Psychology at Scholarship Sewanee

Twelve psychology majors (along with an Environmental Studies major, a Politics major, and one undecided student) participated in Scholarship Sewanee on April 26, 2013 with 7 posters based on research in the Department.  Four Sewanee psychologists coached or otherwise participated in these projects.  Lauren Joca ’13, a psychology major with a second major in Environmental Studies:  Ecology & Biodiversity, was the senior author on three posters … one in psychology and two in biology.  As is traditional, from 2:30 until 5 p.m. the researchers remained close to their posters to discuss their project with those attending.


  • Lauren Joca's poster on methamphetamine exposure in mice received both the Speaker's Choice Award and First Place in the Behavioral and Social Sciences. 
  • Joca's poster, with Vincent Leray, on a fish parasite received First Place in the Biological Sciences. 
  • Matt Hagler's poster on Threat Impairment received Second Place in the Behavioral and Social Sciences. 
  • Marcela Weber's poster on sex role stereotyping was tied for Third Place in the Behavioral and Social Sciences. 
  • History major and psychology minor Elisabeth Wharton received First Place for Best Presentation in History (based on her honors thesis).

Scholarship Sewanee 2013 included a record 82 posters [from Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Studies, Forestry & Geology, International & Global Studies, the Landscape Analysis Lab, Natural Resources, Physics & Astronomy, Politics, and Psychology … and Geosciences (NSF REU program at Georgia State)].

Scholarship Sewanee 2013 was kicked off with a keynote address Investigating the Neural Bases of Memory by neuroscientist Rebecca Burwell.  Dr. Burwell is Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic & Psychological Sciences at Brown University, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Neuroscience.  She received her doctorate in Experimental and Biological Psychology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She did postdoctoral training in neuroanatomy and electrophysiology at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at The State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The 37 oral presentations included papers from Archives & Special Collections:  the Wunderkammer, Economics, English, French, Politics, and Sustainability … and senior honors theses in Biology, Ecology & Biodiversity, History, and International & Global Studies.  One of the history presentations was by a student taking a psychology minor.

Hope Faulk ’14.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Relational-Cultural Theory:  Potential Treatment for Disordered Eating.  Mentor, Research Professor Sherry Hamby.

Much research has been done on the subject of the prevalence of disordered eating, its risk factors, its treatment and its effect on women. This study briefly describes the basic structure and components of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and the relational-cultural theory (R/CT) as two models of treatment geared specifically toward women; furthermore, this study examines and argues for the potential effectiveness of applying these forms of treatment to women suffering from disordered eating. The research included discusses the similarities found in empirically proven risk factors for the onset of disordered eating and the specific behaviors and constructs that both DBT and R/CT aim to address.

Marcela Weber ’13.  Sex-Role Stereotyping is Hard to Kill:  A Field Experiment of an Online Multiplayer First-Person Shooter Game.  Mentor, Research Professor Sherry Hamby.  This poster tied for Third Place for Best Posters in Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Research on the influence of sex-role stereotypes in online shooter games is limited. This field experiment used a 3 (positive utterances, negative utterances, no utterances) x 2 (male user, female user) x 2 (high skill level, low skill level) design to examine the influence of gendered social norms on friend request acceptance rates in an online first-person shooter game. Players were significantly more likely to comply to friend requests from female than from male players, especially if they spoke positively. Male users were most likely to have their friend requests accepted when they spoke negatively. This shows that even in online games with limited customization, gender role stereotypes influence the popularity of players.

Matt Hagler ’13.  Threatening Impairment:  Assessing the Effect of Diagnosis Threat on Computerized Cognitive Screening Tests.  Mentor, Associate Professor Karen YuSecond Place for Best Posters in Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Expectation has been found to be a major etiological factor in the symptoms of Postconcussion Syndrome (PCS), but research in this area has mostly relied on participants’ self-report. The present study examines the role of diagnosis threat on athletes’ actual cognitive performance on concussion screening tests. For some participants, negative performance expectations were induced by presenting research showing cognitive impairment in contact sport athletes, while others were presented with neutral research findings showing no impairment in athletes. Overall, athletes in the “negative expectation” condition performed slower but more accurately compared to those in the “neutral expectation” condition. The researchers speculate that negative expectations caused participants to hesitate before responding, which allowed them to double-check their answers and respond more accurately. However, due to a small, homogenous sample, these promising but preliminary findings should be further explored and expanded with future research.

Yooson Esther Chi ’13 and Sherry Hamby, Research Professor.  The Life Goals, Strengths, & Resources of Domestic Violence Victims.

Services for domestic violence victims have long assumed that the violence is the main issue. With few exceptions, there has been little effort to focus on the issues that are identified by battered women in a more client-centered approach to helping victims. This study is one of the first to explicitly ask victims of domestic violence about their life goals, strengths, and resources. 100 victims of domestic violence participated in this study. They were recruited from organizations serving victims in two towns in two southern states. In one town, participants were recruited from a support group for women in crisis. In the second town, participants were recruited from a domestic violence shelter, guardian ad litem program, or police. The sample was ethnically and racially diverse, including 29% African-American, 29% Latina/o, 26% European American, 14% American Indian, 1% Asian and 1% Other. Median annual income was $12,000 to $18,000. Goals, strengths, and resources were assessed with open-ended prompts. A coding system was developed based on an earlier study. The most common goals referred to getting or improving housing, finding or improving their job situation, and getting more education. Goals specific to violence included getting help for their partner or their relationship (such as counseling), seeking custody or divorce, and improving social support. Common resources included faith (53%) and personal strengths (47%). Social strengths were also commonly listed, including church support (38%) and family (34%). Legal resources were mentioned less frequently. Risk assessment and safety planning with victims needs to incorporate more issues that are salient to victims.

Lauren Joca ’13 and Jessica Siegel, Assistant Professor.  The Effects Of Adolescent Methamphetamine Exposure On Behavior and Cognition In Late Adolescent and Adult Mice.  This poster received both the Speaker's Choice Award and First Place for Best Poster in Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Methamphetamine (MA) has neurotoxic effects on the adult human brain that can lead to deficits in behavior and cognition. The rising rates of adolescent MA use make it imperative that we understand the long-term effects of MA exposure on the adolescent brain and how these effects may differ from those seen in adults. Adolescents in treatment for MA abuse show higher levels of depression and suicide ideation compared to those being treated for other substances, with female MA users showing more severe symptoms than males. However, relatively little research has examined the effects of MA on adolescent cognition. This research examined the long-term effects of MA exposure during early adolescence on cognition and behavior in late adolescence and adulthood in male and female C57BL/6J mice. The effects of early adolescent MA exposure were examined in the open field, novel object recognition, Porsolt forced swim test, social interaction, and the Morris water maze test. There was a trend for MA to reduce anxiety-like behavior in the open field test in adult mice. MA also decreased novel object memory in late adolescent male mice. MA increased depression-like behavior in the Porsolt forced swim test in male and female mice of both ages, suggesting a robust and long-lasting effect of MA on depression-like behavior. No effects of MA were found in the social interaction or Morris water maze test. Overall the results suggest that, similar to human adolescent MA users, adolescent mice exposed to MA show increased depression-like behavior later in life. Current studies are ongoing to assess potential MA-induced changes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Lauren Joca ’13, Vincent Leray ’13, and Kirk Zigler, Associate Professor of Biology.  A New Host and Reproduction At A Small Size For The Fish Parasite Cymothoa Excisa.  [Leray is a Biology major.]  First Place as Best Poster in the Biological Sciences.

Cymothoa excisa is a parasitic isopod that is known to parasitize many species of fish along the Atlantic coast from Brazil through North America and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Upon finding this isopod in the mouths of fish in Walburg Creek, on the northwest portion of St Catherine’s Island, Georgia, this study was conducted to determine the host species of the isopod in the area. Fourteen trawls were completed in three different areas –two inshore, one offshore– in order to collect a large number of fish. Fifteen isopods were found out of 483 total fish. All of the isopods were found in Cynoscion regalis, the weakfish. Based on the density of weakfish in the area and the frequency with which C. excisa was collected from the weakfish, we suspect that this species is the preferred host for C. excisa in the region. Through DNA barcoding comparison, we confirmed identification of the parasite as Cymothoa excisa. This study represents the first time this species has been reported in the weakfish. Analysis of the reproductive cycle of the fish parasite suggests that C. excisa was reproducing at a smaller than usual size in St. Catherine’s Island as well. Furthermore, this study provides the first DNA sample sequenced within the C. excisa genome.

Lauren Joca ’13, Jeff Kirchberg ’14, Grace Saunders ’14, & Katherine-Anne Glover ’14. Evaluation Of The Use Of Grass Carp Ctenopharyngodon Idellas As An Effective Means Of Biocontrol For Watershield Brasenia Schreberi.  Mentor, Professor of Biology Jon Evans.  [Kirchberg, Saunders, and Glover are Ecology & Biodiversity majors.  This was a group project in Advanced Conservation.]

On the Cumberland Plateau near Sewanee, TN, a species of aquatic plant Brasenia schreberi is threatening to impede the navigability of Lake Dimmick of the Sewanee Crew Team. Currently, Brasenia is being controlled with the use of herbicides. As this lake serves as a back-up water source for the Sewanee community, another method of weed control is desired. Grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella have been used since the 1980’s as a biocontrol of aquatic plant species. However, overstocking of grass carp can lead to substantial loss of aquatic plant biodiversity, especially because carp display preferential eating behavior. It is possible that the species could consume other plant species, resulting in the proliferation of the target Brasenia species. This project outlines a potential study to examine the efficacy of grass carp on eliminating Brasenia from the Lake Dimmick ecosystem. This proposed study would use two types of control enclosures and two types of experimental enclosures to evaluate the effectiveness of carp in a setting of just Brasenia and a setting of Brasenia and other aquatic plant species. Based on previous research, we expect that carp will have the greatest effect in the enclosures that contain only Brasenia and that the presence of other aquatic plant species will diminish the effectiveness of carp as a biocontrol agent of Brasenia. This study is important due to the potential negative ramifications of mismanaging carp populations. In it, we present the ambiguity of what is an “invasive” and what is a “natural” or “native” habitat.

Meg Armistead ’14, Antionette Barbour ’14, Valentino Bryant ’14, Marcellus Caldwell ’15, Zakeria Clark ’15, Chris Daniell ’14, Daxi Liang ’15, Brittany Macon ’14, & Anvil Nelson ’14.  African American Conceptions of Assertiveness:  Results from a Qualitative Study.  Mentor, Associate Professor C. Albert Bardi.  [Armistead is an Ecology & Biodiversity major, Macon is a Politics major, Caldwell has not declared a major.]

Assertiveness has been defined as the verbal, nonverbal, and direct expression of feelings (Gay, Hollandsworth & Galassi, 1975) and the positive, productive expression of one’s needs, feelings, preferences or opinions (Rathus, 1973). Measures of assertiveness have largely been developed with predominantly White samples. To work toward an inclusive model, focus groups were conducted with community members who self-identified as African American. Groups were given a simple model of active versus passive modes and assertive versus aggressive behavior, and were asked to discuss their perceptions of the concepts. Grounded theory analysis was used to analyze transcriptions from group sessions. Themes centered on constructs such as gender, generation, environmental context, cultural differences, and others.

Jessica Deimier ’14, Research Professor Sherry Hamby, Victoria Banyard, & John Grych.  Character and Coping:  How Positive Character Traits are Associated with the Risks for and Anthropology and Environmental Studies Coping with Adversity.  [Banyard is Professor of Psychology at the Univ. of New Hampshire, Grych is Professor of Psychology at Marquette Univ.]

Much of psychological research is very siloed, with little communication across sub-disciplines. There has been longstanding interest in the risk for and consequences of adversities. A newer area that is receiving an increasing amount of attention is positive psychology, which focuses on the study of positive character strengths such as gratitude. Despite the increasing interest in the topic of resilience in the face of adversity, there has been relatively little effort to integrate these two areas and no comprehensive reviews of the intersections between these two issues. Two issues will be examined and existing literature reviewed. One issue is the question of whether positive character traits are associated with the risks of experiencing certain adversities. A second issue is the question of whether positive character traits help individuals cope with adversities when they do occur. This poster presents some of the first steps to synthesize and integrate existing literature as part of a larger project, one goal of which is developing a new conceptual model of the links between character strengths and resilience. This review highlights the promise of character strengths for enhancing prevention and intervention for adversity. It also points to the promise of building bridges across sub-disciplines of psychology.

Elisabeth Wharton ’13.  The French Resistance: A Gendered Construction of Participation and Memory.  [Oral Presentation of her Honors Thesis in History;  she is a Psychology Minor.  Mentor, Associate Professor of History Andrea Mansker.]  First Place award as Best Presentation in History.

Scholarship Sewanee, a campus-wide celebration of student scholarship and creative activity, is made possible by numerous generous benefactors including Walter and Mayna NanceThe Andrew W. Mellon Foundation;  The Undergraduate Research Advisory Committee;  The Office of the Dean of the College;  Physical Plant Services;  Denise Davis;  and Print Services.