Stanford’s Annual Conference

The fifth annual Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Conference, sponsored by the Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Association and the Stanford chapter of Psi Chi, was held on May 7, 2005. Initiated in 2001, SUPC has become an integral part of Stanford’s psychology department.

‘The conference was fantastic,’ SUPC associate director and oral presenter Laura Nowell said. ‘As a third-year veteran of SUPC, I was excited to meet a graduate student who had presented at the conference two years ago and was now returning to support the research of undergraduates in his lab.’

This year, SUPC drew over 100 undergraduate students and faculty members from academic institutions across the nation. Participants of the day-long conference heard and presented research on a variety of psychological fields: social, cultural, clinical, cognitive, and biological psychology. During a lunch designed for students and faculty to interact, students met with eight Stanford psychology professors, including Albert Bandura, Gordon Bower, Claude Steele, and Michael Ramscar.

Laura Carstensen, chair of Stanford’s psychology department and Guggenheim Fellow, was the keynote speaker for the conference. Her talk, ‘Time Perspective and Motivation in Adulthood and Old Age,’ focused on socioemotional selectivity theory and lifespan development. APS Fellow Ian Gotlib, also a psychology professor at Stanford, hosted the closing session on graduate school in clinical psychology.

Proceeds from the conference will be donated to the California Psychology Internship Council, a non-profit educational organization promoting excellence in professional psychology training and mental health services.

Eva Chen

Eva Chen is executive director of the Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Conference.

Monkey Money

Capuchin monkeys were wheeling and dealing with researchers during a recent study at Yale University that tested their behavior in economic trade situations. The monkeys, under the supervision of Kevin Chen and Laurie Santos, were given the option of swapping tokens for food with one of two researchers during daily trading sessions.

Initially, monkeys were shown the food prior to the trade. They later added two additional monkeys and often altered the amount of food after the decision had been made. This added the risk of losing a portion of the food to simulate investment-type situations.

Although the monkeys were obviously utilizing the trade system, their understanding of the value of money was still in question. However, after, they were shown to weigh their options, and most notably avert loss when faced with risky opportunities, the Capuchins had indeed grasped the value of the tokens.

Santos said this trading extended “beyond tokens to novel objects, but they never seem to [extend] the trading game to trading with each other.” Although they did not trade with the other monkeys, The New York Times reported on June 5 that during the experiment, one of the subjects stole several coins from the trading area, and another was later observed trading sex for the tokens.

While the small brain of the Capuchin is most often occupied by nothing more than food, their behavior is very similar to that of humans. As Santos noted, “people don’t like to experience short-term losses” and avert risk much like the Capuchins. Also, “like humans in classic psychology studies, our Capuchins get caught up in how a particular problem is framed,” depending on reference as an element in their decision. The results demonstrate that monkeys share more than just a resemblance, but similar thought processes and reference-dependency to humans in making risky economic decisions.

J. Harrel Brock

Healthy Belief

Fitness-conscious individuals strapped by the large cost of exercise — gym memberships, running outfits, the requisite iPod — might consider a less costly method of improving physical health: Religion.

With the help of a recently received $1.8 million grant, University of Chicago researchers, led by APS Fellow and Charter Member Member John T. Cacioppo, have found preliminary evidence for a positive relationship between religious attitudes and health, particularly for African Americans. One of the team’s initial discoveries is that African Americans who said they have “a strong connection with God” were significantly less likely to report depressive symptoms than those who do not indictate a strong religious belief. Caucasian participants displayed no such relationship between faith and health.

The researchers also found that African Americans reported higher levels of social alienation than Caucasian subjects — perhaps the result of discrimination.

“We reasoned that when one’s group is the target of cultural bias, connections with one’s countrymen may not be sufficient to reduce feelings of alienation,” Cacioppo said.

Chicago will combine the recent grant, given by the John Templeton Foundation, with its continued work on aging supported by $7.5 million from the National Institute on Aging.

“The study is based on an evolutionary model of humans as social beings in which the motive to form and maintain attachments and interpersonal relationships is in part genetically determined,” Cacioppo said. Strong spirituality, regardless of religion, manifests itself in improved physiological functioning, health, and well-being; these benefits, according to Cacioppo, accrue over time and are an important aspect of dealing with aging.

The new grant will build upon the NIA project, which began in 2002 and runs through 2006, that collected health- and spirituality-related data from 230 African Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians between the ages of 50 and 67 in the Chicago area. While older studies examined the relationship between religious practices, such as church attendance and religious affiliation, and the new research focuses on belief in a higher power. Some of the project’s components include measuring spirituality in the form of brain patterns by way of fMRI; an examination of whether belief reduces loneliness and depression; and one study called “Something to Live For,” which examines the effect of religious belief on social conflicts and quality of sleep.

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