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Oak Leaves

February 23, 2018

Psychology (1)


From left to right: Taylor Crisman, Dr. David Johnson and Leah Smith. Both Crisman and Smith received undergraduate awards of $1500 from Psi Chi. An additional $4500 was awarded to the two students to further their research. Johnson also received a faculty advisor award.



Crisman, Smith Rewarded for Psychology Research 


Kaity Collins 

Two undergraduates in the psychology department's Cognition and Emotion Lab experienced what it feels like to be winners. Seniors Leah Smith and Taylor Crisman, together with Dr. David Johnson, assistant professor of psychology, organized an experiment on emotional fear learning that earned them financial awards to continue their work.

Both Smith and Crisman received undergraduate research awards of $1500 from Psi Chi to defray the cost of conducting research, awards given to only 39% of applicants. Further, Crisman's application placed in the top 11 of all those received, garnering Johnson a faculty advisor award of $1500 as well.

A $4500 total was awarded to extend Smith and Crisman’s data by helping them speed up the research process and allowing them to recruit research subjects from outside the Intro to Psychology classes to which they are restricted without additional funds. “With the grant money, we can recruit from a wider pool of students and potentially pull in participants from outside the MU community, providing us with a more diverse sample," Smith said.

Johnson agrees that the grants will benefit their research. “We’re very grateful that Psi Chi provides these funds to student researchers," he said. “The grants will certainly help move the projects along more quickly.”

Smith, Crisman and Johnson described their research in as much detail as confidentiality would allow, being careful not to disrupt any of the data by revealing too much information. “We’re studying factors that impact fear learning and regulation,” Johnson said. “The primary goal of this research is to contribute to the effort to better diagnose and treat anxiety disorders.”

And it builds on previous work. “Last year, we did a study on how different emotional states impact learning," Crisman said. "This year, we’re doing a study on reconsolidation update effect, which is basically when you learn something and later change the remembrance of it by interfering with the memory.”

Smith added: “We track participants' learning and memory by measuring their sweat responses to various stimuli.”

Significant time and effort goes into carrying out this research. “We started working on these two studies last September,” Johnson said. “And we’ll probably be collecting data through the end of the year.”

Smith and Taylor are not working on these projects alone (students Jiwoo Park and Abby McVay are also involved).  "Each study will require testing upwards of 100 participants," Johnson said. "Each participant takes about 4 hours of lab time and 2–3 hours for data analysis. Then there’s recruitment, scheduling, programming the experiments and lots of other little tasks that need to be completed. All in all, these two studies will represent hundreds of hours of labor when done."

The team has big plans in store for their research. Both Smith and Crisman are hoping to get their studies published after graduation, and Crisman added that she plans to use her research for her honors thesis. “We plan to present at the Chicago hosted MPA in April,” Johnson said. “Manchester will also hold the Student Research Symposium on April 27.”

Johnson elaborated on how important their teamwork was in conducting their study: “Experimental science is very collaborative; we all work together,” he said.

Crisman and Smith are still conducting their own research, but are proud of their achievements thus far. "Our research has the potential to help improve cognitive behavioral therapy methods for individuals experiencing stress and anxiety disorders," Crisman said. "Additionally, our data have been used in grant applications that have the capability to help the lab continue to grow and open doors for future student researchers here.”