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Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences

Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference

purc 2015

The 2015 Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference was held Monday, May 4 in McGuinn.

Book of Abstracts for PURC 2015

Table of Contents

The Role of Autobiographical Memory in Social Anxiety
Tala Berro

The effect of repeated questioning on eyewitness memory under conditions of stress and subtle misinformation
Emily Blanco

Touchscreen Study on Infants' Understanding of Number
Haley Boyce

The Effect of First vs. Third Person Narration on Readers’ Levels of Identification with Fictional Characters
Lucas Brewington-Janssen

Children's Understanding of Personality
Erin Burke

Effects of Extinction and Counterconditioning on Aversive Evaluative Conditioning
Erin Cahill

The impact of book reading on infants’ numerical discrimination using a change-detection paradigm
Kelsey Carey

The Role of the Ventral Hippocampus in Cued-Fear Discrimination Learning
Veronica Chen

Developmental Sex-differences in Anxiety and Social Behavior may be mediated by Calcium-Binding GABAergic Interneurons and differentially affected by Early Life Stress and Cannabinoid Type 1 Receptor Antagonism
Patrick Einhorn

Productive but insensitive: Thinking about goals leads to reduced attention to others’ experience
Serena Entezary

Role of Working Memory in Bilinguals’ Tendency to Think More Utilitarian-like in their Second Language
Nicholas Gillespie

Dynamic changes in oxytocin receptor expression throughout development in the rat brain
Tessa Gillespie

Fraction Distraction: The Effect of Rational Numbers in Word Problems
Carolyn Griesser

Playing a Strategy Game leads to Decreased Test Scores
Brett Hoffer

Gender and Power: Exploring Children’s Associations through Body Language
Kelly Hoffman

Imagining Emotional Events and its Effect on Prosocial Responses
Elaine Hynds

Effects of scene/object “crosstalk” on scene recognition accuracy
Ryan Jones

Social Consequences of Imagining Future Events: Scene Construction Facilitates Social Decision-Making
Kerri Keeler

The development and influence of math-gender stereotypes across the lifespan
Emily Kleinlein

Individual Differences in Theory of Mind and their Relationship to Cooperative Values and Behaviors
Anita Kwashie

Applying Episodic Simulation to Online Prosocial Behavior
Karen Lee

Comparison of vasopressin receptor binding in the brains of adolescent and adult male and female rats
Sara Li

Nanocoaxial Optrode Arrays for Recording Neuronal Action Potentials
Jaclyn Lundberg

The Effect of Sleep on False Memory Formation for Visual Information
Jason Michaels

Examining the Perceived Association between Antisocial Personalities and Math Professions
Kelly Miller 

Mechanisms underlying sex differences in the brain oxytocin system: Is there a role for epigenetics?
Laura Newman

Self-Control and Altruism: The Trouble of Laboratory Measurements for Complex Social Topics
Jessica Opila

Behavioral consequences of intra-insular cortex oxytocin administration
Anne Pierce

Age and Sex Comparisons in Striatal Mu Opioid Receptor Binding in the Rat Brain
Aarane Ratnaseelan

Adults’ Understanding of Rational Numbers in Symbolic and Non-Symbolic Form
Charlotta Relander

I can’t care about you right now: The effect of stress on empathy
Max Ruge

Does Our Belief About an Artist’s Mental State Affect Our Evaluation of the Art Produced?
Leslie Snapper

The Red Cup Conundrum: Psychophysiological Effects of Free-Pouring and Alcohol Intake in Undergraduates
Megan Sweeney

Making Versus Viewing Art: Effects on Affect, Enjoyment, and Flow
Sarah Wawrzynski

The Control of Feeding by Learned Aversive Cues: Recruitment of the Nucleus of the Solitary Tract and Dorsal Motor Nucleus of the Vagus Nerve
Anna Whitham

The Effects of Emotion on Numerical Perception in Adults
Alexandra Zax

Abstracts

The Role of Autobiographical Memory in Social Anxiety

Tala Berro
Advisors: Jaclyn Ford and Elizabeth Kensinger

High social anxiety has been associated with significant changes in emotional autobiographical memory retrieval, but these biases have not been studied in the full range of social anxiety. The current study examined this question in a sample of healthy undergraduates. Twenty young adults were asked to fill out an autobiographical memory survey composed of written narratives and subjective ratings on memory and the retrieval process. They were then asked to complete a social anxiety questionnaire in which they rated twenty-four social and performance-based scenarios on their corresponding anxiety. A full range of social anxiety was observed within the sample. In this sample, social anxiety was found to be associated with increased negative valence of social events and decreased significance of positive social events. An increased tendency to report feeling anxious was found in all socially relevant events, particularly those retrieved with a positive instruction. Extending prior research, these results demonstrated a distortion of supportive positive social memories in participants with higher social anxiety. The exaggeration of negative emotional recall and increased feelings of anxiety in positive social memories may lend insight into how individuals with anxiety retrieve memories of social events. The relationship between social anxiety and autobiographical memory retrieval elucidates anxiety biases that may affect how individuals approach social events in the future.

Poster by Tala Berro

The effect of repeated questioning on eyewitness memory under conditions of stress and subtle misinformation

Emily Blanco
Advisors: Scott Slotnick and Jessica Karanian

Detectives and attorneys often use repeated or leading questioning during eyewitness interviews in the attempt to gain as much information as possible. However, information obtained from eyewitness interviews is notoriously unreliable. Laboratory research has pinpointed a number of factors that might contribute to these instances of inaccurate eyewitness testimonies. For example, the continuous reactivation of memories that occurs when repeatedly questioned can increase susceptibly to memory errors. Also, stress can affect memory for event details. Repeated questioning and stress commonly co-occur in real-world scenarios, yet little is known about how these factors interact with one another to affect susceptibility to subtle misinformation during eyewitness questioning. Accordingly, we implemented a paradigm to recreate a real-world eyewitness experience and subsequent eyewitness interview. Forty participants assumed the role of the eyewitness to a videotaped crime in which a theft occurs. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to a stress condition, while the other half served as controls. Critically, both groups were exposed to subtle post-event misinformation (e.g., was the man wearing a red winter scarf?). Following a 30-minute delay, participants underwent a structured eyewitness interview about the previously witnessed crime. Then, regardless of performance, participants were given negative feedback and interviewed again. Our results revealed a significant interaction of condition (Control, Stress) and questioning (Round 1, Round 2) in terms of incorporation of subtle misinformation into eyewitness interview reports (p < .05). A simple effects analysis further revealed that the stress condition displayed a significant increase in misinformation errors from Round 1 to Round 2, while the number of misinformation errors did not differ between Round 1 and Round 2 for the control condition. Taken with previous evidence, it seems that repeated questioning may increase the amount of information extracted during an eyewitness interview, but even subtle misinformation should be avoided.

Poster by Emily Blanco

Touchscreen Study on Infants' Understanding of Number

Haley Boyce
Advisors: Tasha Posid and Sara Cordes

Evidence suggests that infants have access to two distinct systems for representing number, an exact object file system used to precisely track a small number of items and an approximate analog magnitude system used to represent large sets. Although infants robustly discriminate between small sets (e.g., 1 vs. 2) or between large sets (e.g., 5 vs. 10), ample evidence suggests that infants fail to discriminate small vs. large sets (e.g., 2 vs. 4). In the current line of research, we investigate those circumstances under which infants (18-36 months) overcome this failure to represent small and large sets through the use of a touchscreen computer paradigm in which infants receive practice and feedback. Results suggest that infants were able to learn to distinguish between small and large comparisons and select the target array in discrimination tasks involving 2 vs. 4 (test) and 4 vs. 8 (control). Data from both of these studies suggests that repeated feedback and motivation aids infants’ developing representation of number, but the basis upon which infants make successful numerical comparisons is still unclear. Specifically, the 2 vs. 4 and 4 vs. 8 tasks could target infants’ cardinal understanding of number, meaning that the successful discriminations were made with the understanding that the target side is a specific number (e.g., learned that the target side in the small condition for 2 vs. 4 was always 2). A third study using varying number pairs seeks to investigate if infants can make successful numerical discriminations between ordinal relationships (the target array being generally smaller or larger than the other side; e.g., they see arrays of 4 vs. 8, 6 vs. 12, etc.) and how performance differs from tasks that present specific number pairs.

Poster by Haley Boyce

The Effect of First vs. Third Person Narration on Readers’ Levels of Identification with Fictional Characters

Lucas Brewington-Janssen
Advisor: Ellen Winner

Readers often feel strongly connected to fictional protagonists as they read a story or a novel. Sometimes the protagonist is the narrator and speaks in the first person. Other times the narrator speaks about the protagonist in the third person. This study tested the hypothesis that first person narration elicits from readers greater liking, understanding, and spatial perspective taking for fictional protagonists than does third person narration. Two short stories were selected to explore this question, one originally written in the first person, the other originally in the third person. In one condition participants read the two stories as originally written; in a second condition, participants read modified stories in which all the pronouns had been changed to transform one point of view into the other. Following each story, participants were asked to report, on a 7-point scale, how much they liked and understood the actions of the protagonist. They also described how they would film a scene from each story in order to show us whether they visually imagined the story in the same perspective as it was told. Contrary to hypothesis, first person narration failed to elicit greater liking and understanding of the protagonist; and imagined filmings of scenes did not differ for first and third person narratives: all imagined scenes contained images of the protagonist and were thus from the point of view of the third person narrator. Powerful connections between readers and characters must be forged by other means than first person narration.

Poster by Lucas Brewington-Janssen

Children's Understanding of Personality

Erin Burke
Advisors: James A. Russell and Mahsa Ershadi

The present study explores the age of development and methodological artifacts present in studying children’s understanding of personality. We predicted that children as young as three years old could predict trait behaviors of a character if they understood the concept being tested. Our second hypothesis posited that younger children would predict behaviors more consistently if given examples of behavior instead of trait words. Children ages three through eight played a storytelling game with an experimenter and predicted personality traits using traits from the Big Five Personality Inventory. They were either given a trait word (e.g., Vince is lazy) or they were given three examples of behavior (e.g., Vince lays on the couch and plays video games for hours; Vince’s room is always messy; When Vince is running through the house, he knocks stuff over and doesn’t even notice). Results suggest that there are strong effects of age when vocabulary words are used to predict traits, but not when behaviors are used to predict traits. Results also suggest that certain traits within the Big Five Inventory are more salient than others to children at varying ages. Children as young as three years old predicted behaviors more often than can be due to chance in the Behavior Example Condition traits of Openness to Experience, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness-Reverse, and Agreeableness-Reverse. These findings are in conflict with previous research that children are better at predicting traits over behaviors. We would like to suggest that children could be adept at predicting behavior from traits, but only if they understand the words being used to test the traits. In exploring traits in the Big Five Inventory, children have shown capacity to predict behavior from a wide range of traits using behavior examples, but only using vocabulary if they understand the words.

Poster by Erin Burke

Effects of Extinction and Counterconditioning on Aversive Evaluative Conditioning

Erin Cahill
Advisor: Jef Lamoureux

Research has shown that evaluative conditioning can be used to change people’s emotional response to pictures of food (the conditioned stimulus, or CS) by pairing them with pictures of already disliked body types (unconditioned stimuli, UCSs). In addition, it has been found that extinction of this conditioning is not effective (Dwyer et al., 2007). It has not been investigated, however, whether counterconditioning, conditioning to replace an aversive response to a stimulus with an appetitive response, would be effective in countering this particular association between foods and body types. The present study aims to replicate Dwyer’s failure to extinguish evaluative conditioning (Expt 2) and to test the effects of counterconditioning on evaluative conditioning (Expt 1). Expt 2 replicated the earlier published finding that extinction is not effective at diminishing evaluative conditioning; however, Expt 1 found that counterconditioning successfully increased ratings from post-conditioning levels for foods initially conditioned with thin bodies and for foods initially conditioned with obese bodies. Results suggest that while evaluative conditioning may be impervious to extinction, counterconditioning may be one mechanism to reverse previously conditioned food aversions, which could potentially be clinically important for the treatment of eating disorders.

Poster by Erin Cahill

The impact of book reading on infants’ numerical discrimination using a change-detection paradigm

Kelsey Carey
Advisors: Tasha Posid and Sara Cordes

Evidence suggests that infants have access to two systems for representing number: a precise object-file system used to represent small sets (<4) and an approximate analog magnitude system used by children, adults, and non-human animals to represent all natural numbers. This second, approximate system increases in precision over the course of human development, such that 6-month-olds can discriminate a 1:2 ratio (e.g., 4 vs. 8), 9-month-olds can discriminate a 2:3 ratio (e.g., 6 vs. 9), and adults can discriminate a 7:8 ratio (e.g., 14 vs. 16). However, recent work with children and adults suggest training the ANS may lead to gains in either ANS precision or symbolic math ability. The present study investigates the development of infants’ (9-10 months) approximate number system and whether a counting book (symbolic number training) intervention can aid infants’ developing representation of number.

Poster by Kelsey Carey

The Role of the Ventral Hippocampus in Cued-Fear Discrimination Learning

Veronica Chen
Advisor: John Christianson

Fear is important to the survival of an organism, as long as it is specific to certain environmental stimuli. However, PTSD is characterized by an overgeneralization of fear from specific cues to relatively safe situations. Thus, understanding the mechanisms that permit discrimination between dangerous and safe environmental stimuli is essential to understanding PTSD. Because of its anatomical connectivity with the amygdala and its recent implication in emotion and anxiety, the ventral hippocampus has become an area of focus in fear conditioning. This study sought to implicate the ventral hippocampus in cued-fear discrimination learning. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats received infusions of GABAA receptor agonist muscimol into the ventral hippocampus 1 hour prior to A+/B- fear discrimination conditioning. Twenty-four hours later they underwent a recall test, where inactivation of the ventral hippocampus prior to conditioning resulted in decreased levels of fear to all cues (A, B, and context) compared to vehicle condition. Rats were retrained drug-free with the A+/B- paradigm until discrimination was acquired. Then rats received infusions of muscimol into the ventral hippocampus one hour prior to a recall test, where inactivation of the ventral hippocampus did not affect freezing levels in response to A, B, or context cues in either treatment condition. These results indicate that the ventral hippocampus is essential to the acquisition of fear, but does not contribute to fear recall or discrimination. Future work will seek to identify whether the ventral hippocampus is a site of neuroplasticity underlying the consolidation of learned fear.

Poster by Veronica Chen

Developmental Sex-differences in Anxiety and Social Behavior may be mediated by Calcium-Binding GABAergic Interneurons and differentially affected by Early Life Stress and Cannabinoid Type 1 Receptor Antagonism

Patrick Einhorn
Advisors: Sara Cordes and Susan L. Andersen (McLean Hospital)

Early-life stress (ELS) has been implicated in increasing anxiety and aggression in rats, possibly by means of modulating inhibitory GABA interneurons colocalized with cannabinoid receptors in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). We sought to investigate the developmental effects of maternal separation (MS) and cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptor antagonism on anxiety and social behaviors in male and female Sprague-Dawley rats. With the use of retrospective analysis, we wished to discover if juvenile social play behaviors could be used to predict those seen in adults. During adulthood, rats were exposed to the CB1 antagonist, rimonabant (Rim), or vehicle (Veh) prior to elevated-plus maze (EPM), marble burying (MB), and social interaction. With immunohistochemistry (IHC), we investigated whether changes in calbindin (CB) and calretinin (CR) expressing GABAergic interneurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) may mechanistically underlie behavioral deficits. Sex-differences in adult social behavior resulted from MS, most notably an increase in aggression and evasion in adults. Rim treatment uncovered a trend of decreased anxiety in MS, but an increase in controls (CON). Rim reduced social and explorative behaviors in males, but increased the crossovers and stretch-attend (SA) postures in females in EPM. Juvenile social play behaviors were predictive of some behaviors in adulthood. A moderate trend was observed for the interaction of condition, cell type, region, and cortical layer. This trend, along with prior research, suggests that differences in anxiety and social behavior seen in adults are differentially affected by Rim treatment dependent on changes in GABAergic interneuron subpopulations resulting from early-life stress.

Poster by Patrick Einhorn

Productive but insensitive: Thinking about goals leads to reduced attention to others’ experience

Serena Entezary
Advisor: Andrea Heberlein

People perceive others as having the capacity to think, plan, and act (Agency) and the capacity to feel sensations (Experience; Gray, Gray, & Wegner, 2007). In the present study we asked how a perceiver’s focus on their own mind interacts with how they perceive these capacities in others. How is mind perception affected by thinking about our to-do list (our own Agency) for the day? What about if we are focused on our own Experience? Participants were randomly assigned to one of two different conditions: one in which they wrote about goals they had for the day (Goals condition), the other in which participants wrote about emotions they had experienced throughout the day (Emotions condition). After this priming list, participants watched the Heider and Simmel (1944) video, a video that is comprised of shapes moving on their own, which people typically describe using anthropomorphic language, including words related to mind. After participants watched this video, they then described what they thought happened in it. The priming lists and video descriptions were transcribed and analyzed using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) program (Pennebaker, Booth, & Francis, 2007). I found that people in the Emotions condition used more words related to the dimension of Experience than people in the Goals condition, and that there was a trend for people in the Emotions condition to use more Agency words as well. This suggests that focusing on one’s own emotions makes one more likely to use mind perception language in an anthropomorphic situation than when one is focusing on one’s own goals. These results imply that when we want to be better at perceiving minds, we should avoid thinking about our own goals.

Poster by Serena Entezary

Role of Working Memory in Bilinguals’ Tendency to Think More Utilitarian-like in their Second Language

Nicholas Gillespie
Advisor: Hiram Brownell

When faced with the popular trolley-problem or other analogous ethical dilemmas, one has to decide whether or not to take a life in order to save several other lives. Past research has suggested that bilinguals are, on average, more apt to vouch for a deontological response to these dilemmas (that is, refuse to condone murdering a single person in order to save numerous lives) if the scenario is depicted in their native language. Likewise, when presented with the dilemma in a language learned later on in life, these individuals are more likely to sacrifice a single life in order to save many; a decision characteristic of utilitarian thinking. This study examined possible mechanisms underlying this “foreign-language-effect”: what role, if any, does cognitive load play in the mitigation or amplification of the phenomenon. Either cognitive load or lack of proficiency in a foreign language may interfere with the working memory necessary to override instinctual prohibitions against murder, reducing the likelihood of a utilitarian decision. In a 2x2 between-subjects design, undergraduate psychology students with intermediate-level proficiency Spanish were recruited and asked to respond to an ethical dilemma in either English or Spanish while retaining one of two levels of cognitive load in the form of a memory task. Analysis of variance revealed no reliable effects. However, in both the English and Spanish conditions, Approval ratings for the utilitarian position were positively correlated with Conflict ratings. For the Spanish condition, proficiency in the foreign language correlated with both Emotion and (marginally) with Disturbance ratings. This “foreign-language-effect” may have monumental implications for our understanding, and practice, of international politics, marketing, trade, academics, legislation.

Poster by Nicholas Gillespie

Dynamic changes in oxytocin receptor expression throughout development in the rat brain

Tessa Gillespie
Advisors: Alexa Veenema and Kelly Dumais

Oxytocin (OT) is a neuropeptide that modulates diverse aspects of mammalian behavior, often regulating social behaviors in a sex-specific manner. This may be due to sex differences in OT or in the OT receptor (OTR) in the brain. Indeed, we recently showed that adult male rats exhibit significantly higher OTR binding densities in 9 out of 15 brain regions analyzed when compared to adult females. In order to understand the underlying mechanisms, we aimed to (1) determine the age of onset of sex differences in OTR binding densities and (2) elucidate the developmental patterns of OTR binding density. We compared the OTR binding densities between male and female rats before weaning (postnatal day 5 and 12) and before puberty (postnatal day 35). We found that the age of onset of sex differences in OTR binding densities is highly brain region-specific. For example, the sex difference in OTR binding density in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis was found at all ages analyzed whereas the sex difference in OTR binding density in the ventromedial hypothalamus was present only in adults, suggesting that there are brain region-specific regulatory mechanisms that control the onset of sex differences in OTR. Furthermore, OTR binding density was often higher in postnatal day 12 compared to postnatal day 5 and 35. This pattern is particularly prominent in the medial amygdala and cingulate cortex, areas important for the processing of sensory information. The second week of life in rat pups represents an important developmental window for sensory experience-dependent plasticity, and the high expression of OTR may correspond to a role for OTR in enhancing this sensory plasticity. Overall, findings elucidated (1) age-specific onset of sex differences in OTR binding density and (2) transient changes in OTR binding density during early postnatal development. These findings may help to further the understanding of the role of OTR in sex-specific and developmental regulation of social behavior. This research is supported by an NRSA Predoctoral Fellowship (1F31MH100891) to KMD and NIMH (R15MH102807) to AHV.

Poster by Tessa Gillespie

Fraction Distraction: The Effect of Rational Numbers in Word Problems

Carolyn Griesser
Advisors: Michelle Hurst and Sara Cordes

Fractions, decimals, and whole numbers are all part of the same rational number system, but children and adults often do not treat them as such. Substantial evidence suggests that both fractions and decimals are difficult for children and even well-educated adults (Bonato et al., 2007). Furthermore, whole numbers tend to take precedence within the minds of children and adults—leading to whole number biases even when dealing with fractions and decimals (Ni & Zhou, 2005). However, the specific contexts that show differences or similarities in the way adults consider fraction, decimals, and whole numbers have not been fully investigated. In this study, we investigate how people think about these different forms of numerical representation in a word problem context. Participants completed a test of 12 questions that included irrelevant distracting information in the form of fractions, decimals, whole numbers, or words. They subsequently filled out a math anxiety survey. Results suggest that the level of distraction for each notation depended upon the type of question. For easier problems, fractions and decimals were equally distracting, but were more distracting than whole numbers, which in turn were more distracting than words. However, the more difficult problems show a very different pattern, with whole numbers and decimals being the most distracting for some questions. Further considerations for these effects are discussed, including hypotheses for the kinds of contexts in which particular kinds of numbers are considered relevant.

Poster by Carolyn Griesser

Playing a Strategy Game leads to Decreased Test Scores

Brett Hoffer
Advisor: Jef Lamoureux

Research was conducted on the effects that playing video games has on a subsequent cognitive exam. Participants were N = 96 (53 Female) Boston College undergraduate students of varying ages and ethnicities. Participants were either tasked with playing one of two video games—the real-time strategy game Halo Wars, or the first-person shooter game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2—or with completing as much of a puzzle as they could during the same amount of time, 36 minutes. Next, all participants completed two sections, one verbal and one math, of a practice SAT exam. The results showed that participants that played the strategy game Halo Wars did significantly worse on both math and verbal sections of the practice SAT than those that started with the other tasks. Data was analyzed using univariate ANOVA techniques, including the participants’ actual SAT scores as a covariant. The results lead us to believe that playing certain genres of video games may result in cognitive fatigue, thus impairing performance on subsequent cognitive tasks.

Poster by Brett Hoffer

Gender and Power: Exploring Children’s Associations through Body Language

Kelly Hoffman
Advisors: Amy J.C. Cuddy, James A. Russell, and Mahsa Ershadi

The highly esteemed concept of power is characterized by the ability to exercise control and influence over people and situations (Anderson & Galinsky, 2006). In a study by Carney, Hall, and LeBeau (2005), participants associated expansive and assertive body language with individuals in positions of high social power, while they linked closed and protective body language to lower levels of social power. Furthermore, men are known to generally display more high-power body language than women, and are therefore more often associated with power (La France & Mayo, 1979). Yet, despite the robust evidence supporting the power and body connection (Carney, Cuddy, & Yap, 2010), it has not yet been determined when the connection between power and gender develops. To discover if young children have already formed an association between body language linked to power and gender, the present study was conducted. Fifty-seven four- and six-year-olds were recruited from the Boston Children’s Museum and various daycares and preschools in the Boston area. Subjects used an iPad to view 16 pairs of images of a gender-neutral wooden mannequin. Each pair contained one image of the mannequin in a high power pose and one image of the mannequin in a low power pose. For each pair of images, the participant was asked to identify either the male or female image. We hypothesized that the children would label the mannequins in the high power poses as male, and the mannequins in the low power poses as female. Indeed, the results indicate just that. Children more often associated the high power poses with males, and the low power poses with females. The results suggest future research should further investigate when and how children develop these gender constructs and ultimately how these constructs can be addressed.

Poster by Kelly Hoffman

Imagining Emotional Events and its Effect on Prosocial Responses

Elaine Hynds
Advisors: Haley DiBiase, Sarah Scott, and Elizabeth Kensinger

This study investigates the effect of imagining helping a person in need has on intentions to help compared to merely estimating ways the person could be helped, as well as the effect of emotion on these prosocial responses. Results show that, overall, people who imagined helping had increased prosocial responses versus those who estimated helping. In both conditions, people reported greater willingness to help when they generated experiences with a positive emotional valence than a neutral emotional valence.

Poster by Elaine Hynds

Effects of scene/object “crosstalk” on scene recognition accuracy

Ryan Jones
Advisor: Sean MacEvoy

Scene recognition is an extremely important task the visual system is faced with on an everyday basis when identifying and analyzing one’s environment. Scene recognition draws on two major information sources: scenes’ inherent spatial properties and the identities of the objects the scene contains. Previous studies in our lab have shown that although scenes’ spatial properties and object contents are largely physically independent of each other, each appears to influence how the other is encoded in the visual system. Specifically, we have shown that the presence in scenes of objects highly indicative of a specific scene category (e.g., stoves or bathtubs) can bias the perceived spatial properties of scenes towards the average spatial properties of the scene category the objects are associated with. In this study we tested the theory that the ability of objects to bias scenes’ encoded spatial properties in this way serves to improve scene categorization performance. Participants were asked to perform a two-alternative forced choice scene categorization on briefly-viewed scenes under conditions that designed to either promote or inhibit the ability of objects to bias scenes’ spatial properties. We find no evidence for the hypothesis that scene recognition accuracy is improved by the biasing effect of objects.

Poster by Ryan Jones

Social Consequences of Imagining Future Events: Scene Construction Facilitates Social Decision-Making

Kerri Keeler
Advisors: Liane Young and Brendan Gaesser

What we imagine will take place in the future—and how these events are represented—has consequences for social decision-making in the present. Prevailing theories have emphasized the function of imagining future events in guiding planning and prediction of personal events. Recent research has shown that the coherence of the imagined scene is correlated with prosocial intentions (Gaesser & Schacter, 2014). In the present experiment, we directly examined the effect of scene coherence on prosocial intentions. To manipulate scene coherence of imagined spatial context, we had participants imagine helping a person set in both familiar (high scene coherence) and unfamiliar (low scene coherence) locations, a manipulation previously used in memory literature. For the control condition, participants did not imagine helping behavior and instead identified the media source of the story and journalistic techniques. Consistent with prior findings, we observed that imagining helping increased participants’ willingness to help relative to not helping. More interestingly, we found that imagining helping in familiar locations compared to unfamiliar locations enhanced participants’ the coherence of the imagined scene, and in turn enhanced willingness to help. It seems imagined helping events anchored in stronger visuospatial contexts may be brought to mind more easily, increasing the subjective likelihood that we will help others in need.

Poster by Kerri Keeler

The development and influence of math-gender stereotypes across the lifespan

Emily Kleinlein
Advisors: Tasha Posid and Sara Cordes

Research indicates that women are underrepresented in mathematics and scientific fields, with gender differences in performance and attitudes emerging early in childhood and increasing through development. Studies have revealed that implicit math-gender stereotypical beliefs contribute to this gender gap. However, few studies to date have examined the development of these beliefs during childhood. This study investigated the development of math-gender stereotypes across the lifespan, examining children (ages 6-12) and their parents for potential concordance. Additionally, this study evaluated the impact these implicit attitudes may have on children’s and parents’ actual mathematics ability and math anxiety. We found that adults do hold stereotypes such as “math is hard” or “math is for boys.” In contrast, children held neither of these associations strongly; however, children were more likely to hold these implicit associations if they were more strongly displayed by their parents.

Poster by Emily Kleinlein

Individual Differences in Theory of Mind and their Relationship to Cooperative Values and Behaviors

Anita Kwashie
Advisors: Liane Young and Lily Tsoi

We investigated whether theory of mind (ToM) capabilities are related to individual differences in cooperative and competitive behaviors. Sixty-seven Boston College undergraduates participated in an online study comprised of a series of one-shot economic games (Trust Game, Public Goods Game, and Ultimatum and Social Dilemma Games), ToM tasks (the “Mind in the Eyes” task, Short Story Task), and behavioral surveys (Machiavellianism Scale, Autism Spectrum Quotient, and a series of questions concerning punishment and cooperation preferences). Participants were misled into believing that they were playing games with other participants designated to start at the same time. Participants assumed each role in most economic games (e.g., Player 1 and Player 2 in the Trust Game). Results show that performance in some economic game roles correlated with one another—specifically, we found correlations between Trust Game Player A and Player B decisions, correlations between Trust Game Player A and Ultimatum Game Player 2 decisions, correlations between Trust Game Player B and Public Goods Game decisions, correlations between Ultimatum Game Player 2 and Social Dilemma Player 2 decisions, and correlations between Social Dilemma Player 1 and Player 2 decisions. These findings hint at some consistent performances across these economic games. Furthermore, decisions in certain economic game roles (Trust Game Player A, Trust Game Player B, and Social Dilemma Player 1) correlated with Machiavellian tendencies and values and behaviors related to punishment. Machiavellianism also moderately correlated with self-reported punishment measures and Eyes Test performance. However, our two measures of ToM did not correlate with performance in economic games or any other behavioral measures. Overall, these findings suggest that there is no relationship between individual differences in ToM and cooperative and competitive behaviors in economic games.

Poster by Anita Kwashie

Applying Episodic Simulation to Online Prosocial Behavior

Karen Lee
Advisors: Liane Young and Brendan Gaesser

Humans’ willingness to collaborate with and help one another exceeds that of other species. In some cases, we are even willing to help strangers suffering from plights we have not directly experienced ourselves. Recent research showed that imagining helping events in a specific time and place (i.e., episodic simulation) could foster intentions to help others in need. However, previous research on moral decision making has shown that people are more generous in hypothetical scenarios than in real-life situations. Here, we investigated whether humans’ ability to imagine helping events facilitates actual prosocial behavior using an online relief registry. Results revealed that imagining helping increased the number of donations and willingness to help compared to various control conditions. Further, the richness of imagined scenes contributed to the degree of this prosocial effect. These findings suggest that episodic simulation fosters prosocial intentions that translate into real-life behavior.

Poster by Karen Lee

Comparison of vasopressin receptor binding in the brains of adolescent and adult male and female rats

Sara Li
Advisors: Alexa Veenema and Caroline Smith

The neuropeptide arginine vasopressin (VP) is involved in the modulation of numerous mammalian social behaviors. Some forms of social behavior are displayed across the lifespan (such as social recognition) while others are displayed primarily by juveniles (such as social play) or adults (such as aggression). We hypothesize that age-dependent expression of social behavior may be mediated by age differences in the VP system. To test this, we compared VP V1a receptor (V1aR) binding densities in eight brain regions in juvenile and adult rats. We found higher V1aR binding densities in adults than in juveniles in four regions: the dorsal lateral septum, the arcuate nucleus, the piriform cortex, and the interstitial nucleus of posterior limb of anterior commissure (IPAC). The former two areas are involved in aggressive behavior, while the latter two are important for olfactory processing of social information and cardiovascular regulation, processes that may help ensure appropriate aggressive responses. Surprisingly, we found higher V1aR binding densities in juveniles than in adults in the dentate gyrus, a hippocampal region involved in regulating social recognition, a behavior similarly expressed by juveniles and adults. Finally, no age differences were found in the anteroventral thalamic nucleus, intermediate lateral septum, and the anteromedial thalamus, suggesting that V1aR in these areas may be involved in age-independent expression of social behavior. These findings advocate that there is a general trend that adults have higher V1aR binding densities, which may relate to the expression of adult-specific behaviors such as aggression. Overall, these findings may help to clarify the role of the V1aR in modulating different social behaviors across the lifespan.

Poster by Sara Li

Nanocoaxial Optrode Arrays for Recording Neuronal Action Potentials.

Jaclyn Lundberg
Advisor: John Christianson

Optogenetics is a revolutionary field of research that employs light to stimulate mammalian cells and tissues after genetic modification with microbial proteins that undergo a precise change in protein conformation due to light1. Light-gated proteins including ion channels offer a unique capability to interrogate and control biological function in a manner superior to traditional electrical and chemical stimulation. Optogenetics can have significant advantages of high spatiotemporal resolutions of controlling biological responses and versatility, whereby both excitatory and inhibitory responses can be encoded within the same cell for bidirectional control of membrane excitability. This method can thus allow for temporal and spatial precision unparalleled by previous technologies and can provide new insight into neurological and psychiatric diseases2,3. In this interdisciplinary thesis, psychology, neuroscience, physics, and biology are used to engineer and test a novel nanocoaxial microelectrode array concept with optogenetic capabilities developed by the Naughton Lab. To this end, Hirudo Medicinalis (leech) nerve ganglion sacs were used to test and compare the spatiotemporal resolution of the Naughton Lab’s coaxial microelectrode array to the conventional sharp electrode setup. In addition, human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cells were stably transfected with pcDNA3.1/hChR2-EYFP and used to test the coaxial microelectrode array with optogenetic capabilities. The nanocoaxial device successfully recorded depolarizing currents generated from light stimulated HEK293-ChR2-EYFP cells.

Poster by Jaclyn Lundberg

The Effect of Sleep on False Memory Formation for Visual Information

Jason Michaels
Advisors: Kelly Bennion and Elizabeth Kensinger

Previous research has shown that sleep plays a pivotal role in memory consolidation. During sleep, connections are made between recently learned information, allowing us to extract previously unperceived patterns and relationships between them (REFS). It has been suggested that, while usually beneficial, this tendency may at times result in the over-extrapolation of perceived patterns and subsequent development of false memories. Prior studies (Payne et al., 2009; McKeon, Pace-Schott & Spencer, 2012; Darsaud et al., 2011) using the DRM paradigm (Roediger & McDermott, 1995) have found this to be the case, showing that sleep promotes false memories. This study sought to extend these findings by investigating whether sleep promotes false memories using visual images as stimuli. Participants studied pictures of stereotypical scenes (e.g., a beach containing a beach ball and beach towel) and were then either assigned to take a nap or remain awake for two hours. Afterwards, participants were shown images of objects and asked whether these objects were presented within the scenes they viewed during encoding. These objects consisted of unstudied items, studied items (e.g., a beach ball previously presented in a beach scene), and “lure” items (i.e., items that were not presented during encoding but might be expected to have been, such as a beach umbrella). Results showed that Nap participants outperformed Wake participants in correct recognition of studied objects, corroborating prior research on the beneficial effects of sleep on memory. Further, the paradigm successfully induced false memories, although the expected positive difference between recognition of lure items for Nap versus Wake participants was not found. This null result may be due to differential processing of verbal versus visual information, or the relatively short delay between encoding and testing in comparison to previous studies (which included a consolidation delay of at least 12 hours).

Poster by Jason Michaels

Examining the Perceived Association between Antisocial Personalities and Math Professions

Kelly Miller
Advisors: Michelle Hurst and Sara Cordes

In popular culture and media, there are several examples of the stereotype that people who like and enjoy math are antisocial (e.g., Mean Girls (2004) & Big Bang Theory (Lorre and Prady, 2004)). We explored this stereotype by looking at peoples’ implicit associations of non-math professions and math professions with anti-social and social traits. We also explored the effect of their self-reported enjoyment of math, self-reported ability of math, actual ability of math, and self-reported extraversion on their associations of non-math professions and math professions. We found that people associated non-math professions with social traits but did not associate math professions with social or anti-social traits. Additionally, we found that the judgments people made in general were dependent upon their self-reported level of extraversion, but not on their math ability. Although this does not confirm the math-anti-social stereotype, it does indicate that people think about non-math professions differently than they think about math professions. Potential implications of the methods and results are discussed.

Poster by Kelly Miller

Mechanisms underlying sex differences in the brain oxytocin system: Is there a role for epigenetics?

Laura Newman
Advisors: Alexa Veenema and Nick Worley

The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is synthesized in and released by the hypothalamus and acts on OT receptors present in distinct areas of the brain. This OT system plays an important role in stress regulation and in the regulation of diverse social behaviors such as maternal behavior, social bonding, and social cognition. Recent human and animal studies have also shown that OT often mediates behavioral and brain responses in a sex-specific manner. This could be mediated by sex differences in the brain OT system. Indeed, our lab recently demonstrated that there are robust sex differences in OT receptor binding in many forebrain regions of rats with males showing higher OT receptor binding density than females. The strongest sex difference in OT receptor binding was found in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) in both juveniles and adults. We hypothesized that the sex differences in OT receptor binding could be due to sex differences in OT receptor mRNA expression, mediated through epigenetic mechanisms. Therefore, the current study set out to determine (1) whether there are sex differences in OT receptor mRNA expression in the BNST and (2) whether a histone deacetylase inhibitor can alter the sex-specific OT receptor binding density pattern in the BNST. To determine whether sex differences in OT receptor mRNA exist, we collected the BNST from male and female rats, extracted mRNA from these samples, and used Real-Time PCR to quantify the amount of OT receptor mRNA in the BNST. Our data indicates that there is a sex difference in OT receptor mRNA expression in the BNST, with males showing significantly higher OT receptor mRNA than females at the juvenile and adult periods. Next, we injected one day old rat pups with valproic acid, a histone deacetylase inhibitor, and processed the BNST at postnatal days 5 and 35 using OT receptor autoradiography. We found that inhibiting histone deacetylase does not have a significant effect on OT receptor binding density in the male or female BNST. Overall, these results suggest that the sex difference in OT receptor binding in the BNST is due to differential OT receptor mRNA expression though this expression may not be modulated by histone deacetylases.

Poster by Laura Newman

Self-Control and Altruism: The Trouble of Laboratory Measurements for Complex Social Topics

Jessica Opila
Advisor: Gene Heyman

My thesis evaluates the correlations between altruism and self-control, as measured by widely used research methods. These include: the dictator game, delay discounting, social discounting, the empathy scale, and the systemizing scale. The dictator game is a social cooperation experiment which measures altruism and generosity. Delay discounting is a choice experiment that reveals the level of impulsiveness each subject shows in monetary decisions. Social discounting is also a choice experiment that measures sharing as a function of social distance. Empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others, and systemizing, the understanding of systems and machines, were also measured using questionnaires. This study tested 38 Boston College students on all five of these measures. The results replicated earlier findings. However, the expected correlations did not occur. Empathy was not correlated with donation in the dictator game or giving in social discounting. Systemizing was not correlated with self-control in delay discounting. Delay discounting was not related to donation in the dictator game or social discounting. However, there were significant gender differences in donation in the dictator game and amount of money shared in social discounting. In addition, women had higher empathy scores and men had higher systemizing scores. On the one hand, the tests produced orderly results; on the other hand, tests of self-control failed to predict altruism and measures of sharing and altruism produced no relationship. Possibly the psychology of altruism and self-control are less related than usually thought or current methods for measuring these traits need to be re-evaluated.

Poster by Jessica Opila

Behavioral consequences of intra-insular cortex oxytocin administration

Anne Pierce
Advisors: John Christianson

Background: In humans, the insular cortex is a region of the brain associated with social cognition. Additionally, the neuropeptide oxytocin is implicated in normal social function and autism spectrum disorders. There are a dense amount of oxytocin receptors in the insular cortex, but whether they contribute to social cognition is unknown. This study investigated the role of oxytocin in the insular cortex on behavior.

Methods: To determine the role of insular cortex oxytocin receptors on emotional and social behaviors, rats were implanted with microinjection cannula targeted at the insular cortex. Fear was conditioned by two pairings of a 30 s, 1kHz tone with a mild footshock. Fear expression was assessed by exposure to the tone without shock 24 hours later. Social exploration tests involved paring an adult subject with a novel juvenile for three minutes. Time spent investigating the juvenile was determined by a trained observer. Animals received oxytocin, oxytocin receptor antagonist, or vehicle microinjections before fear extinction or social exploration tests.

Results: Intracranial injections of oxytocin did not affect fear expression. However, intra-insular oxytocin (500nM, 500nL) caused an increase in amount of social exploration performed on the juvenile. This effect appeared to depend upon cannula placement within the insular cortex with regions more caudal to bregma having a greater effect. Oxytocin receptor antagonist in the insular cortex did not have an effect on social behavior.

Conclusions: Oxytocin in the insular cortex did not influence fear but did facilitate prosocial investigative behavior in male rats. These results are consistent with a growing literature implicating the insular cortex and oxytocin systems with various types of social cognition.

Poster by Anne Pierce

Age and Sex Comparisons in Striatal Mu Opioid Receptor Binding in the Rat Brain

Aarane Ratnaseelan
Advisors: Alexa Veenema and Caroline Smith

Across species, juvenile animals are more inclined to engage in social interactions with peers and seem to find these interactions to be more rewarding than their adult counterparts. These age differences in behavior may imply age-specific alterations in brain systems implicated in the regulation of social behavior. The µ-opioid receptor (MOR) system in the brain has been shown to mediate socially rewarding behaviors in juvenile rats, including social play behavior and social novelty seeking. Moreover, previous studies have shown that the striatal regions of the brain are often involved in mediating socially rewarding behaviors. Therefore, we hypothesized that MOR binding density would be greater in striatal regions associated with social reward, such as the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and caudate putamen (CPu), in juvenile as compared to adult rats. Using receptor autoradiography, we compared MOR binding densities in juvenile and adult rats, of both sexes, in subdivisions of the striatum, namely the CPu, NAc core and NAc shell. Due to differences in the expression pattern of MORs across the rostro-caudal extent of these areas, we further subdivided these areas for analysis. We analyzed MOR binding density in the anterior NAc core and shell and the most anterior portion of the CPu separately from its entirety. Finally, we analyzed MOR binding density in the dorso-medial and ventral subdivisions of the NAc shell. We observed no age or sex differences in MOR binding density in any of these regions. However, we found the highest MOR binding density in the anterior CPu in comparison to the other regions that were analyzed. We also found a pattern suggestive of higher MOR binding density in the dorso-medial NAc shell as compared to the ventral NAc shell. Interestingly, in prairie and meadow voles, higher MOR binding density has also been shown in the dorso-medial NAc shell as compared to the ventral subdivision. In prairie voles, these two populations of MORs differentially regulate social bonding between mates. Thus, these results suggest that MORs in specific subregions within the striatum may play distinct roles in the regulation of rewarding social behaviors, regardless of species, sex or age.

Poster by Aarane Ratnaseelan

Adults’ Understanding of Rational Numbers in Symbolic and Non-Symbolic Form

Charlotta Relander
Advisors: Michelle Hurst and Sara Cordes

Rational numbers are often presented using many different kinds of representations, both in the classroom and in everyday life. When teaching and learning rational numbers, two common representations used in the classroom are pie charts and number lines. These non-symbolic representations are typically used fairly early, and even infants and young children can track proportion in a non-symbolic context. Even when formal symbols are used for rational numbers, children are taught about both fractions and decimals—providing them with multiple symbolic representations for rational number. These symbolic representations are important for allowing precision when manipulating rational number in the context of arithmetic and more advanced math. However, little is known about the mapping between these symbolic and non-symbolic representations. In particular, whether these comparisons are ratio dependent (the signature of magnitude access) and the relative difficulty of accessing magnitude in various representations are open questions.

In the current study, participants were given a number comparison task involving both symbolic and non-symbolic rational numbers. First, our results show evidence of ratio effects in all comparison types, suggesting that regardless of the symbolic or non-symbolic representation, magnitude is being accessed to some degree. In addition, results suggest that fractions were more difficult to compare to non-symbolic representations than decimals. Moreover, comparing fractions to fractions was the most difficult condition, while comparing decimals to decimals was the easiest, suggesting decimals offer a symbolic advantage in a magnitude task while fractions do not. These findings provide insight into the kinds of advantages symbolic representations of rational number may offer to adults. In particular, they suggest that fraction notation does not readily allow adults to access the precise magnitude of the number, while decimal notation does provide easier access to the magnitude. These findings have implications for developmental psychology and education.

Poster by Charlotta Relander

I can’t care about you right now: The effect of stress on empathy

Max Ruge
Advisor: Andrea Heberlein

Empathy in medicine has been defined as realizing the patient’s feelings and emotions and relaying that understanding to the patient (Stepian & Baernstein, 2006). Although physician empathy has been linked to positive patient outcomes (e.g., Kelley et al., 2014), empathy tends to decrease at fairly predictable times in a physician’s career (Hojat et al., 2009). The current study sought to understand the mechanisms underlying this empathy drop and, more broadly, the psychological barriers to physician empathy. Our experiment tested the differential effects of stress and relaxation on motivation to show empathy and on self-reported trait empathy. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: stress, relaxation, or control. Participants in the stress condition underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (Kirschbaum et al, 1993); participants in the relaxation condition engaged in guided meditation on an iPad; participants in the control condition read a magazine. We then measured empathic motivation using a novel test, examining participant’s self-rated inclination to engage in different conversational openings. This measure further examined empathy along subdivisions identified in mind perception work, namely agency, the capacity for one to act and plan, and experience, the capacity to feel emotions (Gray, Gray, and Wegner, 2007). The experiment revealed a statistically trending effect (p = 0.056) comparing the motivation to engage in agency, experience, and control dimensions on the motivational empathy measure across the three participant conditions. Further regression revealed a negatively trending effect (p = 0.065) when the stress condition was used as a predictor variable for motivation to ask agency-related questions. Our data therefore suggest that stress might have an effect on the motivation of a physician to take the patient’s agency into account during the treatment process, potentially resulting in less of a shared decision-making process.

Poster by Max Ruge

Does Our Belief About an Artist’s Mental State Affect Our Evaluation of the Art Produced?

Leslie Snapper
Advisor: Ellen Winner

Do we judge a work of art by the end product, or do our beliefs about the artist affect our evaluations of the work? In particular, if we believe the artist to be mentally ill, does this lead us to evaluate the work more highly? Evidence that beliefs about the artist and the artist’s process affect our evaluations comes from several studies. Our evaluations are significantly lowered when we believe that the artist is: immoral (Hawley-Dolan, 2011), a forger (Nissel et al., under review), a child or animal (Hawley-Dolan, 2011; Snapper, 2015), or non-eccentric (Van-Tilburg and Igou, 2014). The hypothesis of this study is as follows: the belief that an artist is mentally ill should lead to more highly regarded evaluations of that artist’s works. Mental illness is associated with altered perceptions of reality. Thus, we postulated that the belief that an artist was mentally ill would suggest that the artist saw the world in an unusual way, and therefore heighten people’s appreciation of the works. Participants viewed portraits that were accompanied by information either about the artist suffering from a mental disorder or a neutral fact about the artists’ life, and then rated an example of that artist’s work for “goodness.” Results failed to support our hypothesis: Goodness ratings for works believed to be by mentally ill artists did not differ from goodness ratings for those same works when believed to be by non-mentally ill artists. Future studies should emphasize that mental illness leads to altered perceptual states.

Poster by Leslie Snapper

The Red Cup Conundrum: Psychophysiological Effects of Free-Pouring and Alcohol Intake in Undergraduates

Megan Sweeney
Advisor: Jef Lamoureux

Research has shown that individuals tend to overestimate liquid volumes of common alcoholic beverages when asked to freely pour one standard drink. This presents a danger for college students and can increase binge-drinking vulnerability. Studies demonstrate that over-pouring increases as the size of the vessel poured into increases (White et. al., 2003). It is unknown whether this over-pouring phenomenon is influenced by a general mental representation for quantity, divided attention due to context, previous drinking experience, or unawareness of operational definitions for standard alcoholic beverages. Limitations associated with the pouring task, sensory-perceptual processes, and timing can cause attention interference when pouring alcohol (Pashler, 1994). The linear relationship between cup size and the volume over-poured suggests existence of a psychophysiological bias, but additional factors might also contribute. The present study examines perceptual bias using scalar variance, selective attention in varying contexts, and drinking experience via quantity estimation paradigms, a drinking experience survey, and external distractions. Results suggest that the robust alcohol over-pouring effect exhibited by college students is influenced by visual attention and context but is neither subjective to a general perceptual bias nor frequency of alcohol consumption.

Poster by Megan Sweeney

Making Versus Viewing Art: Effects on Affect, Enjoyment, and Flow

Sarah Wawrzynski
Advisors: Jennifer Drake and Ellen Winner

This study compared the emotion regulation benefits of making art versus viewing art. Sixty-three undergraduate participants rated their baseline affect using the Positive Affect and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). Next, they watched a film clip from The Champ and rated their affect again. Participants were then randomly assigned to either a making art or a viewing art activity. After completing the activity, they rated their affect and completed an enjoyment and flow questionnaire. Those in the making condition showed significantly higher levels of positive (but not lower levels of negative) affect than those in the viewing condition. Participants in the viewing art condition actually showed a decrease in positive affect after completing the activity. Participants in the making condition experienced greater levels of enjoyment than those in the viewing condition. Finally, participants in the making condition experienced higher levels of certain dimensions of flow: they reported greater challenge-skill balance, concentration on task, sense of control, and autotelic experience than those in the viewing condition. We suggest that the greater enjoyment and flow yielded by making art accounts for the greater mood improvement in the making vs. the viewing condition. Future research should examine whether these dimensions are causally linked.

Poster by Sarah Wawrzynski

The Control of Feeding by Learned Aversive Cues: Recruitment of the Nucleus of the Solitary Tract and Dorsal Motor Nucleus of the Vagus Nerve

Anna Whitham
Advisors: Gorica Petrovich, Christina Reppucci, and Lauren Anderson

Previously, our group showed that food-deprived male and female rats inhibit food consumption when presented with a conditioned fear cue. In this study, we investigated recruitment of two brainstem regions, the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) and the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (DMX), in a fear cue-induced inhibition of eating paradigm. Male and female rats were trained in alternating appetitive and aversive sessions, conducted in different contexts (A or B). In appetitive sessions, food-deprived rats in the food groups were given access to food pellets, while the no-food groups did not have food access. In aversive sessions, the experimental groups were trained to associate a tone with an aversive stimulus (footshock) while control groups received tones but not footshocks. On test day food-deprived rats were placed in Context A with or without food access (depending on group), and the fear-cue (tone) was presented. All experimental groups learned the tone-shock association (exhibited freezing during tones), and food experimental groups inhibited consumption compared to food control groups. Post-test, rats were sacrificed and the brain tissue was immunhistochemically processed to examine Fos induction in, and therefore recruitment of, NTS and DMX. We found robust Fos induction in food groups that positively correlated with consumption in both sexes (no-food groups had minimal Fos), and significantly more Fos in male experimental than control groups. We propose that NTS and DMX neurons, which normally orchestrate feeding, are inhibited during fear-cue cessation of feeding. Future studies will address the source of inhibitory influence on the NTS and DMX (e.g., amygdala, hypothalamus, prefrontal cortex) and neurotransmitters involved, and specific roles of NTS and DMX in fear-induced inhibition of feeding.

Poster by Anna Whitham

The Effects of Emotion on Numerical Perception in Adults

Alexandra Zax
Advisors: Sara Cordes and Tasha Posid

Emotion heightens arousal and attentiveness to the external environment, thus increasing one’s ability to adapt and survive. However, emotion also creates misrepresentations of time and number, presumably because of these effects of increased activation and alertness. Previous research has demonstrated that emotional stimuli cause overestimation effects in the temporal domain and underestimation effects in the numerical domain (Droit-Volet & Meck, 2007; Young & Cordes 2013). Underestimation following emotional stimuli are observed in both children and adults (Lewis & Cordes, in preparation), suggesting that these effects emerge early in development and occur at a cognitive level. Additionally, children’s estimates become more precise following emotional stimuli, but adults’ do not (Lewis & Cordes, in preparation). The present study addresses the open question: is the lack of increased precision experienced by adult participants following emotional stimuli the result of the task being too basic, or is the trend observed in children unique to early development? Thus, the present task (per Young & Cordes, 2013; Lewis & Cordes, in preparation) was designed to be more challenging (e.g., finer ratio, higher endpoints) to control for possible ceiling effects seen previously. Results suggest that adults, like children, experience increased estimation precision following emotional stimuli in this more challenging task.

Poster by Alexandra Zax