Faculty Research Areas
THE PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT HONORS PROGRAM
My research is devoted to uncovering neural and psychological mechanisms that control feeding behavior. I use modem 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. On sabbatical 2020. Will not be taking students.
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.
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). I am currently interested in researching whether people hold different kinds of emotion scripts based on their psychological adjustment or gender. For example, do well adjusted individuals have different scripts about happiness or sadness than poorly adjusted individuals? Students interested in pursuing a thesis on this topic should have taken Psychology 221, 338, or 353. On sabbatical 2020-2021. Will not be taking 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.
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 the 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 sabbatical 2020-2021. Will not be taking students.
Emotions confer many benefits – they allow us to savor a beautiful sunrise, form deep connections with others, and escape from life-threatening danger. However, at pathological levels, emotions can be debilitating. My research centers on the question of why people cope with emotional distress the way that they do. Overall, my research program integrates methods in social, clinical, and health psychology to investigate how psychological factors influence emotion regulation and mental health. Much of my work focuses on emotion malleability beliefs, which are the beliefs that individuals hold about the degree to which emotions are changeable and under their control. I found that people with more malleable views of emotion have lower levels of depression and anxiety and use more effective coping strategies. Overall, my research seeks to clarify the link between emotion malleability beliefs, emotion regulation, and emotions using a variety of methodologies (e.g., longitudinal, experience sampling, experimental) and a range of study populations (e.g., college students, community members, individuals with depression). Additionally, I have developed a brief intervention to change emotion malleability beliefs, promote effective emotion regulation, and enhance resilience. Paralleling my interest in the relationship between emotion malleability beliefs and emotion regulation, I am also interested in how individuals’ beliefs about the controllability of physical pain related to emotional distress, pain, and coping. I found that individuals who have more controllable beliefs about pain have lower anxiety and mood difficulties, lower levels of craving for substances, and less pain-related interference in their functioning. Students interested in completing a thesis with me will work on ongoing data collection projects with adult samples or will be able to analyze existing data with clinical and non-clinical populations. To discuss thesis options, please contact Prof. Kneeland by email: firstname.lastname@example.org Psychology 228 is strongly recommended as background.
Broadly, I'm interested in questions of how children learn from others. There are two main ways that children learn about the world around them: gaining first-hand experience (e.g., tasting a lemon and figuring out that it's sour) and learning information from other people (e.g., hearing that lemons are sour, and believing what they're told). Understanding the process by which children learn from others is particularly important because much of what children need to know about the world cannot be learned through first-hand experience (e.g., the fact that the earth is round), instead, they must simply listen to others and trust what they are told. Learning from others also requires that children be discerning in terms of who they trust: they need to identify and rely on those who are knowledgeable and helpful, and identify and ignore those who are ignorant or deceptive. My research is focused on better understanding how and when children choose to learn from others. One line of my research asks whether children evaluate others' nonverbal cues (i.e., pointing gestures), in addition to their spoken language, to determine good sources of information. Another, more recent, line of my research explores the variation and complexity in how children learn from others. In this line of research, we explore whether individual differences, previous experiences, and context affect children's decisions to trust others as good sources of information. I have ongoing studies that are conducted in local preschools and with children who come into 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. PSYC 227 is strongly recommended as a background.
My research is based in social psychology and specifically on the power of social norms to shape people’s attitudes and behavior, factors that lead people to misperceive such norms, and the consequences of feeling different from members of our social group. Thesis projects could examine individuals' accuracy in perceiving others' 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, which increases the risk of disordered eating, and both men and women see others as hooking up more frequently than they themselves do, which can lead to feelings of loneliness. 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, sleep, stress, eating and exercise behavior, etc.). Several recent thesis projects have examined different strategies for reducing mental health stigma and increasing willingness to seek out the counseling center; projects could also examine strategies for helping people speak up in the face of bad behavior (e.g., sexual misconduct, bullying, hazing, etc.). I have also supervised topics related to sport 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 to consider other questions relating to music and memory.
My research broadly examines stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination from the perspective of the perceiver as well as the target. Recently, my work has specifically focused on predictors of anti-transgender attitudes using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Transgender individuals often face high levels of violence, harassment, and discrimination. My research examines the factors or beliefs that lead to particularly negative attitudes toward transgender individuals. My research has found that distrust plays an important role in anti-transgender attitudes. Specifically, I’ve found that transgender individuals are perceived as “deceiving” others, and this perceived deceptiveness, in turn, drives prejudice. To this point, I’ve looked at how transgender identities are viewed differently from sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, or bisexual) with whom they are frequently lumped, as well as other historically distrusted groups (atheists). These comparisons help to point out important differences in how transgender individuals are viewed as opposed to other stigmatized groups in society. For example, even though atheists and transgender individuals are both distrusted, transgender individuals, but not atheists are viewed as being deceptive. Only through better understanding the beliefs that drive negative views toward transgender individuals can we work to decrease anti-transgender bias. On that note, I would particularly welcome thesis students who are interested in examining anti-transgender attitudes from an intersectional perspective, reduction of anti-transgender prejudice, or attitudes toward non-binary transgender identities. However, I would be willing to consider projects related more generally to stereotypes and prejudice toward gender or sexual minorities. To discuss options with Professor Totton, please reach her by email: email@example.com
My research is in the area of behavioral pharmacology. Recent work in the lab has focused on the effects of caffeine on adolescent male and female rats and humans. In rats, we have identified a number of behavioral effects following exposure to caffeine in the drinking water, some of which vary by age and sex as well as housing conditions. 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. Studies in humans have revealed sex differences in the effects of caffeine exposure on the response to a stressor and we are continuing to describe the nature of these differences. 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.