Psychology Undergraduate Honors Theses

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The PSYC Honors Program allows advanced students to collaborate directly with a faculty mentor to complete an original research project. Results from honors projects have been reported in scientific journals and presented at professional conferences. PSYC Honors includes two terms of independent study courses with the mentor, culminating in a written thesis report and a poster presentation. Successful program participants are awarded an honors designation at graduation (B.S. degree “with honors”).


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Now showing 1 - 17 of 17
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    Educate and Empower: An Online Intervention to Improve College Women’s Knowledge and Confidence When Communicating in a Romantic Relationship
    (2022-05) Trovato, Karoline J.; O’Brien, Karen M.
    Historically, and during the covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority of unpaid family care was provided by women with devastating outcomes including lost jobs, increased poverty, and mental health concerns (Almeida et al., 2020; Dang et al., 2020; Power, 2020). Unequal family work and unhealthy communication were associated with women’s relationship dissatisfaction and depressive symptoms (Bannon et al., 2020; Carlson et al., 2020; Woods et al., 2019). The PARTNERS video intervention was created to educate college women about family work distribution, communication in a romantic relationship, and the PARTNERS model of communication (a strategy for healthy communication based on existing literature and developed by Trovato and O’Brien for this intervention). An experiment was conducted to assess the effectiveness of the video intervention. Participants exposed to the intervention had the highest relationship communication self-efficacy. Those who participated in the intervention or read a partial script were the most knowledgeable about family work distribution, communication, and the PARTNERS model. The PARTNERS intervention has potential to educate women about family work distribution and couple communication and improve their confidence when communicating with a romantic partner. Ultimately, this intervention may increase relationship satisfaction, reduce depression, and equalize family work distribution for women.
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    Black Grief Matters: Disenfranchisement, Social Support, and Coping Among Black College Students Grieving the Deaths of Black Americans by Police Brutality
    (2022-05) Harris, Madelyn; O'Brien, Karen
    Today, Black Americans are nearly three times more likely than their white American counterparts to be killed by police, accounting for more than 40% of the victims of police killings nationwide (Bor et al., 2018). These murders are receiving considerable media attention as some have been captured on video and shared widely via social media and news platforms. Moreover, the Black Lives Matter movement, which aims to emphasize the precarious state of Black lives, focuses needed attention on these horrific murders by police brutality (Rankine, 2015). The ubiquity of social media and news platforms facilitates widespread viewing and sharing of police brutality against Black Americans, with the viewing of such events potentially more pronounced among college students, as over 84% of 18 to 29 year-olds use at least one social media site (Pew Research Center, 2021). Exposure to this violence is associated with negative mental health outcomes among Black Americans including heightened stress, depression, and grief and loss reactions (Allen & Solomon, 2016; Bor et al., 2018; Tynes et al., 2019). Factors which may contribute to these negative mental health outcomes include disenfranchisement of grief (i.e., the grief not being recognized or acknowledged; Piazza-Bonin et al., 2015), the absence of social support during grieving (Burke et al., 2010; Stroebe et al., 2005), and the ways in which college students cope with these killings and their grief (Andersen et al., 2013; Fox, 2019). The purpose of this study was to examine how grief disenfranchisement, social support and coping style predict stress, depressive symptoms, and prolonged grief among Black college students as they respond to the deaths of Black Americans by police brutality.
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    Exploring neural correlates of depression in childhood: The relation between amygdala:hippocampus ratios and CDI depression scores in 4-8 year olds
    (2021-05-11) Coley, Katherine; Riggins, Tracy
    Nationally representative studies have shown that mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are widely prevalent in children, with depression acting as one of the leading causes of disability in the United States (Ghandour et al., 2018; Schmaal et al., 2016). Research on adults suggests that depression and mood regulation can be linked to brain structure and function, specifically abnormalities with the amygdala and hippocampus (Yavas et al., 2019; Gerritsen et al., 2012). Interestingly, these brain regions have been shown to undergo structural and functional changes in early childhood that correspond with critical developmental changes in behavior (e.g., Riggins et al., 2018; Stern et al., 2019). Despite these changes, there is very little research investigating the relation between the brain and depressive symptoms in children, particularly during early childhood. Furthering the understanding of the relation between structural changes in brain and depressive symptoms is critically important not only for addressing high rates of childhood depression, but also for understanding the etiology and course of depression from early childhood into adulthood. This information could inform future intervention strategies and improve our understanding of normative and non-normative development in early childhood. This study aims to fill this gap by assessing the association between amygdala and hippocampus volumes and depressive symptoms cross sectionally and longitudinally in children ages 4-8 years.
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    Exploring Relations Between Memory and Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors in Childhood
    (2021) Munshell, Paige; Riggins, Tracy
    There is a growing field of research which suggests internalizing and externalizing disorders cause disruptions in cognitive functioning, including memory. This association has primarily been explored in adults. This honors thesis explores the potential connection between mnemonic discrimination as a measure of episodic memory and internalizing and externalizing behaviors in young children. Researchers collected data on memory using a Mnemonic Similarity Task (MST) in children between 3 and 5 years of age and related their performance to ratings of their internalizing and externalizing behavior from the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) completed by a parent or guardian. Results did not support the hypothesis that internalizing and externalizing behaviors were related to poor episodic memory, as has been shown in adult populations. Future research with older children should be conducted in order to understand when during development that internalizing and externalizing behaviors begin to inhibit episodic memory.
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    Bystander Responses to College Dating Violence: Can We Educate Undergraduate Students Using an Online Intervention?
    (2020) Herman, Micah; O'Brien, Karen M.
    The purposes of this study were to improve an online bystander intervention educational program (STOP Dating Violence; O'Brien et al., 2019) and conduct a randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of this revised intervention. Specifically, the intervention was modified and converted into an engaging animated video and then tested for its effectiveness. College students (N=335) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) the STOP intervention, (2) a website containing information about dating violence, and (3) a control condition. Results indicated that students who viewed the STOP Dating Violence video intervention had the greatest knowledge of bystander interventions when compared to the website and control conditions. Thus, the STOP Dating Violence video has the potential to successfully educate undergraduates about appropriate bystander interventions for dating violence in a cost-effective manner.
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    I’m sorry, curry & rice are just not my thing: Online sexual racism as a predictor of body-oriented concerns among East Asian and South Asian sexual minority men
    (2021-05) Dua, Vardaan; Mohr, Jonathan
    Online dating applications routinely expose sexual minority men (SMM) of color to an online culture of body objectification and racial prejudice. Dating app use and sexual racism are related to body-oriented concerns among SMM of color. However, no previous research has focused on experiences of sexual racism and body-oriented concerns among Asian SMM. The main purpose of the present study is to examine the relationship between two types of online sexual racism (racist rejection and racist exotification) and five types of body-oriented concerns among Asian SMM. The present study also investigated whether the associations between these variables differed by (a) racial/ethnic identity, (b) levels of racial/ethnic identity salience, and (c) levels of identity conflicts. East Asian (n =100) and South Asian (n = 100) SMM were recruited through online advertisements and completed measures for body-oriented concerns and online sexual racism. We found that, at large, both types of sexual racism were positively associated with all types of body-oriented concerns. Racist rejection more strongly predicted body concerns for South Asian SMM, whereas racist exotification more strongly predicted body concerns for East Asian SMM. In some cases, racial/ethnic identity salience and identity conflicts significantly moderated the links between sexual racism and body-oriented concerns, and some of the moderation effects differed by racial/ethnic identity. Implications for researchers, clinicians, and advocates working with Asian SMM are discussed.
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    Protective Behavioral Strategies and Alcohol Problems in Heavy Drinking College Students: The Role of ADHD Symptoms and Sex Differences
    (2021-05-10) Steinberg, Amanda; Chronis-Tuscano, Andrea
    College students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at risk for alcohol-related negative consequences, but key correlates of risks for this population are unknown. The use of protective behavioral strategies (PBS) is designed to mitigate the negative consequences of drinking, but people with ADHD may be at-risk for underutilizing PBS. This study evaluated group differences in PBS use and alcohol variables by ADHD status and biological sex. Participants were full-time undergraduate students (49% female; ages 18-22) with (n=42) and without (n=37) ADHD. Students were screened for high-risk alcohol use and completed measures of alcohol use, alcohol-related negative consequences, and PBS. Despite no significant differences among drinking variables, students with ADHD reported more alcohol-related negative consequences compared to their similarly-drinking peers. Males reported more drinks per week but had comparable binge drinking and intoxication episodes to females, where surprisingly, females reported significantly more alcohol-related negative consequences than males. As predicted, students with ADHD and males reported using fewer total PBS than non- ADHD peers and females. Contrary to expectations, moderation analyses showed no significant moderation for ADHD status on sex differences and PBS use, nor did ADHD status significantly moderate the effect of PBS use in reducing alcohol-related negative consequences. Future research should examine possible mechanisms underlying the association between ADHD and PBS utilization (i.e., emotion dysregulation, impulsivity).
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    Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as a Moderator of the Relationship Between Anxiety Sensitivity and Substance Use Disorders
    (2020) Adetayo, Tolulope; Bernat, Edward
    Epidemiological studies have shown that there is a high incidence of co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders (SUDs). Given the numerous legal, social, psychological, and medical consequences associated with these two illnesses, it is important to determine clinical targets for them. Anxiety sensitivity (AS) may serve as such a target, as it is associated with both PTSD and SUDs. Furthermore, little is currently known about how AS and PTSD are associated with polysubstance use, and most of the existing literature focuses on nonclinical samples. The following study aims to address these gaps by examining whether PTSD moderates the relationship between AS and SUDs. 2,617 clients at a residential treatment center completed a clinical intake interview. AS was assessed using the ASI, and current and lifetime SUDs and lifetime PTSD were assessed using the SCID-IV. Two-way ANCOVAs were used to investigate the relationship between SUDs, lifetime PTSD, and AS, after controlling for age, income, and gender. AS was positively associated with both PTSD and SUDs. PTSD strengthened the positive association between AS and SUDs. Participants who met criteria for a greater number of SUDs reported greater AS. These results support the use of anxiety-sensitivity based interventions in treating PTSD and SUDs.
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    Gender Minority Young Adult Mental Health: Anti-Transgender Prejudice, Mediators, and Implications in the COVID-19 Era
    (2020) Pease, M; Iwamoto, Derek
    Binary and nonbinary transgender young adults exist in a state of marginalization in American society. Both interpersonal and institutional forms of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression against trans individuals have created a myriad of mental and physical health disparities in this population. Yet, limited research has examined the mechanisms of risk for transgender young adults. Moreover, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate risk for marginalized groups. Using a minority stress framework and online cross-sectional survey design (N = 239), the current study examines gender dysphoria, emotion dysregulation, and relational authenticity as mediators of the relationship between transgender distal stress and negative mental health outcomes (i.e., psychological distress, alcohol use, and e-cigarette use) during the early stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic (late May to early July 2020). Additional data examined stressors relating to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Findings suggest gender dysphoria and emotion dysregulation mediate the distal stress-psychological distress pathway. An indirect effect of relational authenticity on alcohol use and gender dysphoria on e-cigarette use was also observed. Results are contextualized within the COVID-19 pandemic and critical implications are drawn for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.
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    Bisexual Women’s Female Friendships: Predictors and Outcomes of Sexual Identity Disclosure
    (2020-05) Parekh, Nina; Mohr, Jonathan
    This study examined Asian and White bisexual women’s sexual orientation disclosure to their female friends, including the relation of disclosure to racial and sexual identity, individual well-being, and friendship quality. It was hypothesized that Asian bisexual women would be less likely to disclose their sexual minority status to Asian friends and more likely to friends of differing racial/ethnic identities, as well as less likely to monosexual friends. Also, sexual identity disclosure for all participants, regardless of race/ethnicity, was expected to be positively associated with both friendship quality and individual well-being. A sample of 324 bisexual women completed measures focused on their demographic information, personal self-esteem, self-authenticity, satisfaction with life, and perceived social support, as well as their interpersonal level of outness, validation, trust, intimacy, and overall friendship. Results from multilevel models indicated that participant race/ethnicity interacted with friend race/ethnicity and sexual orientation in predicting disclosure: Asian bisexual women’s disclosure level was higher with same-race/ethnicity friends but unrelated to whether the friend was LGQ. In contrast, White bisexual women’s disclosure level was unrelated to similarity of the friend’s race/ethnicity but was lower among friends viewed as LGQ. Disclosure of bisexuality was positively associated with friendship quality at both the within-person and between-person levels, and was positively related to self-esteem, life satisfaction, and perceptions of social support from friends.
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    Multi-Informant Assessments of Adolescents' Fears of Negative and Positive Evaluation: How Well Do They Predict Behavior within Interactions with Unfamiliar Peers?
    (2020) Botkin, Tessa; De Los Reyes, Andres
    Social anxiety disorder is defined by an intense and distressing fear and avoidance of social situations with unfamiliar individuals, particularly those situations that provide the opportunity to be scrutinized (APA, 2013). A core feature of social anxiety involves fears of negative evaluation (FNE) and fears of positive evaluation (FPE). These core features are most commonly assessed using the Fear of Positive Evaluation Scale (FPES; Weeks et al., 2008) and the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale (BFNE; Leary, 1983). A robust line of evidence supports the psychometric properties of these measures when administered to adults; we know little about these measures’ properties when administered to adolescents. This study tests links between multi-informant reports on the FPES and BFNE and adolescents’ behavior within interactions with unfamiliar peers. We recruited 105 adolescents for the study. Adolescents completed a battery of measures examining their thoughts and behaviors and then completed social interaction tasks with a confederate. Parents completed a battery of questionnaires about themselves and their adolescent’s thoughts and behaviors. Both parents and adolescents provide reports about adolescents’ fears of evaluation that relate to adolescents’ observed behavior within interactions with unfamiliar peers. However, relative to parents’ reports, adolescents’ reports across FNE and FPE more robustly relate to observed behavior within these interactions. Further, across both informants and evaluative domains, FPE provide incrementally valuable information when understanding how adolescents behave within interactions with unfamiliar peers.
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    The Effects of Discrimination on Black Mothers’ Internalizing Symptoms and Parenting Behavior
    (2020-01-20) Williams, Amber; Dougherty, Lea; Dunbar, Angel
    Can discrimination impact mothers’ mental health and parenting? Based on prior literature, I formed four hypotheses: Black mothers’ experiences with discrimination will be positively correlated to depressive and anxiety symptoms; depressive symptoms would be positively correlated with punitive and minimizing parental responses; anxiety symptoms would be positively correlated to punitive and minimizing parental responses; and, discrimination will be positively correlated to parental punitive and minimizing responses to children’s emotions. I conducted a secondary data analysis using data from the School Transitions and Academic Readiness Project (STAR) at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (N=277). Participants (n=86) included Black mothers and their 4-6 year old children, and measures assessed discrimination, depression, anxiety, and parent emotional socialization in relation to punitive and minimizing parenting practices. Results revealed a trend association between mother-reported racial discrimination and their depressive symptoms, r = .18, p < .10, and a significant positive correlation between mother-reported discrimination and anxiety symptoms, r = .22, p < .05. There was a significant positive correlation between mothers’ depressive symptoms and parental punitive responses, r = .43, p < .05, as well as between mothers’ depressive symptoms and parental minimizing responses, r = .34, p < .05. There was a significant positive correlation between mothers’ anxiety symptoms and parental punitive responses, r = .31, p < .05, and a significant positive correlation between mothers’ anxiety symptoms and parental minimizing responses, r = .24, p < .05. There was no significant correlation between mothers’ discrimination experiences and parenting for either parental punitive or minimizing responses. Results suggest that mothers’ discrimination experiences were related to their internalizing symptoms but not the mothers’ parenting behaviors. Future longitudinal work is necessary to examine whether discrimination may impact parenting over time via parents’ depressive or anxiety symptoms.
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    Relations between Memory Measures and Hippocampal Volumes in Early Childhood
    (2020-05) Fine, Carli; Riggins, Tracy
    The phenomenon of childhood amnesia, in which only a mere fraction of childhood experiences is remembered, may be due to changes in the underlying neural mechanisms supporting memory. However, this assumption is largely based on measures of memory from lab-based tasks, which show relations with specific brain areas. It is unclear whether tasks in the lab used to measure childhood memory skills map onto children’s memory for experiences in everyday life. This study aimed to address this gap by investigating the potential relation between two different tasks completed by 200 4- to 8-year-old children. Specifically, children completed both a rich, open-ended autobiographical interview examining children’s recall for real-world events, and a controlled, laboratory-based assessment that examines children’s memory for temporal order. This study assessed whether both/either tasks show 1) age-related differences, 2) relations to each other, and 3) relations to the volume of the hippocampus, a neural structure thought to be critical for memory. Results indicated that performance on both tasks show positive age-related differences, and relations to each other. However, neither task was related to the hippocampus. Overall, this work contributes new knowledge regarding memory development by examining the extent to which naturalistic versus laboratory-based tasks similarly measure children’s developing memory abilities, and suggests important avenues of future research.
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    Exploring Differences in Hippocampal Structure between Habitual vs Non-habitual Nappers during Early Childhood
    (2020) Meredith, Lena; Riggins, Tracy
    When we sleep, our memories are consolidated and become less vulnerable to interference, both during overnight sleep and during naps. Previous research in adults suggests this effect is at least partially due to a “transfer” of these memories from the hippocampus to the cortex. Although a similar process likely takes place in young children, there is little research investigating it. The existing literature suggests habitually napping children may need naps more than non-habitually napping children because their brain is less mature. This study aims to examine relations between habitual versus non-habitual nappers and brain development in early childhood. The focus was on the hippocampus, a structure that is critical for memory and shows protected development during early childhood. At the time of this report, 21 children provided useable data (Mage = 4.49 years, SD = 0.51, 9 female). Of these participants, 8 were habitual nappers and 13 were non-habitual nappers. Hippocampal volumes were extracted using a combination of manual and automated methods. Results revealed in the left hippocampal tail, habitual nappers had larger volumes compared to non-habitual nappers. Although these are preliminary results and do not survive correction for multiple comparisons, the findings support that variation in hippocampal development may relate to nap status in developing children. Future research will examine a larger sample size and investigate other brain regions to determine the specificity of these effects.
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    Early Parenting Predicts Cognitive Risk for Depression in Children
    (2020-05-05) Ostrander, Alexandra; Dougherty, Lea; Chad-Friedman, Emma
    Negative cognitions are important in the etiology and maintenance of depression and can be observed in children as young as preschool age. However, little work has prospectively examined precursors of children’s negative cognitive styles. The current study examined the effects of early childhood negative and positive parenting on children’s later negative and positive self- referent verbalizations, as indicators of their cognitive styles. Participants included 173 children who were assessed in early childhood (Wave 1 age; M= 4.19 years, SD=.81) and again three years later (Wave 2 age; M= 6.80 years, SD=.97). Parenting was assessed using a parent-child observational task at Waves 1 and 2; children’s verbalizations were assessed during frustration-inducing laboratory tasks at Waves 1 and 2. Results indicated that greater early childhood intrusive parenting predicted children’s later use of fewer positive self-referent verbalizations. In addition, greater early childhood parental support predicted children’s later use of greater positive self-referent verbalizations. Results highlight the importance of parental behavior on how a child thinks about themselves and how their cognitive styles may lead to increased risk for depression. These findings suggest that early interventions targeting parenting may lead to reductions in children’s cognitive styles that incur risk for later depression.
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    The Effects of Prediction and Speech Rate on Lexical Processing
    (2020) Cole, Alissa; Slevc, Robert
    Listeners may predict aspects of upcoming linguistic input before it is encountered, but the specificity of information predicted can vary. It is unclear how very specific lexical predictions influence language processing, and what cognitive processes are involved with this prediction process. The goal of this study was to investigate the effect of specific lexical prediction on language processing, and how this effect varies with speech rate and individual differences in processing speed and working memory. In an active prediction paradigm, participants heard two-sentence passages at fast, medium, or slow rates while predicting the final word of the second sentence. Instead of the final word, participants were instructed to read a word aloud as quickly as possible, then indicate if this was the word they predicted. This word had about a 50% chance of matching the participant's prediction. Both correct and incorrect prediction facilitated reading time as compared with no prediction, suggesting that prediction can facilitate language processing, regardless of prediction accuracy. Additionally, slower speech rate resulted in slower reading time across prediction conditions, indicating that speed of prediction may slow to match speech rate. The effects of prediction accuracy and speech rate were not related to individual difference measures of either processing speed or working memory. In all, these results support the hypothesis that active prediction decreases language processing time, which may also be affected by speech rate.
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    Evaluating an Online Intervention to Enhance Knowledge, Confidence and Skills in Undergraduate Students’ Responses to Bereaved Peers
    (2019-12) Hill, Erin; O'Brien, Karen
    The purpose of this study was to conduct a randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy of CARES, an online intervention developed to educate undergraduate students about how to communicate in person and over text with friends who experienced the death of someone close to them. College students (N=231) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) the CARES intervention, (2) a website containing information about grief and loss, or (3) a control condition. Participants completed pre- and post-test quantitative and qualitative measures to assess (1) knowledge of grief, appropriate responses to grieving peers, and resources available for grieving college students, (2) confidence in ability to communicate effectively with grieving peers, and (3) skills in communicating effectively with bereaved friends. The results indicated that students who participated in the CARES intervention had the greatest knowledge regarding grief and appropriate communication with grieving peers when compared to participants in the website and control conditions (when controlling for pre-test scores). In addition, students receiving the intervention were more confident in their ability to help a grieving peer and had the greatest skill in communicating with a grieving peer, when compared to participants in the website and control conditions. No differences were found in knowledge of common signs of grief or knowledge of resources. Thus, the CARES intervention has potential for educating undergraduates about effective communication with their grieving peers.