The psychology faculty are active scholars and maintain current research programs. Faculty members have a wide range of research interests in both human and animal behavior. Areas of specialization include:
- Behavioral neuroscience – (A. Bailey, T. Dennis, G. Fernandez)
- Clinical/counseling psychology – (A. Ehman, A. Ikizler, L. Williams)
- Cognitive psychology – (S. Breedin, J. Mantell, R. Platt)
- Developmental psychology – (E. Enright, S. Mirabile)
- Social psychology – (G. Freedman, K. Howanksy, J. Tickle)
Below each faculty member’s name you’ll find their current areas of interest and some possible areas for St. Mary’s Projects they would be especially well-qualified to supervise. If you are interested in the research of any current faculty member, please don’t hesitate to contact them directly to discuss opportunities.
Dr. Aileen Bailey, email@example.com, Goodpaster Hall 102, x4338
A. Animal Models of Depression
Excitatory synapses of the brain are altered in various animal models of depression. Traditional antidepressants are known to alter these excitatory synapses but behavioral effects are not measureable for several weeks. Therefore recent research has focused on other mechanisms to rapidly restore these excitatory synapses. My lab is currently testing newer fast-acting compounds with antidepressant effects. We utilize various animal model of depression to measure aspects of anhedonia and its reversal following antidepressant administration. (see K. Kostelnik SMP; K. La SMP, M. Madden SMP; M. Steyert SMP; K.Robey SMP; B. Steinhoff SMP).B. Neurological Mechanisms of LearningAlzheimer’s disease is characterized by hypofunction of the basal forebrain cholinergi system which results in memory and attentional deficits. Progressive neurodegeneration renders the primary source of cortical acetylcholine, the nucleus basalis magnocellularis (nBM) unable to innervate the cortex at normal physiological levels. Recent research as implicated a group of hypothalamic neuropeptides, the orexins, in aiding the efflux of endogenous acetylcholine in the nBM. My lab has recently investigated the direct effects of intrabasalis orexin infusion on the acquisition and reversal of an olfactory discrimination tasks and more broadly on aspects of cognitive flexibility. The current focus of the lab is the role of Orexin A in aspects of cognition.(P. Piantadosi SMP, A. Holmes SMP, Z. Forrester SMP)C. Animal Learning and Behavior
There are an endless number of animal learning and behavior projects that could be done. Some examples of previous projects include (a) examination of neurological, cognitive, and social behavior in dolphins, (b) mating behavior of captive seahorses, (c) behavioral differences in wild vs. semi-domestic vervet monkeys. (see N. Little SMP; see H. Lobkowitz SMP, K. Shuman SMP).D. Curriculum and Scientific Identity
The psychology department at SMCM is involved with the Council on Undergraduate Research Transformations Project. This project has energized the faculty to re-conceptualize the curriculum in psychology to highlight connections and skill development in our courses to research and scholarship in psychology. I am interested in studying how these curricular changes alter the student and faculty connection to a scientific identity.
Dr. Sarah Breedin, firstname.lastname@example.org, Goodpaster Hall 133, x4344
Cognitive Neuroscience – Exploration of language representation in individuals with unimpaired and impaired language processing (e.g., aphasia, dyslexia, semantic dementia)
Cognitive Psychology – Exploration of the differences between experts and novices in knowledge representation (e.g., math, physics, and human computer interaction)
Dr. Torry Dennis, email@example.com, Goodpaster Hall 127, x4347
A. Sex Differences in Cocaine and Opioid Addiction
It is well established that women and men respond differently to drugs of abuse. Women begin use at an earlier age, progress through the stages of addiction more quickly, and are more susceptible to relapse than men. Through the support of both human and animal literature, it is clear that one of the factors mediating these differences is the action of ovarian hormones. Increases in the ovarian hormone estradiol have been linked to potentiated acquisition of cocaine and morphine administration, increased responding for drugs in the maintenance of addiction, and increased cue-reactivity in female rats. Conversely, progesterone has been shown to have a protective effect in the context of addiction. My lab will continue to tease apart the influence of both sex and sex hormones on drug reward, drug aversion, and motivation.
B. Exploring Treatments for Addiction
Consistent use of drugs of abuse can fundamentally change the way that the brain processes information and can lead to addiction. A core interest of mine is to understand the underlying mechanisms of these changes and to develop interventions that can ultimately attenuate relapse. I am particularly interested in interventions that can be translated from a preclinical rat model to human trials more rapidly. My interests in this vein of research are rather broad, ranging from targeting memory systems to weaken maladaptive memories that facilitate relapse to exploring how the makeup of the gut microbiome can interact with the brain to influence risky decision-making.
Dr. Anandi Ehman, firstname.lastname@example.org, Goodpaster Hall 135, x2249
A. Interpersonal Aggression and Violence
I am especially interested in the impact of technology on facilitating relational aggression, specifically intimate partner violence. Moreover, I am passionate about extending research in relational and sexual aggression into diverse and non-heteronormative samples.
B. Impact of Social Norms
A secondary line of research of mine includes examining the impact of social norms on engagement in sexual aggression, as well as on victim blaming, victim help-seeking, and psychosocial outcomes for victims and perpetrators.
Dr. Elizabeth Enright, email@example.com, Goodpaster Hall 139, x4697
A. Social Cognition in Infants and Young Children
In order to make sense of the social world, adults have expectations and a complex understanding of social relationships, social groups, and social norms. Additionally, adults also have social biases favoring some individuals and groups over others. In my work, I seek to better understand the origins of these expectionations and biases by studying infants and children. When do infants understand social status differences? Who do infants expect to be close social partners? When do biases based on race and gender develop? Why do children help some people but not others? In addition to studying early biases and expectations, I am also interested in developmental changes and environmental factors that influence these expectations.
B. Cognitive Development and Environmental Factors
It is relatively well-known that prenatal exposure to alcohol can impact cognitive development. Additionally, prenatal exposure to stress, and other common chemicals likely also impact human cognitive development. In this line of work, I am collaborating with groups of scientists from across the country to better understand how common household chemicals (phenols, phthalates, PFAS), stress, and other environmental factors impact infant and childhood cognition.
Dr. Gina Fernandez, firstname.lastname@example.org, Goodpaster Hall 124, x4458
A. Animal Models of Adolescent Drug Abuse
A substance abuse disorder is the “recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs that causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home” (SAMHSA, 2021). Drug abuse can be studied using animal models, which help us investigate the neural pathways that are involved in drug seeking behaviors. Specifically, we can use rodent models to answer questions such as: Why are drugs rewarding? How do reward seeking behaviors become habitual? My lab models the abuse of alcohol and nicotine, as well as methylphenidate (Ritalin) during adolescence. We then examine their effects on learning and memory, anxiety, and drug seeking behaviors in adulthood. Several SMP research questions stem from these interests: Do nicotine and alcohol exposure have an additive effect on reward seeking in adulthood? What behaviors are impaired by poly drug use, and which are spared?
B. Neural Development and Behavior
The development of the central nervous system can be altered by a myriad of environmental variables. I am interested in examining how changes to the maternal environment (both positive and negative) affect the neural development of offspring. We can focus on whether stress, exposure to drugs, or environmental enrichment affect social behavior, learning and memory, or drug seeking in adolescent rodents. These projects build on each other, investigating both behavioral and neural consequences of early life manipulations, such as their effect on the growth and lifespan of new neurons.
Dr. Gili Freedman, email@example.com, Goodpaster Hall 137, x4426
A. Social Rejection
Social rejection is a frequent and unpleasant occurrence in our daily lives. Most of us have been on both sides of the equation: being rejected and doing the rejection. However, very little research has examined how we can make rejection less hurtful and what the process is like for the rejector. My work on social rejection investigates all aspects of the process of social rejection including how the rejection occurs, the language (or lack of language) that is used, how each party is perceived, and how the process could be improved for both the rejector and the rejected person. I am particularly interested in understanding the consequences for rejectors when they engage in different forms of rejection. Research on social rejection can address rejection that occurs in a wide range of contexts including friendships, romantic relationships, workplace relationships, and families.
B. Interpersonal Biases
Biases against women and individuals from underrepresented backgrounds are still prevalent in our society, particularly in certain contexts such as in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Importantly, and problematically, these biases can be internalized and can influence how individuals perceive themselves and the world around them. In my work on biases, I focus on examining the types of biases individuals espouse and how they manifest, particularly in the academic context. I also examine how biases impact other interpersonal processes, like social rejection. Although my work tends to focus on gender biases, I am also very interested in research on racial biases, biases based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and biases based on socioeconomic status.
C. Creating Interventions
How can we leverage social psychology to reduce interpersonal biases and the effects they have on individuals? By applying social psychology to social problems, we can learn more about both the basic science of psychology as well as the social problem at hand. My work on interventions has focused on using narratives and games to reduce biases against women in STEM and to improve outcomes for women in STEM. To create the game interventions, I have worked with collaborators and students across a diverse range of fields including art, computer science, and psychology. Research on interventions can include evaluating existing interventions, reimagining interventions for use with novel populations, and creating and testing new interventions.
Dr. Kristina Howansky, firstname.lastname@example.org, Goodpaster Hall 126, x4458
A. Stigmatized Groups
How does learning someone is transgender affect a person’s perception, attention, behavior, cognition, and emotion toward that individual? Across my work, I document and investigate factors that predict differences in the way people think about, perceive, and attend to members of stigmatized populations. I also consider how stigmatized populations think about themselves. Throughout my work, I also demonstrate the consequences these biases have for members of minority groups. Much of my work utilizes novel lab-developed paradigms (e.g., avatar creation), clever well-established experimental techniques (e.g., aggression methods), and advanced technology (e.g., eyetracking) to ask whether biased perception and attention contribute to the deleterious outcomes LGBTQ+ individuals face.
Does acting in line with a health goal lead people to perceive their bodies as healthier? Do people who just quit smoking perceive the health consequences of smoking as more extreme than non-smokers? My work explores the contextual factors under which health-relevant perceptual and cognitive differences emerge and the consequences of these perceptions and cognitions. I examine the factors that predict how individuals perceive health-relevant stimuli in their environments and link perceptual biases to health related outcomes.
C. Pro-environmental Behavior
How does the the feeling of knowledge about climate change differ from actual knowledge? What is more important when it comes to pro-environmental action? I investigate how cognitive biases about climate change are related to pro-environmental behaviors. Much of this work was conducted through interdisciplinary collaborations with the departments of environmental sciences, human ecology, and communication.
Dr. Ayse Ikizler, email@example.com, Goodpaster Hall 141, x4258
A. Oppression and Mental Health Outcomes among Ethnic and Sexual Minorities
My primary research interest focuses on the ways in which oppressive experiences (e.g., ethnic discrimination, Islamophobia, sexism, heterosexism) and traditional gender role socialization relate to mental health outcomes. I am especially interested in the experiences of sexual minorities (e.g., LGBQ) and individuals of Arab/Middle Eastern/North African (AMENA) backgrounds in the United States, and understanding identity development among diverse individuals with multiple oppressions (e.g., sexual minority women, queer people of color). I approach these topics using feminist-multicultural perspectives (e.g., relational-cultural theory, Hatzenbuehler’s psychological mediation framework, Meyer’s Minority Stress Model, Jack’s Silencing the Self Theory) and an appreciation for the intersectionality of multiple oppressions as described by Cole (2009). Overall, my aim is to develop a better understanding of how the often invisible struggles of marginalized groups impact mental health, both negatively and positively. Projects in this area may include: qualitative studies on intersectional identity experiences or quantitative studies on the relationship between coping with discrimination, cultural values, and minority stress.
B. Social Justice and Social Change
As a counseling psychologist, I recognize the need for understanding and intervening with our communities at both the individual level and at social/institutional levels. Thus, another research interest of mine is about using research to help effect social change and evaluating such intervention efforts. Sometimes such efforts are designed for the sole purpose of educating the public (e.g., providing information about Muslims and Islam) and other times an “intervention” may be a work of art or other event that exists for other purposes (e.g., a theater piece, lecture from guest speaker). If interested in this area, I would encourage you to consider how your particular knowledge and skills as a researcher and expert in psychology can be used to promote social change. Projects in this area may include: summarizing multicultural research for a broad or lay audience, evaluating existing events and projects aimed to educate the public, or designing intervention for reducing stigma and negative attitudes towards Muslims/AMENAs or other People of Color.
C. Improving Mental Health Services for Marginalized Communities
Finally, I am also interested in improving access and mental health services for marginalized communities (e.g., Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ) by assessing needs and providing resources to promote clinicians’ multicultural competences. This line of research could focus on prospective clients’ needs or on the needs of clinicians that would help them better serve particular marginalized groups. Projects in this area may include: needs assessment for particular organizations or populations (e.g., victims/survivors of intimate partner violence), a literature review and guide for identifying the most effective ways of reducing stigma against help-seeking behavior in particular groups, or assessing current clinician competence with respect to a particular population or clinical issue that minority clients face (e.g., discrimination).
Dr. James Mantell, firstname.lastname@example.org, Goodpaster Hall 131, x4468
A. Music Perception and Production
Music is a universal human behavior that requires the coordinated use of auditory, motor, emotional, and executive functions. Popular topics within this field include the development of music preferences, song memory, the acquisition of performance skills, individual differences in perception and production (e.g., why can’t some people carry a tune?), and music and emotion. I am particularly interested in exploring whether the cognitive processes responsible for music are also involved in language processing.
B. Spoken Language Processes and Crossmodal Perception
Humans are the only species to develop a complex language system. Yet, accumulating evidence suggests that our special ability might be an emergent property of multiple general auditory processes. One line of my research is dedicated to exploring how the speech perception system automatically interprets the characteristics of auditory events, regardless of their source. The goal of this research is to determine the extent to which general perceptual processes influence speech perception. Another line of my research examines the interactions between language processing and other perceptual abilities. For example, does linguistic knowledge influence visual perception? Can verbal imagery affect perception? Answers to these and related questions can reveal the extent to which perceptual systems are specialized.
C. Vocal Imitation
Talkers tend to reproduce specific features of just‐heard speech. Research has shown that this vocal imitation occurs at multiple levels of linguistic processing, from speech-sound to phrase levels. By why do people imitate? I am especially fascinated with individuals’ abilities to intentionally replicate sound patterns they have just heard. In other words, how do people vary in their abilities to vocally reproduce speech features? By comparing vocal performance in both automatic and intentional vocal imitation paradigms, I hope to more clearly understand the psychological mechanisms underpinning vocal behaviors.
Dr. Scott Mirabile, email@example.com, Goodpaster Hall 122, x3356
I. Children’s development during early childhood (approx. ages 2-6) establishes the foundation for their future disposition and adjustment across multiple domains. A critical process during early childhood is the development of emotional competence: the knowledge of one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to express and regulate emotions in keeping with one’s goals and social expectations. Emotional competence supports children’s development in multiple contexts including social, behavioral, and academic contexts. Given the importance of early emotional development, the following research areas are devoted to children’s emotional competence and its developmental consequences and how parents and teachers socialize emotional competence. The following hypotheses could be tested with questionnaires (and/or mixed methods). Participants would be recruited from a pool of willing participants (parents, children, and teachers) at local schools.
A. Early Childhood Emotional Competence and Adjustment
– Hypothesis: Early childhood emotional competence is a unitary construct consisting of interrelated processes of emotion expression, emotion regulation, and emotion understanding.
– Hypothesis: Various adjustment outcomes (including internalizing and externalizing problems like anxiety and aggression, respectively) relate specifically and uniquely to various profiles of emotional competence (i.e., different levels of emotion expression, regulation, and understanding).
– Hypothesis: Aspects of emotional competence are significant predictors of academic achievement and offer incremental validity beyond (i.e., are even better predictors than) other measures of children’s development (e.g., verbal ability, compliance to commands, social competence, etc.).
B. Parents’ Socialization of Emotional Competence during Early Childhood
– Hypothesis: Parents’ direct, purposeful emotion socialization (e.g., teaching about emotions) and parents’ indirect, unintentional emotion socialization (e.g., emotional displays in the presence of children) provide unique and interactive contributions to children’s emotional competence and adjustment.
– Hypothesis: Inconsistencies between parents direct emotion socialization messages and their indirect emotion socialization behaviors will negatively impact children’s development of emotional competence.
– Hypothesis: Parents’ emotion socialization may interact with aspects of children’s emotional competence in predicting children’s adjustment. For example, some parental emotion socialization strategies (e.g., cognitive restructuring, distraction, soothing) are likely more or less effective/adaptive depending on children’s level of negative emotionality.
C. Teachers’ Socialization of Emotional Competence during Early Childhood
– Exploratory Hypotheses: Do teachers and parents use different strategies to socialize emotional competence? If so, which strategies does each group use most frequently, and why?
– Exploratory Hypotheses: Does teachers’ socialization of emotional competence impact children’s adjustment (emotional, social, behavioral) in ways similar to parent’s emotion socialization?
– Exploratory Hypotheses: Are teachers more likely than parents to use generalized response styles when dealing with children’s emotions or are they sensitive to children’s individual differences and needs when responding to emotions?
II. Given St. Mary’s core institutional values of “the power of a diverse community” and “social responsibility and civic-mindedness” and our goal of graduating “prepared, responsible, and thoughtful global citizens and leaders,” it is vital to assess how well we are living up to these values and meeting these goals. Thus, my second line of research focuses on how certain learning experiences (e.g., workshops, trainings, lectures, activities, assignments) foster students’ knowledge of how social/political power systems operate in relation to course content (e.g., child development) and how such learning experiences develop students’ capacity for and engagement in resisting oppressive sociopolitical structures.
Dr. Rich Platt, firstname.lastname@example.org, Goodpaster Hall 114, x4283
I have worked with students on a variety of memory topics. These studies have included examinations of autobiographical memories, eyewitness memory, and various paradigms for the creation of false or distorted memories.
B. Deductive Reasoning
One of the most studied deductive reasoning tasks is Wason’s selection task. In this task, the subject is given an “If…, then…” rule and four cards to which it might apply. They have to decide which cards they need more information about in order to determine whether the rule is true or false for the four cards. The task is surprising difficult with only a small percentage of participants making the correct selections. However, a variety of factors can be varied to improve performance including providing concrete content, making the rule more explicit, and asking for reasons for the selections that are made. Despite the number of studies examining this task there are still many new questions that could be asked about the reasoning processes involved in this task.
C. Critical Thinking
Most decisions that we make involve some uncertainty regarding the possible outcomes that may result. However, human reasoning about probability is often guided by heuristics that can lead to poor likelihood judgments. This can have an impact on important judgements about medical procedures or other high stakes decisions. Research into the factors that influence the use of these heuristics can help improve the way people think about uncertain outcomes.
D. Belief in Conspiracy Theories
I have begun a new research project investigating cognitive factors associated with belief in conspiracy theories. Belief in conspiracy theories is widespread and those who believe in one conspiracy theory often believe in others. Consequently, conspiratorial thinking seems to be a characteristic of some people’s cognitive processing. Some research suggests that this type of thinking may be associated with greater susceptibility to certain cognitive heuristics and biases. This research project is investigating the underlying cognitive processes involved in conspiracy beliefs.
Dr. Jennifer Tickle, email@example.com, Goodpaster Hall 128, x4359
A. Media Influence on Attitudes and Behavior
Media influence how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we interact in the world. Media can create, reinforce, or challenge stereotypes; they affect our attitudes about topics as diverse as sexuality or politics; and they influence our behaviors in domains such as health and consumerism. Research on media may include content analysis of media, correlational research examining media exposure and attitudes or behaviors, or laboratory research that differentially exposes individuals to media in order to observe effects. Although the possibilities for research in this area are vast, some examples of the types of research questions that could be pursued are: What characteristics are ascribed to members of a particular group in top grossing American films? How does the use of the internet relate to academic performance or social development? What aspects of advertising are related to product memory? How does personality relate to media use?
B. New Media and Communication Technology (e.g., social media, computer communication, virtual reality)
The ever-changing nature of media provides many opportunities to study how people use newer media technology, the pitfalls or advantages of newer media, and how people’s perceptions or behaviors change (or don’t change) in non-face-to-face or “virtual face-to-face” interactions compared to the face-to-face domain. This research also uses newer media technologies like virtual reality to explore the applicability of more traditional social psychological theories within virtual space. The questions that can be asked in the domain change as quickly as the media itself, but studies might focus on emotions, cognitions, or behavior and could be observational, correlational, or experimental in nature.
C. Research on Self and Self-regulation
Each of us experiences success at self-control as well as failures of self-control, whether it is breaking a diet or practicing daily to improve a skill. Self-regulation requires awareness of the desire to meet a goal, determination of the steps required to meet the goal, enacting those steps, checking to see if you have met the goal, and knowing when to stop. Self-regulation can go wrong at any of these stages, and some common culprits of self-regulatory failure are stress, mood, the situation, or interfering goals. Research in this area can examine the types of situations or strategies that lead to self-regulatory success or failure or the consequences of success and failure for self or others. Behaviors that might be explored are health decisions (e.g., drinking, smoking, sex, weight), personal decision making (e.g., relationships, time management), self-presentation, deception, or emotion expression regulation.
D. Interaction Dynamics and Person Perception
Our interactions with other people influence many of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For example, our interactions with individuals who are stigmatized may reinforce our prejudices or may alter them depending on the interaction. Our first impressions of a person influence how we will subsequently behave with that individual. Research on interaction dynamics may include survey or interview research, analysis of narrative responses, or laboratory research involving observing and coding behavior during interactions. The types of interactions studied may include strangers, friends, romantic relationships, or groups.
E. Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
I have also mentored many projects that examine themes relevant to the study of women, gender, and sexuality.
Dr. Libby Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org, Goodpaster Hall 104, x4467
My primary area of research is in psychotherapy process (i.e., what actually happens in therapy sessions between clients and counselors). Within this area, my particular interests lie with therapist self-awareness and self-talk, but I am also interested a variety of other process issues, such as useful therapeutic techniques, clients’ perceptions of therapist techniques (e.g., do clients like it when therapists use silence as a technique?), and therapists’ unique issues in therapy (e.g., boredom, ethical issues, homophobia, therapists need for their own psychotherapy). Some past examples of student projects in the area include: a national survey of therapists’ training regarding how to manage sexual attraction to clients, a qualitative interview study of therapists’ use of the “self” in therapy, and the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy as a treatment for schizophrenia. Future SMP projects might focus on whether therapists of different theoretical orientations manage and use their self-awareness in different ways or whether therapists’ background (e.g., personality variables, family history) relate to the ways therapists manage their self-awareness.B. Issues of Gender and Multiculturalism
I am interested in the impact of gender and race/ethnicity (as well as other demographic variables) on the experiences of clients and therapists. For example, one of my students did his SMP on client preferences for match with the therapist. Another student did a project on the impact of sexual orientation on therapist and client attitudes. I am particularly interested in the intersection of feminism and multiculturalism in therapy, but I have interest in gender and racial topics outside of therapy as well (e.g., women’s career development). Future SMP projects might focus on the extent to which therapists actually use feminist and multicultural techniques in therapy or on the impact of subtle or “benevolent” sexism (Glick & Fiske, 2001) on students’ attitudes.C. Qualitative Methodology. In addition to my quantitative studies, I am also interested in qualitative analysis. Specifically, I helped create a qualitative methodology called Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR; Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997; Hill, Knox, Thompson, Williams, Hess & Ladany, 2005) that has been used fairly extensively to examine issues in counseling (e.g., how therapists deal with receiving gifts from clients, what happens during a therapeutic impasse, how serendipity plays a part in career decisions). Several of my SMP students have done qualitative projects (e.g., counseling experiences of Latina battered women). Qualitative methods work well when you are studying a topic that has not been extensively researched – it allows for an exploratory approach that can generate new information and new ideas for future quantitative follow-up studies. Future SMP projects might focus on the CQR methodology itself (e.g., a qualitative study of qualitative researchers) or on a specific topic (e.g., how therapists deal with boredom in therapy).
D. I am also returning to an earlier focus on mine – career development. Counseling psychologists have long been interested in career development and counseling. I have done past research on serendipity in career choice and am currently working on several projects that look at leadership theory and practice. In particular, I am interested in authentic leadership, its tensions and complexities, and how one can work in sustainable ways over time as a leader. I am interested in all levels of leadership and see avenues for exploring career theories and practical approaches in this area of research as well.