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Psychology

Research Presentation Video

Watch Laura River '15 discuss her research project.

The Influence of Parent Language Use on Children's Thinking

Laura River (2015); Additional Collaborator(s): Cassie Freeman (University of Chicago); Rebecca Frausel (University of Chicago); Susan Goldin-Meadow (University of Chicago); Mentor(s): Jessica Borelli

Abstract: Before children in the U.S. enter school, they already show differences in higher-order thinking (HOT) skills, which influences their later academic performance (Duncan et al., 2007). Parent language use affects children’s school readiness, even mediating effects of demographics like socio-economic status (Cartmill et al., 2011): children use more complex language after receiving more complex input from caregivers earlier in development (Huttenlocher et al., 2010). Early language use by parents may also have implications for children’s use of HOT. Decontextualized speech (DCXT) may be one mechanism by which children develop the HOT skill of abstraction in dialogue with their parents. DCXT refers to events and ideas beyond the immediate environment (Curenton et al., 2008). Abstraction is generalization from specific instances (see Holyoak, 2012). No studies so far have examined the relationship between DCXT and HOT in children’s and caregivers’ spontaneous speech before age 5. The present research explores the relationship between DCXT and abstraction in speech in a sample of 20 parent-child dyads. I will assess transcripts of each dyad’s spontaneous speech when the child is 38 and 58 months old, for frequency and type of DCXT and abstraction. I hypothesize that frequency of DCXT will predict frequency of abstraction in all speech, and that frequency of DCXT by parents will predict frequency of abstraction by children, mediated by the children’s use of DCXT. The role of parent and child gesture during language will also be examined.
Funding Provided by: Pomona Alumni SURP Fund

Parent-Child Co-Regulation of Emotion, Physiological Arousal, and Implications in the Etiology of Anxiety Disorders

Nicole Welindt (2014); Student Collaborator(s): Lauren Vazquez (2014); Laura Perrone (2014); Kristin Brikmanis (2014); Mentor(s): Jessica Borelli; Patricia Smiley

Abstract: Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological disorders among school-aged children. While myriad factors likely contribute to the etiology of anxiety disorders in children, one well-documented risk factor is parental anxiety. Studies have yet to examine the role of co-regulation of emotion between parent and child: from this perspective, parents who are unable to control their own anxiety when their child is feeling negative emotions may inadvertently teach their child that their negative emotions are unmanageable. Over time, the child may learn to avoid his/her negative emotions. In this study, we plan on examining the relationship between maternal and child anxiety during a difficult puzzle task. Physiological measures of arousal, including cortisol levels, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and galvanic skin response will be used to examine the regulation and dysregulation of emotion. In addition, surveys and interviews will provide insight into mother’s and children’s subjective experiences. We hypothesize that greater maternal anxiety will be related with greater increases from baseline in subjective and physiological measurements of negative emotion. Additionally, we hypothesize that we will find evidence of coregulation of negative emotion between mother and child. Such findings would have important implications for understanding the etiology of anxiety disorders in children.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP (NW, LV); Evelyn B. Craddock-McVicar Memorial Fund (LP); Paul K. Richter and Evelyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund (KB)

Substance-Abusing Women on the Struggles of Motherhood: A Thematic Analysis

Sonya Zhu (2014); Student Collaborator(s): Lourdes De Las Heras (Yale University School of Medicine); Additional Collaborator(s): Cindy DeCoste (Yale University School of Medicine); Nancy Suchman (Yale University School of Medicine, Yale Child Study Center); Mentor(s): Jessica Borelli

Abstract: The present study is an exploratory thematic analysis of narratives provided by substance-abusing mothers. Mothers of infants and toddlers enrolled in the Moms ‘n’ Kids Program, a clinical research study evaluating two parenting interventions, completed the Parent Development Interview (PDI; Slade et al., 2005) during baseline and post-treatment. The PDI assesses reflective functioning (RF), the mother’s ability to understand her child’s mental states and her own and how they affect their behavior and relationships (Fonagy et al., 1991). As part of the PDI, mothers were asked what aspects of parenting gave them significant pain or difficulty, and how their feelings affected their child. Ten mothers were randomly selected and their pre-and post-treatment responses to the questions were reviewed using thematic analysis. While in past research numeric RF scores from the PDI have typically been considered, the themes found in this study present a deeper picture of the struggles that substance-abusing women face as mothers. Implications for mentalization-based treatments are discussed.
Funding Provided by: Paul K. Richter and Evelyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Gender Development in Gender Nonconforming Youth

Zachary Ernst (2014); Additional Collaborator(s): Kristina Olson (University of Washington); Mentor(s): Sharon Goto

Abstract: Gender nonconforming children have largely been ignored by the gender development literature. With the removal of gender identity disorder from the DSM-V, it is more critical than ever to include gender nonconforming populations. This study investigates how gender nonconforming children understand and develop gender in comparison to gender conforming controls and siblings. Participants completed a series of measures pertaining to gender identity, gender preferences, and gender stability. Implicit associations for gender identity and gender preference were also measured using the IAT. Parents completed a separate questionnaire and completed an IAT for their child’s gender identity. This study is ongoing so no conclusions can be made yet; however, preliminary analysis reveals some interesting trends. Gender nonconforming children score equally with controls on the gender preference IAT, but showed no preference for gender on the gender identity IAT. Parents also associate their gender nonconforming children with their current gender just as much as they associate controls with their gender. Additionally, gender nonconforming children scored lower on measures of gender stability, with 38% saying that their gender when they grow up will be different than their current gender. Implications of these findings are discussed.
Funding Provided by: Paul K. Richter and Evelyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Why So Awkward?

Charmaine Garzon (2016); Student Collaborator(s): Jun Park (2016); Kajung Hong (2016); Jessica Liu (2015); Additional Collaborator(s): Michael Diercks; Mentor(s): Adam Pearson

Abstract: From “Arrested Development’s” character, George Michael Bluth, to “The Office’s” protagonist, Michael Scott, the entertainment industry has capitalized on the human experience of awkwardness to both startle and amuse audiences. But what does it mean to label a situation as awkward? The present research explored several hypothesized antecedents of awkwardness judgments, including perceived threats to a protagonist and “victim’s” social status, judged uncertainty about the situation, perceived violation of social norms, violations of expectations, and the perceived intent of individuals. Participants (n=115) were shown one of three different videotaped scenarios that were rated as relatively high on social awkwardness (>5 on a 7-point scale) in a pilot study. Scenarios included “intrusion of personal space”, “greeting the wrong person”, and “unknowingly insulting someone”. Participants completed a survey that included items assessing each of the above dimensions, which revealed a correlation between all five dimensions and participants’ judgments of how awkward the scenario was. Moreover, when compared in regression analyses, the perceived threat to the protagonist’s status/reputation remained as the lone predictor of judgments of situational awkwardness. Implications of our findings for developing a status-based theory of awkwardness and the potential utility of psychological research on awkwardness for understanding and diagnosing social dysfunction are considered.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Is Green Too White?

Kajung Hong (2016); Student Collaborator(s): Jun Park (2016); Charmaine Garzon (2016); Mentor(s): Adam Pearson

Abstract: Sustainability is increasingly understood as a fundamentally social challenge. Yet, despite growing awareness of the need for a broader, more inclusive, environmental movement, racial and ethnic minorities remain substantially underrepresented in environmental professions and organizations. We hypothesized that racial and ethnic associations with environmentalism might contribute to these disparities. In a study using a web-based community sample, we found no differences in White and racial and ethnic minority respondents’ expressed concerns about environmental issues. However, both Whites and minorities more strongly associated Whites with pro-environmental behaviors (e.g., recycling) than Blacks or Latinos. Moreover, when first primed with their race/ethnicity in a demographic survey, Black and Latino (but not White) respondents reported a lower likelihood of engaging in pro-environmental actions in the future, compared to a control group. These findings suggest that stereotypic associations with environmentalism may signal inclusion or exclusion in the environmental movement.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Writing Like a Scientist: Linguistic Differences Across Disciplines

Jun Park (2016); Student Collaborator(s): Charmaine Garzon (2016); Kajung Hong (2016); Madeleine DeMeules (2014); Danielle Holstein (2014); Mentor(s): Adam Pearson

Abstract: The present research examined linguistic differences among various disciplines in the two high-impact journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and Psychological Science. Abstracts from a total of 452 articles (PNAS, n=364; Psychological Science, n=88) from Cell Biology, Chemistry, Human Neuroscience, Physics, and Psychology were coded and processed using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). The results revealed clear disparities between the “hard” sciences and the “soft” sciences. Psychology used significantly more tentative language (“maybe,” “should”) as well as more explanatory language such as quantifiers, adverbs, conjunctions, and exclusions. Additionally, Psychology used less punctuation and numerals when compared to the other disciplines. However no significant differences were found for word count or words per sentence (WPS).
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP; Oldenborg International Research and Travel Grant (DM)

When Do Past Choices Influence Future Decisions?

Angela Han (2016); Additional Collaborator(s): Craig R. M. McKenzie (UCSD -Rady School of Management and Psychology Department); Johannes Müller-Trede (UCSD -Rady School of Management); Mentor(s): Shlomi Sher

Abstract: Choice-induced preference occurs when past choice affects preferences. Cognitive dissonance theory claims people reduce psychological tension by devaluing rejected items and elevating selected ones. Self-perception theory asserts that people learn their preferences from observing their choices. Important methodological flaws have been identified in the traditional paradigm for studying choice-induced preference. In this study, we developed a new approach to overcome these flaws by influencing, instead of measuring, initial choices. In this study, we asked whether selecting/rejecting an item when part of an appealing/unappealing initial package would cause participants to select/reject that item in the future when seen alone. Participants were induced to initially choose/reject an item. In the first experiment, we used both risk aversion and expected value to guide choice, and we used risk alone in the second experiment. Later, participants chose directly between an item they had been guided to reject and one they had been guided to choose. When expected value was manipulated, subjects appeared to draw strong inferences from choice sets. However, in both experiments, guiding people to choose an item did not make them more likely to select it again in a later choice. Thus, although influencing initial choices circumvented previous methodological flaws, these influenced initial choices did not, ultimately, seem to affect final preferences.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Task Engagement and Emotion During and After Achievement Failure: Possible Correlations with Negative Conditional Regard

Graham Bishop (2015); Student Collaborator(s): Christopher Reeves (2014); Mentor(s): Patricia Smiley

Abstract: Negative conditional regard (NCR) involves withdrawing affection or attention when children behave contrary to parental expectations. In our study, we measured perceptions of mother use of NCR for anger expression in a group of pre-adolescents; research shows that adolescents’ perceptions of parent use of NCR in the emotion domain has negative consequences for academic engagement (grades) and self-reported emotion regulation. Instead of gathering self-reports of emotion regulation, however, we observed children at work on four impossible puzzles and used a scale of 1 to 6 to code their expressions of six emotions after they received a signal that they had failed to solve each puzzle. We also used a scale of 1 to 6 to rate participants’ level of engagement with the task, which we evaluated according to a list of observable cues adapted from the NCAST Coding Scales. Intraclass correlations suggest acceptable interrater reliability on both intensity of expressed emotion (anger = .72, sadness/shame = .61, surprise = .90) and engagement (.70). Our early results suggest that engagement among all children, regardless of perceived NCR-anger, remains fairly high, even on puzzle 4. However, children differ in the types of emotions expressed after the final failure signal; high NCR children show more shame or sadness, and low NCR children show more frustration or amusement. At this stage, we very tentatively conclude that the degree to which children perceive their mothers’ use of NCR in response to expressions of anger may be related to their emotional responses to repeated failure.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Research at Pomona