Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Measuring Relational Preferences Within an Equivalence Class

    Author:
    Erica Doran
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Lanny Fields
    Abstract:

    Two experiments used post-class formation within-class relational assessment test performances to evaluate whether participants demonstrated preference for certain members of an equivalence class based on the type of relation that existed between class members. This research also examined certain procedural factors that influenced the percentage of participants who formed classes, referred to as yield. In Experiment 1, two 5-node 7-member equivalence classes, consisting entirely of nonsense syllables, were established using the simultaneous protocol. After class formation, the effects of the different relations between stimuli were evaluated using within-class relational assessment tests. Only one of the six participants in Experiment 1 successfully formed classes, but that one participant showed an absolute preference for transitive relations over equivalence ones, and for baseline relations over symmetrical ones. Experiment 2 was identical to Experiment 1, except that one of the nonsense syllable stimuli in each class was replaced by a pictorial stimulus. Under these conditions, class formation was enhanced, with classes being formed by 5 of 13 participants. During the relational assessment tests, each of these participants demonstrated essentially complete preferences for transitive relations over equivalence relations and for trained baseline relations over symmetrical relations. Thus, this research demonstrates that the members of equivalence classes are differentially related to each other based on relational type.

  • In the Cockpit: The Political Ecology of Integrated Conservation and Development in Cockpit Country, Jamaica.

    Author:
    Jason Douglas
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Cindi Katz
    Abstract:

    In response to the top-down nature of many environmental protection efforts and the technical approaches that prove detrimental to the livelihoods of people located in and around conservation areas in the Caribbean, community based participatory resource management and sustainable livelihood programs have become commonplace in the environmental protection discourse. However, they often negatively affect the people at the bottom of these programs by promising livelihood improvements that rarely come to fruition due to the tensions between conservation and development. In this dissertation, I present an ethnographic account of attempts at integrated conservation and development in the bauxite rich Cockpit Country of central Jamaica. This research concerns the environmental practices and values, and collaboration of people "participating" in Local Forestry Management Committees (LFMC) that were established to provide economic alternatives to bauxite mining in Cockpit Country. I conducted research for this dissertation in various phases from 2008 to 2010, culminating in five months of fieldwork in 2010. Working with The Nature Conservancy, USAID, The Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, The Windsor Research Centre, Cockpit Country residents participating in LFMCs, and Cockpit Country residents who did not participate in these programs, I examined the alternatives to the agricultural practices currently employed in Cockpit Country communities and the bauxite mining proposed by the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) in the area. Using archival data, interviews, surveys and participant observation, I examined the problems and potentials of the LFMCs and their affiliated programs. My analysis concerns the relationships among the people at the top and bottom of these programs, their varying conceptions of nature, and their collaboration in the development of livelihood practices intended to promote an equitable and participatory process of integrated conservation and development.

  • Perceptions of Risk, Sexual Behaviors, and HIV Prevention in Commercial and Public Sex Venues: A Study of MSM Venue Attendees

    Author:
    Martin Downing, Jr.
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    David Chapin
    Abstract:

    In recent years there has been a resurgence of new HIV cases in the United States among men who have sex with men (MSM). Some of these men may be at an increased risk for HIV transmission by engaging in sexual encounters at commercial or public sex venues. Indeed, researchers have consistently found reports of unprotected sex among men during venue attendance. Conceptually, there is a need to understand how the physical and social context of sex venues may influence decisions to engage in high risk behaviors while emphasizing new directions for policy-oriented research that reflect the current state of sex venue use rather than a contemporary history of public health fears and controversy. This dissertation empirically examines sexual behaviors of men who attended any of seven sex venue types during the previous month relative to HIV risk perceptions, spatial preferences for public sex encounters, perceptions of venue design, and venue-specific approaches to HIV prevention. Specifically, 204 MSM--recruited online through message discussion boards and LGBT academic e-mail listservs--completed an Internet survey. The findings suggest the potential influence of both physical (private spaces, low lighting, & condom availability) and social (non-verbal communication, perceived condom use of other venue patrons) forces on risky or safer behavior occurring at several venue types. Moreover, the results demonstrated that MSM who perceive moderate levels of behavior-specific and venue-specific HIV transmission risk still pursued risky sexual encounters during their venue attendance. This raises concern that despite some awareness of HIV risk, unprotected sex remains a health threat for those MSM who attend sex venues. In addition to these findings, two distinct frequency patterns (low and high) of Internet use to seek partners for public sex encounters were revealed through a cluster analysis. Men in the high frequency group were more likely to be HIV-positive, engage in unprotected anal-receptive intercourse, and have a preference for venues that offer opportunities to have multiple partners compared to men in the low frequency group. Knowing that some venue users initiate commercial and public sex encounters on the Internet may be useful for targeting appropriate HIV/STI interventions.

  • The effects of Lee Silverman Voice Treatment on the facial movement of Parkinson's disease patients and the way they are perceived by others

    Author:
    Aleksey Dumer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Joan Borod
    Abstract:

    Parkinson's disease (PD) is characterized by impaired facial movement, a deficit that, as previous studies suggest, leads others to attribute negative traits to PD patients. Given the associations between facial movement and vocal parameters, it was hypothesized that the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT; Ramig, Fox, & Sapir, 2004), an efficient voice treatment for PD patients, would reduce parkinsonian facial movement deficits (Hypothesis I) and result in more positive perceptions of PD patients' personality and behavior (Hypothesis II). Fifty six participants -- 16 LSVT patients with PD, 12 articulation treatment (ARTIC) patients with PD, 17 untreated PD patients, and 11 demographically-matched controls without PD -- produced monologues about happy emotional experiences on two occasions: Time 1 and Time 2. LSVT and ARTIC were administered during a one-month period between the two occasions. The monologue production task was adapted from the New York Emotion Battery (NYEB; Borod, Obler, & Welkowitz, 1992). Healthy adult observers (n=110) rated participants' personality and behavior based on participants' videorecorded facial movement. The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) was used to examine changes in the quantity and variability of facial movement (AU Lability and AU Variability, respectively) and complexity of facial expression (AU Complexity). The increase of LSVT patients on a canonical variate of AU Lability, AU Variability, and AU Complexity was significantly greater than that of ARTIC patients. Additional analyses showed that this result was due to increases in AU Lability and AU Variability of LSVT patients. The personalities of LSVT patients and non-PD controls were rated significantly more positively by observers viewing video clips recorded at Time 2, relative to those recorded at Time 1. Changes in the examined facial movement parameters of LSVT patients did not mediate changes in observers' ratings of those patients. These findings suggest that LSVT reduces facial movement deficits in PD and possibly results in a more positive perception of LSVT patients' personalities. Results are discussed in the context of studies showing the psychosocial impact of PD patients' communication problems and preliminary evidence regarding the mechanisms underlying LSVT's effect.

  • The Writing on the Wall: Environmental Meaning, Academic Success, and Social Reproduction in Urban Public Schools in New Jersey

    Author:
    Valkiria Duran-Narucki
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Susan Saegert
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the role of the physical environment of public urban school buildings and the ways in which in contributes to the production of academic outcomes and social reproduction. There is empirical evidence of the relationship between school building quality and measurements of academic achievement. The main goal of this study is to learn how the physical environment of the school affects academic achievement. In addition, this dissertation explores the role of school building condition in the reproduction of social inequalities. A theoretical framework crafted from ecological psychology and Pierre Bourdieu's critique of everyday life was used. Two high schools housed in new buildings and two housed in old buildings in a low income community in New Jersey were studied. The final analysis uncovered five types of school affordances: Functional, social, emotional, communicative, and identity affordances. In addition, the role of habitus in the transmission of social structure at schools was described.

  • GENETIC VARIANCE CONTRIBUTES TO OPIOID AND DOPAMINE RECEPTOR MODULATION OF SUCROSE AND FAT INTAKE AND SUCROSE-CONDITIONED PREFERENCES IN INBRED MOUSE STRAINS

    Author:
    Cheryl Dym
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Richard Bodnar
    Abstract:

    Whereas genetics and pharmacology influence nutrient consumption, the current dissertation used inbred mouse strains to examine genetic variance in the dopaminergic and opioid modulation of sucrose and fat. The first and second specific aims measured intake of a sucrose solution in 8 inbred and 1 outbred mouse strains following administration of opioid (naltrexone (NTX)), dopamine D1 (SCH23390), and D2 (raclopride) receptor antagonists. NTX inhibited intake strongly in C57BL/10 and C57BL/6, moderately in BALB/cJ, C3H/He, CD-1 and DBA/2, weakly in 129P3 and SJL/J, and not at all in the SWR/J mouse strains. SCH23390 attenuated sucrose intake across five (129P3/J, SJL/J), four (C57BL/6J, BALB/cJ), three (SWR/J, C3H/HeJ, C57BL/10J, DBA/2J) and two (CD-1) of the doses tested. Raclopride was wholly ineffective in attenuating intake. In the third specific aim, intake of a fat solution (Intralipid) was measured in 8 out of 9 prior strains following NTX and SCH23390 administration. NTX attenuated intake at four (DBA/2), three (SWR/J, SJL/J), two (CD-1, C57BL/10), one (C57BL/6, 129P3) and none (BALB/cJ) of the doses tested. SCH23390 reduced intake at five (DBA/2, SWR/J, CD-1), four (SJL, C57BL/6), three (129P3), one (C57BL/10) and none (BALB/cJ) of the doses tested. A high correlation was found in the strain-dependent abilities of SCH23390 and NTX to suppress Intralipid, but not sucrose intake, suggesting differential pharmacological mechanisms responsible. The fourth specific aim investigated genetic variance in experiential factors by examining whether SCH23390 and NTX alter acquisition and expression of a sucrose-conditioned flavor preference (CFP) in BALB/cJ and SWR/J inbred mouse strains. Mice received either vehicle, SCH23390 or NTX prior to acquisition: alternate daily exposure to a sucrose solution mixed with one flavor (CS+/S) and saccharin solution mixed with another flavor (CS-/s) or expression: a two-bottle choice test with the two flavors mixed in saccharin. In expression, strong CS+ preferences were reduced by SCH in BALB and SWR mice and by NTX in SWR mice. In acquisition, CS+/S was reduced by SCH in both strains, and by NTX in BALB/cJ. Sucrose-CFP was reduced by NTX BALB/cJ mice and SCH in SWR/J mice. Taken together, future studies are needed to reconcile the divergent results between strains, pharmacological systems, and nutrients to fully understand their influence on nutrient consumption and CFP.

  • REFLECTIVE FUNCTIONING CAPACITY IN MOTHERS OF BOYS WITH ADHD, LDS AND ASSOCIATED BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS

    Author:
    Anne-Britt Ekert Rothstein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Steven Tuber
    Abstract:

    The present study investigated the experience of mothers who have children with ADHD, learning disabilities and behavior problems. Data were collected from 18 mothers of 7 to 9 year old boys with ADHD, and/or learning disabilities and behavior problems using the Parent Development Interview, (PDI-R); (Slade, Aber, Berger, Bresgi, & Kaplan, 2003). The PDI is a semi-structured interview, which asks parents to describe themselves and their children and to talk about their child's and their own emotional experiences, thoughts and feelings at times when things between parent and child go well and when they do not go smoothly. A large amount of psychologically rich data was gathered on the mothers' experience, which was qualitatively analyzed with the aim to add to our knowledge of the experience of mothers raising boys with ADHD, LDs and associated behavior problems. In addition, the narratives of the PDI were scored for reflective functioning ("RF") capacity (Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele & Higgitt, 1991; Fonagy, Steele, Steele, Leigh, Kennedy, Mattoon & Target, 1995). RF capacity describes a parent's ability to reflect on her own and her child's state of mind; much research to date suggests that there are many benefits to a mother having good mentalizing capacity, for her child and for her relationship with her child. v In the qualitative portion of the analysis of the interview, nine primary themes emerged relating to the mother's parenting experience: 1) the child's experiencing difficulties; 2) frustration and anger; 3) the mothers experiencing difficulties; 4) guilt; 5) loss; 6) worry; 7) overcoming problems; 8) learning from experience; 9) wish for the child to reach his potential. These themes are consistent with prior research, and the present study expands our knowledge of a mother's parenting experience. The other aim of the study was to investigate the mothers' RF capacity and whether it varied dependent on the content of the various subsections of the interview. A possible relationship between RF capacity and mothers' reports of a more positive and rewarding parenting experience was considered. However, the study's findings suggest that in the current sample RF capacity did not mediate a mother's report of a more positive parenting experience. In addition, the study explored a mother's ability to mentalize while talking specifically about her affective experience of parenting compared to her RF capacity overall as measured with the PDI. The study findings suggest that only the mothers with the highest RF scores in the sample (low average) evidenced a variation in their RF functioning in this regard. Results showed that it was harder for those mothers with the higher sample scores to reflect specifically on the affective experience compared to the rest of the interview questions. Additionally this research explored a mother's ability to reflect when responding to questions that directly asked about the child's learning and behavior challenges. The study findings suggest that mothers had a more difficult time, as reflected in lower RF scores, when talking about their experiences raising a learning disabled child as well as the effect their children's learning and behavior issues had on their relationship. vi Results showed that the overall RF scores of the study sample were significantly lower compared to other nonclinical samples. The study's investigation of a relationship which may exist between parenting a child with ADHD/LDs and associated behavior problems and a mother's RF capacity suggests that the emotional and psychological strains of mothering a child with these issues may lead to certain coping mechanisms and defenses that may significantly decrease a mother's ability to mentalize. If future studies confirm lower levels of mentalizing functioning in the population under study, this has far-reaching implications for clinical practice. The current study highlights the importance of working with this population therapeutically to increase its RF capacity, as it links parenting stress in this population with RF capacity, as well as coping mechanisms and defensive activity.

  • MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS, SOCIAL EXCLUSION, AND NEUROBIOLOGICAL PROCESSES IN BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER: A MULTI-LEVEL STUDY

    Author:
    Jeffrey Erbe
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Eric Fertuck
    Abstract:

    Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is an ongoing public health crisis. Poor developmental quality of differentiation-relatedness of object representations and attachment insecurity have been clinically and empirically demonstrated as core patterns of intrapsychic and interpersonal dysfunction in this particular form of personality pathology. Differentiation-relatedness (D-R), which involves a complementary relationship between intrapsychic autonomy and interpersonal relatedness, has been shown to be a significant aspect of internal psychic experience that relates directly to external relationship patterns, including characteristic response to interpersonal interactions and has been a specific target for treatment of BPD. Specifically, individuals with BPD have shown lower developmental quality of differentiation-relatedness than non-clinical controls. Similarly, attachment insecurity, stemming from repetitive, conflicted exchanges with caregivers beginning from early development, is a hallmark of borderline personality. Although differentiation-relatedness and attachment organization have been extensively studied in this clinical population, few studies have investigated the relationship between such measures of historically relevant intrapsychic functioning, behavioral and neural responses to social interaction in the here and now. Through narrative responses to a clinical interview, self-reports and a measure of social cognition during fMRI that operationalize borderline pathology in distinct ways, this study investigated differences between individuals diagnosed with BPD and non-clinical controls, as well as the relationship among measures of developmental quality of differentiation-relatedness of object representations, attachment style, and behavioral and neural response patterns in a laboratory-based design. Results: Independent samples t-tests showed significant differences between borderline patients and controls for D-R mean, father, and self scores, attachment anxiety and avoidance, and anger response patterns to experiences of social exclusion. Simple linear regression analyses demonstrated that D-R mean, father, and self scores also significantly predicted anger response in Cyberball. Non-significant positive trends for attachment anxiety, scored from the self-report Experience in Close Relationships (ECR) measure, predicting rejection and anger were also evident; however the ECR was less sensitive at predicting rejection and anger in response to social exclusion than D-R scores. The D-R mean score also modulated neural activity associated with social inclusion in Cyberball in the left inferior frontal cortex. Thus, this study provides further evidence of the multidimensional nature of borderline personality disorder and the intricate complexity of the relationship among different levels of the pathology (i.e., intrapsychic, attachment, behavioral, and neural). These results, in conjunction with further studies on the relationship among these components, have the potential to offer crucial insights for the treatment of this disorder.

  • On the propagation of musicality: Taking cues from sexual selection

    Author:
    Katherine Eskine
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Laura Rabin
    Abstract:

    There is a shortage of empirical literature on the evolutionary functions of music. An overview of the evolutionary theories of music indicates that direct natural, indirect natural, and by-product explanations for the propagation of musicality are unlikely. Research demonstrates that music ability fulfills many of the criteria for a sexually selected adaptation suggesting that contemporary entailments of music may be sexually selected for. However, there has been no empirical investigation of the sexual selection theory of music. This study aimed to: (1) investigate if music is sexually selected for; (2) examine the influence of variables known to affect mating on musical production; and (3) investigate the underlying cognitive constructs of musical production. Using a sample of 92 undergraduate students, aged 18 to 30, several planned tasks examined the effects of sexual and romantic arousal on the production, aptitude, and subjective rating of music. Using a between subjects design, participants read a neutral, short-term mating, or long-term mating vignette before completing tasks assessing musical aptitude, intelligence, divergent thinking, and executive functions. Results indicated that being primed for long term mating increased displays of musicality in both sexes, but when participants were primed to think about short-term mating, only male participants showed increased ratings for musical production. These findings align with the view that displays of music in both sexes may be associated with sexual selection, qualified by amount of parental investment. Results also revealed that musical production was not affected by variables known to affect mating such as mood, ovulation status, current mating situation, caffeine intake, or sex of the raters but musical production was affected by current mating situation and sex of the rater. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed. Finally, results revealed no meaningful association between mental flexibility (as measured on tasks of divergent thinking, executive functioning, and IQ) and musical production suggesting that musical production may not be showcasing a fitness for the `g' factor. Taken together these results provide empirical support for Miller's hypothesis that music is, or has recently been a sexually selected adaptation.

  • From Perceptual Symbols to Abstraction and Back Again: The Bitter Truth about Morality

    Author:
    Kendall Eskine
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Natalie Kacinik
    Abstract:

    The representation and processing of abstract concepts is a poorly understood and controversial area of research in the cognitive sciences. Some traditional and recent approaches argue that abstract concepts are represented in symbolic, amodal channels that are proposed to be distinct from the brain's perceptual centers (Burgess & Lund, 1997; Paivio, 1986, 1991; Pylyshyn, 1973; Schwanenflugel & Stowe, 1989). On the other hand, research in grounded and embodied cognition has shown that sensoriperceptual states can influence cognitive processing in numerous ways (Barsalou, 1999, 2008, 2010), even for abstract concepts like morality (e.g., Schnall, Haidt, Clore, & Jordan, 2008). The present research investigated a prototypical abstract concept (morality) and explored the extent to which perceptual information influences the processing of moral judgments. Although various studies have linked physical disgust to moral disgust, surprisingly little research has investigated morality in conjunction with taste. Across three experiments, it was found that gustatory disgust is indeed linked to moral disgust, and this effect is more pronounced in political conservatives than political liberals. Experiment 1 revealed that bitter tastes elicited significantly harsher moral judgments than sweet or control (i.e., water) tastes. Experiment 2 reversed the directionality of this effect and showed that reading about moral transgressions, virtuous, or control events instantiated gustatory disgust, delight, or neutral taste perceptions, respectively. Experiment 3 replicated the basic methodology of the first experiment (but using a within-subjects design) and significantly reduced the effect by asking participants to suppress their perceptual and emotional experiences. Taken together, these taste perception experiments provide additional support for the idea that moral processing draws from perceptual and embodied information, specifically embodied disgust. A new theory is proposed (Distributed Embodied Network Theory) for explaining how perceptual symbols might ground abstract conceptual representations. According to this view, two classes of perceptual information (sensorimotor and affective) provide the foundation for abstract representations and can also be used to predict the abstractness and concreteness of diverse conceptual representations.