Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Psychophysical and electrophysiological assessment of early visual processing and emotion recognition deficits in schizophrenia

    Author:
    Ilana Abeles
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Pamela Butler
    Abstract:

    Previous data suggest that patients with schizophrenia have preferential magnocellular (M) versus parvocellular (P) visual dysfunction. The goal of Experiment 1 was to characterize M–stream impairment in the patient population using a novel approach. Contrast thresholds at varying luminance levels were investigated. M– and P–biased responses were examined by using scotopic and photopic luminance conditions, respectively. Patients exhibited contrast threshold deficits during scotopic conditions, indicative of M–stream dysfunction. Further, the pattern of contrast threshold responses at photopic levels indicated relatively preserved patient P–pathway functionality. Experiment 2 used separate behavioral and electrophysiological paradigms to investigate contributions of low level visual pathway dysfunction in patients to emotion perceptual processing deficits. Contrast response curves for the dorsal (P1) and ventral (N170) pathways were elicited in response to contrast manipulated emotional faces. Results showed that the dorsal P1's pattern of response was impaired in patients while their N170 contrast response curves remained intact. Contributions of visual pathway dysfunction to impaired emotion recognition and affect–related processing, as indexed by the P250 amplitude, were then assessed. P250 activity in patients was reduced at all contrasts. Overall, across groups, the P1 component predicted both P250 amplitude and emotion recognition ability. Taken together, these data support the hypothesis that emotion recognition deficits in patients result from M/dorsal stream dysfunction. Experiment 3 examined the spatial–temporal oscillatory dynamics of schizophrenia patients during processing of complex visual stimuli. FFT spectrum activity and underlying generators of the delta, theta and alpha oscillatory frequencies were first assessed. Activity in the pre and post–stimulus intervals, and the ratio between them (event-related de/synchronization: ERD/ERS) were also evaluated. FFT data revealed controls had significantly greater alpha band activation in posterior electrodes as compared to patients. Conversely, patients exhibited greater theta–band activation over anterior electrodes versus controls. Topographical analysis suggested patients had abnormal underlying neural generators that gave rise to impaired theta and alpha–band activity. Further, instantaneous delta–band activity was significantly greater in patients during pre and post–stimulus intervals, possibly reflecting an overall generalized deficit. Finally, the data revealed that patients had a substantially reduced alpha ERD, highlighting their impairment in low level visual cortical gating mechanisms during processing of visual sensory inputs.

  • The effects of estrogen on carrageenan-induced nociceptive behaviors and inflammatory mediators in ovariectomized female mice

    Author:
    Lisa Abrams
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Vanya Quinones-Jenab
    Abstract:

    Epidemiological studies have shown that pain perception is sexually dimorphic; females tend to experience greater sensitivity to painful stimuli and more chronic pain compared to males. Researchers believe that this dichotomy is caused by the distinct endocrinological profile of females. 17beta -estradiol has been shown to attenuate inflammatory behaviors in both the formalin and carrageenan (Cg) models of inflammation. Research also shows that estrogen affects many inflammatory mediators, including proinflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins (PG). Estrogen plays an important, yet complicated role, in inflammation, and little is known about the specific biochemical mechanisms involved. The objective of this study is to determine if, similar to rats, estrogen attenuates Cg-induced thermal hyperalgesia by altering cytokine or PG release. To that end, female OVX mice were pretreated with various doses of estradiol and injected with 1% Cg. Paw withdrawal latency was recorded prior to, 1 hour, and 5 hours after Cg-treatment in response to a low, medium, and high heat stimuli. Additional animals were treated with indomethacin, a COX blocker. High doses of estradiol caused an increase in nociceptive responses prior to and subsequent to Cg administration. This increase in these pain behaviors was not directly caused by an increase in proinflammatory cytokine levels or a decrease in anti-inflammatory cytokines levels. However, estradiol caused increases in cytokine levels in the untreated paw. Furthermore, treatment with indomethacin caused an attenuation of hyperalgesia. Additionally, indomethacin negated the difference between estradiol- and vehicle-treated mice, indicating that estrogen may interact with prostanoid synthesis. This effect, however, was not seen in the Cg-treated paw, suggesting that estradiol may be increasing hyperalgesia via another pathway as well. Taken together, our results suggest that estrogen's hyperalgesic effects are partly mediated through cytokine up-regulation and prostanoid synthesis, but the main mechanism of action still needs further investigation.

  • "I Shall not Fear:" Secure Attachment to G-d as a Buffer against Anxiety.

    Author:
    Peryl Agishtein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Claudia Brumbaugh
    Abstract:

    Religion has a long and mixed history in the field of psychology. Historically, some leading figures in the field viewed religion as a source of neuroses and poor mental health; others saw a more positive spiritual resource. Recently, empirical data on religion and mental health has proliferated. There is now consensus that religion is associated with lower depression. However, the link between religion and anxiety is less clear-cut. This paper proposes that a) religion can have exacerbating or alleviating effects on anxiety depending on which aspect of religion is being studied and b) the primary religious variable that affects anxiety levels is attachment to G-d. Utilizing the `safe haven' attachment function, people with a secure attachment to G-d seek Him when they are stressed. The anxiolytic benefit of seeking an omnipresent secure attachment figure should lead to lower general levels of anxiety. Hypotheses were explored in a series of three studies. Study One examined which aspects of religion are related to anxiety using correlational self-report methods. Hierarchical multiple regressions supported the hypothesis that attachment to G-d was of primary importance in predicting anxiety levels. In addition, positive and negative aspects of religion were differentially correlated with anxiety, as predicted. The process through which G-d attachment relates to anxiety was experimentally explored in Study Two. Participants were exposed to a stressful situation (electric shock threat), and their implicit tendency to seek G-d was measured. Results were surprising: explicitly, those with secure G-d attachment reported a greater tendency to seek G-d when stressed, but those with highly avoidant G-d attachment were the only ones to demonstrate an implicit tendency to seek G-d. Study Three further probed this association by measuring the calming effects of a G-d prime. Stress was induced in all participants while anxiety was measured (physiologically and via self-report). ANOVAs demonstrated that securely G-d attached participants primed with religious as opposed to neutral sentences experienced greater reductions in anxiety over time. Overall, this research clarified the different ways in which religion might relate to anxiety and elucidated some exact mechanisms through which religion buffers against anxiety.

  • Testing visual ecology hypotheses in avian brood parasite-host systems: the role of UV-light perception and egg-nest contrast in foreign egg rejection

    Author:
    Zachary Aidala
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Mark Hauber
    Abstract:

    Color signals are highly important features of animal communication systems, particularly among birds, which possess exquisitely complex visual perception systems. Birds possess tetrachromatic vision, and some species are sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths. Because human and avian visual systems dramatically differ (i.e. humans are not sensitive to UV wavelengths), biologically relevant sensory models are necessary to accurately assess the function of avian color signals. In this dissertation, I primarily use brood parasite-host interactions as a model for studying the behavioral function of avian-perceivable visual stimuli. In Chapter 1, I review the importance of employing biologically relevant sensory-perceptual visual models when testing visual ecology hypotheses. Most models of avian visual space require the input of physiological parameters, such as the relative densities of cone photoreceptors. I also review methodologies that can be employed to increase the accuracy of visual models themselves. One such method is DNA sequencing of the short-wavelength sensitive type 1 (SWS1) opsin to assess the degree of UV-light sensitivity. Avian species possess variable sensitivities to UV wavelengths based on the amino acids present at key `spectral tuning' sites, and DNA sequencing of the SWS1 opsin gene allows for accurate assessment of the photoreceptor opsin's maximal sensitivity. In Chapters 2 and 3, I report predicted sensitivities to UV light signals based on DNA sequencing of the key `spectral tuning' region of the SWS1 opsin in a number of species spanning four avian lineages, including passerine hosts of obligate brood parasitic North American brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) and Australasian shining-bronze cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus) and long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamis taitensis). I specifically tested the UV-matching hypothesis, which suggests that seemingly non-mimetic parasitic eggs (based on human vision) may be accepted by hosts due to parasite eggshell mimicry at UV wavelengths. While the UV-matching hypothesis garnered some previous empirical support among African parasite-host systems, I did not find evidence of UV-matching as it relates to egg rejection behaviors by hosts of the brown-headed cowbird. In absence of support for the UV-matching hypothesis, in Chapter 4 I tested the long-standing but largely untested assumption of brood parasitism that visual comparisons between eggs per se drive egg rejection behavior. To do this, I examined whether egg-nest visual contrasts contribute to egg rejection decisions in the American robin, a robust rejecter of natural cowbird parasitism. I experimentally increased/decreased parasitic egg-nest contrast in an artificial brood parasitism experiment, and predicted that foreign eggs with low visual contrast against the nest lining (i.e. were more cryptic) would be rejected more often than foreign eggs with high visual contrast against the nest lining. I employed a perceptual modeling approach that compares reflectance spectra across the avian spectral sensitivity range to assess the degree of contrast between eggs and nests. I found that egg-nest contrast did not significantly affect artificial egg ejection rates, instead artificial eggs were rejected at rates similar to those observed in non-manipulated nests. In this host-parasite system, egg rejection behavior is most likely driven by differences between eggs themselves. In Chapter 5, I show novel phylogenetic relationships of the previously unresolved endemic New Zealand Passeriformes genus Mohoua, only one species of which is an ejector host of artificial long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamis taitensis) eggs. Because the predicted sensitivity to UV wavelengths now exists for only one Mohoua species, such well-resolved phylogenies are integral for comparative analyses that map life history traits with respect to the evolution of defenses against brood parasitism. Overall, the collection of manuscripts presented in this dissertation test specific sensory hypotheses related to the visual ecology of brood parasite hosts. Specifically, I found minimal empirical support for a major role of UV wavelengths and egg-nest visual contrasts in parasitic egg rejection among hosts of the brown-headed cowbird. Lastly, phylogenetic analysis of a largely under-studied New Zealand brood parasite-host system paves the way for novel tests of visual ecology hypothesis from a comparative perspective.

  • Of home and other figments: The passage of exile in the Tibetan diaspora

    Author:
    Sean Akerman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Suzanne Ouellette
    Abstract:

    This dissertation used a study of lives approach to understand the stories told by four Tibetans who came to New York following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990 when Tibetans first came to the United States in mass. Not unlike other diasporas in the world today, the transfer of the events, the stories, and in many cases, the wounds, of exile formatively shape the narrative hereafter of younger generations, though this phenomenon has been given little attention in the social sciences. This work asked: 1) What stories of exile are passed from one generation to another and what are the mechanisms of transmission within that passage? (2) How is home understood generationally? (3) And within the experience of exile, what are the possibilities for action in daily life? Looking across four life historical accounts, my analysis revealed that the stories my informants heard as they grew up can be grouped into the themes of death, survival, and hope. The stories they passed on to younger people in their lives took the form of bodily care, solitude, and discrimination. These stories moved through the narrative mechanisms of translation, silence, and interlocutory slippage with attention to a story's didactic, shaping features. Home was understood as an impossibility for those younger Tibetans with whom I spoke, whereas it was associated with death and decay for older Tibetans. However, generational differences were downplayed by considering exile as a noun (a status) and verb (the ongoing result of an event), which was rife with socio-economic implications. Action took the form of community involvement and its gesture, a commitment to education, and a cursory knowledge of politics. These forms of action were narrated through bearing witness, employing the subjunctive, and calling attention to the body to narrate what escaped words. This inquiry highlights the importance of stories in the experience of exile, as well as the mechanisms through which exile is narrated. Additionally, my analysis emphasizes a consideration of death and natality as central to the experience of exile, and explores the literal and metaphorical ways through which death and natality become narrative forces.

  • Jealousy Comprehension during Middle Childhood: The Roles of Perspective Taking, Gender, and Maternal Reminiscing within Narrative Construction

    Author:
    Naomi Aldrich
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Patricia Brooks
    Abstract:

    The aim of the current study was to provide an extensive assessment of the socio-cognitive development of children's jealousy understanding during middle childhood within the context of narrative construction. In doing so, influences of perspective-taking ability, gender, and maternal reminiscing on children's ability to understand -and talk about- jealousy (a complex emotion) between the ages of 5 and 11 were examined. In total, 40 girls (M age = 8y;2m, SD = 2y;1m), 40 boys (M age = 8y;7m, SD = 2y;0m), and their mothers participated. Children completed a series of narrative tasks that were coded for emotion understanding: a fictional narrative about a frog experiencing jealousy, post-story probe questions, an individual autobiographical narrative about their own experience of jealousy, and a co-constructed personal narrative in which children and their mothers were asked to talk about a time their child experienced jealousy. Additionally, mothers completed the fictional narrative task for an adult comparison to children's abilities. Children were also administered measures of socio-cognitive development (Test of Emotion Comprehension, Test of Perspective-Taking Ability) and intellectual development (Verbal Intelligence - PPVT, Nonverbal Intelligence - TONI), and mothers were administered a measure of Verbal Intelligence (PPVT). Overall, findings from the current study provide evidence that (1) children exhibit an increased understanding of jealousy across multiple measures of emotion understanding between the ages of 5 and 11, (2) there is considerable overlap in the feelings of jealousy and envy during middle childhood, (3) perspective taking is linked to children's abilities to talk about another's feelings during middle childhood, and (4) girls' emotion understanding is displayed and acquired in a more interpersonal context than boys'. Furthermore, the present study extends the literature on maternal-guided reminiscing to include assessment during middle childhood, examining the roles of both style and content, and through evaluating both parties' discourse. In doing so, maternal elaboration was found to be beneficial for children's autobiographical narrative abilities during middle childhood. Results are discussed in relation to socialization practices behind children's expression of jealousy -a negative emotion associated with interpersonal rivalry- that is frequently experienced, but that American culture says should not be expressed.

  • Does Discovery-Based Instruction Enhance Learning?

    Author:
    Louis Alfieri
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Patricia Brooks
    Abstract:

    Since Bruner's (1961) call for research into discovery-based learning, controversy has surrounded the efficacy of such a constructivist approach to instruction (e.g., Tobias & Duffy, 2009). For decades, research has investigated to what extent discovery-based instruction enhances learning tasks or conversely, detracts from them. Research has included wide varieties of domains and discovery-based instructional approaches. Samples have included both children and adults and both novices and experts within their specific domains. It seems that what the field needs is a definition of discovery learning from a practical perspective because a review of the literature reveals that although there might be an implied sense of what discovery learning is, the methodologies employed vary greatly. Furthermore, the characteristics of effective discovery methodology(s) need to be examined with careful consideration of the domain involved, the age of the sample, the comparison condition, and the outcome assessments. Therefore, two meta-analyses were conducted using a sample of 164 studies: the first examined the effects of unassisted discovery learning versus explicit instruction and the second examined the effects of enhanced and/or assisted discovery versus other types of instruction (e.g., explicit, unassisted discovery, etc.). Random effects analyses of 580 comparisons revealed that outcomes were favorable for explicit instruction when compared to unassisted discovery under most conditions, d = -.38 (95% CI = -.44/-.31). In contrast, analyses of 360 comparisons revealed that outcomes were favorable for enhanced discovery when compared to other forms of instruction, d = .30 (95% CI = .23/.36). The findings suggest that unassisted discovery does not benefit learners, whereas feedback, worked examples, scaffolding, and elicited explanations do.

  • The Temporal Relationship between Daytime Napping and Memory Consolidation

    Author:
    Sara Alger
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    William Fishbein
    Abstract:

    An extensive body of literature exists substantiating the idea that sleep facilitates the strengthening, stabilization, and protection of newly formed memories, aiding in consolidation from short-term to long-term stores. However, research as to the temporal boundaries of the benefit of sleep to declarative memory is deficient. It has been established that sleep benefits memory compared to equal time spent awake, but when sleep needs to occur relative to the learning period, as well as how much and what type of sleep is necessary, has been little explored. Additionally, researchers have focused on how the brain works on previously encoded information during sleep, but very few have addressed whether sleep prepares the brain to take on new information when it occurs prior to learning. Using efficient daytime naps, the present series of studies addressed these shortcomings and the results provided support exclusively to an active role for sleep in memory processing. Study I unexpectedly demonstrated superior performance for recognition memory with increased delay before sleep onset, resulting in increased slow wave sleep (SWS) in the later nap groups. Study II determined that sleep must progress into SWS, rather than merely Stages 1 and 2, for better short-term retention, subsequent protection from stimulus-related interference, and long-term consolidation, although even a brief nap provides temporary retention benefits over remaining awake. Examining sleep prior to learning in Study III, it was found that a 60-minute nap prepared the brain to more efficiently consolidate information, despite the fact that nap and wake groups encoded material equally. Overall, the present research provides clarification, although perhaps task-dependent, to the existing questions regarding the temporal relationship between sleep and learning. Additionally, the results proffer support for active processing during sleep potentially through standard consolidation and/or homeostatic downscaling of synaptic potentials, the major mechanistic theories ascribing a role for SWS in declarative memory processing.

  • THE EFFECTS OF ENRICHMENT ON COGNITION IN RATS (RATTUS NORVEGICUS)

    Author:
    Amber Alliger
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Peter Moller
    Abstract:

    Abstract THE EFFECTS OF ENRICHMENT ON COGNITION IN RATS RATTUS NORVEGICUS by Amber A. Alliger Adviser: Dr. Peter Moller Animal models play an integral role in pharmaceutical research when developing drugs for human use. It is therefore imperative that animal models accurately represent human systems. In an attempt to reduce variability of test results, animals are often kept in barren, non-natural conditions. There is, however, a growing awareness that environmental enrichment will increase the validity of test results. The aim of the present study was to allow animals to control their environment using operant conditioning procedures, and to assess the effect of control on cognitive tasks. Four predictions were tested: 1. Rats (Rattus norvegicus) will control three stimuli (light, sound and a running wheel). 2. Animals will exhibit preferences for particular stimulus strengths. 3. Animals that exert control over the environmental stimuli will show increased performance in cognitive tasks compared to animals that lack control.4. Animals that can control environmental stimuli will have lower corticosterone levels than animals that lack such control, where corticosterone levels are used as an assessment of stress. Experimental subjects in both experiments did show control over a light stimulus, and performed significantly better in a discrimination task as compared with subjects that could not control their environment. There was no difference in corticosterone levels between control and experimental subjects. These results will contribute to an understanding how enrichment and control of environmental stimuli, in particular, affect the welfare of animals in captive environments, and aid in designing experimental conditions that will produce animal models that will increase validity and reliability in research.

  • DEVELOPMENT OF A NATURALISTIC OBSERVATIONAL PARENTING PRACTICE ASSESSMENT TOOL FOR EXTERNALIZING BEHAVIOR RESEARCH

    Author:
    Thailyn Alonso
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Miriam Ehrensaft
    Abstract:

    Externalizing behavior problems have severe clinical implications. In fact, they have been found to be the primary basis for mental health referrals in early childhood. Findings from research on the etiology and development of externalizing behavior problems indicate these in addition to having significant effects throughout the life span effects also extend across multiple generations. Family and child development research consistently finds that one of the most significant modifiable factors in the prevention and treatment of externalizing behavior problems in early childhood is parenting practices. Unfortunately, much of the extant literature is limited by parenting measures that are prone to recall bias, impression management, and limited ecological validity. Furthermore, ethnic minority families and families of low socioeconomic status are greatly underrepresented in the research examining the relationship between parenting practices and externalizing behavior problems as well as in the research on the development of parenting measures and research methodology to further examine this relationship. The purpose of the current study was threefold: (1) to develop and validate a parenting coding system, the iPARENT, to assess naturally occurring parenting behavior data obtained by a novel recording device, the iEAR, in the home; (2) to identify and measure the degree of parenting practices empirically shown to increase the risk for child externalizing behavior problems in a sample of young mothers and examine how it relates to mothers’ self-report of their own parenting stress, parenting practices, and their children’s behavior as well as observed child behavior; and (3) to assess feasibility of iEAR and iPARENT use. An ethnically diverse sample of 89 college mothers and their one- to six-year-old children participated in the study. Mothers were recruited from a public Northeastern University via the college’s Child Care Center, flyers posted on campus, and in-person recruitment on campus. Mothers were a mean age of 24 years (SD = 2.92) and children were a mean age of 3.71 years (SD = 1.49); 57.3% of the children were male. Mothers completed self-report measures of parenting stress, parenting practices, and child behavior. Parenting practices and child behavior data were also obtained through iEAR observations and were coded according to the iPARENT coding scheme. Results indicated that the iPARENT is a reliable measure of parenting and child behaviors. On average, mothers spent 62% of their interactions with their children delivering information; 26% delivering commands (of which 62% did not give the child an opportunity to comply); 10% delivering criticisms; and .02% delivering praise. An exploratory factor analysis with a target rotation revealed that the iPARENT consists of a three-factor structure: “Warmth,” “Harshness,” and “Ineffective demands for compliance.” Convergent validity could not be established between the iPARENT and mothers’ self-report on the Parenting Scale; however, the iPARENT demonstrated good discriminant validity. A significant relationship was found between mothers’ self-reported parenting stress and observed negative affect and praise. Mothers’ engagement and critical remarks significantly predicted concurrent child noncompliance frequency. Harshness of mothers’ criticism significantly predicted concurrent child backtalk frequency. iPARENT assessed parenting practices were not found to significantly predict mothers’ reports of child misbehavior. However, post-hoc analyses revealed that for children ages four-years and older, iPARENT assessed noncompliance significantly predicted mothers’ reports of child behavior, suggesting that the iPARENT may be a more valid assessment tool for children at least four-years-old. Lastly, the iEAR was found to be feasible for research practices and to potentially assist with the retention of ethnic minority and low SES families in observational research. The iEAR and the iPARENT show potential in obtaining reliable and valid parenting and child behavior data of at-risk families. Further research is warranted to examine the iPARENT’s ability to discriminate between clinical and nonclinical samples. Also, further research should aim to replicate findings with other samples of ethnic minority families, fathers, and a larger sample of older children in order to generalize findings and further validate use of the iPARENT in child behavior research.