Undergraduate Research Symposium

The annual Undergraduate Symposium provides the campus community with an opportunity to gain a greater appreciation of the individual and collective intellectual accomplishments of our faculty and students from all disciplines including the humanities, fine arts, biological sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. Last year 80 students, sponsored by more than 40 faculty mentors, presented, displayed or performed their work.

Below are Psychology presentations from a recent Symposium. Click here to see the full Undergraduate Sympoium program.

Suicide Prevention in Higher Education
Mae L'Heureux ’14, Psychology

Mental health is becoming an increasing concern for college-aged students and unfortunately, there is a lack of resources available to help those who are struggling. This project looks at how higher education as a whole responds to the mental health needs of students and specifically, how Assumption College reacts and accommodates its students who are suffering psychologically. The major barriers to appropriate and effective mental health treatment for college students was examined and ways to combat them were addressed. Additionally, members from various departments on campus including Residential Life, Academics, Student Affairs, and the Student Development and Counseling Center were interviewed to see what their specific role is regarding this issue and to see how the College as a whole can do a better job assisting those who need it.

Faculty Mentor: Professor Amy Lyubchik

Decoding Facial Expression Across the Menstrual Cycle
Cassie Lincoln ’15, Psychology

Recent studies along with proposed evolutionary perspectives suggest that recognition of emotional facial expressions fluctuates across the menstrual cycle. In the follicular phase when women are most fertile, they report greater attraction to men who possess masculine traits.  In contrast, when women are in their luteal phase they prefer more feminine-looking men because feminine characteristics may imply care and nurturance.  In the current study, 47 college females were monitored and participated in two lab sessions, one during their luteal phase (non-fertile), and one during their follicular phase (fertile). During the two lab sessions, each participant viewed male and female targets expressing neutral, angry, sad, and fearful facial expressions of varying intensities.  Participants were asked to label the emotion they saw in these facial expressions. Consistent with the hypothesis, participants were more accurate in identifying expressions during the luteal (non-fertile) phase than during the follicular (fertile phase), particularly at mid-intensity levels. More specifically women in the luteal phase were more sensitive to angry and sad expressions at mid-intensity levels.  These current findings are in line with past research suggesting greater affiliative motivation during the luteal phase.

Faculty Mentor: Professor Maria Parmley

Tool-Use Development in Children
Peter Bui ’14, Psychology

The ability to use a tool requires not only the motor skill to be able to manipulate the object but also the perceptual ability to perceive the relevant characteristics of an object for determining what an object can be used for.  The current study examined the development of these abilities in preschool children and a comparison group of adults. Participants used a hammer to drive pegs into a peg-board and time series records of their movements were recorded. Participants also made perceptual judgments about which hammers were most effective. Results showed improvements in perceptual and motor abilities developmentally.  Older children and adults were able to choose more effective hammers, hammer more pegs, and had less variability in movements than younger children.  Inertial properties of the tool were shown to influence perceptual judgments and hammer effectiveness as hammers with the smaller inertial volume were chosen more often and were more efficient hammers.  Our findings suggest that developmentally children become more attuned at adjusting hammering performance based on hammer properties.

Faculty Mentor: Professor Paula Fitzpatrick

Disability and Addiction: Explicit and Implicit Perceptions
Katelyn Colburn ’14 & Kelsie Phillips ’14, Psychology

Although addictions can be considered disabilities under certain circumstances, previous research indicates that individuals with these conditions are perceived and treated differently by society.  To examine public perceptions of individuals with these conditions, we used three measures: a self-report questionnaire to examine explicit perceptions, a facial recognition task, and an Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure implicit perceptions.  Responses to the self-report questionnaire showed that compared to people with addictions, participants perceived individuals with disabilities to be less different from themselves, to have less social distance from themselves, and to be less responsible for the onset of their condition. Emotional labeling in the facial recognition task showed that participants labeled more neutral faces in the control condition (those of “average” individuals) as happy than in the addiction condition, more neutral faces in the addiction condition as neutral than in the control condition, and more 30% angry faces in the addiction condition as angry than in the disability condition.  Reaction times in the IAT showed that participants had a positive implicit bias toward individuals with disabilities compared to those with addictions overall.

Faculty Mentor: Professor Fang Zhang

The Effects of Empathy on Disparaging Humor
Peter Bui ’14, Psychology

Explanations of why we find other people’s misfortune amusing range from unconscious urges to elevating self-esteem. This investigation is about the influence of induced empathy on reducing ratings of disparagement humor. Sixty-four undergraduate students participated in this experimental study. In the pre-test, they all watched video clips eliciting disparagement humor and rated them in terms of funniness and pleasure. The experimental group read an empathy-inducing story whereas the control group read a neutral story. Afterwards, both groups provided ratings of two different video clips. Participants also completed questionnaires for dispositional empathy and humor. Results show that experiencing empathy towards a stranger makes us less likely to laugh at this person’s misfortunate. Perceiving humor and experiencing empathy are both based on the ability to understand others’ mental states, intentions, and feelings. Future research could expand our understanding of disparagement humor by investigating the cognitive appraisal that takes place and the associated feelings created before the production of disparagement humor.

Faculty Mentor: Professor Maria Kalpidou