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Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences

Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference

purc 2017

Book of Abstracts for PURC 2017

Table of Contents

Perineuronal Nets and Sex Differences in Fear-Related Learning
Julia Bals

An Examination of the Relationship between Music Literacy and Executive Function during Early Childhood
Amanda Cantrell

The Relationship between Openness, Extraversion, and Preference for Live Music
Jenny Chen

Sexual Motivation is Mediated by Vasopressin in the Brain, But Does So Differently in Males Than In Females
Harry Cheung

Effects of Emotion and Sleep on Associative Integration
Emily Czeisler

Recruitment of Vasopressin and Oxytocin Neurons in the Paraventricular and Supraoptic Hypothalamic Nuclei during Social Play in Juvenile Male and Female Rats
Cassandra Gergely

Elucidating the Mechanisms Causing Sex Differences in the Oxytocin Receptor in the Brain
Tessa Gillespie

Chemogenetic Inhibition of the Insular Cortex and Social Affective Behavior
Katherine Gribbons

Why Watch Netflix?: Effects of Mood and Arousal on Theory of Mind Scores After Viewing Television
Morgan Hamill

To Compete or to Collaborate: The Effects of Collaboration and Competition on Numerical Estimation and Executive Functioning
Kelsey Hawthorne

Social Support Mechanisms for Unaccompanied Refugee Youth
Isra Hussein

The Impact of Cognitive Load on Temporal and Numerical Processing
Maura Keefe

Is a Picture Worth 140-Characters? An Experimental Study on the Effects of Instagram vs. Twitter on Well-Being
Savanna Kiefer

How Fraction Labels Impact Adults’ Processing of Proportional Information
Amanda Kuron

Minds and Motivation: Effects of Self Mind Perception and Identity on Follow-Up Behavior
Erin Laughlin

When and Why Do Adults Spontaneously Focus on Number and is This Related to Math Performance?
Monica Lee

Studying the Dual Models of Orientations to Success Theory with a Rigged Monopoly Game
Emily McCloskey

Evaluating Hierarchies of Verb Argument Structure with Hierarchical Clustering
Jesse Mu

The Impact of an Empathic Relationship on Feelings of Similarity to the Other: Implications for Medical Professionals Treating Overweight Patients
Kristen Murray

Influence of Cash versus Credit Participant Compensation on Reward-Enhanced Memory Formation
Kanwal Ojha

The Effect of Labels on Infants’ Number Discrimination
Stephanie Parent

Using Race as a Visual Feature to Evaluate Emotions
Ashruti Patel

Finding the Pointe: A Study on the Healthy and Unhealthy Forms of Competition, Passion, and Self-Esteem in Dancers
Lexie Perreira

Individual Differences in Food Neophobia, but Not Current Emotional State, Account for Food Preferences Based on Novelty
Kelly Sangster

Spontaneous Representation of Proportions
Meghan Santry

The Effect of One Year of Intensive Orchestral Music Training on Young Children’s Executive Function Skills, Self-Perception, and School Liking
Alessandra Scorzella

Neither Extinction nor Counterconditioning Abolish Evaluative Conditioning Using the Picture-Picture Paradigm
Amanda Simard

Relationship between Emotion Regulation and Autobiographical Memory Retrieval in Social Anxiety
Brianna Smith

Stressor Controllability and Prefrontal Perineuronal Net Neuronal Activity
Lucy Xu

Sex Differences in Oxytocin and Vasopressin V1a Receptor Binding Densities in the Mouse Brain: Focus on the Social Behavior Neural Network
Jing Ting (Christine) Yuan

Abstracts


Perineuronal Nets and Sex Differences in Fear-Related Learning

Julia Bals
Advisor: John Christianson

Trauma and exposure to extreme stressors greatly increases a person’s vulnerability to developing mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Patients with PTSD often have impaired ability to discriminate between danger and safety cues, and also show difficulty with conditioned inhibition, or an attenuation of fear responses when in the presence of both danger and safety cues. Despite the fact that women are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD, much of the research on this disorder has largely relied on the use of male subjects. Using a Pavlovian CS+/CS- fear conditioning paradigm, intact male and normally cycling female rats received fear discrimination training. Twenty-four hours later, rats were given a summation test in the same context as conditioning. We found that all subjects eventually learned to discriminate between the CS+ and CS-, and showed comparable levels of conditioned inhibition. However, females showed greater amounts of fear discrimination and reduced contextual conditioning during initial training and recall sessions. Next, we set out to characterize the number and density of perineuronal nets (PNNs), a type of extracellular matrix structure known to affect synaptic plasticity and behavior, in several brain areas. A sex difference in the ratio of PNNs per unit area was seen in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) but not the prelimbic (PL) or infralimbic (IL) cortices, with females showing a higher PNN density ratio than males. The more rapid and robust fear discrimination seen here in our female subjects suggests that sex differences in the neural circuitry mediating fear and safety learning may underlie this unique phenotype. Furthermore, the differential PNN density within the BLA may also exert modulatory control over such circuits and thus contribute to the behavioral results seen here.

01

An Examination of the Relationship between Music Literacy and Executive Function during Early Childhood

Amanda Cantrell
Advisor: Ellen Winner

There is some evidence that instrumental music training is associated with strengthened executive functioning in childhood (Degé et al., 2011; Holochwost, 2013; Moreno et al., 2011; Roden et al., 2014; Zuk et al., 2014). This study investigated whether level of music literacy skill correlated with level of executive functioning in kindergarten children. Music literacy was measured using the Music Literacy Skills Test (MLST) (Scripp & Gilbert, 2016), and executive functioning was measured using the Flanker Task (Diamond, 2013), Dot Counting (Kramer et al., 2014), Category Fluency (Hurks et al., 2006), and Reverse Digit Span (Wechsler, 2004). Music literacy was positively correlated with all three executive function capacities. An investigation into whether this was due to rhythm or pitch literacy, however, showed no preferential relationship between either of these components of music literacy and executive functioning. Whether music literacy causes executive functioning to grow stronger cannot be determined from this study because it was correlational in design.

02

The Relationship between Openness, Extraversion, and Preference for Live Music

Jenny Chen
Advisor: Ellen Winner

Studies have shown that personality traits can predict preferences in music, including preferences for type of genre and for specific musical features such as enhanced bass and tempo. Using both behavioral and self-report measures, the present study aimed to determine whether certain Big Five traits, specifically openness to experience and extraversion, predict preference for live music over studio recordings. Participants (n = 136) completed a forced choice measure where they indicated preference for the live or studio version of the same song, a listening behavior tracker measure where they freely listened to live and/or studio clips in a music player, and a music preference questionnaire. Agreeableness, but not extraversion or openness, predicted live music preference in the forced choice measure. While there was no relationship between openness and time spent listening to live clips or number of different clips picked in the music player, openness did predict a higher number of live clips picked (out of 6 total) in the music player. Extraversion predicted live music preference in the questionnaire but not in the behavioral measures, suggesting that the audio-only representation of live music in this study was not sufficient to satisfy extraverts’ needs. These findings help explain why people prefer live performances to recorded songs, and they have implications in the music industry for targeting certain audiences.

03

Sexual Motivation is Mediated by Vasopressin in the Brain, But Does So Differently in Males Than In Females

Harry Cheung
Advisors: Brett DiBenedictis and Alexa Veenema

The neuropeptide arginine vasopressin (AVP) regulates various social behaviors, including sexual behavior. Here, we focused on the role of AVP in the ventral pallidum (VP), because this is a critical brain region mediating social motivation and reward. We aimed to characterize the AVP system in the VP and to test the functional role of the VP-AVP system in sexual motivation of adult male and female rats. Using immunohistochemistry (IHC), we showed that males have a two-fold higher AVP-immunoreactive (AVP-ir) fiber density in the VP than females. Combining IHC with retrograde tract tracing, we then showed that AVP fibers in the VP originate from the posterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (pBNST) and the posterior-dorsal medial amygdala (MePD). Finally, a pharmacological approach was used to block AVP signaling in the VP to determine the role of the sex difference in AVP-VP on sexual motivation. To measure sexual motivation, adult male and female rats were tested for their preference to investigate an adult male rat or an estrus female rat. Interestingly, blocking AVP signaling in the VP decreased opposite sex preference in males, but increased opposite sex preference in females. These results demonstrate for the first time a link between a sex difference in the VP-AVP system and a sex difference in the regulation of sexual motivation in adult rats.

04

Effects of Emotion and Sleep on Associative Integration

Emily Czeisler
Advisor: Elizabeth Kensinger

Introduction: Although emotional integrations are formed more quickly than neutral ones, they are less durable over time (Murray & Kensinger, 2012; 2014). We investigated whether sleep, which is thought to optimize consolidation of emotional information, would preserve such emotional integrations.

Methods: Participants (N=40, determined a priori) completed paper-and-pencil questionnaires and viewed 120 word pairings (60 neutral-neutral; 60 neutral-negative) in two encoding contexts: non-integrated and integrated strategy. Participants rated pairs successfully imagined (SI) when, as instructed, they viewed the first half using non-integrative strategy (i.e., imagining a mouse and separately imaging a card) and the second half using integrative strategy (i.e., imagining a mouse playing cards). Following a 12-hour waking (N=20) or sleeping (N=20) delay, participants indicated, in a surprise recognition task, whether 150 pairings (60 intact; 60 recombined; 30 new) were intact, recombined, or new.

Results: A main effect of emotion on corrected recognition was shown (All: F1,38=17.68, p=0.00, ηp2=0.32; SI: F1,38=13.16. p=0.001, ηp2=0.26), such that neutral-neutral associations were advantaged. Results also demonstrated a main effect of encoding context on corrected recognition (All: F1,38=8.90, p=0.005, ηp2=0.19; SI: F1,38=7.93, p=0.008, ηp2=0.17), such that integrative strategy associations were better remembered. Finally, an interactive effect of sleep and encoding context on corrected recognition showed enhanced scores for neutral-negative integrative associations following sleep (All: F1,38=3.95, p=0.05, ηp2=0.094). A similar, though non-significant, pattern was evident in SI analyses.

Discussion: Neutral-neutral associations were better retained compared to neutral-negative ones, as previously shown (Murray & Kensinger, 2012; 2014). Integrative encoding enhanced memory, especially for neutral-negative associations following a sleep episode. These results suggest sleep is a protective factor for associations that would otherwise deteriorate over an interval of wakefulness and underscore the importance of sleep for emotional memory.

05

Recruitment of Vasopressin and Oxytocin Neurons in the Paraventricular and Supraoptic Hypothalamic Nuclei during Social Play in Juvenile Male and Female Rats

Cassandra Gergely
Advisor: Christina Reppucci

Social play is shown in nearly all juvenile mammalian species, including humans, and is necessary for developing social and cognitive skills later in life. The neuropeptides vasopressin (AVP) and oxytocin (OT) have been implicated in the sex-specific regulation of social play behaviors in juvenile rats. Here we investigated whether this is caused by sex-specific recruitment of AVP- and OT- synthesizing neurons in the paraventricular (PVH) and supraoptic (SO) hypothalamic nuclei. Single-housed juvenile rats underwent a 10-minute exposure to a novel age- and sex-matched intruder, or no social exposure. Time spent engaged in social play behavior did not differ between males and females. Rats were sacrificed 80 minutes after the test, and brain regions of interest were processed with double fluorescent immunohistochemistry for visualization of Fos (a measure of neural activity) and either AVP or OT. The number of neurons labeled with both Fos and each neuropeptide was then counted. Recruitment of either AVP or OT neurons in the PVH did not differ by play condition or sex. However, males had significantly higher recruitment of both AVP and OT neurons in the SO than females, regardless of play condition, suggesting the potential for higher AVP and OT signaling in males compared to females. Including both sexes, a significant correlation was found between the percentage of time engaged in play behavior and the number of activated SO-OT neurons. This suggests the involvement of OT neurons in the SO in the regulation of social play behavior. Overall, these findings suggest, for the first time, an important role of the SO in mediating sex differences in AVP and OT neuronal activation and a potential role of SO-OT neurons in social play behavior.

06

Elucidating the Mechanisms Causing Sex Differences in the Oxytocin Receptor in the Brain

Tessa Gillespie
Advisors: Nick Worley and Alexa Veenema

The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) often regulates social behavior in sex-specific ways. This may be due to sex differences in the OT receptor (OTR) in the brain. Our lab recently showed that the posterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (pBNST) has the most robust sex difference in OTR, with adult male rats having higher OTR binding densities. Because testosterone has been implicated in masculinization of the brain, we hypothesized that testosterone, via activation of the androgen receptor (AR), masculinizes the OTR, resulting in the sex difference in OTR in the pBNST. We aimed to determine (1) the age of onset of the sex difference in OTR, (2) the role of neonatal AR activation in the development of the sex difference in OTR, and (3) the role of lifetime AR activation in the development of the sex difference in OTR. Our findings demonstrate that the sex difference in OTR binding density appears between postnatal (P) 3 and P5. Furthermore, pharmacological treatment with a specific AR antagonist on P0 and P1 significantly reduced OTR binding density in male rats but did not eliminate the sex difference in OTR. Finally, male rats carrying a testicular feminization mutation (Tfm) resulting in non-functional AR throughout life, show significantly lower OTR binding density compared to wild-type male rats, but show significantly higher OTR binding density compared to wild-type female rats. Overall, these data demonstrate that testosterone, acting on androgen receptors early in life, is necessary for complete masculinization of the OTR in the pBNST, but that the sex difference in OTR likely requires AR activation in combination with other factors.

07

Chemogenetic Inhibition of the Insular Cortex and Social Affective Behavior

Katherine Gribbons
Advisors: Morgan Rogers and John Christianson

A vital part of social cognition is the capacity to perceive and react to the arousal state of others, a phenomenon termed social affect. Social affect is conserved across species and in humans may give way to sophisticated social abilities. We have introduced a rodent Social Affective Preference (SAP) test in which an adult male test rat explored two constrained conspecifics, one exposed to stress and the other naïve. Social affect was evident as the adult test rat preference to interact with the stressed juvenile conspecific. Previously, optogenetic or pharmacological inhibition of the insular cortex abolished social affective preference (Rogers et al., in progress). To begin to understand the role of the insular cortex at a circuit level we used a chemogenetic approach to obtain control over circuitry that contains the insula. Here, rats were transduced with the inhibitory chemogenetic hM4Di receptor in insular cortex neurons. Later activation of this receptor by administration of clozapine-N-oxide (CNO) prevented the expression of social affect; CNO had no effect in animals without hM4Di transduction. These experiments reinforce the role of the insular cortex in social affect and establish a new technological approach for interrogating the contributions of the insula to a broader social brain network.

08

Why Watch Netflix?: Effects of Mood and Arousal on Theory of Mind Scores After Viewing Television

Morgan Hamill
Advisor: Ellen Winner

Theory of mind is a critical social skill that enables individuals to assess the mental states of others and act upon this information accordingly. Correlational studies have shown that skill in theory of mind is related to reading fiction: those who score higher on the Author Recognition Test (a proxy for fiction reading) perform better on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (Eyes test; a measure of theory of mind). One experimental study reported that reading fiction immediately elevates theory of mind (compared to nonfiction, or no reading), though this study failed to replicate. The goal of the study reported here was to determine whether watching fiction television elevates theory of mind skill. The study was designed to test two competing hypotheses: (1) fiction (but not nonfiction) television elevates theory of mind skill; or (2) watching fiction (but not nonfiction) television increases positive mood and/or arousal, and these increases are what elevate theory of mind skill. Seventy-eight undergraduates were randomly assigned to watch an episode of fiction or nonfiction television. Participants completed the Eyes test as well as pre- and post-television assessments of mood and arousal. This study failed to demonstrate that watching fiction television elevates theory of mind as measured by the Eyes test; moreover, no effect of condition was found on mood or arousal. In addition, in an attempt to replicate the finding that fiction reading predicts performance on the Eyes Test, participants completed the Author Recognition Test. Surprisingly, even here there was no significant finding. I conclude by considering the possibility that the Author Recognition Test is not a good measure of fiction exposure in today’s undergraduate population. Keywords: Theory of mind, television, literature, fiction, nonfiction, Author Recognition Test, Reading the Mind in the Eyes

09

To Compete or to Collaborate: The Effects of Collaboration and Competition on Numerical Estimation and Executive Functioning

Kelsey Hawthorne
Advisors: Nadia Chernyak and Sara Cordes

The ability to effectively compete against and collaborate with others is a hallmark of professional, academic, and personal success. While recent research has unveiled the positive effects of collaboration and cooperation on children’s socio-cognitive development (Ross and Lollis, 1987; Warneken et al., 2006; Tomasello et al., 2005; Hamann et al., 2011; Butler and Walton, 2013), the influence of competition has yet to be thoroughly explored. Moreover, little is known about the ways in which competition and collaboration impacts children’s information processing. The present study aimed to investigate whether the emotions associated with competitive and collaborative environments may prompt distortions in two types of information processing: numerical estimation and executive functioning. Children were randomized into one of four conditions in which they completed a puzzle block task: competition-winning (in which children competed and finished a puzzle faster than a confederate puppet and won), competition-losing (in which children competed and finished a puzzle slower than a confederate puppet and lost), collaboration (in which children worked with the confederate puppet as a team to complete the puzzles), and baseline (in which children completed the puzzles on their own). Before and after the puzzle task, children were asked to complete a series of numerical estimation trials followed by a working memory task at the end. Our results showed that children were more likely to overestimate number in the competition-winning condition than the competition losing condition. As a whole, children were also significantly more likely to underestimate number before completing the puzzle task versus after they completed the puzzle task. Analyses of gender also revealed that males were marginally more likely to overestimate and significantly more likely to perform better on the working memory task than female participants. These results suggest that the positive emotions associated with winning a competitive task may cause children to overestimate number, and boys may be less affected by competitive and collaborative tasks than girls.

10

Social Support Mechanisms for Unaccompanied Refugee Youth

Isra Hussein
Advisor: Barry Schneider

In today’s global climate, understanding mechanisms that will support the integration of refugees is vital to the success of our society. Rather than focusing solely on risk factors and mental illnesses for this population, otherwise known as damage-centered research, this thesis is an analysis of protective factors of psychopathology in unaccompanied refugee minors based on existing literature and interview case studies. These protective factors mediate coping and successful integration in the host country, and help to foster resilience in this vulnerable population. According to existing literature, they include individual factors of belonging and self-identity, and social factors such as community support and integration. Host cultural understanding also proves to be an important factor in improving the migration process for refugee youth. Furthermore, for refugees from war-torn areas, a subjective sense of religious devotion is associated with a reduction in anxiety and depression for unaccompanied refugee youth. To better contextualize these results, several professionals providing services to Muslim refugees in Barcelona, Spain were interviewed this past summer. Their thoughts were coded and analyzed using NVivo 11 for Mac (QSR International) to understand trends in services that are in line with existing literature. Overall, accessibility of interpreters and education on heritage culture prove to be major factors in the successful transition of refugee youth. Experts also suggest obtaining legal identification as a means of creating a healthier self-identity, and increasing collaboration between different service providers in Barcelona to meet more needs of this population. Though this case study was completed with experts in Barcelona, the conclusions of increased collaboration and identity formation are generalizable across the board. Moving forward, it will be crucial to identify programs and structures that play a role in the healthy development of unaccompanied refugee youth.

11

The Impact of Cognitive Load on Temporal and Numerical Processing

Maura Keefe
Advisors: Karina Hamamouche and Sara Cordes

Prominent theories have provided evidence for the presence of a common magnitude system for processing time and number (Meck & Church, 1983; Walsh, 2003). However, recent research involving emotional stimuli has demonstrated distinct patterns of time and number processing (Young & Cordes, 2013), therefore questioning the presence of a common magnitude system and the mechanisms underlying time and number processing. In the current study, we tested the impact of cognitive load—or taxing one’s working memory—on time and number processing to further explore the existence of a common magnitude system. Adults (N=45) participated in both a temporal and numerical bisection task. Each task included baseline and cognitive load trials. Cognitive load caused participants to underestimate number, yet did not impact performance on the temporal task. Our results also showed no correlation between time and number performance, suggesting that there may not be a relationship between how people process time and number. Although more research is needed, based on the patterns shown, we believe the impact of cognitive load on temporal and numerical processing will lead to further evidence of separate processing mechanisms, possibly with the implication that attention underlies numerical processing while arousal underlies temporal.

12

Is a Picture Worth 140-Characters? An Experimental Study on the Effects of Instagram vs. Twitter on Well-Being

Savanna Kiefer
Advisor: Ellen Winner

This study investigated the effect of image and text based social media on the sense of well-being in self-reported extraverts and introverts. Sixty-four undergraduate Boston College students were surveyed on three measures of well-being—loneliness, satisfaction with life, and happiness—before and after being randomly assigned to a fourteen-day period of extensive use of Instagram, Twitter, or neither of these platforms. Participants were asked to identify themselves as extraverts or introverts. It was hypothesized that image-based social media use will result in greater well-being, combining Instagram and Twitter into one group will result in greater well-being compared to the control group, and introverts will show greater increases in well-being than extraverts from either kind of social media use. Contrary to hypothesis, neither the use of image- or text-based social media over a fourteen-day period affected well-being for either extraverts or introverts. Well-being was also not predicted by the frequency with which participants reported using social media prior to this study. What did predict well-being, however, was being an extravert. Introverts were significantly lonelier, less satisfied with life, and less happy than extraverts.

13

How Fraction Labels Impact Adults’ Processing of Proportional Information

Amanda Kuron
Advisors: Michelle Hurst and Sara Cordes

This study seeks to investigate how verbal labels for fractions may influence adults’ performance on fraction comparison tasks when information is presented in different forms. Two experiments conducted via Amazon Mechanical Turk asked adults to compare two numerical values presented as: (1) two symbols, (2) two sets of dots, or (3) one symbol and one set of dots. Adults were randomly assigned to a verbal label condition and were primed to use different language to describe fractions before performing each task. Verbal labels for fractions included (1) traditional labels (e.g., “one-fourth,” “two-fifths”), (2) non-traditional labels (e.g., “one out of four,” “two out of five”), or (3) a control in which participants only saw a symbolic representation of a fraction (e.g., 1/4, 2/5). Results indicate that across all conditions adults performed most accurately when comparing two symbolic fractions. On verbal priming problems, results indicate that adults assigned to the Control label condition performed significantly worse than adults in the Traditional and Non-traditional label conditions. This study provides some evidence that language plays a role in how adults think about and work with fractions, though further research is needed to examine the extent to which language does play a role.

14

Minds and Motivation: Effects of Self Mind Perception and Identity on Follow-Up Behavior

Erin Laughlin
Advisor: Andrea Heberlein

Can appealing to one’s identity or perception of mind increase follow-up behavior? Work by Rogers et al. (2011) on voter turnout suggests that making people’s sense of self salient in their minds by appealing to their identity leads to an increased interest in registering to vote and higher voter turnout. Similarly, work by Manning (2016) suggests that appealing to certain dimensions of mind leads to an increase in follow-up behavior. One hundred and seventeen undergraduate students participated in a brief laboratory experiment, after which they were given a typed message encouraging them to participate in a follow-up survey the following day. The wording of the messages were varied based on appealing to participant’s feelings (experience) versus their goals (agency) and by appealing to participant’s personal identity (noun) versus their actions (verb). Participants also completed a standardized conscientiousness measure. There was a trend towards greater follow-up participation in the Experience conditions relative to the Agency conditions, Χ2 (1, N = 117) = 2.4, Fisher exact one-tailed p = .087; none of the other comparisons were significant. Taken in the context of previous work varying messages along these dimensions, these results suggest that appealing to one’s feelings (experience) can increase one’s follow-up behavior.

15

When and Why Do Adults Spontaneously Focus on Number and is This Related to Math Performance?

Monica Lee
Advisors: Sophie Savelkouls and Sara Cordes

Infants, children, and adults can use multiple different dimensions for discriminating quantity: number, surface area, or density, for example. Studies with children under the age of three suggest that their propensity to pay attention to one dimension (such as surface area) over another dimension (such as number) is based on the size of the set. However, research suggests that a switch in preference from number to surface area occurs around the age of three (Cantlon, Safford, & Brannon, 2010). Researchers who have looked at attention to number and variables such as surface area are interested in the saliency of these variables and what factors may affect this saliency. Specifically, they have examined the concept of Spontaneous Focusing on Number (SFON) which refers to the tendency to spontaneously attend to the number of objects or stimuli without any direction. While research with children has found SFON to be correlated with later mathematical achievements, we were interested in this relationship between SFON and mathematical performance in adults. To test this, we used SFON tasks such as a Picture Task and Delayed Match to Sample Tasks, and to measure mathematical performance we used the Subjective Numeracy Scale and the Math Fluency subtest of the Woodcock Johnson Test of Achievement and a modified version of the Applied Problems subtest. We were unable to find a correlation between SFON and mathematical abilities; however, we did find an effect of ratio difficulty. Participants were less likely to pick numbers with the more difficult ratios. Yet more studies are still needed to further investigate the connection between SFON and math abilities in adults and ratio difficulty as a variable that affects the saliency of dimensions such as number or surface area.

16

Studying the Dual Models of Orientations to Success Theory with a Rigged Monopoly Game

Emily McCloskey
Advisor: Donnah Canavan

This thesis finds its base in the Dual Models of Orientations towards to Success Theory. In line with this theory, the thesis explores whether there is a difference between Healthy and Conventional Succeeders’ a) worldviews, b) reactions to success, and c) treatment/regard of those less fortunate. Other characteristics of Healthy and Conventional Succeeders that we explore in the context of this thesis include their Belief in a Just World, Attitude towards Greed, Self-Acceptance, Social-Dominance orientation, levels of narcissistic personality tendencies (measured through a condensed NPI), and their socioeconomic status (measured through the MacArthur Scale for Subjective Social Status). Participants engaged in a rigged game of Monopoly (the experimental paradigm used in Paul Piff’s (2013) “Monopoly Study”) where participants inevitably won the game; they also completed pre- and post-questionnaires. Unfortunately, our findings do not exactly replicate those of Piff (2013), as the vast majority of participants, regardless of the Orientation towards Success, recognized the role of their rigged advantage in their win. Nonetheless, our findings still do lend support to several of our hypotheses. Specifically, we find support for the idea that a) Healthy and Conventional Succeeders have different worldviews, with Conventional Succeeders seeing their natural attributes, talents, etc. as somehow being “destined” to be theirs and Healthy Succeeders seeing them as being fortunately randomly ascribed to them and b) Healthy Succeeders react to success differently than Conventional Succeeders, with Conventional Succeeders feeling more proud, deserving, and entitled compared to Healthy Succeeders. We do not, however, find direct support for the idea that Healthy and Conventional Succeeders treat or regard those less fortunate than themselves differently. Additionally, Healthy Succeeders are found to exhibit higher levels of Belief in a Just World and Self-Acceptance while Conventional Succeeders are found to exhibit higher levels of Attitude towards Greed, Social-Dominance, narcissism, and SES.

17

Evaluating Hierarchies of Verb Argument Structure with Hierarchical Clustering

Jesse Mu
Advisor: Joshua Hartshorne

Most verbs can only be used with a few specific arrangements of their possible arguments (syntactic frames). Interestingly, most theorists have noted that verbs can be organized into a hierarchy of verb classes based on the frames they admit. Here we confirm that such a hierarchy is objectively well-supported by the patterns of verbs and frames in English, by demonstrating that a state-of-the-art hierarchical clustering algorithm converges on the same structure as the handcrafted taxonomy of VerbNet (Kipper et al., 2008), a broad-coverage verb lexicon. We also provide evidence that the hierarchies capture meaningful psychological dimensions of generalization by predicting novel verb coercions by human participants. We discuss limitations of a simple hierarchical representation and suggest similar novel computational approaches for identifying the representations that underpin verb argument structure.

18

The Impact of an Empathic Relationship on Feelings of Similarity to the Other: Implications for Medical Professionals Treating Overweight Patients

Kristen Murray
Advisor: Andrea Heberlein

Overweight individuals report feeling unsatisfied with the medical care they receive (Puhl & Brownell, 2001). One cause of this substandard care may arise from a lack of empathy expressed by medical professionals, many of whom have reported ascribing traits such as a lack of intelligence, laziness, and noncompliance to overweight patients (Puhl & Brownell, 2001). This type of denial of a person’s mental capacities is a form of dehumanization and can be caused by a lack of empathy. If overweight individuals are receiving substandard medical care because of failures of empathy on the part of medical professionals then it is important to understand the mechanisms underlying this reduced empathy. Empathy is known to increase a perceiver’s similarity to the target (Davis et al., 1996 as cited in Waytz et al., 2010). We hypothesized that engaging in an empathic relationship with a stigmatized individual may be aversive due to an anticipation of this similarity effect. In other words, one may withhold empathy from someone who is overweight in an attempt to avoid feeling similar to a stigmatized individual. We tested this hypothesis by asking subjects to imagine having an empathic relationship with a particular individual; we found that the closer subjects reported feeling to this individual, the more likely they were to think they would come to possess certain salient traits of the individual. These results suggest that subjective feelings of closeness to another cause targets to focus on their own similarity to the other. The implication of this finding is that when a target individual possesses certain stigmatized traits, empathy may be withheld in order to uphold one’s positive self-image.

19

Influence of Cash versus Credit Participant Compensation on Reward-Enhanced Memory Formation

Kanwal Ojha
Advisors: Elizabeth Kensinger and Holly Bowen

Many studies have found that monetary incentives can influence episodic memory formation. However, it is still unclear whether the type of compensation given to the participants for their time can impact these results. In our study, we explored the effects of anticipation of monetary rewards on memory formation in young adults, who all received cash incentives for their performance but were either compensated for their time with cash or partial course credit. Participants encoded 60 pictures, during which they were cued that half were worth a high and half a low reward if they recognized them on a subsequent memory test. Participants had to identify the pictures that they had seen and which pictures were new. Half the items were tested later that same session, and the other half 24 hours later in a second session. We found that participants who volunteered for the study and received credit did not exhibit a significant difference in memory based on the item’s assigned value, whereas participants who did the study for cash, correctly recognized high-value items in comparison to low-value items at a higher rate. What this study suggests is that those compensated for their time with cash were more motivated by the cash incentives, compared to those who were compensated with credit who did not modulate their memory performance based on cash incentives.

20

The Effect of Labels on Infants’ Number Discrimination

Stephanie Parent
Advisor: Sophie Savelkouls and Sara Cordes

The current study investigates whether infants can use linguistic cues to guide numerical discrimination. There is evidence that numerical discrimination in infants becomes more precise with age. Previous research has shown that 10-month-old infants successfully discriminate a 2:3 ratio, but they are unable to discriminate a 4:5 ratio. By the time infants are three years of age they are able to successfully discriminate a 3:4 ratio. We chose to test 15- to 17-month-old infants to determine whether they would be able to discriminate a 3:4 ratio with the aid of a verbal label. It has been previously demonstrated that consistently applied verbal labels can help infants categorize objects. Since this ratio should be difficult but at the cusp of their knowledge, we investigated whether infants are able to use information from language to categorize number and make more precise discriminations. The results of this initial study indicate that the consistent verbal labels used in habituation did not promote categorization and discrimination of this ratio. We hypothesize that this failure may be due to the difficulty of the ratio for infants at this age and the design of our study. We have therefore designed a follow up study that utilizes the easier ratio of 8:11.

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Using Race as a Visual Feature to Evaluate Emotions

Ashruti Patel
Advisor: Hiram Brownell

This study explored whether a participant’s own racial identity would affect his or her evaluation of faces of other races by testing whether cross-race faces and eyes elicit a different emotional label than those belonging to the same-race. In study 1, 76 participants were asked to label the emotion being shown through 80 individual faces belonging to 4 different races (African American, Middle Eastern, Western European, and East Asian). In study 2, the faces in Study 1 were cropped to leave only the eye regions, and 60 participants were asked to label the emotion being displayed. Analysis focused on labels applied to faces showing neutral expressions in terms of valence, arousal, and dominance. Results showed trends supporting the finding that a participant’s own racial identity affects his or her evaluation of faces of other races. The implications and limitations of this finding will be discussed.

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Finding the Pointe: A Study on the Healthy and Unhealthy Forms of Competition, Passion, and Self-Esteem in Dancers

Lexie Perreira
Advisor: Barry Schneider

There is little research on the underlying psychological problems of dancers. Given the pressures dancers perform under, it is important to determine the reasons why many of those pressures result in psychological problems. In the present study, we sampled 98 university students enrolled in dance programs. Data collected from the participants included their responses to surveys measuring their dislike of competition and need to outperform others, their harmonious passion, obsessive passion, and three domains of self-esteem (social, appearance, and performance). We found that the more obsessively passionate dancers are, the lower their performance self-esteem is; the more dancers dislike competition, the higher their performance self-esteem is; and the more dancers try to outperform others, the lower their social self-esteem is. The results suggest the need for those who teach and participate in dance to cultivate a need for a harmonious passion and do what they can to reduce competitiveness.

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Individual Differences in Food Neophobia, but Not Current Emotional State, Account for Food Preferences Based on Novelty

Kelly Sangster
Advisor: James Russell

Current emotional state and individual differences in food neophobia were investigated as primary factors that influence food preferences. At least 24 hours prior to completing the study, 124 Boston College undergraduate female participants completed the Food Neophobia Scale (Pliner & Hobden, 1992) and three other individual differences measures. During the study, participants were randomly assigned to view a two-minute sad, scary, or neutral film clip and subsequently rate pictures of five familiar-comfort foods and five unfamiliar-exotic foods on nine-point scales for how much they wanted to eat the food and how much they considered the food a “comfort food.” Repeated measures ANOVAs showed no significant effect of emotion condition with food ratings, but a significant effect was found with food ratings and neophobia group. Those in the high neophobia group consistently rated novel exotic foods as less desirable to eat and less of a comfort food than those in the low neophobia group. Some significant effects were also found for food ratings as a function of scores on the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996) and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (Spielberger et al., 1983). These results suggest that food neophobia and individual differences in emotional traits have a stronger effect on food preferences than current emotional state does.

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Spontaneous Representation of Proportions

Meghan Santry
Advisors: Michelle Hurst and Sara Cordes

The current study looked at how adults spontaneously represent proportions that are presented in non-symbolic and symbolic form. Specifically, we asked adults to translate pie charts, number lines, fractions, and decimals into another representation, using common (1/2 and 3/4) and uncommon (4/7 and 5/8) fraction magnitudes. The majority of adults spontaneously produced part-whole shapes when given a fraction and produced decimals when given a number line. Adults had less clear biases when given a pie chart or a decimal as target representations and resulting answers were more variable. Adults were also given multiple choice questions, in which they were either given a non-symbolic representation and had to choose between two equivalent symbolic representations, or given a symbolic representation and had to choose between two non-symbolic representations. Across all magnitudes, adults made significant associations between pie charts and fractions (and vice versa) and number lines and decimals. However, when decimals were the target representation, responses differed across different magnitudes, with common magnitudes resulting in pie chart associations and uncommon magnitudes resulting in number line associations. Together, these results suggest that adults do have established associations between different proportional representations, but that these can vary across magnitudes. Previous studies have suggested that pie charts are inferior to number lines when it comes to teaching and communicating proportional values (Wang & Siegler 2013; Saxe, Diakow, & Gearhart, 2012). However, our study suggests that pie charts may be useful for discrete, easily divisible magnitudes, and number lines may be best for more continuous information.

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The Effect of One Year of Intensive Orchestral Music Training on Young Children’s Executive Function Skills, Self-Perception, and School Liking

Alessandra Scorzella
Advisor: Ellen Winner

Correlational studies demonstrate a positive association between music education and measures of executive functioning in children (Degé et al., 2011; Lee et al., 2007; Schellenberg, 2011; Zuk et al., 2014) and several experimental studies have reported a positive effect of music on executive functioning in children (Holochwost et al., in press; Moreno et al., 2009; Moreno et al., 2011). I report here an experimental study of the effects of one year of intensive orchestral music education on executive functioning, self-perception, and school liking. Sixty-five children receiving orchestral music training during first grade were compared to 37 children who had applied to the same music program but were not admitted (based on random lottery or a first come first served basis). Treatment and control participants were recruited from three Boston-area public or charter schools primarily serving low-income students. No differences were found for music and control children on any dependent measures either at baseline (end of kindergarten) or at the end of first grade.

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Neither Extinction nor Counterconditioning Abolish Evaluative Conditioning Using the Picture-Picture Paradigm

Amanda Simard
Advisor: Jeffrey Lamoureux

Past research has suggested that evaluative conditioning may impact the development of eating disorders by establishing undue dislike of certain foods. By pairing food images (CSs) with images of different bodies (USs), researchers have shown that foods paired with aversive stimuli may become negatively rated (Lascelles, Field, & Davey, 2003). Further research suggested that this evaluative conditioning might resist extinction training (Dwyer, Jarratt, & Dick, 2007). Our research set out to replicate these claims and to elucidate this evaluative conditioning paradigm by investigating effects of counterconditioning. In Experiment 1, ninety-six participants were tested in either extinction or counterconditioning procedures; each subject received initial picture-picture conditioning in which pictures of foods were immediately followed by pictures of bodies. Bodies were either of average BMI and were rated positively by subjects, or they were clinically obese, rated negatively, and supported negative conditioning. Then, participants received either extinction training, in which food images were presented repeatedly in the absence of bodies, or counterconditioning training, in which pictures of preferred (i.e. non-obese) bodies followed food presentation. Data replicated previous work, suggesting that extinction is not effective at reversing negative evaluative conditioning in this paradigm. Similarly, counterconditioning insignificantly changed ratings, albeit with a possible trend toward significance. Further, Experiment 2 explored counterconditioning by utilizing images of attractive, rather than average, bodies. Forty-four participants underwent counterconditioning training in the same manner as Experiment 1, but average bodies were replaced with attractive bodies. Counterconditioning with more salient stimuli, attractive body images, in fact showed an insignificant decrease in rating of the previously conditioned foods. Thus, further research should investigate the effects of counterconditioning to understand its unclear impact on evaluative conditioning. These results are important to understanding both evaluative conditioning in the context of associative learning theory and potential therapeutic treatment options for those with disordered eating.

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Relationship between Emotion Regulation and Autobiographical Memory Retrieval in Social Anxiety

Brianna Smith
Advisors: Sarah Kark, Jaclyn Ford, and Elizabeth Kensinger

Recent literature suggests that individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) tend to have emotional memory biases in the encoding and retrieval of social memories and difficulty with emotional regulation. The present study examined the relation between perceived emotional experience during autobiographical memory retrieval of socially relevant events and autonomic response. Forty-four healthy young adults were recruited from the Boston College campus through Sona. Participants were given an online survey that instructed them to retrieve 40 specific events from the past in response to 40 socially relevant cues. For each event, participants were instructed to provide a brief narrative, make several ratings for the event (on a scale from 1-7), and indicate the specific emotions they experienced both at the time of retrieval and of the event. Approximately one month after the completion of the memory survey, participants engaged in a two-hour memory retrieval session while undergoing psychophysiological monitoring. Following the retrieval task, participants completed self-report questionnaires of social anxiety symptom severity and emotion regulation strategy (i.e., tendency to reappraise or suppress emotions). Results demonstrated that a full range of social anxiety (from SAD unlikely to SAD very probable) could be identified in a healthy undergraduate sample. Substantial variation in heart-rate variability was also identified in the sample. With regard to emotion regulation and memory, the current study found that the tendency to suppress emotions was negatively correlated with emotional memory re-experiencing, while the tendency to reappraise emotions was positively correlated with re-experiencing. Interestingly, the negative correlation between emotion suppression and re-experiencing of positive memories (and possibly for negative memories) was driven by participants with higher SAD symptomology, compared to those participants with lower. These findings suggest that emotion suppression style in SAD is associated with degraded re-experiencing of emotional memories.

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Stressor Controllability and Prefrontal Perineuronal Net Neuronal Activity

Lucy Xu
Advisor: John Christianson

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays an important role in the modulation of stress. Chronic stress downregulates the output of the PFC; this results in the upregulation of brain activity in areas such as the amygdala that augment anxiety and fear. Importantly, this consequence is determined by the controllability of the stressor. We tested the hypothesis that stress may alter PFC activity, in part, by modulating cells that contain extracellular perineuronal nets (PNNs). PNNs are found in the cortex and play an important role in determining plasticity in emotional learning. The present study aimed to determine how escapable stress (ES) or inescapable stress (IS) could affect the nature of PNN cell activity in the PFC. Escapable or yoked-inescapable shock cell counts of Fos, PNNs, and double-labeled cells did not reveal significant interactions between stress condition, sex, and region of interest in female or male rats. However, there were factors that were trending towards significance. These results could have implications for further research on the function of PNNs and their relation to anxiety disorders such as PTSD.

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Sex Differences in Oxytocin and Vasopressin V1a Receptor Binding Densities in the Mouse Brain: Focus on the Social Behavior Neural Network

Jing Ting (Christine) Yuan
Advisors: Nick Worley and Alexa Veenema

Oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (AVP) often regulate social behaviors in sex-specific ways. We hypothesized that this could be mediated by sex differences in the OT receptor (OTR) and AVP V1a receptor (V1aR) in the brain. Here, we determined whether there are sex differences in OTR and V1aR binding densities in nodes of the social behavior neural network in the mouse brain. We also compared sex differences in the OTR and V1aR in the mouse brain with those found previously found in the rat brain. Although mice and rats are closely related species, they also display differences in social behavior. Therefore, we predicted to find similar as well as unique sex differences in OTR and V1aR in mice compared to rats. Generally, we found that sex differences in OTR and V1aR binding densities are brain region-specific and species-specific. In detail, male mice showed higher OTR binding density than female mice in the medial amygdala, lateral septum, and posterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. This is consistent with findings in rats. Furthermore, female mice displayed higher OTR binding density in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus and ventromedial hypothalamus. This is in contrast to rats, where males showed higher OTR binding densities in these regions. Lastly, females showed higher V1aR binding density in the anterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. However, this sex difference was not found in rats. Overall, these findings demonstrate the importance to determine sex differences in OTR and V1aR across species in order to gain a better understanding of the sex-specific behavioral functions of the OT and AVP systems.

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