more effective than a loss frame when the behavior in question is low in risk (e.g., disease prevention), whereas a high-risk behavior (e.g., disease detection) is believed to be better promoted by loss than gain frame (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). Inconsistent findings have led researchers to investigate factors like message relevance and self-efficacy as potential mediators of the effects of framed messages. While it is common to compare framing effects on self-reported motivation or behavior, variation on individual factors like executive function and memory are rarely reported. This study sought to investigate the relationship among lifestyle and cognitive factors in the processing of framed health messages. A within-subjects design was utilized, with each participant viewing a set of messages that included some messages framed as losses, others as gains, and some neutral messages. Participants provided information about their health behaviors and beliefs about cigarette smoking in addition to completing a variety of cognitive tasks and a post-test of memory for the health messages. With memory for the messages viewed as the dependent variable, analyses considered both the relationship between cognition and framing within subjects and the effectiveness of each frame across participants.

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The differential effect of stress at encoding versus retrieval on emotional false memories

Kelley Durham
Advisors: Elizabeth Kensinger and Halle Zucker

This study investigated how stress, either at encoding or retrieval, modulated veridical and false memories for negatively arousing images. The goal of the study was to help clarify inconsistent and competing evidence of the effects of stress on memory. 56 Boston College students participated (Ncontrol = 28, Nstress = 28). Participants viewed scenes composed of high-arousing negative and neutral images integrated with plausible neutral backgrounds. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), or a control non-stressful task, was administered to induce a stressful state either following study (“stressed retrieval”) or preceding study (“stressed encoding”). It was hypothesized that stress at retrieval would impair memory accuracy (decreased “hits”) while increasing false memories (increased “false alarms”), whereas stress at encoding would have enhancing memory accuracy (increased “hits”) while decreasing false memories (decreased “false alarms”). Instead, the two groups (control and stressed) did not significantly differ on memory performance. Participants accurately recognized more negative images than neutral, however this effect was independent of stress and memory phase.

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Autistic-like Traits and Local Processing in the Visual and Auditory Domains

Elizabeth Fair
Advisor: Ellen Winner

Previous research has revealed that individuals with autism exhibit superior local processing (the ability to focus on detail or parts of a whole) in the visual and auditory domains. In this study, local processing in the visual and auditory domains was examined in individuals within the general population who had high and low autistic-like traits. In addition, this study investigated whether this local processing ability was domain general or domain specific. Forty adults completed the Autism-spectrum Quotient to assess their autistic-like traits with respect to social behaviors, communication abilities, and restricted or repetitive interests. To assess local processing in the visual domain, they completed the Block Design Task, in which they had to mentally break a design into parts to reconstruct it with blocks, and the Group Embedded Figures Test, in which they had to find a simple shape in a complex figure. To assess local processing in the auditory domain, they completed the Pitch Discrimination Task, in which they had to discriminate between two pitches presented in pairs, and the Pitch Categorization Task, in which they had to determine whether single pitches were high or low. When the results were analyzed, it was determined that higher autistic-like traits predicted faster construction time for the unsegmented items of the Block Design Task, and higher autistic-like traits marginally predicted superior performance on the Pitch Categorization Task. It was also found that local processing ability in one domain was not correlated with local processing ability in the other. Taken together, these findings provide partial support for the hypothesis that individuals with high-autistic like traits exhibit superior local processing. The findings also suggest that this local processing ability does not encompass both the visual and auditory domains but rather is domain specific.

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Concurrent Extinction Does Not Render Aversive Conditioning Context-Specific

Andrew Farias
Advisor: Jeffrey Lamoureux

Substantial research has shown that most predictive relationships people learn about for environmental stimuli are context-independent. However, subsequent learning that may occur during extinction—when the predictive stimulus is repeatedly presented without the expected consequence—is context-dependent. For example, if you hear a fire alarm while at home followed closely by an actual fire, you will likely fear alarms in the future regardless of where you hear them. But if you are later exposed to repeated alarms in the absence of an actual fire you may stop fearing alarms, but only in that specific environment. Recently, Rosas & Callejas-Aguilera (2006) proposed a mechanism that violating predictive expectancies during extinction may increase attention to contextual cues. This theory predicts that new predictions learned during extinction should be more dependent on that context. We assessed this theory in an experiment with human participants playing a video game in which they learned to predict aversive events in multiple contexts. All subjects learned two successive predictive relationships, but half of them learned the second prediction while the first was undergoing extinction training. The second prediction was tested either in the training or a transfer context. If extinction increases attention to the particular context in which it occurred, subjects who received concurrent extinction training should show a reduced response to the second stimulus in the transfer context. Results revealed no differences in responding to the second-trained cue, regardless of testing context or history of prior concurrent extinction training. This is in direct contrast to the prior findings and predictions of Rosas. We propose that discrepancies across laboratories may be due to fundamental differences in testing paradigms—specifically, our implicit learning task may engage different associative and attentional mechanisms than the explicit task used by Rosas.

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Object Influence on Scene Perception: An Investigation Using Out-of-Context Objects

Chris Gagne
Advisor: Sean MacEvoy

We presented pairs of objects prior to pictures of scenes (e.g. kitchen) to investigate how multiple objects are utilized in rapid scene recognition. These pairs consisted of objects that either belonged to the same scene category or did not, and in both cases, the objects did not belong to the scene category being presented. Replicating the findings of previous studies, objects preceding a scene in which they are not normally found impaired people’s ability to recognize that scene. Additionally, inconsistent objects belonging to the same scene category (e.g. toilet and tub prior to kitchen) produced nearly identical reductions in recognition accuracy as inconsistent objects from two different scene categories (e.g. toilet and computer prior to kitchen). Despite similar impairments, only the inconsistent objects belonging to the same scene induced participants to erroneously guess the scene corresponding with those objects. Thus, scene recognition may exist as a two-stage process. At first, objects impair recognition similarly irrespective of their common associations with each other. When the scene percept is sufficiently impaired and alternative “guess” is required, objects act as an ensemble where common association does matter to provide an answer.

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Emotional Regulation of Positive Information and Subsequent Memory Effects

Alexander Goldowsky
Advisors: Elizabeth Kensinger and Alisha Holland

Cognitive reappraisal has proven to be an effective strategy at changing the arousal levels of emotional events. In this study, participants were instructed to use reappraisal techniques to modulate arousal levels of positive and neutral information. This was done in order to elucidate the impact that reappraisal techniques have on memory of positive information, as well as various phenomenological qualities of those memories. It was found that enhancing the arousal level of positive and neutral information improves memory of that information. With regard to the subjective characteristics of these memories, though, the valence of the image appears to play a role in the vividness, emotional content, and memory of these phenomenological qualities. Overall, this indicates that the interaction between positive information and reappraisal techniques is far more complicated than simple valence and arousal interactions. More research needs to be done in order to further untangle the relationship between memory and emotion regulation.

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Effects of Superliminal and Subliminal Facial Expression Primes on Valence Ratings of Affective Words

James Gregoire
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

It has been shown that facial expressions are processed faster than emotion words in a modified photo-word Stroop task and also interfere in the valence ratings of the words when presented simultaneously. If this finding is true, then it might be possible for facial expressions to prime the valence and arousal ratings of emotion words. The current study was designed to test the hypothesis that ratings of word valence and arousal primed by affective facial expressions would be significantly different from ratings primed with neutral facial expressions depending on the emotion of the prime. If a facial expression displaying a negative emotion primes a neutral word, it is expected that the valence rating of the word will be lower and the arousal rating would be higher. The study also looked at whether or not displaying the prime superliminally (2 s) or subliminally (17 ms) has an effect on the ratings. In the task, participants were primed with a facial expression and then shown either an emotional word or a neutral word and asked to determine its valence and arousal. The study was conducted in two parts. The first part involved 30 Boston College undergraduates participating in trials using angry, fearful, happy, and neutral faces and words. The second part involved 21 new Boston college undergraduates participating in trials using disgusted, sad, happy, and neutral faces and words. For valence ratings primed by superliminal faces, angry faces elicited lower valence ratings than neutral faces. Angry and neutral subliminal primes elicited the same ratings, suggesting that subliminal faces have little influence on perception of words. For arousal, similar effects happened for both happy and angry facial primes. These results suggest that while superliminal facial expression primes can influence both valence and arousal ratings of neutral words, subliminal facial expression primes cannot.

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Cyber Bullying in Relation to Gender and Trauma

Alexandra Hasse
Advisor: David Smith

Relatively little research has been conducted that has examined the fast growing phenomenon of cyber bullying. The present study is unique in that no other study has explored cyber bullying in relation to both gender and history of past abuse and/or exposure to family violence. Participants consisted of BC undergraduate students who retrospectively reflected on cyber bullying, and traditional bullying, in their high school. Subjects completed an online survey and were recruited via the BC SONA system. The survey includes three major sets of questions regarding: demographics, bullying (cyber and face-to-face), and trauma. Data analyses revealed that while there were no gender differences in terms of being a cyber bully or cyber bullying victim, males were more likely than females to be face-to-face bullies. Interestingly, statistically significant results were found between being a victim of physical abuse inside one’s immediate family and to being both a cyber bully and victim of cyber bullying. In a similar strain, witnessing emotional abuse outside of one’s immediate family was statistically significant to both being a victim of cyber bullying and being a cyber bullying perpetrator. Finally, the study found that females who have had a history of abuse/trauma inside of their immediate family are not more likely than males who have had the same history to be cyber bullying victims. These findings may help prompt further research in the field of cyber bullying. Such studies may not only endow researchers and the general public with more knowledge about this newly emerging and popular medium of bullying, but may also encourage victims of cyber bullying to reach out to teachers, parents, and other loved ones for support.

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Development of the Abstraction Principle within the Cardinal Principle Level: The Effects of Heterogeneity on Ordinal and Estimation Tasks

Brynn Huguenel
Advisors: Sara Cordes and Tasha Posid

Before children learn to count meaningfully, they acquire an understanding of numbers slowly. One dominant theory suggests that children learn numbers sequentially, in which they understand the first 3-4 number words before undergoing a conceptual change that allows them to understand the cardinal principle, or the purpose of counting. The current study included 3- to 9-year-old children who understood the cardinal principle and could thus use counting effectively to find number (N=118). Despite this knowledge, cardinal principle knowers still undergo development in more advanced numerical tasks, such as estimation and large numerosities. This study examined whether perceptual characteristics, specifically heterogeneity, affect children’s ability to make judgments about number. Children completed an ordinal task, where they indicated which of two arrays had more objects, and an estimation task, in which they estimated the number of objects within a single array. Results indicate that heterogeneity did not affect children’s performance on either task, suggesting that children who understand the cardinal principle of counting also have basic knowledge of the abstraction principle, or that a set’s numerosity is separate from its objects’ perceptual features, like shape or color. Furthermore, one’s preferred counting strategy was not related to performance on either task. Although there was no effect of heterogeneity on children’s overall performance, a shift occurred at approximately 5-years-old, in which children became significantly more accurate on heterogeneous trials, as well as other more difficult task conditions.

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The Effects of Art Making on Testing Anxiety

Brittany M. Jeye
Advisors: Ellen Winner

Two mechanisms of art making were examined on how they affect feelings of anxiety: venting (expressing feelings of anxiety) and distraction (expressing something other than feelings of anxiety.) In Study 1, these mechanisms were examined in terms of how they affected feelings of anxiety in the past. Participants were assigned to one of the two conditions after they had completed a series of math exams in a high pressure situation. In Study 2, these mechanisms were examined in terms of how they affected feelings of anxiety in the future, in which participants were assigned to one of the two conditions before they finished the series of math exams yet after being introduced to the high pressure situation. In both studies, anxiety was measured before and after art making. Results demonstrated that for feelings of anxiety in the past, using art making as a form of distraction decreased anxiety more than using art making as a form of venting. There was no difference in between using distraction and venting to alleviate anxiety in the future.

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Fear-contextual cues inhibit eating in food-deprived male and female rats

Meghana Kuthyar
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 discrete conditioned stimulus (CS) that signals danger, such as a tone previously paired with footshocks. Here, we conducted two experiments to examine whether conditioned contextual cues can exert the same effect on feeding behavior. Experiment 1 explored the effect of simple aversive context conditioning on food intake in food-deprived male and female rats when they are re-exposed to the aversive context. Following a test of baseline food pellet consumption in a contextually distinct behavioral chamber under food-deprived conditions, sated rats received two conditioning sessions. For each training session, rats were placed in the behavioral chamber and half of the male and female rats (experimental groups) received four electric footshocks (1.0mA, 1sec) while the other half of the rats (control groups) received no footshocks. After training, food-deprived rats were tested for food consumption in the conditioned aversive context for 10 minutes, and no shocks were delivered. Males and females in the experimental groups significantly reduced their intake compared to the baseline test, and consumed significantly less food than the same-sex control groups during the test. In Experiment 2 we trained rats in appetitive and aversive context discrimination protocol to confirm that the inhibition of food intake observed in Experiment 1 was context-specific. Rats were trained in alternating appetitive and aversive sessions that were conducted in two distinct contexts (Context A and B) that differed in olfactory, visual, and tactile features. During appetitive sessions, food-deprived rats were trained to consume food pellets in Context A. Aversive sessions took place in Context B under sated conditions, and half of the male and female rats (experimental groups) received a total of four electric footshocks (1.0mA, 1sec), while the other half of the rats (control groups) received no shocks. During the appetitive training sessions rats in all groups ate considerable amounts of food pellets; there were no differences in the amounts consumed between same-sex experimental and control groups. After training completion, food-deprived rats were tested for food consumption in the aversive context (Context B). During the test, rats were allowed to consume food pellets for 10 minutes, and no footshocks were administered. Both male and female rats in the experimental groups consumed significantly less food than those in the same-sex control groups. The results from these two experiments demonstrate that the contextual cues associated with fearful events can inhibit food consumption in food-deprived animals, just as discrete fear-cues have been shown to do.

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Aging, Motivation, and Emotional Memory

Eunice Lee
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

When people make decisions, they can do so by considering only the present moment, or by thinking about the long-term consequences of that decision. The purpose of this study was to examine how different time perspectives would influence the qualitative and quantitative differences in memory recall of medical advice, and any other associations with the advice between older and young adults. The time conditions were meant to reflect a shift in motivation for older adults, and to see if socioemotional selectivity theory would change memory performances. 58 older adults and 60 young adults completed a free-recall memory task based on a doctor-patient scenario within a specific time condition (no mention, open, or closed). When asked to recall any associations they had to the medical advice, results revealed that older adults used a higher percentage of affective words in the “no mention” time condition than young adults in that condition. Older and young adults used similar proportions of affective words when a time condition (open or close) was mentioned. Older adults also displayed similar lower memory recall for the stimuli than young adults throughout all three time conditions, but no other “time” or “time x age interaction” affected the average recall in both older and young adults.

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Do Men and Women Differ in the Differentiation of Emotional Experiences?

Renée Marchant
Advisors: Maria Gendron and Lisa Feldman Barrett

Do men and women live and experience different emotional lives? One way that men and women may differ is in differentiation: some people experience precise emotional states that are finely tuned to a given situation whereas other people experience broader states such as feeling globally negative or positive. The present study investigated the hypothesis that while men believe that they have less differentiated emotional lives than women, when measured in a momentary fashion, men and women will not actually differ. Male and female participants completed three tasks to measure emotional differentiation: (1) the RDEES, a retrospective and global measure of emotional experience (of particular interest is the differentiation sub-scale), (2) the EPQ, a retrospective measure in which participants are asked to recall specific emotional experiences, and (3) momentary-ratings of emotional experience through the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) over a one to two week period. Consistent with predictions, we found that men reported having less differentiated emotional lives than women on the RDEES, but when measured in a momentary task, men and women demonstrated equivalent amounts of differentiation. We also found that when asked to recall specific emotional experiences on the EPQ, while women did report greater differentiation in positive emotions than men, this gender difference was not observed for negative emotions. Overall, these data suggest that gender stereotypes likely inform men’s and women’s understanding of their emotional lives, without necessarily impacting the degree of differentiation in the experiences of emotion themselves.  

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Racial Disparities in the Incidence of Self-Reported Anxiety Among 6th Grade Boys

Christina Martin
Advisor: Judith Shindul-Rothschild

Limited empirical data is available examining how social experiences interact with race to increase the risk of anxiety among youth. The purpose of this study was to examine if or how the social experiences of harassment and poor self-image impact self-reports of anxiety among 6th grade African-American and Caucasian boys. The 2001-2002 Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HSBC) database, developed by the World Health Organization to track health behaviors, health risk behavior, and health outcomes among youth, was used in this study. A secondary data analysis analyzed social factors influencing African-American and Caucasian 6th grade boys, their levels of anxiety, and their levels of peer socialization. The aims of the research were to: (1) investigate differences between African-American and Caucasian 6th grade boys’ self-reports of anxiety and (2) examine how bullying and body image may explain the differences in African-American and Caucasian 6th grade boys’ self-reports of anxiety. The study found 6th grade African-American boys are two times more likely than Caucasian boys to report feeling nervous if they perceive themselves to be much too fat. African American boys are three times more likely than Caucasian boys to report feeling nervous if they are bullied due to race once a week. Although most programs appear to target young girls and cyber-bullying, the anecdotal evidence shows that high profile suicides are identified with African-American boys. However, various programs have not implemented plans to help and support them. Insights gained from this research can help inform health promotion programs, revise legislation, and improve policy to target the unique needs of at-risk African-American boys. Furthermore, sessions in schools and educational administrations should be implemented to actively eradicate bullying and aim its objectives at the black male youth. This will increase levels of self-esteem/self-worth, instill healthy behaviors, and boost confidence levels.

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Brain activation patterns during fear-cue induced inhibition of feeding in food-deprived male and female rats

Heather Mayer
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 discrete conditioned stimulus (CS) that signals danger, such as a tone previously paired with footshocks. Additionally, we have shown that this short-term fear-cue induced anorexia 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 critical for 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 (Contexts A and B) that differed in olfactory, visual, and tactile features. During appetitive sessions, food-deprived rats were trained to consume food pellets in Context A. Aversive sessions took place under sated conditions in Context B, and half of the male and female rats (experimental groups) received a total of four electric footshocks (1.0mA, 1sec) each signaled by a 60 second tone (75db, 2khz), while the other half of the rats (control groups) received no shocks but the same number of tones. During the appetitive training sessions rats in all groups ate considerable amounts of food pellets; there were no differences in the amounts consumed between same-sex experimental and control groups. After training completion, food-deprived rats were tested in two food consumption tests which took place in the appetitive context (Context A). The CS (tone) was presented 4 times during each 10 minute test, but no footshocks were administered. Female rats in the experiment group significantly inhibited food intake compared to female rats in the control group during both tests, while males in both groups consumed similar large amounts of food throughout testing. Following the second consumption test, rats were sacrificed and brain tissue processed to assess activation patterns. Brain tissue was immunohistochemically stained for Fos, a marker of neuronal activity that allowed us to identify which neurons were active during the food consumption test. Brain tissue was also immunohistochemically double-labeled for both Fos and the neuropeptide Orexin. Orexin is known to be involved in promoting feeding behavior, and we hypothesized that Orexin neurons may be inhibited during fear-induced short-term anorexia. Double-staining the tissue for Fos and Orexin allowed us to determine whether or not Orexin neurons were activated or inhibited during the behavioral test.

purc12_20

Sex differences in social behavior mediated by the oxytocin system

Thomas E. Mayer
Advisors: Alexa H. Veenema and Kelly M. Dumais

Abnormalities in social interest and social recognition are often observed in human social disorders, including autism and schizophrenia. Moreover, the neuropeptide oxytocin plays an important role in the regulation of social behaviors in humans. The goal of this study was to gain a greater understanding of the oxytocin system in regulating social interest and social recognition in male and female rats. In the first experiment, we explored sex differences using the social interest and social discrimination tests. Results show that males show significantly more social interest than females, but that females in estrus tended to investigate stimulus males more than stimulus females. In the second experiment, we used receptor autoradiography to explore sex differences in oxytocin receptor (OTR) binding density and to correlate this with social interest. We demonstrate that male rats show higher OTR binding density than female rats in 9 out of 15 forebrain areas analyzed. Interestingly, males have about 3.5 times more OTR binding than females in the principle bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNSTp), an area that is a core part of the social behavior neural network. In the third experiment, we manipulated the OT system in males by injection of an OTR antagonist in the BNSTp to investigate the role of OTR in the BNSTp in social interest, social recognition, and anxiety-like behavior. We demonstrate that blocking OTR in the BNSTp induced a trend towards an increase in social interest, but a significant impairment in social recognition and a significant decrease in anxiety-like behavior. Our results indicate that activation of OTR in the BNSTp is important for the regulation of social behaviors in male rats by decreasing social interest but facilitating social recognition.

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A Reexamination of the Relationship between Disgust and Moral Violations

Alyssa McCarthy
Advisors: James Russell and Mary Kayyal

Researchers have proposed that emotional states guide our moral judgments, and that disgust in particular holds importance on the moral domain; disgust has evolved to not only protect our bodies (by encouraging us to avoiding toxins), but also to protect our souls. Here we proposed that the claim that disgust has evolved beyond its evolutionary function to include immoral behaviors is based on a confound: The moral violations people label as disgusting include physically disgusting things, such as references to bodily fluids or functions. We argued that immoral events are called disgusting because they contain really disgusting components, and not because they are immoral in nature. In the current study, participants (N=90) read 22 scenarios depicting either immoral or morally good behaviors; the scenarios either contained or lacked a bodily component. Participants judged each scenario on the single best emotion subjectively elicited, the extent to which that emotion was elicited, and how immoral the behavior depicted was. Immoral scenarios were labeled as disgusting when they involved a bodily component; in the absence of a bodily component, immoral violations were labeled with a wide range of negative emotions. Some morally good behaviors that involved a bodily component were also labeled as disgusting. Thus, there is no real relationship between our judgments of how disgusting and how immoral a behavior is. The underlying basis of our moral judgments is an intense but general negative attitude, which may be “appropriately” labeled with any negative emotion. We do sometimes call immoral events disgusting, but such usage is metaphorical in nature; disgust simply functions as a powerful descriptor of disapproval in such contexts.

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Drawing as a Form of Distraction: The Role of Task and Preference

Caitlin McNally
Advisors: Ellen Winner

This study examined two questions. First, whether art was a better distraction than a game for mood repair; and second, whether preference (for drawing or playing a game) affected mood repair. In Study 1, the participants, 88 adults ages 18 to 22, were first asked if they would rather draw or play a game when upset. Next, a negative mood was induced by asking them to think about the saddest thing that had happened to them. They were then assigned to one of two conditions, preference or non-preference. In the preference condition they were asked to perform the activity they said they would rather do when upset (draw or play the game). In the non-preference condition they were asked to perform the opposite activity that they had chosen. In Study 2 the participants were children, aged six to eight. In both studies, positive and negative affect were measured before and after the assigned activity. In Study 1, positive affect improved significantly more in the preference group of participants who had preferred to draw and were able to draw, than in the other conditions (preference/game, non-preference/draw, non-preference/game). In Study 2, no differences were found for the children. In Study 2, children were also measured on competence and enjoyment of activity. Children who drew had significantly higher ratings for competence than children who played the game. This suggests that drawing, when preferred, is a better mood elevator than playing the game for adults, but not for children. Currently, it is not known whether drawing, when preferred, is a greater mood elevator for children.

purc12_23

How Emotions Affect Consumers’ Ability to Utilize Nutritional Information in their Purchasing Decisions

Allison Minogue
Advisors: Elizabeth Kensinger and Eric Allard

Little is known about the impact of emotion on consumers’ use of health information. The connection between mood and processing of nutritional information of food products might be of interest in light of the growing obesity problem in the United States. To explore this relationship, I investigated the role of mood (empowerment and defeat in response to performance on a cognitive task) on consumers’ food purchasing decisions using behavioral and eye tracking measures. A sample of 56 undergraduates participated in the study. Results showed that participants in the defeated condition bought fewer unhealthier food items and preferred less unhealthy food products as compared to participants in the empowered condition. Results also suggested that participants in the defeated mood group were more likely to actually select a healthy snack upon completion of the study in comparison to participants in the empowered and control conditions. These findings are consistent with predictions from self-affirmation theory. Defeated participants perhaps sought to affirm their self-esteem by choosing healthy food items as a way to boost their self-esteem in one domain (health) while failing in another domain (cognitive ability). These results are discussed in terms of the role of affect in adaptive health decision-making. 

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New paradigm to measure social novelty preference in rats: relevance to autism

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

Significant impairments in social behavior and social novelty seeking are featured in many psychopathologies. These disorders differ in manifestation depending on sex and the age of the individual. In autism, for example, there is a strong sex bias with prevalence four times higher in boys than in girls. This disorder is also characterized by a young age of onset (3 years old). Therefore, it is important to gain knowledge about sex-specific regulation of social novelty at younger and immature ages. The emphasis on social novelty is important, because patients with autism show increased social avoidance of novel stimuli compared to their mentally healthy counterparts. Since there are many limitations to studying humans with psychiatric disorders, animal models are used as a basis for further investigation. Our lab studies animal social behavior, which can provide information useful to understand social deficits in humans. We present here a new paradigm that enables us to measure the preference of a juvenile rat to spend time with either their cage mate (familiar rat) or a novel rat. Using this paradigm, we also tested whether social novelty preference is dependent on sex and age of the rats and if rats show consistent preference for social novelty during repeated testing. We found a robust preference for social novelty regardless of sex, age, or number of exposures to the social preference test. In detail, male and female juvenile rats spent twice as much time interacting with a novel rat than with their cage mate. In addition, males had higher overall social interest (investigating both the familiar and novel) than females. These results allow us to investigate the neural circuits that mediate social novelty in juvenile rats. Specifically, we are interested in the roles of the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin in the regulation of social novelty. 

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Investigating Influence of Suggestive Misinformation in the Formation of False Memories

Laura Paige
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

Memory is a reconstructive process by which we constantly discriminate between external sources and our own internal sources. As such, the process is impressionable and not always entirely vigilant in detecting devices working against it. False memories occur in accepting these infiltrators to be true or allowing them to alter the way in which an event actually happened. This present study investigated the effect of emotion on false memory occurrence through the misinformation effect—memory errors that arise as a consequence of exposure to misleading information—by presenting participants with narratives in one of three valence conditions (negative, positive, neutral) and subjecting them to suggestive questions following a one-hour delay. Our primary motivation was determining the effect suggestive misinformation has on the formation of false memories. Additionally, we were interested in the influence of valence. Ultimately, total false endorsement results were driven by the misinformation effect. In regards to valence, results revealed there was no significant main effect, but in collapsing across emotion (combining negative and positive conditions), false memory occurrence was significantly greater in the neutral condition. Some of the effects of emotion on memory accuracy were more pronounced for negative information; response rates in the negative condition revealed an increase in hits and a decrease in false alarms suggesting negative valence enhances discriminability.

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How Infants and Young Children Understand Small vs. Large Numbers: Manual Search Task Across Development

Cara Picano
Advisors: Sara Cordes and Tasha Posid

Previous studies have shown that infants are capable of tracking small quantities, such as 1, 2, and 3 objects, but have difficulty doing so with large quantities, or 4 objects or more (Feigenson & Carey, 2003; Feigenson, Carey, & Hauser, 2002). Research suggests that this is because young infants represent small numbers exactly, but are not yet able to do this with large numbers, which they think about more approximately. While 14-month-olds fail to understand large numbers, such as 4, research suggests that this failure stems from the inability to interact the object-file system and the analog magnitude system (Feigenson & Carey, 2003). Research has also found that 22- to 24-month-olds successfully track large numbers in a 1 vs. 4 comparison, but not a 2 vs. 4 comparison due to differences in ratio. (Barner, Thalwitz, Wood, Yang, & Carey, 2005). We tested infants between 15- and 32-months-old to determine at what age infants come to understand large numbers exactly. Our results suggest that infants can discriminate small from large numbers—and represent large numbers distinctly—between 19 and 22 months of age.

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Gender Differences in Predictive Learning: A Study on the Effects of Stereotype Threat

Emily Raiche
Advisor: Jeffrey Lamoureux

When a member of a negatively stereotyped group is reminded of this stereotype before performing a related task (i.e., stereotype threat, ST), research consistently shows that performance will be impaired in comparison to the individual’s performance on the task in a non-threatening environment. This paper discusses potential emotional and cognitive domains that may play a moderating role in the relationship between ST and performance. The study presented here uses a predictive learning paradigm to investigate the impact of a gender-based ST on learning. Male and female college students in either threatening or non-threatening environments played a videogame in which they had to learn to predict particular elements of the game in order to perform well. Although no differences were observed in Phase 1, which consisted of a simple set of practice trials prior to ST induction, males performed significantly better than women during Phase 2, a more complex series of trials following ST induction. Interestingly, both genders exhibited evidence of reduced performance in a threatening environment. This effect was greatest during initial learning trials for women and during asymptotic performance (the last block of trials) for men. These results suggest that multiple factors, including anxiety and the phenomenon of stereotype lift, may co-occur alongside cognitive processes implicit in learning. In a testing environment, the combination of these factors for each individual may impact their performance. Further, this data supports the notion that for non-stereotyped group members the presence or absence of threat may impact performance through eliciting either a challenge state resulting in performance enhancement or a threat state resulting in performance detraction.

purc12_28

Comparing Positive and Negative Shared Interest in Social Energy

Sam Robinson
Advisor: Donnah Canavan

Canavan (2002) coined the term “Social Energy” to reference the shared enthusiasm developed between two or more people when engaged in something intrinsically motivating. When engaged in some task found intrinsically enjoyable, people working/enjoying together will experience greater liking for their shared interest and one another. This study examines the empowering effects of Social Energy when two partners are intrinsically motivated toward a negative shared interest—the failure of a rival political candidate’s campaign and defamation of his/her character.

We studied college students who self-identified as Democrats currently planning on voting for Barack Obama or who would do so if they were of voting age. Participants were asked to write campaign ads for the next 2012 presidential election and were divided into two groups—one group writing ads for President Obama and the other writing ads against a rival Republican opponent. Tasks included a test of Productivity developing a list of descriptors either of Obama or his opponent within a 5-minute time limit. Another task measured Persistence by asking participants to continue developing campaign slogans for as long as they wished (but would be stopped at 8 minutes). Participants were then asked to construct a commercial advertisement and think of any additional ways they could support Obama/prevent his opponent’s election.

Our findings support that Social Energy between people with a shared interest framed as a negative does not differ from Social Energy with a positive shared interest. There was no evidence in our findings of Social Energy with negative shared interest devolving into a mob state. In addition, we found that partners who knew each other prior to the study showed more unwillingness to do what their known partners asked of them during the tasks and less overall willingness to take greater action either for Obama or against an opponent.

purc12_29

The Effects of Social Energy on Attachment Style

Jessica Rolincik
Advisor: Donnah Canavan

Noting the many similarities between the personality orientation of Secure Attachment and Canavan’s work on the characteristics of “the self in social energy,” we undertook a study in which we selected participants who varied in Attachment Style (Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant). One hundred female undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to either High Social Energy (you and other students are all excited about a project topic) or Low Social Energy (there is little agreement among you and other students, so the professor assigned the topic). The participants imagined working on a group project for the semester in an important class. All participants answered a series of questions about how they expected they would feel and behave over the course of the semester while working on this project. We predicted a main effect for social energy so that participants in High Social Energy (HSE) would show better interpersonal relations, less evaluation of self and others, more positive affect, greater effort, less anxiety, greater self-clarity, etc. than participants in Low Social Energy (LSE). In addition, we predicted a main effect of Attachment Style, wherein Securely Attached individuals would differ from the Anxious and Avoidant Attached individuals in the same way that HSE differs from LSE. Finally, given these predicted main effects, we are effectively predicting that the Anxious and Avoidant Attached in HSE would differ from their counterparts in LSE, and would not be significantly different from the Securely Attached in HSE.

purc12_30

Confessions of a Moral Realist: The Effect of Moral Worldview on Decision-Making

Abby P. Stemper
Advisor: Liane Young

The moral values that we adopt and maintain can dramatically affect the way in which we make decisions and formulate judgments on a daily basis. For example, a strong belief in the value of generosity may motivate a person to donate regularly to charity, give blood, or participate in community service. On the other hand, an extremist view of religion with a fervent adherence to an established moral code could prompt some individuals to participate in dangerous or otherwise heinous acts. How, though, does one justify the motivation to maintain such moral attitudes? Moral worldviews, more specifically moral realism and anti-realism, define whether people view their own moral beliefs as facts or opinions. In philosophy, moral realists perceive their own beliefs with a considerable degree of objectivity, while anti-realists tend to see more of a gray area. The present study examined whether these philosophical concepts translate into actual practice by testing for objectivity in moral worldview and then relating this measure to different behaviors. Results showed that, although people fall into a range of objectivity, moral worldview is not necessarily predictive of polarized behaviors or attitudes, especially those related to punishment and response to disagreement. This casts doubt on the actualization of the polarized theory of realism versus anti-realism in moral worldview, and suggests that actions directed towards others do not always mimic personal convictions. Rather, it appears that diverse external or situational factors carry more weight when it comes to making decisions about punishment judgments and conflict response. 

purc12_31

A Cross Cultural Study of the Hook up Experiences and Motives of College Students in Ecuador and the United States

Krizia Vinck
Advisor: Karen Rosen

Hooking up has become widespread across college campus and seems to dominate the social scene of students. Few researchers have examined hooking up from a cross-cultural perspective. The present study investigates hookup experiences from 320 undergraduates in Ecuador and the United States, who were assessed via self-report questionnaires. Participants’ motives for hooking up, sexual self-concept, parental attachment, and overall satisfaction with hookup experiences were examined. Results suggest that participants in Ecuador and the United States do not differ as much as was expected. However, group differences were found on study variables, such as attachment, sexual satisfaction, sexual motive of coping, sexual motive of peer pressure and collectivism. Additionally, Ecuador and the United States gave both different and similar reasons for engaging and not engaging in hookups. While the United States sample’s hook up frequency was predicted by sexual self-concept, the sexual motive enhancement predicted hook up frequency in both samples.

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