Summer research – Dao ’18

Junior major Nigel Dao ’18 spent part of his summer doing research with Prof. Schmitzer-Torbert:

This summer I worked with Dr. Neil Schmitzer-Torbert to continue his line of research on the effect of stress on spatial navigation in human. Particularly, we were testing a stress-reduction cognitive training program that could potentially help negate the damaging effect of stress on the human brain. Nigel

It is well-established that experiencing stress in a prolonged period of time could have a wide range of harmful consequences on the human body. Stress, through the activation of hormone cortisol, damages a particular area of the brain that is involved in memory and navigation ability – the hippocampus. Scientists John O’keefe and Lynn Nadel, in 1978, proposed a groundbreaking theory the hippocampus learns and stores a cognitive map of space. The hippocampus is believed to regulate the use of am effortful yet flexible “spatial learning” strategy which people can use the relationship between landmarks (e.g., the tree is to the right of the house and to the left of the billboard) to navigate around the environment. There also exists a competing navigation system, the striatum that regulates a more rigid, inflexible strategy, “response learning”, where people employ a fixed pattern for navigation (e.g., turn right once, go straight ahea then turn left twice). Results from projects at Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert’s lab and our collaborators at McGill University, Dr. Veronique Bohbot and her colleagues, have shown that people who are experiencing prolonged stress were less likely to use the spatial learning than the response strategy, as well as make more errors in navigation tasks. It is thus worth questioning whether or not, by reducing stress, we could restore the use of the hippocampus in human navigation and that is what Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert and I were looking at during my internship.

We collected our sample of participants via an online crowdsourcing platform (Amazon Mechanical Turk) and measured their levels of stress with psychometric surveys. We also looked at their ‘trait mindfulness’ reports, a measure that was found in our previous projects to correlate positively with the participants’ navigation strategies and accuracy. The term ‘mindfulness’ came from a behavioral stress-reducing program, established by Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, that refers to one’s ability to attend to one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations without heightened reactivity and judgments. The Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program aims to provide participants with this particularly helpful skill, through a variety of practices including the body scan, sitting meditation and mindful yoga. The program has received experimentally and clinically supported for its effectiveness in reducing stress in cancer and chronic illness patients, even medical students, so this is the cognitive training program that Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert wanted to see if it could help restore the use of hippocampally-dependent navigation.

Before moving on to the stress-reduction training, participants were first tested their navigation strategy and ability, using a virtual navigation task, in which participants learned to find objects hidden in a maze. At the end of the navigation task, we asked the participants to indicate their navigation strategy in a written report. Participants then moved on to the 8-week MBSR program and continued to check in with their progress every week. While our study is just wrapping up this month, and we were unable to recruit as many participants for the MBSR course as we had hoped, we have found the preliminary data to be encouraging, and we look forward to continuing this study in the future.

My internship with Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert has given me an invaluable learning experience that is very helpful for my academic career. This is not my first time running a psychological experiment, but it is my first time with an experienced researcher like Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert. I learned how to plan for a scientific experiment that goes beyond coming up with an answer for a specific question like we usually do in classrooms and includes dealing with uncoordinated participants, budgeting the experiment effectively and making sense of the data. Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert also introduced me to the realm of video game programming, of which I was very afraid previously and still am. Learning to code is exactly like learning a new language, with their own grammar and semantics, and it is nowhere near an easy task to do in 8 weeks! Lastly, the internship really helped me get to know Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert a lot more, about how he became interested in the field of neuroscience and his experience as a scholar, from which I knew more about what I want to do later in life.

I would like to thank Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert and Wabash College Psychology Department for this experience that is immensely helpful for my academic career. It gave me not only the knowledge and skill but too the inspiration and motivation as an inspiring scientist. I would also like to thank the generous donors, without whom my internship as well as many others could not happen.

Summer research – Mason Hooper ’18

Hooper01Junior Mason Hooper ’18 spent part of his summer at Wabash, working with Dr. Ryan Rush (now of Franklin College) and senior Zack King ’17 . 

When I received the email from Professor Schmitzer-Torbert offering me the change to work with Professor Rush over the summer as a research intern I was excited to say the least. We all have ideas of the experiences Wabash will offer us during our four years thought up before we even set foot on campus on Freshman Saturday, and one such experiences I knew I wanted to be a part of early on was aiding a Professor in their field of research. This is because a lot can be learnt through an opportunity like this, both personally and for the whole of psychology research. In that, psychology research allows us to better understand the human mind, and while we are advised against using the word, “prove” research like this gives us an empirical way of examining something as hard to quantify as the human mind. And this summer I was able to be a part of such an important process. I can not express how grateful I am to the Wabash Psychology Department and Wabash College for funding the internship.
Continue reading

Summer research – Powell ’17

Senior Psychology minor Carson Powell ’17 spent part of his summer at Wabash, working with Dr. Karen Gunther. 

This summer I spent eight weeks working with Dr. Karen Gunther researching color vision and gathering pilot data for a grant proposal due to be submitted in the summer of 2017. Dr. Gunther’s research focuses on determining the characteristics of visual stimuli that activate non-cardinal color mechanisms.main_IMG_1541

Non-cardinal colors are all colors other than the cardinal colors of red, green, violet, chartreuse, black, and white. It is believed that cardinal colors are processed in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the brain while non-cardinal color processing occurs beyond the LGN in the cortex.

We studied the activation of non-cardinal color mechanisms by measuring the ability of 4 test subjects to detect a circular stimulus in varying degrees of background noise. In the lab, a computer monitor would display a striped or single color stimulus in background noise comprised of similar or different colors than the stimulus. The test subject was then tasked with identifying the side of the screen that the stimulus appeared. The goal of the experiment was to observe variations in detection thresholds between different stimuli and noise types that would be indicative of separate color mechanisms.

Although Dr. Gunther’s experiment replicated the studies of two color planes by prominent researchers in the field of color vision, it also explored non-cardinal color mechanisms in the Tritan and Luminance color plane in which no published information currently exists. Interestingly enough, the data we collected regarding striped stimuli contradicted previous findings while our results in the Tritan and Luminance color plane matched the trends predicted by previous experiments. Hopefully, Dr. Gunther will be able to acquire the necessary grant funding so that six more subjects can be tested. Ten total test subjects might not seem like a lot, but each subject spent roughly 15 hours completing the experiment.

While I was collecting data for Dr. Gunther’s experiment, I also spent a lot of time reading primary literature in the field of color vision. This summer was my first taste of color vision psychophysics, so this process was very similar to learning a new language. Over time, terms such as Gabor, dipper functions, and bandpass became commonplace, and Dr. Gunther spent countless hours helping me interpret scientific articles so that I had a greater appreciation for the experiment we were running.

In addition to learning about color vision, I read the Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research handbook by Nicholas Steneck. Dr. Gunther did an excellent job of explaining scientific ethics as we reviewed several of the hypothetical scenarios presented in the book and discussed recent findings of scientific misconduct. I learned that the Gentleman’s Rule is just as relevant to science as it is to the way one conducts himself on a daily basis.

Overall, I gained an invaluable understanding of what it means to conduct scientific research. The experience was not comparable to the way science is represented by Hollywood. There were computer crashes, MATLAB bugs, test subjects that were all too human, and data that occasionally defied logic. But that’s part of the process that comes with trying to find an answer to a question that has never been solved before. In a sense, I’m grateful to have faced a few speed bumps along the way so that I know what kind of day-to-day challenges I’ll face in the future.

I would like to thank Dr. Gunther and Wabash College Psychology Department for hosting me this summer. I would also like to thank those that helped fund this internship and had donated to Wabash on the Day of Giving;  I am planning on attending the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego this fall due to your generosity. While I’m currently unsure of my plans following graduation this spring, I know that I will continue to do scientific research in some capacity and I’m glad to have had my first research experience at Wabash College.

Summer research – King ’17

Senior Zack King ’17 spent part of his summer at Wabash, working with Dr. Ryan Rush (now of Franklin College) and junior Mason Hooper ’18. 

King Summer InternshipThis summer I was a Social Psychology Research Assistant for our Psychology department. I worked under the guidance of Professor Ryan Rush. I actually had the privilege of helping run this experiment two summers in a row. Dr. Rush’s research is on eyewitness identification and specifically on what is called the Appearance Change Instruction. This instruction essentially says that the culprit of a crime may or may not have changed their identity since the crime has occurred. The idea is that this instruction is supposed to forewarn the eyewitness of a crime that the culprit may not appear in a lineup exactly as the eyewitness remembers. Our research was to see if the instruction promotes correct choice or wrong choice for the eyewitness.
Continue reading


To support our Psychology students simply select
Psych when making your gift.

Today, let’s show that we are Wabash Proud! If you aren’t already aware, Wabash is having another important day today and it would be great for you to join me in supporting the College. 

Last year on 4.22, the Wabash nation made a lasting impact on the College by raising over $500,000 from more than 2,500 donors. This day provided phenomenal opportunities and experiences for Wabash students, inspiring a group of alumni to challenge us to do it again. 

Adam Rains ’17 presenting at the Celebration of Student Research


In Psychology, your donations last year:

  • Helped send a recent graduate, Andy Walsh ’14, to present his graduate research at a conference in Switzerland.
  • Allowed us to send Adam Rains ’17 to present the results of his summer research at a national neuroscience conference in Chicago.
  • Purchased critical research materials for Max Gallivan ’16, who has spent his senior year testing the effectiveness of new drug treatments for cognitive deficits in a rat model of diabetes.

In total, donations from last year’s Day of Giving have had an enormous impact on our current students and graduates, and we are very grateful for your support!

Today, we are focusing on all of the reasons that we are #WabashProud, for our department, we are very proud of the work that our students accomplish. This year, we are raising funds to support two current students, Carson Powell ’17 and Nigel Dao ’18, who will be completing summer research internships this year. We are hoping to raise enough funds to send both men to the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in San Diego in November, and to support other research projects and professional development of our students. We think that this will be an excellent opportunity for both Carson and Nigel, hope you will consider donating to the Special Psychology Fund today to support them and other Psychology students. 

I am asking you to show you are Wabash Proud by making a gift today. With your help, Wabash will receive over $170,000 in lead challenge gifts if 2,700 alumni, friends, and family give on 4.27. This money will be unlocked as we hit four benchmarks throughout the day. 

For every gift made to the Special Psychology Fund, the Psychology faculty will match $10 dollars up to $850!  To support Wabash and our Psychology students, when making your gift at, simply select Psych from the drop‐down menu. 

Join me in showing you are Wabash Proud today!  Support Wabash students and encourage others to do the same! 

Best wishes, and thank you again for your support, 

Neil Schmitzer-Torbert
Daniel F. Evans Associate Professor in Social Sciences
Department of Psychology, Chair

Celebration of Student Research 2016

At the 16th annual Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship and Creativity, (Friday, January 29th, from 1-4pm in Detchon International Hall), Psychology minor Adam Rains ’17 will present the results of his summer research internship with Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert on the relationship between mindfulness and how people navigate new environments. From across the college, we will also see presentations from several students from Biology, Political Science and Education Studies on topics ranging from hypothalamic neurons to turtle temperament, all of which should be of great interest to students studying psychology and/or neuroscience!

[Edit: Also, we forgot to mention that Psychology senior Max Gallivan ’16 presented on his work with Dr. Wysocki in Chemistry, on testing novel fluorophores as palladium sensors!]

Below, we’ve tried to gather a list of the presentations that are most relevant to Psychology students, but we would encourage you to try to see a bit of everything at the Celebration! If you happen to be on campus, we hope to see you at the Celebration this year, and we are very impressed with the wide range of work that our students have done over the last year!

Posters – 1-2:30PM – Detchon International Hall
#25 Adam Rains Trait Mindfulness is not associated with the Greater use of Hippocampally-Dependent Navigation Strategies
#5 Brady Boles Home Range Size and Injury Patterns as a Result of Eastern Box Turtle Temperament
#7 Zachery Campbell Regulation of Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Production by Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress and Kisspeptin: Implications for Obesity and Infertility
#19 Noah Levi Understanding the Link between Fertility-Related Gene Expression and Obesity through the Unfolded Protein Response
#19 Jared Santana The Role of JNK Signaling in ER Stress-Induced Inflammation in Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Neurons


Posters – 2:30-4PM – Detchon International Hall
#14 Max Gallivan & Chris Shrack Testing Novel Phenolic Fluorophores as Palladium Sensors at Different Concentrations
#4 Joshua Bleisch Implicit Biases: The Effects of Race, Age, Gender, and Education on Senate Confirmation Times of Federal Judges


2:10PM Detchon 220 Bilal Jawed Sertraline, Sickness, and Stigma: Conducting a Clinical Drug Trial in Uganda
2:40PM Detchon 220 Graham Redweik Protein Kinase C Mediates Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress-Induced Gene Expression in Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Neurons
3:00PM Detchon 112 Beau Green & Derek Fox How Biological Differences Contribute to Classroom Behavior: The “Achievement Gap”
3:00PM Detchon 220 Travis Flock Elevated Circulating Octopamine Increases Anti-Predator Aggression in Bark Scorpions



Celebration of Student Research 2015

At the 15th annual Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship and Creativity, (Friday, January 23rd, from 1-4pm in Detchon International Hall) there will be four posters/talks by students conducting work in psychology. Two (by Colin Downey ’15 and Charles Wu ’15) describe work conducted in summer research internships, a third (by Lu Hong ’15) describes the results of an independent study, and the fourth (by Adam Boehm ’15, Daniel Bowes ’16, Keaton Holsinger ’15, Chris Stazinski ’15, Chase Young ’16, Niki Kazahaya ’18, & Adam Rains ’17) describes preliminary analyses from data collected on an immersion trip to Montreal last November.

[Edit: the Wabash web site has a nice write-up on the Celebration, including some quotes from Lu Hong ’15, who was presenting research projects in both Psychology and Chemistry]

If you happen to be on campus, we hope to see you at the Celebration this afternoon, and we are very impressed with the wide range of work that our students have done over the last year!

Posters – 1-2:30PM – Detchon International Hall
#3 Adam Boehm, Daniel Bowes, Keaton Holsinger, Chris Stazinski, Chase Young, Niki Kazahaya, & Adam Rains Differences in brain activations during memory-guided and GPS-guided wayfinding in a virtual city
#9 Colin Downey Non-cardinal color mechanisms: Stimulus size matters
#17 Lu Hong Assessing navigation performance in virtual environments on mobile devices


2:10PM Detchon 111 Yunan Wu How do children learn to access the unsaid?


Summer research – Downey ’15

Colin Downey ’15 prepares for a presentation at mGluRs on his summer research. Photo by Dr. Z.

Colin Downey ’15 spent the summer of 2014 doing research at Wabash, and you can read about his experience below:

This summer I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Karen Gunther, PhD, on a color vision study at Wabash College. Our goal was to observe the effect of stimulus size on non-cardinal color mechanisms. We tested individual subjects, including ourselves, in visual search on a computer screen specifically tuned for visual testing. I was the one conducting the experiment on individuals and in the meantime, reading published articles that I was interpreting so that I could use them in my introduction for our paper that we will be working on throughout the 2014-2015 school year. The final goal of the project is for it to be published in a scholarly journal, and for such an experiment to be published, you need significant results, which we have. Our experiment tested the three different planes of color vision, which are red-green/blue-yellow, red-green/black-white (Luminance), and blue-yellow/Luminance. By testing the different color axes, we can combine them to see the difference in how subjects performed within each plane. In addition, our non-cardinal colors were tested as well, which were orange-turquoise and purple/lime. We manipulated the stimulus size from 0.5 – 3 degrees, to see how well subjects performed when testing their cardinal and non-cardinal colors within visual search. The significant results were shown by a main effect in dot size and color axes for the RG/BY, RG/LUM, and BY/LUM, by which we have started a pilot study with smaller dot sizes to see if we can attain results that will further validate our experiment.

Working over the summer at Wabash really helped prepare me for my senior project. Every year a psychology major has to choose a senior capstone, which is an experiment that they conduct and interpret on their own throughout the entire year. This summer project helped me get ahead on my capstone, by acquiring solid data, immersing myself in the articles and “language” of color vision, and taking this experiment to the next level by choosing it as a capstone project. Dr. Gunther and I also worked on drafts of my abstract and introduction of the final paper, which further put me ahead for my senior year. Being involved with research at Wabash College allows the student to be immersed in the field that they choose to study and learn with their professors as colleagues, instead of their students. In addition, summer research gives you opportunities to present your experiments elsewhere, for example, Dr. Gunther and I attended the Optical Society Vision Conference held in Philadelphia, PA at the University of Pennsylvania in October to present our research to a scientific audience specifically within color vision.

Finally, I am also planning on applying to graduate school for neuroscience, and I think that a research internship like the one I participated in will help me get to the next level, especially if our work is published at the end of the year. It was, and is, an awesome opportunity to work for Wabash College for anyone who thinks that they may want to pursue psychology, neuroscience, sensation & perception, cognition, or whatever it may be. Having the opportunity to be around professors everyday and learn from them while it was not the school year, was a humbling and exciting experience that I won’t forget. Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Gunther for giving me the opportunity for this research position and pushing me to be the best writer, scientist, and student that I can be.

A summer (of research) at Stanford – Wu ’15

Wu ’15 presenting work from his previous summer internship at Harvard in 2013

This summer I worked as a research intern at the Language and Cognition lab at Stanford University, where my job was not only data collection, participant recruitment and data analysis, but I also contributed my ideas to the study design and thought about how our study would fit in the bigger picture of research in the particular area. During the internship, I met fellow interns who are extremely brilliant psychologists, linguists and computer scientists hailing from distinct areas of the country and had excellent discussions with them at our weekly seminars. I was able to learn about curiously interesting ideas and perspectives as well as develop friendship with my peers who have similar goals and dreams in the future—to understand language as a cognitive system and more broadly, how the human mind processes and manipulates languages that are inherently symbolic to achieve concrete communicational and social goals.

My project this summer is mainly exploring children’s understanding of pragmatic inferences, in other words, their ability to “read between the lines”. Specifically, we are trying to understand whether children are able to process implicatures given a certain context and if not, what could improve their performance. Pragmatic inferences are ubiquitous in our daily life. For example, if A says : “Is John good-looking?” B answers: “Well, he has a good personality”. In this case, B is not just commenting on the personality of John, but also implying his answer to A’s question—which is very likely a negative one. So a pragmatic inference is when the meaning of a sentence goes beyond its literal sense. We, as speakers, follow certain rules, as summarized by Paul Grice. One of these rules is that one’s speech has to be informative but economic. As adults, we are proficient in dealing with these inferences, whereas children are found to be not as good. However, they are shown to be somewhat sensitive to which sentences are informative and which ones are not. So my mentors designed this experiment to assess children’s real-time processing of implicatures, where children are shown two plates—one has a banana, and the other has a banana and a carrot. If a sentence says: “Elmo’s plate has a banana”, children are expected to look at the plate that only has a banana more than the other one if they understand the speaker’s intentions, like the adults would. And it turns out that children younger than 4 are still not inferring the speaker’s intention. So we added a prosodic cue, which is a contrastive stress on the word “banana”, so the sentence becomes “Elmo’s plate has a BANANA”. We hypothesized that children should be able to pick up the speech cue to help them disambiguate the referent. As of now we only have preliminary data for the study, and they look very promising. I’m hoping to collect more data by the end of this year and see whether our hypothesis can be validated.

In terms of research methodology, the program is very computationally oriented so the interns are taught various extremely useful skills including programming languages like R, Javascript and HTML, experience with version control and code-sharing, and building mathematical models to simulate cognitive processes of language. The interdisciplinary nature and connection with cutting-edge technology really opened my eyes to a whole new world of conducting research and gave me fresh perspectives in the field of psychology.

If anyone is interested in the area of psycholinguistics, I strongly suggest they apply for a research position in the lab and explore what they can offer. For psychology research in general, I passionately encourage my fellow Wabash students to search for resources online in their area of interest and exploit them as best as they can for unique opportunities that could benefit their future career.

-Charles Wu ’15

4/30 results

Wabash College’s first Day of Giving in April was a great success, raising over $460,000 in a single day. As part of the Day of Giving, the Psychology Department created an “Affinity Challenge” to raise money to support student research by Wabash students (through the Special Psychology Fund).

We created the Special Psychology Fund last year, to help us support a wide variety of student research activities. Currently, the Psychology Department has one endowed fund, which supports a student internship each summer (the Parks Research Internship, which honors Professor Eldon Parks). But, we do not have other endowed funds to support student research (outside of our annual departmental budget).

On the Day of Giving, our Affinity Challenge did not start until the afternoon, but even so we received 17 donations, for a total of more than $400. Next to the total for the day (>400k), this would seem to be a modest amount! But, it is important to note that before 4/30, only one person (a Psychology faculty member) had made a donation to the Special Psychology Fund, so this was a dramatic improvement! And, we were impressed with the diversity of donors, who included alumni, current students, faculty (in Psychology and other departments) and friends of the College.

Brad Wise ’14 presenting his senior capstone work at the Psychology Research Symposium

With the funds that we have received so far, we will be able to send a recent Wabash graduate (Brad Wise, ’14) to attend a national research conference in D.C this fall, to present on work that he did for his senior capstone research project with Dr. Aubele-Futch.

Over the next few years, we are hoping to grow the contributions to the Special Psychology Fund, to continue to support our research with Wabash students, and to provide them with more opportunities to conduct and present excellent work.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the College, whether on 4/30 or any time. We appreciate your support for the work that we do with Wabash students. If you are considering making a donation to Wabash, you can earmark part of your gift for our psychology students by directing your donation to the Special Psychology Fund.