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.

2021-2022 Research Team Topics:


A picture of Dr. Marcus Leppanen

Dr. Marcus Leppanen

Students who wish to work with me on my research team should have an interest in cognitive psychology and trying to better understand how people think.  While my research spans multiple areas within cognitive psychology, the content of our exact project will be driven by student interests.  My main research focus is on human memory and the factors that influence our ability to remember that we have already remembered something in the past so we can avoid repeating ourselves.  Additionally, I conduct research on the relationships between preferred hand usage and various aspects of cognition, between personality traits and attentional control, and between our self-representation and the ability to remember information.  The scope and direction of our project will be directly related to whether or not in-person data collection resumes on campus but will either involve behavioral data collection in the laboratory or online survey response collection.


A picture of Dr. Christine McBride

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 in more potato chips and chocolate than those who do not put in the 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.  For example, this year my team is studying how simple changes in menu design might lead to more healthy food choices. I’m looking for students who are extremely reliable, inquisitive, and love research!


A picture of Dr. Erin Palmwood

Dr. Erin Palmwood

My research examines different aspects of romantic relationship functioning in order to determine what factors contribute to relationship success and relationship distress.  In the past, I have worked with students to conduct studies examining (1) inhibitory control problems as a predictor of engagement in infidelity, (2) the role of emotion regulation in promoting relationship resilience following partner betrayal, (3) the link between positive relationship characteristics and attention allocated to partners, and (4) the impact of unsupportive partner behaviors on reactivity to making mistakes in front of one’s partner.  I typically use electroencephalography (EEG) to examine these phenomena (e.g., inhibitory control, emotion regulation, attention allocation, reactivity to mistakes) at the neural level, and I hope to do this with my research team next year.  However, the particular study that my team conducts will be determined by student interests and relevant COVID restrictions.  Familiarity with brain research is not necessary to join my team!  I particularly enjoy working with students who are highly organized, conscientious, and excited about research.


A picture of Dr. David Rettinger

Dr. David Rettinger

Why do students cheat, and what can we do about it?  Academic misconduct has many causes, and just because a person violates the rules, that doesn’t make them a “cheater.” My research has examined a lot of questions about academic integrity including:

·         Situations that lead to cheating

·         Beliefs and attitudes that lead to cheating

·         Why students won’t “snitch”

·         Things that can be done by schools, professors, and students to prevent cheating.

·         Effects of racism on perceptions of academic misconduct

·         The importance (if any) of honor codes

This year’s research team will take up one or more of these questions with a focus on educational psychology concepts like motivation, classroom culture and assessment. We’ll dive into the previous research, especially new articles published within the past few years, design an experiment or intervention, and collect data to either test hypotheses or demonstrate the effectiveness of the intervention.

I’m looking for students with a passion for their education, an interest in research and statistics, and a desire to make school a more engaging place for everyone.  If that sounds like you, I hope you’ll consider joining Team Integrity!


A picture of Dr. W. David Stahlman

Dr. W. David Stahlman

In the past, Dr. Stahlman’s undergraduate research teams have worked on experiments investigating a myriad of behavioral phenomena, including attention and distraction; personality; non-associative learning; pharmacological effects on learning; the role of reinforcement for the production of creativity and behavioral variability; and recently, the control of verbal behavior in humans. The team will conduct original, novel, non-invasive experimental work investigating learning and behavior in non-human animals; this may include the use of laboratory rats and perhaps other model species. There is a great deal of flexibility in the types of phenomena the team could potentially study. Students will collaborate on all aspects of the research process, including experimental design, the construction of apparatuses, and data collection and analysis. Along the way, students will gain an appreciation for behaviorism as a powerful lens through which to view all phenomena in psychological science.


A picture of Dr. Laura Wilson

Dr. Laura Wilson

#metoo started a conversation about how widespread sexual assault and harassment are. The scientific data are consistent with this social media movement and suggest that 1 in 5 American women and 1 in 33 American men have experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. These numbers are even higher among individuals who identify as transgender or gender non-binary. In the field of psychological science, there has been a recent push to better understand how to best support survivors. The focus of this research team will be to study sexual violence in some capacity. Beyond that, I don’t have a specific research agenda in mind and we will pick research questions as a group. One potential avenue could be to examine how media messages contribute to the perpetuation of stigma and negative reactions towards survivors. A second potential focus could be on how survivors conceptualize their own assault experiences. But, I’m open to any ideas and suggestions. Please keep in mind that we will often discuss difficult topics on my team and therefore this team is not a good fit for everyone. Please reach out to me if you have questions or want to discuss my team before signing up.