Students conduct honors thesis research in psychology

By Katie Monigan

Staff Writer

If, when reading emails from the University’s Message Center Digest, the number of surveys asking for participants gets a little alarming, don’t be too quick to press “delete.” Many student researchers in the psychology department use surveys for data collection. Their projects, which use University students as the majority of their subjects, are not only revealing about our campus community, but also generally valuable to the psychology community at large. Here’s a quick sampling of the many interesting honors thesis research projects currently underway.

One project comes from Kelsey Lisle ’11, whose honors thesis is studying whether having a learning disability affects others’ perceptions. Her participants took a survey which described a person in detail, sometimes specifying the existence of a learning disability. Although her conclusions are not finalized, the data seems to indicate that having a learning disability has a significant negative stigma, with those with disabilities perceived as less successful, less emotionally stable and less attractive. Lisle also found that, contrary to popular belief, women are no more compassionate towards those with disabilities than men are.

Another thesis concerning others’ perceptions comes from Lauren Cotter ’11, who looked at the “halo effect” in hiring situations. In the halo effect, the perception of one characteristic affects the perception of another, or several other, characteristics. Cotter’s survey showed two photos of people of different races with identical résumés and asked participants to rate the hireability, attractiveness and personality of the applicants. She found a significant halo effect for white applicants, meaning white applicants were generally rated higher, despite being identical except in race.

Ally Hopper ’11 is writing her thesis in “female facilitation of sexual assault,” situations when women encourage fellow women to engage in behaviors which put them at risk for assault. She issued a survey with questions about personality, risky behavior with alcohol, self-esteem and female facilitation. This is the first study in female facilitation, so Hopper admits that more research is necessary to make any significant conclusions. What she was able to say was that women definitely facilitate sexual assault and that there is currently a high risk of assault at the University.

Leigh Bryant ’11 chose to focus her thesis on the athletic and performing arts communities, rather than the campus at large. Her project looks at the psychological constructs of perfectionism, body esteem and social support, and their possible relationships to one another among women participating in collegiate sports and the performing arts. She also used a survey technique and found that higher levels of body esteem were significantly correlated with higher ratings of individual sport satisfaction. She also found a positive association between body image and social support in lean athletes, but not in non-lean athletes.

Kelsey Malone ’11 is in the midst of a project exploring the gender differences in emotional responses to different types of “hooking up” behaviors, which vary in familiarity of the partner and intimacy of the hook-up. Although she is not finished her analysis, she has thus far found that men experience more positive emotional responses to coital and non-coital hookups, whether with strangers or with acquaintances. She also found significant differences between the women’s and men’s ideas about their partners’ emotional reactions to hook up behaviors.

Another student exploring hook-up culture on campus is Jen Shukusky ’11, who is researching the impact of opposite sex parent-child attachment on students’ attitudes toward, and engagement in, hook up culture. Her findings were consistent with previous research, finding that 76 percent of students have engaged in a hook up and that poor attachment with opposite-sex parents leads to more risky behavior. Interestingly, she found that University status, or how many years a student has been at the University, is a better indicator of whether they have engaged in a hook up than their relationships with their parents is.

All of these students began their research in the fall and are now in the final stages of their formal write-ups. “I have received so much support and assistance from several different people in different departments of Bucknell, from Michael Weaver in ITEC creating the web-based survey to Professor Flack guiding me through each step of the way. Those of us at Bucknell doing undergraduate research are truly lucky to have such great resources at our disposal,” Malone said.

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