APS/Psi Chi Summer Research Grant Winners

In partnership with APS, Psi Chi, the National Honors Society in Psychology, offers grants for undergraduates to conduct a summer research project under the direction of an APS member. Winning students receive a $3,500 stipend and a complimentary annual membership to APS. Faculty sponsors receive a $1,500 stipend. Following are profiles of the summer 2009 recipients and their projects. For more information on this program, see www.psichi.org/awards.

Katie Von Holzen

University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

Faculty Sponsor: Todd F. Heatherton, Dartmouth College

Katie Von Holzen used her summer to conduct a study assessing the relationship between attractiveness ratings and the differential patterns of brain activity attraction produces for males and females. Specifically, she wanted to determine if these differences were the result of fundamental differences in processing between male and female brains, or if the variability was the result of different implicit definitions of attractiveness used by males and females. Von Holzen used an entirely female sample in her study and compared her results to those found in past studies using entirely male samples. As participants were asked to rate the sexual attractiveness of models, fMRI scans revealed that patterns of brain activity in the nucleus accumbens and orbital frontal cortex were distinctly different depending on the rating given by the participant. These specific patterns of brain activity mirrored those seen in past studies of male samples. Thus, Von Holzen’s study suggests that the neural gender differences for males and females giving attractiveness ratings is not due to fundamental neurological differences between genders, but rather the varying implicit definitions of attractiveness used by males and females.

“When I was a sophomore at University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, I took Physiological Psychology and absolutely fell in love,” said Von Holzen. “However we did not have the research facilities to study the amazing things I was learning about.” With the APS/Psi Chi Summer Research Grant, Von Holzen was able to spend her summer working with Todd F. Heatherton of Dartmouth College. “This research internship and grant gave me hands-on experience with brain-imaging techniques that I couldn’t have gained at my home university.” Von Holzen recently graduated summa cum laude in psychology and plans to pursue graduate studies in psycholinguistics and bilingualism.

Allison Foertsch

University of San Francisco

Faculty Sponsor: Marisa Knight,
University of San Francisco

In her research project, Allison Foertsch set out to investigate possible age differences in the ability to flexibly use emotional regulation strategies, and the effects these strategies have on emotional experience and memory. Participants in her study were shown positive, negative, and neutral images and asked to either enhance or diminish the personal relevance of these images through mental associations they created. Compared with a passive look control group, image recall was better for participants who enhanced personal relevance of the images and worse for those who diminished the personal relevance of the images. This effect was seen across age groups, suggesting that older and younger adults were equally effective in regulation emotions during the recall tasks.

Through this study, Foertsch was able to further explore her passion for working with the elderly. “I am very close with my grandparents,” she said. “Being around them and our older adult participants reminds me of how important it is to understand the changes that we undergo, both physically and cognitively, as we age. Developing a solid understanding of the aging process can yield valuable insights into the problems and opportunities we are likely to face and how to optimize our experience as we get older.” Foertsch will be graduating in May 2010 with minors in both Gerontology and Youth Studies to go along with her degree in psychology.

Samantha J. Tuhn

Iowa State University

Faculty Sponsor: Jeffrey Scott Neuschatz,
University of Alabama in Huntsville

Samantha Tuhn developed a keen interest for the intersection of psychology and law while working in the Iowa State research laboratory run by Gary Wells, a leading expert in the study of eyewitness identification. With her APS/Psi Chi Grant, she was able to further explore this passion under the guidance of Jeffrey Scott Neuschatz, University of Alabama in Huntsville. In her study, Tuhn examined how confessions (regular, recanted, or none) affect a juror’s verdict when exculpatory physical or circumstantial evidence is also presented. After all participants read through randomized mock trials and gave their verdicts, results indicated there is no significant difference between regular and recanted confessions for either physical or circumstantial evidence. Tuhn conclude that jurors did not differentiate between evidence levels and disregarded evidence in the event of a confession.

Tuhn will be graduating in May 2011 with minor in statistics and political science in addition to her degree in psychology. After graduation, she plans to pursue a PhD in social psychology and continue on in academia and research.

Jean Kim

University of Michigan

Faculty Sponsor: Edward C. Chang,
University of Michigan

Before her summer of research, Jean Kim noted a clear gap in the research literature on perfectionism. Namely, no studies had examined the differences in perceiving perfectionism as adaptive or maladaptive. Along with her mentor, Edward Chang, she developed the Consequences of Perfectionism Scale (COPS) and conducted a study of nearly 500 students to examine the relationships between COPS scores and positive and negative views of perfection. An exploratory factor analysis indicated a two factor solution for the scale items. Both factors were found to be internally reliable. One factor (COPS-POS) involved positive perceptions of perfectionism’s consequences and was positively correlated with positive affect toward perfectionism. The other factor (COPS-NEG) involved negative perceptions of perfectionism’s consequences and it was indeed  positively correlated with negative affect toward perfectionism and negatively correlated with positive affect toward perfectionism.

This is the second consecutive year that Kim has been awarded the APS/Psi Chi Grant. She believes this grant was instrumental in helping her execute the large sample study that was needed to enhance the reliability and validity of her new measure. Kim will graduate with honors in May 2010 with a degree in psychology and a minor in Spanish. She plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.

Caitlin Porter

University of Central Arkansas

Faculty Sponsor: Shawn R. Charlton,

University of California, San Diego

Caitlin Porter’s study assessed cross-cultural differences in temporal discounting tasks for individuals and groups. Temporal discounting is an economic principle referring to one’s preference for an immediate reward over a delayed reward. Those that discount at a high rate find less value in the delayed reward and are typically more impulsive, hedonistic, or selfish. It was hypothesized that the stereotypically collectivist culture of Chinese students would lead them to discount at a lower rate in group settings than their American-born counterparts. However, results did not indicate any significant differences between ethnicities for either group or individual discounting tasks. Porter was surprised by these null finding and wanted to run a follow up experiment to see if the results may have been due to sampling issues.

With the aid of her APS/Psi Chi Summer Research Grant, Porter was able to conduct her follow up study using what she believed to be a more authentically diverse sample at the University of California, San Diego. Once again, results  indicated that there were no significant differences between ethnicities for group or individual discounting tasks. “The cultures I was comparing are seemingly different, but my research shows they have much more in common than I had initially assumed,” said Porter, “I think it shows that the world is getting smaller and our ideologies are becoming more similar.” Porter is currently hard at work on her second undergraduate thesis and will graduate from the University of Central Arkansas in May 2010 with a degree in psychology. After graduation, she plans to enter a graduate program focusing on industrial organizational psychology.