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Undergraduate Research at TMCC Studies Emotions

Posted: May 16, 2014

Picture of Psychology Students

Stephanie Taverna explains her team's research findings about the influence of musical genre preference on romantic relationships at the formal project presentations on May 13.

Teams of TMCC students worked for a large part of their Spring semester researching specific psychological topics, and preparing for the presentation of their own study results on Tuesday, May 13, to guests and observers who quizzed the teams on some of their intriguing findings.

Six study teams of three to four students each presented their work at project stations in Sierra Building room 103. Posters represented a descriptive and illustrative part of each project.

“It is a scientific poster session; posters with official size 48 inches wide by 36 inches high, and the parts that are required to be on the poster are: the research project's title and authors, an introduction, methods, results with illustrating graphs and/or tables, discussion and literature,” said Dr. Paula Frioli Peters, Psychology 275 Instructor.

One of the team’s formal posters showed five evocative photos for which they measured how strongly female and male study participants rated their emotional response. Participants viewed projected photos for seven seconds each with and without a description, indicated one of four emotions they felt and rated the strength of their response from one to five, with five being the most intense reaction.

An important and unexpected result emerged that was stunning for the team.

“Males were more likely to rate anger for a photo of a large knife, and women would rate it more for fear … with a 99% significance.” said Samantha Noose, student researcher.

The researchers are students enrolled in the capstone Psychology 275 course

Psychology 275 is the capstone class for students working toward the Associate of Arts – Psychology Emphasis degree. It is the final class of the four major emphases classes which cover statistical and research methods, abnormal psychology and involve conducting undergraduate research.

Dr. Peters helped the teams choose a research topic that was not too complex and was achievable in a six-month data-gathering window.

The teams looked at options and then decided on which topics for which they sought approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Dr. Armida Fruzzetti, Dean of Liberal Arts, represents the IRB at TMCC and approves class projects, Peters said.

One of the approved projects concerned the effects of environment on memory, with music as the environmental factor under study. The team separated study participants into three groups of 30.

The control group watched slides of 24 different words in a quiet room and then were asked to recall the words. One group performed the same task while listening to classical music, and the final group worked while listening to heavy metal. Each group recalled an average of about ten words, but the team found a surprising difference in the amount of incorrect words that participants would list; words that were not in the original 24.

“Metal had an effect on how many words were remembered incorrectly,” said Darren Whitlock. “Classical music had a significant difference in that after listening to the classical music, they wrote fewer wrong words that weren’t on the list.”

Experiments involve systematic steps

After their hypothesis was written, students needed to take steps that led to effective and valid data gathering. They were required to read 10 or more peer-reviewed articles and form a design for their research. Students developed an informed consent form that was signed by each study participant. Each student also worked independently from the group to write their own annotated research paper in American Psychological Association (APA) form.

Two teams used software to render the pictures shown to participants identical except for one element, such as changed hair color in one team’s study, and a different shirt color in another team’s experiment.

Participants in the first study were asked to “Rate each picture on how likely you would be willing to be their friend,” in response to viewing 30 pictures of similar-looking women with different hair colors; blonde, brunette, red and black hair.

“We found that black hair was the preferred color, with brunettes close after,” said Veronica Villanueva.

“Our results did indicate that hair color has a significant effect on the attractiveness of a female that a person would pick for a friend,” said Sarah Verness.

In the second experiment, student researchers studied 76 participants who viewed five exemplar pictures of females, some of whom were identical except for the color of their shirt; red or blue. There were 11 distracters, totaling 21 slides. Participants viewed the images and were asked, “How pleasant did this image make you feel?” They rated the pictures from 1 to 7 in the amount of pleasantness felt.

“We thought, based on previous research studies, that men would prefer a woman in red clothing and think of her as more attractive,” but in our sample we found no significant difference between color of clothing and attraction,” said Starla Arthur.

The student research teams needed to find enough participants to make a study effective

“All participants must be TMCC students over the age of 18, who volunteer for the study,” said Peters. “Each project needs to have at least 60 or more participants to conduct proper statistical analysis.”

The minimum number of participants is effective for a research design with a control group and an experimental group tested for specific objectives. If there is more than one question under study, then more participants are needed to conduct proper statistical analysis. To recruit volunteers, fliers are circulated on campus and the need for volunteers is also announced in other classes.

Some interesting topics have and are being studied

In a study about sympathy and gender, 51 female and 21 male participants were asked in the first question of a questionnaire about their sympathetic feelings upon viewing a picture of a neglected dog. Subsequent survey questions asked about specific actions that the participant would consider after viewing the image, such as volunteering to work at a shelter.

“Females did show more sympathy, but they did not show the same intensity toward the action statements,” said Brandon Dickson.

Another student continued explaining their team’s results.

“Men had less sympathy, but showed greater response to the action statements,” said Francis Lorenzo.

Researchers are bound to a set of ethical obligations

“When scientists work with human subjects, there are ethical requirements such as possessing a knowledge of how to approach and speak with participants (an experimental script), providing an informed consent form that participants will sign,” Peters said. “Students will also debrief the participant after data is gathered and inform them of the underlying purpose of the study.”

One of the teams found that their focus of study changed through the process of the research design. The team administered more than 200 two-page, seven-minute written surveys asking about the participant’s music genre favorites, and the types of music preferred by their significant other. There were about 23 genres listed from which to choose.

The team found no significant correlation for the genre question, but stumbled upon an interesting side note after analyzing the 166 surveys that went into their statistical findings. The mode length of relationship was reported to be 13-24 months together, which was a longer average length of a romantic partnership than the team expected.

More information on the Psychology classes at TMCC can be found on the Social Sciences department Web pages.



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