senior sweep

Psychology Seniors Sweep Honors at NHPA's First Annual Student Conference

When Assistant Professors of Social Sciences and Education Courtney Stein and Todd Coy took 10 senior psychology students to present their Capstone project posters at the New Hampshire Psychological Association's First Annual Student Conference at Keene State College on April 18, they didn't know that they would be judged while there. They were, however, and came home with a clean sweep: Nicolas Richard, Krystal Knowlton and Miranda Roma took first, second and third place, respectively.

Invitations to the conference were sent to all New Hampshire colleges and universities, and more than 100 students from Keene State, Colby-Sawyer, Franklin-Pierce, UNH and New England College registered to attend. Keynote speaker Dr. Anthony Scioli of Keene State College, a leading expert and author on the topic of hope, spoke on “The Nature and Significance of Hope: Theory, Research and Applications.” With a job fair and workshops throughout the day addressing variations on the themes of graduating, graduate school and employment, the Colby-Sawyer contingency had to wait until the end of the program to find out they were taking home all the honors.

“Professor Stein and I are very proud of their accomplishments,” says Professor Coy. “In my opinion, what made our students stand out was their understanding of the material. Their posters were concise, clear and easy to follow. They were able to discuss their findings with whoever asked them to walk them through their research. The students also told me that they were proud of their level of competence and understanding in comparison to students from other schools during the discussions in the various workshops in which they participated.”

Cutting Edge Research

First place winner Nicolas Richard of Templeton, Mass., presented his Capstone project, “Effects of Violence in Video Games on Frustration Display” and was gratified to hear the judges describe his research as “cutting edge and pertinent.”

Most studies on the effects of video games, Richard explains, are conducted on male children, excluding college students and women. He recruited 42 volunteers ages 18-23 and divided them into two groups. One played a non-violent video game, Mario Party 6, and the other a moderately violent game, Super Smash Brothers Brawl. The participants reported their mood before playing a game, were told they had to win, and then were given a broken game controller. Those playing the violent game did experience more frustration, and though mood before playing did not become a predictor of aggression, 29 people reported negative moods after playing.

The judges at Keene State recommended that Richard try to have his work published and to continue his research in graduate school. Richard, who graduates in May, is considering whether to pursue an advanced degree in forensic psychology.

The Impact of Observation

Krystal Knowlton, of North Andover, Mass., took second place for the presentation of her Capstone, “The Impact of Observation on Performance of Requested Tasks.”

A Child Development minor and the secretary of Psi Chi, the national honors society in psychology, Knowlton researched the Hawthorne Effect and the relationship between compliance and obedience. She tested whether the presence of a researcher in the room would make the participants feel more obligated to complete a set of given tasks versus a similar situation in which the participant was alone. She arranged the test so that the participants didn't know she would be watching them through a one-way mirror when they were alone. “I decided to use what's called a 'within participant study design,' which is when each participant goes through the study under each condition. This adds more control,” says Knowlton. “Also, I used counterbalancing, which is when the order in which participants do each condition (alone or with the researcher) switches so there is not a practice effect for either condition. Twenty-three participants completed the study, and after running a paired samples test (which is used for within participant study designs) significance was found, and my hypothesis was supported: the participants were more likely to put effort and emphasis into the tasks when the researcher was present. During the debriefing session, participants stated that they knew I was watching them through the one-way mirror when they were 'alone', but still felt more pressure to complete the tasks to the best of their ability when I was in the room with them. The results showed that past research, my research, and what the participants thought to be true all aligned.”

Knowlton's Capstone incorporated SPSS, a computer program used for statistical analysis, which she said seemed to surprise the judges.

“My Capstone project was a hands-on research experience which proved to me that the ideas within psychology can be used in everyday life and are valuable to understand. The most fun and rewarding part was to see the results and be able to support past research with statistically significant findings,” she says. “Running an entire research study by myself, and being able to say that I completed it, was also rewarding.”

Knowlton completed her internship in the Human Resources Office at Colby-Sawyer and enjoyed the experience so much that she hopes to be a human resources manager. This fall, she will start working toward her master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology at Elmhurst College in Illinois.

Unexpected Results

Miranda Roma of Peabody, Mass., a Business Administration minor and president of the Psychology Club, presented her Capstone project, “The Effect of Race on Juror Sentencing,” and was awarded third place.

Like Knowlton, Roma relied on SPSS for statistical analysis and was surprised that the other schools represented at Keene did not. “Knowing how to use this software made Colby-Sawyer students' research fact-based,” she says, adding that presenting to the judges at Keene and walking them through her project helped her prepare for presenting at the Susan Colby Colgate Scholars' Symposium on April 22.

Roma chose the subject of race's effect on juror sentencing because she was interested in gauging the level of prejudices today and whether those prejudices could still affect society.

Roma asked study participants to act as mock jurors and choose a jail sentence length based on a vignette of a sexual assault. Both groups received identical vignette sheets with just one difference: the race of the defendant in the photo. The results were exactly the opposite of her hypothesis, as her “jurors” handed down a longer sentence to the Caucasian defendant than the African American.

“Through this research I learned that not everything has a simple answer,” says Roma. “I realized there could have been several reasons for my results, so it was a benefit that it did not support my hypothesis. It helped me to look more closely into issues such as these and realize that they really aren't black or white, so to speak.”

Reflecting on the Capstone experience, Roma says the most fun part was writing her manuscript. “I had a huge sense of pride for all the work I had done over a year's time,” she muses, “and I realized that this is only the start of my career in psychology.”

Roma hopes to further her research and will attend Antioch University for a master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She plans to stay in the New England area and eventually open a private practice.

All three Colby-Sawyer students have been invited by the NHPA Board of Directors to present their research at the NHPA Annual Convention and to attend the awards dinner in Hampton Beach, N.H. on May 15 and 16.

The New Hampshire Psychological Association will hold its Second Annual Student Conference next year at Colby-Sawyer College.

-Kate Dunlop Seamans