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Department of

Psychological Sciences

Student Research

Psychology Research Conference Images

Creative Collaborations Presentations

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined by social, emotional, and learning deficits. | Alanna Flynn, Dr. Isabella Mutschler | Past research suggests that ASD and sleep problems often co-occur. The goal of this research was to investigate sleeping behaviors in autistic infants in comparison to typically developing infants (TD). The data of this study has been acquired at the University of California San Diego Autism Center of Excellence. Certified by the National Institute of Health, the main goal of this center is to identify early indicators of ASD in infants (1-3 years of age), which could lead to earlier treatment and better therapy techniques. The current study used a Sleep Questionnaire to compare parent-reported sleeping behaviors in ASD infants and in healthy controls.
2015 - Personality and Happiness | Brianna Kirkpatrick, Dr. Rebekah Wanic | 
I will be exploring the relationship between personality and happiness as it pertains to psychology. Researchers have found that the Big 5 Personality Inventory has connections with happiness; therefore, I will be expanding on this current literature with predictions and recommendations on happiness inducing behaviors and strategies. My independent variable is personality and my quasi-independent variable will be gender. I will be measuring happiness and happiness inducing behaviors as my dependent variable. To evaluate and assess both personality and happiness, I will be conducting survey research. The survey will consist of a brief demographics section, an abbreviated version of the Big 5 Personality Inventory, a modified Differential Emotions Scale to measure happiness, a scenario to assess participant's mood increasing strategies, and finally a self-report of their own happiness inducing behaviors. I believe that those scoring high on extraversion will also note more positive emotions during the last week, engage in more happiness inducing behaviors, and provide better strategies to increase happiness. Next, I believe that those scoring high on neuroticism will note more negative emotions during the last week, acknowledge less activity of happiness inducing behaviors, and rank less adaptive strategies to increase happiness. Also, I think those who report frequent engagement in happiness inducing behaviors will rank the mood increasing strategies better than those with less frequent participation in happiness inducing behaviors. Finally, I predict that females will report more variance in happiness with a greater combination of both negative and positive feelings of emotions during the last week. 
Dopamine Modulation of Decision Making in Drosophila Melanogaster
Alyssa Eash 
Dr. Divya Sitaraman

Abstract: Even with the growth of research in the field of neuroscience, there is still little known about what drives organisms to make the choices they do. In humans and other complex species, many environmental and genetic factors can influence a single choice, so we must turn to a simpler organism in order to study the process of decision-making. For many insects, the location of egg-laying has a large impact on the success of the next generation and is influenced by both environmental and innate factors. This holds true for the Drosophila melanogaster as they exhibit a natural preference or avoidance for certain substrates when laying eggs. The female D. melanogaster's egg laying motor program may thus provide a measurable behavioral output that results from a simple decision-making process. This then leads us to our question: what neurons or neural circuits are involved in regulating this choice behavior? Dopamine is important for a variety of functions, including motor control, motivation, and reward, but more specifically in Drosophila, it helps regulate the egg-laying motor program. There are approximately 200 dopaminergic neurons in the fly brain, divided into 21 clusters based on morphological and functional similarities. We will use high-resolution cell specific targeting tools to manipulate these neurons and test a function in the egg-laying paradigm. Results from these assays will illuminate the role of dopamine in decision-making.
2015 - Synaptic Mechanisms Underlying Learned Behaviors in Drosophila Larvae
Kevin Fain 
Dr. Divya Sitaraman

Abstract: One of the main goals in neuroscience is to demonstrate how observable animal behaviors can be predicted from complex neurological processes. It is commonly understood that genetic factors influence human behavior, but how can a scientist explain how these genes interact with countless environmental stimuli to produce behavior? The complexity of the human brain would make it impossible to determine how each structure influences behavior, so the spotlight was brought to a simpler model organisms first. Model organisms typically express some complex neural structures within a simpler, more easily organized brain. Drosophila Melanogaster, for example, use olfactory systems that are strikingly similar to those of humans and other mammals. Eventually mapping out the structures and functions of the insect olfactory system, will enable conceptualization of conserved mechanisms underlying learned and innate behaviors. By associating various odors with food reinforcement in a classically conditioned learning paradigm we will demonstrate how the absence of these structures and/or biological processes alters behavior. Larvae mutated against expression of specific genes involved in synaptic plasticity will be tested according to the same learning paradigm as genotypic controls and wild type Drosophila larvae. Observable behavioral differences between mutant and control groups will be presented to elucidate the role of synaptic plasticity in adaptive behavior.
2015 - Exploratory Study of Parent's Perceptions of Their Preschooler's Screen Media Use | Lara Adamiak, Dr. Patricia Kowalski | There are conflicting research findings and evidence about the value of technology in children's development. Although the short- and long-term effects are still being investigated, the overall trend is that the contributions of technology to children's development depend on numerous factors. One such factor relates to children's caregivers making informed choices about technology and choosing to expose their children to situations that maximize their learning opportunities, monitoring the amount of technology use, and minimizing its misuse and overuse. 
Through the use of a Qualtrics survey, this study will investigate parents' knowledge of the guidelines recommended by the 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement regarding children's screen media use, parents' beliefs about the effects such screen media have on children's development, and children's use of screen media. The participants will be parents of children at the University of San Diego's preschool (Manchester Family Child Development Center) and Saint Georges Preschool in La Cañada, California. The expectation is that parents' knowledge of the guidelines and their beliefs about the effects of screen media will predict whether they monitor their children's access to screen time. 
2015 - San Diego County's Forensic Psychiatry Clinic Internship | Rachel Spaulding, Dr. Nadav Goldschmied | 
The San Diego County's Forensic Psychiatry Clinic Internship provides undergraduate psychology students the opportunity to observe how forensic psychiatrists and psychologists function within the legal system. The clinic is a unique neutral and objective entity carrying out Court ordered evaluations. Throughout the semester, students shadow forensic psychologists in their daily tasks, including mental competency evaluations, sentencing assessments, conservatorship interviews and expert testimony. Students gain insight into how forensic assessments are conducted, the required interviewing skills and the type of questions needed to evaluate mental health in the legal system. Interns split their time between the clinic, the San Diego Central Jail and Mental Health Court. The goal of this exceptional internship experience is for students to learn about forensic psychology and to understand how mental health issues are resolved within the legal system. 
2015 - Underdog vs. Top-dog: Testing the Concepts utilizing the Semantic Differential Technique | Alaysia Brown,
Dr. Nadav Goldschmied | 
Underdog entities are well-liked and supported (Goldschmied & Vandello, 2009) but how do they fare in comparison to their "arch nemeses," the top-dogs? The current investigation employed the semantic differential technique (Osgood, Suci & Tannenbaum, 1957) utilizing a between-subjects design in which participants were asked to choose where their positions lie, on a scale between two bipolar adjectives (e.g., famous-obscure). This well-validated and extensively researched rating scale is designed to measure the connotative meaning of concepts. As predicted, the top-dog was rated superior to the underdog on aggregate measurements of evaluation and potency (e.g., large-small), however in regards to measurements of activity (e.g., motivated-aimless) both entities were found to be equal. In line with past research (Goldschmied & Vandello, 2012; Vandello, Goldschmied & Richards, 2007), the underdog was found to be associated with inexperience and disadvantage, as well as lack of financial resources. 
2015 - Support for the Underdog Brand When Sampling Commercial Products: The Limiting Effects of Motivation | Veronica Ramirez, Dr. Nadav Goldschmied | The tendency to support disadvantaged entities that lack resources to succeed (i.e., the underdog effect), has been demonstrated across several domains such as politics and sport. The present study extended the investigation into the realm of marketing by having individuals evaluate real products (in contrast to vignette only manipulations).  Participants assessed two stain-color paint swaths supposedly representing underdog and favorite brands (in reality they were of the same kind). In study 1, participants liked more and perceived the underdog to be of better quality. In study 2, participants were ostensibly tested for visual acuity and then told that their acuity was either considerably below, or above the average (random assignment) before proceeding to evaluate the brands. We found that this manipulation eliminated the underdog effect (with no difference between low vs. high acuity participants). Thus when participants become motivated appraisers, they overcome their inherent preference for the underdog.
2015 - Gender Performance in the NCAA Rifle Championships: Where is the Gap? | 
Jason Kowalczyk, Dr. Nadav Goldschmied | The current study aimed to compare shooting performance between male and female athletes during the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Rifle Championship from the 2007 to 2013 seasons. Distinct from most competitive sports, this sport requires little physical exertion, so physiological differences between the genders that generally bring about superior performance by males relative to females may have minimal effect on shooting performance. NCAA competitions, unlike Olympic shooting events today, allow male and female shooters to compete against each other. Using archival data covering a period of seven years, 555 scores of the best 149 shooters among mostly American collegiate athletes (the best of whom went on to compete in the Olympics) were analyzed using a generalized estimating equation (GEE) model. We found no differences in performance between the genders. The results suggest that Olympic shooting is exercising a "separate and (un)equal" policy which should be reconsidered.
2015 - By my side: Level of social support affects the negative emotional outcomes of rejection | Ingrid Filakousky, Dr. Jennifer Zwolinski | The current study examined whether level of support from a close friend attenuates the negative emotional outcomes found to result from peer rejection (Sommer et al., 2001). A total of 31 primarily Caucasian (58.1%) female (80.6%) freshman (61.3%) students brought a close friend to the study. All participants were exposed to the Future Alone rejection paradigm and were randomly assigned to either receive social support (52.7%) from the friend during rejection or to be separated. Participants completed the Aversive Impact Inventory to examine post-stressor levels of fundamental needs (e.g., belonging, control, meaningful existence, self-esteem) and mood. ANOVAs indicated that rejected participants with the supportive presence of a close friend reported less thwarted fundamental needs, F (1, 28), 10.18, p = .004, more positive mood, F (1, 30), 11.85, p = .002 and less negative mood, F (1, 30), 11.74, p = .002, relative to alone participants. Although all participants experienced the rejection stressor, the actively supported participants reported feeling less rejected than unsupported participants, F (1, 30), 9.00, p = .005. These results suggest that active support from a good friend mitigates the emotional distress of rejection more so than the presence of a close friend in an adjacent room.
2015 - Mediating Variables of Stress Hormones in College Students | Cori Tergesen, Dr. Veronica Galvan | The purpose of study was to investigate correlations between psychological and biological variables. Variables of interest included perfectionism (adaptive and maladaptive), academic entitlement, nutritional and physical self-efficacy, and the biological hormones of salivary cortisol and DHEA. All of these variables were analyzed in relation to participant perceived stress. Participants were college students in Introduction to Psychology courses at the University of San Diego. Data was collected from multiple psychological questionnaires and saliva samples. Strict criteria were utilized to obtain the best baseline salivary hormone samples. ELISA assays were used to measure cortisol and DHEA baseline levels in each participant. The raw scores were transformed into a cortisol to DHEA ratio variable, which was correlated with multiple psychological variables. It was hypothesized that perceived stress would have significant positive correlations with maladaptive perfectionism, academic entitlement, and higher cortisol to DHEA ratio and significant negative correlations with nutritional and physical self-efficacy. The results showed the opposite of many of the predictions. The findings suggested that the ratio of cortisol to DHEA has a negative correlation with perceived stress and academic entitlement and a positive correlation with reported GPA, which rejected some of the hypotheses. A significant positive correlation existed between perceived stress and maladaptive perfectionism, which supported the hypothesis. There were also significant differences between ethnicities and psychological variables. Caucasians reported higher in nutritional and physical self- efficacy compared to ethnic minorities, but ethnic minorities had higher levels of maladaptive perfectionism than Caucasians.
2015 - The Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on the Attention and Memory of Bystanders | 
RACHEL PUTRIS, MALLORY CLESS, AUDREY OLCHONDRA, MATTIE MONROE, LAUREN FISHER, Dr. Veronica Galvan | In the current age of technology, societal attachment to cell phones is extremely prevalent. The widespread use of cell phones carries with it a variety of impacts on both the cell phone user and the bystander overhearing the conversation. The study examines the cognitive effects of memory and attention on bystanders overhearing several different conversation types. A non-cellular two-sided conversation was compared to a one-sided cell phone conversation. Under these two conditions there were also two different scripted conversations carried out, one considered 'juicy in content and the other boring. The participant was lead to believe they were participating in a study comparing the ability to unscramble anagrams to the ability to understand a short story. The researcher left the room while the participant was instructed to complete an anagram task. Meanwhile, a scripted one-sided or two-sided conversation was carried out between confederates believed to be fellow participants. Some participants were exposed to the 'juicy' conversation, while others were exposed to the 'boring' conversation. A recognition task measuring memory of the conversation and a questionnaire measuring distractibility followed. It is predicted that a one-sided conversation will be more distracting due to the decrease in predictability compared to a two-sided conversation. It is also predicted that the juicy conversation will distract the participant from the anagram task more than the boring conversation. The increased demand on attention during a one-sided and juicy conversation is hypothesized to result in a decrease in performance on the anagram task and an increase in performance on the recognition task as compared to those exposed to a two sided and boring conversation. The implications include that certain types of conversations and content may be more distracting and annoying to bystanders in public domains, which may encourage people to change how they communicate in public.
2015 - Student Demographics, Stress, and Mediating Psychological Variables: A Proposal | KELLY BIRCH, CHRISTOPHER DISHOP, HANNIEL ORTIZ-BECKETT, JOHN BARNUM, KRISTEN DAUS, Dr. Veronica Galvan | Stress is incredibly prevalent in college settings.  While the detrimental symptoms and effects of stress are well established, further research is needed to better understand possible differences in between student populations and the psychological factors involved.  Previous analyses revealed differences in maladaptive perfectionism scores between students of different ethnicities.  The proposed study intends to investigate the relationship student demographic factors, stress, and other mediating psychological variables.  These variables will be measured through self-reported measures.  We hypothesize that financial support, ethnicity, and first generation student status will be associated with scores on validated measures of perceived stress.  We will also explore other variables including academic entitlement, social support, perfectionism, locus of control, and stereotyping that may mediate such correlations.  Subsequent studies will also implement a saliva sample procedure to test levels of the endogenous steroid hormones cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).  These hormones have been correlated with maladaptive and adaptive responses to stress, respectively.  This data will serve as a non-biased comparison to the student self-reported perceived stress data.  The findings of these studies may provide insight into the factors and relationships underlying chronic stress levels in college students.
2015 - Student Demographics, Stress, and Mediating Psychological Variables: A Proposal | KELLY BIRCH, CHRISTOPHER DISHOP, HANNIEL ORTIZ-BECKETT, JOHN BARNUM, KRISTEN DAUS, Dr. Veronica Galvan | Stress is incredibly prevalent in college settings.  While the detrimental symptoms and effects of stress are well established, further research is needed to better understand possible differences in between student populations and the psychological factors involved.  Previous analyses revealed differences in maladaptive perfectionism scores between students of different ethnicities.  The proposed study intends to investigate the relationship student demographic factors, stress, and other mediating psychological variables.  These variables will be measured through self-reported measures.  We hypothesize that financial support, ethnicity, and first generation student status will be associated with scores on validated measures of perceived stress.  We will also explore other variables including academic entitlement, social support, perfectionism, locus of control, and stereotyping that may mediate such correlations.  Subsequent studies will also implement a saliva sample procedure to test levels of the endogenous steroid hormones cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).  These hormones have been correlated with maladaptive and adaptive responses to stress, respectively.  This data will serve as a non-biased comparison to the student self-reported perceived stress data.  The findings of these studies may provide insight into the factors and relationships underlying chronic stress levels in college students.
2014 Creative Collaborations 2014 Creative Collaborations
2014 Creative Collaborations 2014 Creative Collaborations 2014 Creative Collaborations 2014 Creative Collaborations
Carolina presenting her behavioral neuroscience research on locus of control, perceived stress, and immunological response Elise presenting her behavioral neuroscience research with zebrafish and nicotine Elise presenting her behavioral neuroscience research with zebrafish and nicotine
Note: Please add a header/title on the webpage that reads "Fall 2012 Behavioral Neuroscience Student Research Colloquium" for the images I submit today. Thank you! -Kayla