Faculty Research Interests - Honors Program for 2024 (fall)

In psychology, the focus of the thesis is developed collaboratively through discussions with the thesis advisor and typically centers on a topic within the advisor's area of expertise. It is advantageous and sometimes necessary to have had a course with the professor in whose research area one is interested. For some types of projects, it is important to have worked in a given faculty member’s lab prior to applying to pursue thesis work in that area.

Please read the following descriptions of the areas of interest and expertise of the faculty members in 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.

Faculty Research Interests for Honors Work

Professor Bair        

My research seeks to identify factors that contribute to or erode the wellbeing of members of stigmatized racial groups. At present, I am especially interested in Black racial ideologies as predictors of Black wellbeing. Black racial ideologies are the beliefs that Black individuals may hold about how Black people should manage issues of race and interact within the larger society. I would be happy to support thesis projects building on this work. For example, I have conducted research examining relationships between Black racial ideologies, implicit bias, and race-based disadvantage. I would be excited to supervise projects examining how Black racial ideologies relate to other social justice, health, or educational outcomes (as well as other objective indicators of wellbeing that students may want to pursue). I would also be interested in supporting projects examining how racial ideologies manifest among other Non-Black POC. In a second line of research, I seek to identify how mainstream racial socialization impacts how research on racial disparities is conducted. Students interested in understanding the impact of references to race in self-report measures assessing racial differences are encouraged to contact me. I am also interested in exploring whether mainstream racial socialization messages influence how researchers choose to assess racial differences.  I look forward to discussing possible thesis projects with interested students.  (Psychology 220 is strongly recommended as a background. 

Professor Baird   

My research is devoted to uncovering neural and psychological mechanisms that control feeding behavior. I have used modern behavioral analysis, pharmacological, and neural electrophysiology recording techniques to explore how various drugs and other treatments affect feeding behavior and taste coding in the brainstem. In past honors projects I have used behavior microstructure analysis methods to evaluate how direct brain application of novel neuropeptides recently implicated in obesity specifically affect feeding behavior. Previous thesis projects have also explored animal models of binge eating. The aim of these studies is to clarify the brain circuits through which obesity-related neuropeptides act and possibly how these circuits may become imbalanced in cases of obesity. For future thesis projects I am interested in analysis of previously collected data related to the above studies, and in non-empirical studies that explore brain interactions with metabolism. Psych/Neur213 is strongly recommended as background.

Professor Cohen

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 Demorest

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 anxiety and others to sadness). I have also examined individual differences in people’s emotion scripts, that is, the expectations people hold about how emotions are evoked and how to respond to them. For example, some people respond to anger by suppressing it, whereas others respond to anger by acting it out aggressively. I usually study these things by collecting emotional memories from people and then coding those memories for thematic patterns. Recently, I have collected autobiographical memories from a large number of people about anxiety and positive emotions. Future thesis students could analyze these narratives to see if there are individual differences in the ways people tell their emotional memories, and whether those differences determine how they feel after telling them. Personality (PSYC 221) or one of my seminars (PSYC 338 or 353) are strongly recommended as background.  On sabbatical 2024-2025.

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 Kneeland

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, and individuals with depression). Additionally, I have developed a brief intervention to change emotion malleability beliefs, promote effective emotion regulation, and enhance resilience. Students interested in completing a thesis with me will work on ongoing data collection projects with adult samples (college students, adults drawn from the surrounding communities experiencing psychological distress) or will be able to analyze existing data with clinical and non-clinical populations.

Psychology 228 is strongly recommended as background.

Professor Lee

Racially diverse coalitions advocating for issues across the political spectrum (e.g., Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, and Students for Fair Admissions) have grown in participation and attention in recent years. Yet, members of these diverse coalitions may often encounter challenges that complicate efforts to build cross-racial solidarity. My research uses experimental research methods to examine the social psychological dynamics that can help explain these challenges. One challenge I am interested in understanding is how allies' and activists' motives may be perceived depending on their racial identities (e.g., are White or Asian American allies in the Black Lives Matter coalition viewed as more or less trustworthy?), which can impact efforts to build solidarity. Relatedly, racial group stereotypes (such as being perceived as high or low status, or more or less American) may influence the way people expect members of different racial groups (including themselves) to engage and work together on different causes. Another challenge my research examines is how sharing critical historical information about systemic inequalities (for instance, the history of redlining in determining racially segregated neighborhoods) impacts people's meritocratic beliefs (i.e., that you'll be rewarded for working hard), attitudes toward racial minority groups, and willingness to participate in collective action advocating for racial justice. I am also interested in addressing dynamics underlying solidarity within the Asian American community (such as across East, Southeast, South, and West Asians). For instance, how do people of diverse Asian backgrounds perceive advocacy for their own groups, other Asian subgroups, and other racial groups for different U.S. based causes? Overall, my research interests draw from social psychological theories and concepts (e.g., persuasion theory, stereotypes), political psychology (e.g., collective action, activism), and Asian American psychology. I would be excited to support thesis projects related to and following up on any of the aforementioned topics. Students who are interested in understanding how perceptions of diverse racial identities impact and shape cross-racial solidarity- and coalition-building for various social and political causes are encouraged to contact me. I recommend Psychology 220 as a background. Prior to starting at Amherst next September 2024, students may reach out to me at Michelle.MLee@nyu.edu.   

Professor McQuade

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. My most recent work focuses on how children's emotion regulation capacities relate to their social behavior and adjustment. I am also interested in how external factors, such as parenting, may serve to either exacerbate or protect children who struggle to regulate their emotions. Students interested in completing a thesis with me have the opportunity to work on ongoing data collection projects with child participants and to develop independent hypotheses to test in the collected data. I strongly recommend that interested students work in my research lab junior year. Staying on campus for the summer to complete data collection also may be a requirement. Psychology 228 is strongly recommended as background. 

Professor Palmquist

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.

Professor Sanderson

My research is based on 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 problematic behavior (e.g., sexual misconduct, bullying, hazing, etc.). Psychology 220 is strongly 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 affects 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.

Professor Turgeon

My research is in the area of behavioral pharmacology. Prior work in my lab has focused on the effects of caffeine on adolescent male and female rats. In rats, we have identified a number of behavioral effects following exposure to caffeine in the drinking water, including decreases in behavior thought to be "depressive-like". We have also found these behaviors to vary according to sex and stress conditions. Current questions in the lab revolve around characterizing the effects of caffeine in humans in the context of prior results seen in rats.  

In another line of research, students in my lab have been investigating sex differences in drawing behavior, spatial ability, and aggression in humans and their possible relationship to early hormone exposure.