posted January 30, 2012

Students Earn National and Regional Psychology Research Awards

Hope College students are receiving three national or regional awards for excellence in research from Psi Chi – The International Honor Society in Psychology.

Xander Krieg, a senior from Franklin, will receive a national Undergraduate Research Award for his research project “Attachment and Hikikomori:  a Psychosocial Developmental Model.”  The recognition will be presented by Psi Chi during the national convention of the American Psychological Association, taking place in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 2-5.

In May, the Midwestern chapter of Psi Chi will present research awards to students for two different studies.  The team of junior Ariana Cappuccitti of Mount Prospect, Ill., junior Rachel Cho of Barrington, Ill., senior Allyson Dreger of Kalamazoo and senior Heather Stiff of Galena, Ohio, is being honored for “Physiological and Psychological Anxiety Levels in Dancers during Performance Compared to Rehearsal.”  Senior Elizabeth Fast of Grand Rapids is being honored for “Lexical class and explicitness as modulators of the neural mechanisms of metaphor comprehension.”  She had the assistance of seniors Ashley Drew of Spring Lake and Audrey Weil of Gurnee, Ill., in the completion of the project. The regional awards will be presented during the 84th annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday-Saturday, May 3-5.

Since 2000, four Hope students have received national research awards from Psi Chi and a total of 19 Hope research teams have received the regional recognition.

Krieg’s research investigated risk factors that could potentially predict “hikikomori,” a condition of acute social withdrawal, found primarily in Japan, in which individuals shut themselves away from society for months or years on end.  Hikikomori are often adolescents or young adults—and even into middle age--who isolate themselves in their rooms in their parents’ homes, with an estimated 700,000 individuals in Japan affected by the condition.  Measuring a variety of characteristics, the study found that the combination of “ambivalent attachment” (a “warm-cold” pattern in close relationships, often a consequence of childhood experience) and peer rejection together significantly predict hikikomori.

Krieg is dual-majoring in Japanese studies and psychology and minoring in sociology.  He collected data for the research while spending his fall 2010 semester studying in Tokyo, comparing a clinical sample of hikikomori with a contrast group of undergraduate students.  He conducted his research with Dr. Jane Dickie, professor of psychology.

The dance study, a unique collaboration involving three departments (biology, dance and psychology), considered how dancers’ anxiety levels differed between rehearsal and performance settings, as well as before and after performances.  Involving 73 of the college’s dance students, the study measured the amount of cortisol—a hormone that spikes in response to stress—in the dancers’ saliva and examined their mental state through a series of questions.  The study found that anxiety levels were higher before performances than before rehearsals, but also showed the benefit of training and experience: dancers with more experience were less anxious both before and after performances than those with less.  The college’s department of dance emphasizes performance opportunities for its students as a key component of their education, scheduling multiple concerts during each school year.

All four of the research students are themselves involved in the dance program:  Cappuccitti is dual-majoring in dance and psychology, Cho is dual-majoring in dance and chemistry, Dreger is majoring in exercise science and minoring in dance, and Stiff is dual-majoring in dance and chemistry.   The students conducted their research with Dr. Greg Fraley, associate professor of biology; Linda Graham, professor of dance and chairperson of the department; and Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis, professor of psychology and director of general education and interdisciplinary studies.

The metaphor-comprehension study considered whether or not there are differences within the brain when an individual is confronted with either literal or metaphorical statements.  The study participants were presented with literal sentences like “There was chaos in the city after the earthquake” and metaphorical sentences like “The unexpected divorce was an earthquake,” as well as “anomalous” control sentences like “He sloppily taped the picture to the earthquake.”  The study used the department’s EEG (electroencephalography) system machine to measure N400 waves (an index of semantic processing), finding a larger N400 for metaphorical statements than for literal ones.

Fast is a psychology major and neuroscience minor.  She conducted her research with Dr. Gwenda Schmidt, assistant professor of psychology, whose research emphases include semantic processing, neural correlates of language processing, the role of the right hemisphere in language processing, figurative language processing, and language and figurative language deficits in autism.

Psi Chi – the International Honor Society was founded in 1929 to encourage, stimulate and maintain excellence in scholarship, and advance the science of psychology. Psi Chi has chapters at about 1,100 senior colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Ireland and New Zealand. Since its founding, the honor society has registered more than 500,000 lifetime members.

The honor society’s chapters are grouped within six regions: Eastern, Midwestern, Rocky Mountain, Southeastern, Southwestern and Western. The Midwestern Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Hope’s chapter was chartered in 1965.