Research Teams – PSYC 491 and 492

Professors start recruiting students for their research teams during the spring semester. They present their research ideas at the “Dog-n-Pony” show, and if you find a professor whose research interests match your own, you may ask to be a part of that professor’s research team.

Research begins starting the next semester. During the fall semester (PSYC 491), students usually complete background reading on the topic of the research and begin to plan the experiment. The spring semester (PSYC 492) usually consists of actual data collection and analysis, as well as preparing to present the results at two conferences: one hosted by the Virginia Psychological Association and another hosted by UMW’s Department of Psychological Science. At the end of the year, students write up their research findings in a formal, APA-style paper.

Both PSYC 491 and 492 are 3 credits each. Prerequisites include PSYC 261 – Introductory Statistics for Psychology, PSYC 360 – Advanced Statistics for Psychology, PSYC 362 – Research Methods for Psychology, and permission of instructor. A maximum of 6 credits in PSYC 490, 491, and 492 combined can count toward the major program.

This Year’s Research Team Topics:

Dr. Dave Kolar

Human actions are causing harmful changes to the environment and researchers have called for social scientists to more closely examine how human behavior impacts the environment as well as what people can do to help conserve the environment. Next year my research team will focus on how we can take what we know about psychology and apply it to issues related to the environment. In previous years my research teams have studied a variety of things related to the environment including food waste, water use, and attitudes about the environment. I am open to doing research in any area related to environmental issues and psychology next year and will leave the exact nature of the research up to the students working with me. Please note that you don’t have to be an expert on environmental issues to be on my team, but you should be interested in them. Some possible questions/areas include: 1) Overconsumption: People in the U.S. buy more products and consume more resources that most other countries. Why? What can we do to change this? 2) Why are some people more concerned about the environment than others? 3) How can we change behaviors related to the environment? 4) How do attitudes about the environment develop? 5) How do others influence our attitudes about the environment? 6) An applied study with a local non-profit environmental organization.

Dr. Miriam Liss

My research team will give students a unique opportunity to do community engaged research. Riverview Elementary School is going to implement a mindfulness curriculum (Mindful Schools) to their entire first grade (5 classes). Ann Bernardi, the social worker at Riverview, and Lisa Dolan, the head social worker of Spotsylvania County Public schools, have been working with me on a plan to have my research team help implement and evaluate the curriculum. Each student on my team (I am looking for five students) will be paired with a 1st grade teacher. They will be trained on the Mindful Schools curriculum by Ann Bernardi. They will go into the schools each week to implement the curriculum and collect data. There will also be a larger data collection at the beginning of the semester, in December and when the program is over in the Spring. The timing of going into the schools will be worked out based on the students’ schedule in collaboration with their specific teacher. However, students on my team must be able to commit to going to Riverview Elementary School (about 15 minutes from campus) once a week for most of the academic year. The Mindfulness program itself only takes about 15-20 minute a week but there will be some additional time needed to collect the data.

This is a project that is a great opportunity for students who want to develop both research and clinical skills. However, because this is a project that needs school board approval (which is currently pending), the project has already been designed and the UMW IRB has already been submitted and approved. Therefore, I am hoping that my research team will also have the opportunity to develop another research idea on their own (likely a survey based project using the UMW subject pool) within the area of mindfulness. Thus, students on my team will both gain clinical experience and have the opportunity to design a project of their choice.

Dr. Christine McBride

In the past, students on my research teams have explored several mechanisms involved in stress-related eating. They have studied attentional focus on food using the eye-tracker, the roles of guilt and mindfulness in stress-induced eating, the types of stressors (e.g. cognitive or social) that elicit eating behavior, and how descriptive norms impact eating. One of my previous research teams studied how and why people justify decisions to eat “junk food”. For example, have you ever said to yourself, “If I study for 10 more minutes, I can go have some ice cream!” We found that those who put effort into a task tend to indulge on more potato chips and chocolate than those who do not put in effort. Generally, I anticipate using both survey research and creative laboratory designs to answer research questions about eating behaviors.

While my research team will work in the general area of eating behavior, the exact nature of next year’s topic will depend on the specific interests of the students. I’m looking for students who are extremely reliable, inquisitive, and love research!

Dr. W. Dave Stahlman

The purpose of this research team is to conduct original, non-invasive experimental work investigating learning and behavioral mechanisms in non-human animals. This work can include the use of laboratory rats, terrestrial hermit crabs, or potentially other model species to investigate the content of learning and its impact on performance. There is a great deal of flexibility in the types of phenomena the team could potentially examine. In the past, Dr. Stahlman’s undergraduate research teams have collaborated on experiments investigating both attention and distraction; personality; non-associative learning; caffeine’s impact on spatial learning; and the role of expectancies on creativity and behavioral variability.Students will be required to assist in experimental design, the construction of apparatuses, and will be intimately involved in data collection and analysis

To view Student Co-Authored Papers (2016-present), please click here.


To view Student Presentations at Regional and National Conferences (2016-present), please click here.