THE PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT HONORS PROGRAM
Below, please find descriptions of the areas of interest and expertise of the faculty members of the Psychology Department. In some cases specific research projects that a faculty member would like to see carried out are described, and specific course prerequisites necessary to pursue honors work in a given area are listed. Students should read the descriptions and talk with all faculty members whose research areas they find exciting. They should then submit a list, specifying order of preference of possible thesis advisors, and email them to Professor Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students must submit their list of preferences by our new deadline: Friday, March 3rd at noon. The faculty will meet to make decisions about which students will be accepted into the honors program and who their advisor will be before preregistration.
My research has examined the role that race and social class play in the college experience. I carried out a longitudinal study of black and white students, both affluent and lower-income from the Class of 2009 at Amherst College, to better understand the challenges they faced on campus based on their race and social class, and the extent to which they are learning from the diversity in the student body. In the spring, 2017, I will be interviewing these students again as they approach age 30. I will be exploring race and class differences in areas such as the paths students traveled since graduation in terms of jobs held and higher degrees obtained; the extent to which participants feel they are bridging two different worlds - the world of home communities and the current world they inhabit; closeness with family and friends from childhood, with friends from Amherst and with friends made since Amherst. I will be examining the role race and class have played in participants’ experiences on the job and in graduate school, if they attended; their reflections on their experiences with diversity and inclusion while at Amherst and on the learning that took place at Amherst through being part of a diverse community. Honors students working with me would be working on content analysis of the interview data, as well exploring questions of interest based on my four waves of data collection on these students. I am also interested in identity development during adolescence and particularly in the role social class, race, ethnicity and gender play in the formation of identity. Psych 332: Psychology of Adolescence is strongly recommended as a background for projects on identity.
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.
The moment we open our eyes, we all have the subjective experience of a rich, vastly detailed visual world. However, a wide variety of results strongly suggest this is not true and that we actually aware of very little of what's going on around us. Drivers often get in accidents saying they "just didn't see" the object they drove into, viewers don't notice a plane flying in the background of a movie set in ancient Greece, and sometimes you simply can't find the object you're looking for even though it's directly in front of you. My research uses neuroimaging (fMRI) and behavioral techniques to investigate how much information we can perceive and remember from the world around us. Broadly speaking, I ask questions like: Why is some information perceived and remembered while other information goes unnoticed and is forgotten? What are the cognitive and neural factors that limit the bandwidth of memory and perception? Is information that you don't consciously perceive still processed by the brain subliminally? How much? Possible topics for thesis projects include using behavioral methods to measure what kind/how much information can be processed by the unconscious mind, as well as using a combination of behavioral and neural measures to understand how the functional organization of the brain acts as a bottleneck on perception and memory. However, there are many possibilities for thesis work in my lab for students interested in any of the aforementioned topics and questions. Professor Cohen may be contacted at email@example.com
My research focuses on 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 prone to anger 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). This year my thesis students are looking at individual differences in how people respond to sadness. 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, with anyone who has taken my Psychology 221 course or another of my courses. On sabbatical for year 2017-18 and will not be taking honor students.
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.
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.
My research examines social adjustment 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, emotional, 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 and other work focuses on social impairments in children more generally. Part of my research has investigated why some children overestimate their social acceptance and think they are more socially accepted than they really are (termed a positive illusory bias). Other work focuses on how children’s emotion regulation capacities relate to their social behavior and adjustment. To examine this I measure differences in how children respond physiologically to social stressors (i.e. changes in heart rate) and how that relates to their social adjustment. I also have a specific interest in understanding why some children choose to engage in physical aggression (hitting, physical intimidation) whereas others use relational aggression (gossiping, systematic exclusion of a peer); my prior work suggests these are behaviors with distinct motivations and risk factors. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the opportunity to work on ongoing data collection projects with child or college participants 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.
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.
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 dating partners, methods of resolving conflict in relationships, and/or the experience of jealous in such relationships. 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 hooking up more frequently than they themselves do, which in turn can influence feelings of loneliness as well as health-related behaviors. Thesis projects could examine factors leading to such errors, the consequences of such perceptions, and/or strategies for changing these perceptions across numerous different types of health behaviors (e.g., hooking up, alcohol use, sleep, stress, eating and exercise behavior, etc.). Third, I supervise topics related to sports psychology, such as how beliefs about student-athletes influence individuals' attitudes and behavior in academic and athletic domains and strategies for increasing acceptance of reporting concussions. Psychology 220 is recommended as background.
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.
My research is in the area of behavioral pharmacology. Recent work in the lab has focused on the effects of caffeine on adolescent males and females. We have identified a number of behavioral effects following exposure to caffeine in the drinking water, some of which vary by age and sex. Current questions in the lab revolve around assessing the longevity of these effects and attempting to identify possible neural correlates to these behavioral effects. Behaviors examined in the lab include locomotor response to amphetamine, behavior on anxiety measures and behavior in the forced swim test, an animal model for depressive-like behaviors. Students working on these projects need to have taken Psychology/Neuroscience 226. In another line of research, students in my lab have been investigating sex differences in drawing behavior and visual processing in humans and their possible relationship to early hormone exposure.