Summer 2014 Student Research

Faculty Sponsor:  Maria Kalpidou
Student:  Nicole Herbert

Nicole Herbert is a junior, interested in pursuing graduate studies in Speech and Communication Disorders. The project is very fitting to her interests because it is about how parental language input supports the communicative skills of infants at 12 months of age.

Nicole transcribed video-taped interactions of the parents and their child during free-play, learned to use a coding system and then coded language of all family members. For parental input, we looked at the number of utterances, number of words, the mean length of utterances, the function of utterances and their content. For infants, we examined vocalizations, communication gestures, and their combinations.

Previous research has demonstrated the relationship between number of utterances and language development in early childhood but there is limited research about the relationship of parental language, especially the father’s input, and communicative skills of one-year-olds who have very limited vocabulary production. Our project will also focused on differences in language input of mothers and fathers. 

Results from this project will be submitted to the Biennial Conference of the Society for Research in Child Development which will take place in Philadelphia in March of 2015.

Student Name: Anna doCurral; Class of 2017
Faculty Supervisors:  Fang Zhang and Maria Parmley

Anna’s work involves a series of projects.  For the first three weeks, she worked on skin conductance.  We collected a large set of skin conductance data in a serenity induction project in the last two semesters, and Anna used her first three weeks processing these raw skin conductance data.  Her work involved reading literatures on skin conductance measures, learning about data processing in Acknowledge (the skin conductance software), and finally processing data to calculate average skin conductance levels.  She has completed this project.

Currently, Anna is working on a project which aims to examine the cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal processes associated with serenity.  We hypothesize that experience of serenity probably is associated with a shift in modes of sensory and cognitive processing—from top-down processing, which is directive, interpretative, and conceptually-driven, to bottom-up processing, which is non-directive, concrete, and  data-driven. The project Anna is working on now aims to test this hypothesis in a series of experiments. Currently, She is involved in the design phase of the project and her activities include reading literature, generating experimental ideas, finding research stimuli, learning about using E-prime to design experiments, and design actual experiments.  In the next phase, Anna will help carry out a series of pilot tests to try out the various procedures that aim to induce serenity (in contrast to happiness or negative emotions) and various cognitive experiments.  Then, she will help out in writing the IRB in preparation for data collection in the fall.  

Student Name: Katherine Schmidt, Honors Student, Class of 2015
Faculty Supervisor:  Paula Fitzpatrick
Project Title: "Perceiving Movement Synchronization Deficits in Autism" 

Katherine Schmidt, Honors Student, Class of 2015, was funded by an Honors Summer Fellowship to start a project for her honors thesis.  The project is an outgrowth of NIH-funded research investigating social coordination in children with autism.  

Professor Fitzpatrick’s recent research with collaborators at Holy Cross, University of Cincinnati, Children's Hospital Cincinnati, and University of Massachusetts Medical School Psychiatry Department (Fitzpatrick et al., 2013) suggests that part of the difficulties children with autism have in social interaction may be due to the fact that children and adolescents with autism demonstrate different patterns of coordinating their body movements with others when completing social tasks, what we refer to as social motor coordination. And, these differences in social motor coordination have been found to be associated with clinical and social cognitive measures of social skill.  

Other researchers have shown that patterns of biological motion can be used to perceive actions, emotions, and personality characteristics of others. A question remains, however, whether individuals are able to detect social problems based on biological motion. Katie's thesis will test whether participants who watch videos of interactions of individuals with and without Autism will be able to detect differences of synchronization in biological movement and identify which children they believe have Autism. In addition, the project will explore whether the ability to detect the proposed difference in synchronization of biological motion depends upon the severity of the diagnosis of Autism. If it is found that individuals have the ability to perceive biological motion and detect a diagnosis of Autism, this could lead to the development of social motor assessments as a potential measure of early detection of Autism in children and add to the field of diagnostics of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Over the summer she created the experimental stimuli, wrote the IRB application, collected data, and worked on data entry and initial analysis.

Student Name: Andrew Lampi, Honors Student, Class of 2016 Faculty Supervisor:  Paula Fitzpatrick
Project Title: "Exploring Communication Patterns in Children with Autism"

Andrew Lampi, Honors Student, Class of 2016 was funded by a department research fellowship.  Andrew is working on transcribing videos from the experimental sessions from an NIH-funded project investigating social coordination in children with autism.   In this research he (a) explores how the patterns of communication of children with and without autism relate to social motor coordination measures and (b) compares the communication styles of those with and without autism.  This research will add to our understanding of the role of communication dynamics in fostering social exchanges.