Faculty Research Interests - Honors Program

Submitted on Monday, 2/9/2015, at 3:30 PM

Professor Aries

My research has examined the role that race and social class play in the college experience. I conducted a longitudinal study of black and white students, both affluent and lower-income, at Amherst College, to better understand the challenges they face on campus based on their race and social class, and the extent to which they are learning from the diversity in the student body. I am interested in exploring these topics further. Another interest I have is in understanding racial, gender, and sexual orientation microaggressions on campus, i.e., the brief, commonplace slights or insults, derogatory or demeaning acts or comments, stereotypic assumptions, or shows of insensitivity based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Questions for investigation might include the forms these microaggressions take, the contexts in which they are experienced, their impact, responses to them, and their differential perception by students. A third research area I have explored is the role social class, race, ethnicity and gender play in the formation of identity. The Psychology of Adolescence is strongly recommended as a background for projects on identity.


Professor Baird

My research is devoted to uncovering neural and psychological mechanisms that control feeding behavior. I use modern behavioral analysis, pharmacological, and neural recording techniques to explore how various drugs and other treatments affect feeding behavior and taste coding in the brainstem. For the upcoming year I intend to use microstructural behavioral analysis methods to evaluate how direct brain application of novel neuropeptides recently implicated in obesity specifically affect feeding behavior. We will be directing these infusions to areas of the brain not previously explored for a role in obesity. These results should help to clarify the brain circuits through which obesity-related neuropeptides act and possibly how these circuits may become imbalanced in cases of obesity.


Professor Clemans

My research focuses on adolescent social development.  I am interested in how the structure of one’s friends and peer groups relates to individual characteristics and social behavior. Some questions I’ve investigated recently include: How do adolescents’ feelings about popular peers and friend group leaders affect their aggressive and manipulative behavior toward other adolescents?  And: Do students’ position within their school social network affects how their behavior is interpreted by their peers?  I have found that the more adolescents look up to popular students and support the social hierarchy of their peer group, the more likely they are to condone the use of relationally aggressive behavior and to engage in aggressive and manipulative behavior themselves.  At Amherst, I run the APEX (Amherst Peer Experiences) Project, a multiwave social network study which investigates factors related to the formation and maintenance of friendship ties across the first two years of college. 

I am also interested in the ways in which we collect information about aggressive behavior during adolescence.  For instance, should we ask teachers, parents, peers, or the students themselves?  Each type of informant will provide us with different information about the behavior of the adolescent in question and also about that informant’s individual beliefs and biases.  Peers, for instance, may over-identify classmates who correspond to common media stereotypes popular during adolescence (e.g., “mean girls”). 


Professor Demorest

I am interested in the role of emotion in personality. In past research I have examined individual differences among people as to which emotions are most prevalent in a person's life (e.g., some people are more vulnerable to sadness and others to fear) and what scripts a person holds about how emotions are evoked (e.g., some people feel love in response to another being weak while others feel love in response to another being strong). I would be willing to supervise any thesis that deals with the role of emotion in personality. Students interested in pursuing a thesis on this topic should have taken Psychology 221.  I am also willing to supervise theses involving emotion but unrelated to personality, as well as theses on personality unrelated to emotion.  As a second area of inquiry I am interested in various clinical phenomena, such as how clinical psychologists come to understand clients in the process of psychotherapy, or how unconscious processes operate. Students interested in studying clinical phenomena should have taken Psychology 353 or related courses.   


Professor Hart

My research explores the role of interpersonal expectations in guiding human behavior in both laboratory and applied settings.  I have conducted and supervised projects examining judges’ expectations and nonverbal behavior in real trials, legal decision making in civil and criminal cases, and laboratory studies examining how physical characteristics (e.g., race, gender) and nonverbal behavior affect how we perceive and respond to others.  For example, a recent honors project manipulated respondents’ mood to see if induced negative mood, versus positive mood, would lead people to categorize outgroup members more quickly than they categorize ingroup members.  Another project compared the recognition accuracy for same- versus cross- race faces across two different cultures.



Professor Holoien

My research uses a social psychological approach to study interracial interactions and relationships. Although society is becoming increasingly diverse and many Americans endorse egalitarian beliefs, at times interracial interactions can be awkward or stressful. I study the dynamics of interracial interactions across various relationships, from interactions with strangers to longstanding relationships between friends or college roommates. First, I investigate intergroup understanding, or how people of different racial groups come to understand one another. I find that among interracial college roommates, Whites and racial minorities who are highly concerned about being racially stereotyped are better at accurately perceiving how understood their roommate feels. Currently, I am examining other factors that promote or prevent intergroup understanding, as well as the emotional and interpersonal consequences associated with intergroup understanding. Second, I examine when “good intentions” may unwittingly cause interracial interactions to go awry. My recent work in this area focuses on the good intention of wanting to affiliate (or get along) with others. I have found that in interracial interactions, the desire to get along with the other person helps racial minorities accurately understand Whites but hinders Whites from accurately understanding minorities. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the opportunity to be involved in these ongoing projects and contribute their own measures. Psychology 220 is strongly recommended as a background.


Professor McCarty

Broadly, I am interested in the psychology of gender and small group dynamics. Much of my research integrates these two areas, investigating the ways in which group processes contribute to the persistence of gender stereotypes and the continued segregation of men and women across different roles. In one line of research, I am exploring how exclusion from counter-stereotypic activities can be particularly harmful and can ultimately strengthen stereotypes. For example, a woman may feel more hurt when she is excluded from a group project in an engineering class than when she is excluded from a group project in a nursing class. This negative experience may in turn result in her being disinterested in engineering, or may strengthen stereotypes she has about engineering as a masculine domain. In a second line of research, I am investigating how the same work group environments may be differentially aversive depending on communion, a personality trait strongly linked with gender. Communion is comprised of other-focused traits such as kindness, helpfulness, and a concern for others. My work demonstrates that people high in communion find work environments where others are not kind and helpful to be especially negative. In fact, people high in communion avoid these environments even if it means passing up opportunities for professional advancement (like promotions). In general, more women are high in communion than men. Therefore women are more likely to experience these negative reactions to low communion work environments, contributing to the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. My work in both of these lines of research seeks to further explore how these group processes serve as barriers to gender equality and to test interventions designed to minimize these negative effects. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the opportunity to be involved in ongoing research on these topics and contribute their own measures. Psychology 220 is recommended as background.


Professor McQuade

My research examines social competence in children and adolescence. Some children are well liked, make friends easily, and are good at reading and understanding social cues. Yet other children struggle to make friends, are rejected or bullied by peers, and engage in behaviors that are harmful to others. My research seeks to understand the cognitive and environmental factors that explain these differences in social functioning. Some of my research focuses specifically on children with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), who often demonstrate significant social impairments. One aspect of social functioning that I have examined in these children is impaired insight. Studies have found that some children with ADHD perceive themselves as socially competent despite being rated by others as significantly impaired.  This difference in perceptions has been termed a positive bias and is more common and extreme in children with ADHD. My research seeks to understand why some children with ADHD demonstrate a positive bias and how this thinking relates to other indices of social adjustment, such as aggression. I also investigate these processes within typically developing children. This work has focused specifically on risks for physical (hitting, physical intimidation) and relational aggression (gossiping, systematic exclusion of a peer) and examines individual, cognitive, and social factors that may explain differences in risks.  I have ongoing studies that are conducted in elementary schools and with children and adolescents who come to my research lab. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the opportunity to work on these projects and to add their own measures. I strongly recommend that interested students work in my research lab during spring semester of their junior year. Staying on campus for the summer to complete data collection also may be a requirement. Psychology 228 is strongly recommended as background.   (On leave 2015-16, and will not be taking thesis students. )


Professor Palmquist

Broadly, I am interested in questions of how children learn from, and communicate with, others. Given that in their first few years of life, children usually communicate with adults who are trying to share truthful information with them, young children often expect that both verbal and nonverbal communication can be trusted. Stemming from this, my research is focused on 1) whether children distinguish between the helpfulness of verbal and nonverbal communication and 2) how children’s expectations about the truthfulness of nonverbal communication (i.e., gaze, pointing, and other hand gestures) in particular, affects children’s learning. My research asks whether these expectations about truthfulness actually help children learn from others, or whether they lead children to be more easily deceived by incorrect information. Another area of my research examines the developmental origins of nonverbal communication. For instance, others have found that one form of nonverbal communication, pointing, is a nearly universally used gesture that often develops at about the same time in many different cultures. Yet, no one has asked why infants first begin to use gestures like pointing to communicate with others. My work in this area seeks to understand this transition into nonverbal communication and whether being able to communicate with others in this way actually changes the way that infants think about themselves and the world around them. I have ongoing studies that are conducted in local preschools and with children that come in to my research lab. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the chance to work on these existing projects and develop related manipulations. I strongly recommend that interested students work in my research lab during spring semester of their junior year. Staying on campus for the summer to complete data collection may also be a requirement. PSYCH 227 is strongly recommended as a background.


Professor Raskin

I am interested in the psychology of aging, childhood behavior disorders, the history and systems of psychiatry, and in the emerging field of Neuro-psychoanalysis (a field that attempts to reconcile studies on the brain with psychoanalytic theory). Although I have had extensive experience in empirical research, my recent scholarly interests have taken me from the laboratory to the library. Students interested in pursuing these research topics with me would create what the Department calls a "non-empirical thesis", and should be prepared --and eager-- to improve their critical reading and writing skills. 


Professor Sanderson

My research is based in social-personality psychology and specifically on issues within close relationships and health-related behaviors.  First, I study the interaction of individuals in close relationships (e.g., friendships, dating relationships, marriages), and how both reality and perception influence satisfaction.  Thesis projects could examine how individuals' intimacy goals in these relationships influence the strategies used to pursue interpersonal relationships and/or relationship interactions and satisfaction.  Second, I examine individuals’ accuracy in perceiving others’ health-related attitudes and behaviors as well as how such perceptions (and misperceptions) influence one’s own attitudes and behaviors.  For example, women see other women as thinner and as exercising more than they themselves do, and both men and women see others as more negative about condom use than they themselves are, which in turn can influence behavior.  Thesis projects could examine factors leading to such errors, the consequences of such perceptions, and/or strategies for changing these perceptions.  Third, I supervise topics related to sports psychology, and in particular how beliefs about student-athletes influence individuals' attitudes and behavior in academic and athletic domains.  Psychology 220, Psych 235, and/or Psychology 247 are recommended as background.


Professor Schulkind

My primary interests are in the field of autobiographical memory, which is memory for the events of one’s life. I have recently begun to examine how one’s personal identity is related to their memories for past experiences.  Although many theorists believe that we know ourselves only by reflecting on our past experiences and behaviors, there are others who believe that our sense of self is entirely separate from our past experiences. Potential thesis topics might explore whether differences in personality (e.g., extraversion) and identity (e.g., I consider myself to be honest) influence the kinds of personal experiences that an individual regards as ‘important’.  I am also very interested in music cognition, especially how people identify melodies. Although people can easily name 100s of different songs, we know very little about how listeners distinguish ‘Frosty, the Snowman’ from ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer’. Current work in my lab is examining how expertise effects melody identification, the relationship between music and language, and whether musical training influences cognitive performance on other kinds of mental tasks. In addition to these topics, I am willing consider other questions relating music and memory.   


Professor Turgeon

My research focuses on understanding the behavioral pharmacology of phencyclidine (PCP) as it relates to animal models of schizophrenia.  PCP is a psychomotor stimulant that can induce schizophrenia-like symptoms in humans.  We have identified a number of behavioral effects of PCP in rats that appear to be plausible animal models of schizophrenia and are interested in the pharmacological and neural mechanisms by which PCP induces these schizophrenia-like behaviors.  The current focus in the lab is on sex and age differences in these effects and how these differences relate to sex differences in the manifestation of schizophrenia in humans and the developmental time course of symptom onset.  Methods used to approach these questions include behavioral observation, lesion studies, and analyses of regional c-Fos activation.  Students interested in working on any of these projects need to have taken Neuroscience/Psychology 226.  In another line of research, I have been investigating sex differences in drawing behavior and color choice in humans.