Summer research – Kazahaya ’18

Senior Niki Kazahaya ’18  and Junior Neil Dittmann ’19 spent part of their summer conducting research with Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert, and the research expenses for his project with humans was supported by donations from the 2017 Day of Giving:

After completing an independent research project with Professor Schmitzer-Torbert during my freshman year, I was excited to intern again in his laboratory this summer. Working alongside fellow psychology major, Neil Dittmann ’19, we completed two projects that examined learning and memory in both a human and animal model. More specifically, we looked at the relationship between mindfulness, stress, and hippocampus-dependent navigation strategies in an online human sample. In the animal model, we examined spatial and stimulus-response strategies in rats navigating a maze.

While animals and humans can exhibit different forms of navigation, two techniques tend to be the most prevalent, stimulus-response and place strategies. In a stimulus-response, or simply response, strategy, animals learn to display a certain behavior as a reaction to a particular stimulus. Greater activity in the caudate nucleus of the brain has been found to be associated with acquisition of response strategies (Packard, Hirsh, & White, 1989; Packard & McGaugh, 1996). On the other hand, place strategy is when animals can learn the location of a particular object using spatial cues. Several studies have found that the hippocampus is a necessary component for the development of place learning (Chang & Gold, 2003; O’Keefe & Conway, 1980; Packard & McGaugh, 1996).

In the human study, our primary focus was to examine the relationship between mindfulness and hippocampus-dependent, or place, strategies. Mindfulness is described as one’s ability to be conscious of his/her surroundings without being overly reactive or judgmental of the present moment. Because mindfulness and volume of the hippocampus tend to be positively related (Lu, Song, Xu, Wang, Li, & Liu, 2014), we predicted that participants with greater mindfulness were more likely to use a place strategy when navigating a virtual environment. Previous research has also found that mindfulness and stress tend to be negatively correlated. As a result, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques have gained considerable attention as an effective method to combat stress and anxiety. A second objective of our research was to determine if an MBSR intervention in a high-stress sample of adults could lead to the adoption of more place strategies.

To test our hypotheses, we recruited young and middle-aged participants through Amazon Mechanical Turk to complete a virtual eight-arm radial-maze, which can be solved using either response or spatial strategies. After the virtual maze task, participants filled out a survey about how they navigated through the environment. Neil and I were responsible for reading these surveys and determining if participants were relying on a spatial or response strategy, and then testing if adults reporting high-stress and low-mindfulness were less likely to use a spatial strategy.

During the other half of the internship, Neil and I continued on a research project from our PSY-233 Behavioral Neuroscience class. A previous study by Packard and McGaugh (1996) examined spatial and place strategies by training rats to obtain a food reward in a plus-shaped maze. With one arm closed off to form a T-shaped maze, rats were trained to find food placed in one arm of the T. During the training phase, the rat began and retrieved food from the same locations. On a probe trial, rats were placed in arm opposite to the starting location. If the rat could accurately locate the reward, it was demonstrating a place strategy. Conversely, if the rat turned in the same direction as it did in the training phase, it was navigating via a response strategy.

However, the experimental paradigm used in Packard and McGaugh (1996) may be limited. When conducting a probe trial in a plus-shaped maze, it is difficult to confirm that animals are relying specifically on either a place or response strategy, as any choice made by the animal, even a random search, counts as a strategy. When approaching the food reward, rats were only able to turn in two directions. As a result, the rats have no other choice than to exhibit either a response or place strategy.

To address this issue, we conducted a study similar to that of Packard and McGaugh (1996). However, we introduced a new form of the maze design that included other areas where the rat could travel during a probe trial, using a symmetrical maze with four starting locations and four goal locations. Most of our work this summer involved testing normal rats and two rats with hippocampal damage on this new maze, and Neil and I were responsible for training the rats, recording the training sessions, and tracking their paths on a Matlab program designed by Professor Schmitzer-Torbert.

This summer has been an incredibly rewarding and formative experience. I especially enjoyed the breadth and range of topics we covered. While our internship was divided into two main projects, we touched on many other areas, such as computer game design, ethical treatment of animals, coding in Matlab, and reading/writing scientific literature. However, the best aspect of our internship was the ability to work extremely closely with an expert like Professor Schmitzer-Torbert. While Neil and I have had previous classes with Professor Schmitzer-Torbert, the internship allowed for much closer collaboration and mentorship with our professor.

I would like to thank the Wabash College Psychology Department, Professor Schmitzer-Torbert, and Neil Dittmann ’19. I am also extremely grateful to all the donors from the Wabash College Day of Giving on April 19th. Because of your contributions, Professor Schmitzer-Torbert, Neil, and I will be able to present our research Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting and continue our work in the fall semester.

Alumni Updates – 2017-18

Below are a a collection of the alumni updates received during the 2017-2018 academic year. Do you have an update to share? If so, please let Neil Schmitzer-Torbert know (torbertn AT wabash.edu) and we’ll add it to our Facebook page and this blog post!

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

Brad Wise ’14 will be starting work on his master’s degree this fall in Cornell Tech’sConnective Media program. Connective Media is focused on the study of information science and systems with the goal of understanding how people interact with technology and how people interact with each other through technology. In addition to understanding these interactions, the program also aims to help students learn how to create intuitive and intelligent systems for people, using human centered design approaches and implementing studies in computer science and psychology to facilitate those new technologies.

Dan Bowes ’16 presents his senior capstone project at the 2016 Psychology Research Symposium

Dan Bowes ’16 is working on his Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling through Northwestern University, while completing his practicum at an Ada S. McKinley Behavioral Health Center in Chicago. As part of his masters, Dan is currently working with Dr. Eric Beeson to conduct a study of how a student’s sense of community is related to how well they do academically, emotionally, and socially, with a focus on online education. In a second project, Dan is also helping with a literature review about different therapeutic breathing techniques from different cultures and their effects on mental health from a self-reported and neurological context.

Big Bash 2017 – Class updates

Class of 2002 – 15th year reunion

Allen Clingler ’02 – After graduating Wabash in 2002, I matriculated to Masters of Applied Psychology program at Montana State University. While I loved living the mountains (Bozeman, MT), I quickly realized that this particular program wasn’t the best fit for my long-term interests. I left Montana State at the end of my first year and moved back to Indiana. Needing a job, I accepted a position in the management training program at Enterprise Leasing. After about 2 years at Enterprise, I was recruited by Chase Bank and have since worked in financial services. I managed a Chase branch on the Northeast side of Indianapolis for about 4 years and moved to a regional bank for 2 years to obtain credit training and underwriting experience and obtain greater career mobility. In the fall of 2011, a position with JPMorgan’s Private Bank brought me to Chicago. Today I live in downtown Chicago and work as a Vice President/Private Banker with Northern Trust. Colleagues sometimes comment that psychology was an interesting path to banking but the critical thinking and analytical skills of my undergrad studies are definitely relevant. I will complete my MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in June of 2017 and hope to move into a position more focused on product strategy and innovation. I was a French minor at Wabash and try to maintain my language skills. I began studying Croatian (my maternal grandmother’s native language) in 2015 and try to visit Europe 1-2 times a year to not forgot French and Croatian!

Class of 2007 – 10th year reunion

Benjamin Cunningham ’07 – I am currently working as a school psychologist with Fort Wayne Community Schools. My main responsibility is to conduct comprehensive psychological and education evaluations to help determine eligibility for special education services. I then work with school staff to help develop individual service plans to help support students. I also spend majority of my time working closely with principles and other specialists to help support students with significant emotional and behavior problems. I have also done some additional work serving as a consultant for a company that completes psychological evaluations for the Bureau of Developmental Disabilities and Vocational Rehab Services for the state of Indiana (Family and Social Services Administration). I started graduate school at Valparaiso University upon graduation from Wabash. My graduate program consisted of classes in education, advanced psychology, and counseling.

Simon Hoehn ’07 – Since graduation, I attended Washington University in St Louis where I attained a Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy. Upon graduation, I moved to Louisville, KY and I took a position as the Director of Rehab for Acute Injury Facility. Along with my physical therapy work, I have been working with small business owners and healthcare providers to develop leadership, management, and coaching strategies to provide transformational culture changes within the workplace. I am also part of a startup company that will provide educational opportunities for practitioners across the country.  Aside from my career, I am most proud of my beautiful wife of nearly 5 years and my amazing 1 year old daughter. They are the light of my life!

 

Big Bash 2017

Will you be in Crawfordsville for Big Bash this year? If so, please stop by the Psychology Department’s reception for Psychology majors and minors, from 2-3pm on Saturday, June 3rd, in Baxter 312!

Several Wabash faculty and some current students will be attending, and are looking to catch up with alumni and learn more about your path since graduation!

#OneWabash

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

Today we are #OneWabash! 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.

Nigel Dao ’18 presenting at the 2016 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in San Diego

Let’s show our strength as #OneWabash by making a gift today. With your help, Wabash will reach important benchmarks that will enable us to leverage $400,000 in lead challenge gifts. Our goal is to receive 3,419 gifts on 4.19. Doing so will have a lasting impact on our College.

In Psychology, the donations we received last year let us send two students, Nigel Dao ’18 and Carson Powell ’17, to San Diego in November to the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting. Both Nigel and Carson presented in a poster session, describing the results of their summer research projects (done with Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert and Dr. Gunther, respectively). This was a great experience for both students, who are interested in careers in medicine and neuroscience research, and it would not have been possible without your help!

Today, we are raising funds to support four more students who will be conducting research this summer: Kirby Cox ’18, Alexiz Arellano ’18, Niki Kazahaya ’18 and Neil Dittmann ’19. Each student has received a paid internship position, and will be supported by Wabash College. However, the students are planning research projects that will require additional funds to be successful: Kirby and Alexiz will travel with Dr. Olofson to Ohio this summer to work at the Ohio State University, while Niki and Neil will be working with Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert to test the relationship between mindfulness and memory in a large online sample. Funds raised today will cover travel expenses and participant reimbursement costs for these projects, which will be critical for these young men to complete their summer research. We think that this will be an excellent opportunity for our students, hope you will consider donating to the Special Psychology Fund today to support them and other Psychology students.

And, 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 www.wabash.edu/419, simply select Psych from the drop‐down menu.

Join us as #OneWabash! 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

Psychology Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WabashPsych

Celebration of Student Research 2017

Nigel Dao ’18 presenting at the 2016 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in San Diego

At the 17th annual Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship and Creativity, (Friday, January 27th, from 1-4pm in Detchon International Hall), Psychology major Nigel Dao ’18 and minor Carson Powell ’17 will present the results of their summer research projects with Drs. Schmitzer-Torbert and Gunther, respectively. Students from Psychology 202 (Christopher Wilson, Tung Bui, Zack Havlin, Neil Dittman, Luke Rowles and Kaleb Hobgood) will present on the results of their research on the relationship between trait mindfulness and mental health, false memory and creative problem solving. From across the college, we will also see presentations from several students from Biology, Chemistry and Theater on topics ranging from hypothalamic neurons to turtle temperament, all of which should be of great interest to students studying psychology and/or neuroscience!

Below, we’ve tried to gather a list of the presentations that are most relevant to Psychology students and students interested in Neuroscience, 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 Carson Powell Full-field vs. Grating Stimuli to Reveal Non-Cardinal Colors
#27 William Robinson Coloration and Box Turtle Boldness
#31 Christopher Wilson Mindfulness and Cognitive Skills: How Facets of Mindfulness Relate to Insight Problem Solving and other Cognitive Abilities
Posters – 2:30-4PM – Detchon International Hall
#2 Tung Bui, Kaleb Hobgood & Neil Dittmann The Relationship between Trait Mindfulness, Specific Cognitive Skills and Health Outcomes: Mediation by Decentering
#6 Nigel Dao Online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and the use of Hippocampal-Dependent Spatial Navigation
#14 Zack Havlin & Luke Rowles Trait Mindfulness and Cognition: Relationship to False Memory
#26 Andrew Puente The Effect of Polyunsaturation on Transmembrane Protein Interactions

Talks

1:30PM Detchon 112 Bilal Jawed Representations of Mental Illness in the Works of Horacio Quiroga
1:30PM Detchon 209 Zachery Anderson Analyzing the Relationship between Theater and Autism Spectrum Disorder
2:10PM Detchon 111 Noah Levi Understanding the Link between Obesity and Infertility: Palmitic Acid as an Inducer of Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in Hypothalamic Neurons
3:00PM Detchon 111 Free Kashon Ecological Correlates of Variation in Boldness in a Box Turtle Population

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.
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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.
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