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 “Research Recruitment Showcase”, 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.

2022-2023 Research Team Topics:


A picture of Dr. Marcus Leppanen

Dr. Marcus Leppanen

Students interested in being on my research team should have a broad interest in cognitive psychology. In general, my research tends to focus on individual differences in the accuracy of human memory. This year I plan on conducting a memory study using eye tracking methodology. Additional variables of interest and other aspects of the methodology will be in line with student interests. Additionally, students on my research team will have the opportunity to work on a project with me during the inaugural Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Summer Institute (AHSSSI) during the first summer session. AHSSSI runs from May 16th until June 14th, 2022. Acceptance into the AHSSSI program includes a $1,500 stipend, housing on campus, and access to a meal plan. This is an in-person program and you are expected to be in Fredericksburg to work on the project five days a week. The AHSSSI program culminates in a small symposium where students will get presentation experience talking about our research progress. Our goal for the summer program will be to familiarize ourselves with the eye tracking system while collecting data on the relationship between mindful attention and memory. The ideal situation is for the summer project to lead into the year-long project we will conduct in 491/492, but that plan may change. Participation in the summer program is NOT a requirement for membership on my research team.


Dr. Virginia Mackintosh

I’m interested in doing a content analysis of children’s literature as it relates to personality development. This will involve becoming familiar with the empirical research regarding personality development, cultural differences in how different personality components are valued, and the influence of media. In addition, the team will learn how to use the qualitative approach of content analysis. Once we have that strong background, we will immerse ourselves in children’s literature, from books for toddlers to young adult fiction. What messages are children getting as to the types of personality traits valued?


Dr. Jennifer Mailloux

Over the past few years, I have been studying how certain variables are related to sexual satisfaction using self-report data. One of the variables I have studied is cognitive distraction during sexual activity. Individuals can be distracted during sex by focusing on whether one’s body will look pleasurable to one’s partner and/or whether one will behave in a way resulting in one’s partner’s sexual pleasure. Distracted individuals may not focus on themselves, including the pleasurable sensations and feelings that may occur during sex, which may result in low sexual satisfaction. Other variables that I have investigated that appear to be related to sexual satisfaction include body consciousness, body shame, and body esteem. This is not an exhaustive list of variables that can influence sexual satisfaction! Also, so far, I have limited my research to heterosexual women; however, most recently, I recruited younger and older women, and found interesting differences between some of the variables mentioned above in these groups. For example, I found body esteem to influenced sexual satisfaction in younger, but not older, women. In the future, there are a lot of directions to go with this research, including examining other types of variables (behavioral or physiological) that might influence sexual satisfaction as well as how all of these variables influence sexual satisfaction in individuals other than heterosexual women.


A picture of Dr. Christine McBride

Dr. Christine McBride

In the past, my research teams have explored several explanations for why we eat what we eat. We 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, how descriptive norms impact eating, and the impact of menu design. We have studied eating in both adults and children. 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 and following up on this line of research would be fun. Generally, I anticipate using both survey research and creative laboratory-based experimental 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 the research process!


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 distress. In the past, I have worked with students to conduct studies exploring:

· The impact of romantic relationship threat on emotion regulation ability

· Inhibitory control problems as a predictor of engagement in infidelity

· The link between positive relationship characteristics and attention allocated to romantic partners

· The impact of unsupportive partner behaviors on reactivity to making mistakes

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 specific study that my team conducts, including the methodology of that study, will be determined by student interests. 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.


Dr. Holly Schiffrin

In the past, my research teams have focused on two primary topics including positive psychology and parenting issues. The goal of positive psychology is to identify and enhance the human strengths and virtues that make life worth living and allow individuals and communities to thrive. Generally, I want to follow up on research I have conducted on the impact of helicopter parenting practices on the well-being of both parents and their emerging adult aged children. Potential questions could include examining (1) the impact of helicopter parenting on children’s mindsets; (2) the impact of helicopter mothering versus fathering; (3) the impact of helicopter parenting on male versus female children; or (4) the impact of “helicopter professoring” (expanding the concept of helicopter parenting to a new group). The project pursued will depend upon the research interests of members of the team. Whatever the final topic, I am interested in working on applied issues related to well-being that have practical applications. My research team will be involved in designing the study as well as developing data collection instruments, collecting data, analyzing data, as well as writing reports and making presentations to summarize the findings. Depending on the outcome of the study, we may also submit the results of our investigations for presentation at a national conference or publication in an appropriate journal. If you have questions or are interested in learning more about these projects, stop by my office (Mercer 329) or send me an e-mail (


A picture of Dr. W. David Stahlman

Dr. W. David Stahlman

As a part of this research team, you will conduct original, non-invasive experimental work investigating behavior in non-human animals. This work will include the study of laboratory rats at minimum, and may feature other model (invertebrate) organisms (e.g., hermit crabs, cockroaches, earthworms, pill bugs, brine shrimp, etc.). There is a great deal of flexibility in the phenomena the team could potentially examine. In the past, my undergraduate researchers have collaborated on experiments investigating attention and distraction; personality; non-associative learning; drug impacts on learning; “creativity” and behavioral variability; and the role of motivation in controlling spatial search behavior. Students will collaborate on experimental design and apparatus construction, and will be primarily responsible for data collection, analysis, and the write-up of experimental results. Ideally, the work would be strong enough to submit for publication in a scientific peer-reviewed journal.