Summer research – Bui ’18

Tung Bui ’18 spent his summer conducting research off campus at the University of Michigan, and at the University of Oregon, and his internships were supported by a grant from Wabash College’s Dill Fund:

After completing a literature review on the emotion of envy for an independent study in the spring semester of 2017 at Wabash College, I was motivated to carry on my research project into the summer. Previous researchers have done intensive work on what factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic, lead to an envious state. There have also been findings with respect to behavioral and emotional consequences of envy. However, the field has not seen much work regarding how to attenuate the emotion and forestall the undesirable outcomes.

With great thanks to the Dill Grant, I was able to travel to Ann Arbor and spend roughly a month to carry out a the project. Working in the laboratory of Dr. Garcia at the University of Michigan, we mapped out the study design to test a potential alleviating effect of attribution on envy. We started with asking online participants (i.e., MTurkers) to imagine a friend who outperformed them in some domains then to write about (I) what advantages their friends had, or (II) what disadvantages they had that might leave them in an inferior position. This phase of the project was intended to serve as a pilot test for the envy (i.e., writing about a friend) and attribution (i.e., writing about one’s own disadvantaged or a friend’s disadvantages) manipulations. We ended with a significant result for the writing stimulus to induce an envious state. The writing paradigm for attribution, nevertheless, did not turn out efficacious.

We dedicated the second round of pilot tests to a disparate manipulation of attribution. We induced attributions by asking participants to indicate how much they agreed with two statements that attributed their low performance to either (a) their friends’ situational advantages (i.e., family’s financial support, better education, social connections), or (b) their friends’ dispositional advantages (i.e., hard work, boldness, self-confidence). Making situational attributions significantly predicted the level of envy in the subjects, nonetheless, in a reversed direction compared to our hypothesis; in other words, the more participants disagreed with the situational attributions, the less envious they felt of their friends.

In interpreting the results, we realized there could be a few alternative explanations for the observed relation. Either being allowed to write about whatever or asked to indicate agreement with prepared statements, that could be the reasons why their friends outperformed them, the participants could have been influenced by potential advantages that they had not thought of initially but now started pondering upon. In the same line of reasoning, the participants could have disagreed with the statements simply because the majority of what they were thinking about did not correspond to the domain(s) in which they were initially envious of their friends.

Even though my research internship at Michigan ended shortly after this third phase, I have continued to receive support, both professional and financial, from Dr. Garcia’s lab since then. The next step will be to utilize an in-lab design to keep participants focused on specific attributions and record their levels of envy via another measure.

Leaving Michigan, I arrived shortly in Eugene to commence my second research experience in Dr. Hodges’s Social Cognition lab. The project under analysis related itself to the mediation effect of similarity on the relation between stereotypes and empathic accuracy, i.e., how the extent to which the readers’ interpretations of the targets’ thoughts were similar to what the targets actually reported, affected the accuracy of using stereotypes in reading thoughts. I was trained and given plenty opportunities to work on coding skills in such studies.

In another part, I handled organizing data for multi-level model regressions. This analysis has recently risen as a powerful tool in counting for multiple error terms, aka. confounding variables, in perplexed relational models. For example, the effect of using stereotypes about middle easterners in conjecturing their thoughts was not a straight relation in which the prevalence of stereotypes predicted interpretation accuracy. Organizing raters’ ratings was essential to quantifying the hypotheses into a meaningful multi-level model.

In addition, I attended weekly sessions that focused on a review paper of empathic accuracy and shared reality. We went through several stages of pulling together a broad image of a psychological construct that has been under intensive research. Relevant work was scrutinized for useful findings; varied findings were then grouped properly to create revealing categories; novel ideas and appealing suggestions were tagged in accordingly. Intermittent discussions served to induce efficient brainstorming and allowed research assistants to contribute their own viewpoints on the subject.

My summer concluded on such a good term, having provided me with valuable professional development. I would like to thank the Psychology Department of Wabash College for their academic support, the Dill Grant for the financial support, and the University of Michigan and the University of Oregon for their wonderful summer research internships.