Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • The Relationship between Social-Emotional Development, Academic Achievement and Parenting Practices in Young Children who Attend Head Start

    Author:
    Emily Dow
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Roseanne Flores
    Abstract:

    During the preschool years, children develop social-emotional skills – such as cooperation and self-regulation – which predict later academic achievement. Research shows that parents play an important role in the development of these skills. However, it remains unclear how specific parenting practices may facilitate the relationship between social-emotional development and academic success. Often, children who grow up in low-income families are at risk for a variety of cognitive and emotional problems. Head Start is a federal program offered to low-income families that provides services, including early childhood education programs, to help offset these risks. Using Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory, the purpose of this dissertation was to explore the relationship among these three factors -- social-emotional skills, academic achievement, and parenting practices -- in an effort to better understand child development. There were three primary aims of this dissertation: (1) to demonstrate the inter-relatedness of several social-emotional skills for children who attended Head Start at age three; (2) understand the relationship between social-emotional skills during preschool and academic achievement at the end of kindergarten; and (3) understand how parent characteristics can influence the relationship between social-emotional skills in preschool and academic achievement by the end of kindergarten. Using a large, nationally representative data set from the Head Start program, several specific research questions were addressed through secondary data analysis. Findings from backwards regressions and moderation analysis indicate that there was a relationship between social-emotional skills at age three and academic achievement at age five, and that these relationships were sometimes moderated by parenting approaches.

  • 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.

  • The Reciprocal Relationship Among Object Relations, Attention, and Language in a Sample of School-Aged Children

    Author:
    Katherine Eiges
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Lissa Weinstein
    Abstract:

    Background: Object relations (OR) disturbances are implicated in a broad range of socio-emotional problems and psychopathology in childhood, which are also common among children diagnosed with attention and language impairments. Though attachment-based factors are shown to play a role in the socio-emotional adjustment of children with learning disabilities, the specific influences of attention and language deficits on OR development is unknown. The present study aims to investigate the reciprocal influences of attention and language functioning on OR development. An empirically established OR measure for the Rorschach was systematically adapted to the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and examined for convergent validity to investigate potential differences in OR quality across the two projective instruments. Methods: 47 participants culled from a previously existing data set of children identified as at-risk for ADHD and SLI were assessed on measures of language, attention, and OR. The Rorschach Mutuality of Autonomy (MOA) scale (Urist, 1977; Urist & Shill, 1982) and adapted version for the TAT (MOA-TAT) were used to assess OR. Pearson correlation analyses were used to examine the convergence between the MOA and MOA-TAT scales, as well as their relationship to attention and language functioning. Results: The findings from the study provide preliminary support for the MOA-TAT scale as a reliable and valid measure of OR. Inter-rater agreement for the MOA-TAT was excellent (ICC = .86), and significant convergence was revealed between the two scales. The MOA-TAT, however, evidenced a more adaptive OR distribution and higher frequency of responses than the MOA scale. The relationship among attention, language, and OR were not statistically significant. However, correlational trends emerged for attention symptomatology. Findings pertaining to language were inconsistent with and disconfirmed the study hypotheses. Conclusions: Results from the study offer significant contributions to OR assessment research and implications for clinical assessment practices.

  • 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.

  • Archiving the City: A Guide to the Art of Urban Interventions

    Author:
    Olatokunbo Enigbokan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Susan Saegert
    Abstract:

    The topic of this dissertation is the development and exploration of alternative methodologies for understanding and relating to everyday urban experience. The project is a psychogeographical exploration of methodologies used in contemporary art and architectural practice to create street-level "urban interventions." For the purposes of this study, urban interventions are defined as actions, performances, installations and objects created by artists, and or activists and sometimes architects, and inserted into, or responsive to, everyday urban environments, usually taking place outside of official art spaces, such as museums and galleries. In most cases these interventions are unexpected, express a "do-it-yourself" aesthetic and have not been commissioned by any governmental or private entity. This dissertation in Environmental Psychology discusses creative transdisciplinary methods of engaging urban experience, focusing on urban interventionist art and architectural practice in Moscow and New York over the past few decades. Drawing upon archival records, attendance and participation at public exhibitions of artworks and talks, selected urban interventions are subjected to psychogeographical analysis, in addition to thematic analyses of the discourse surrounding the artworks. While some of these interventions have been situated within various genealogies of modern and contemporary art history and criticism, these practices are placed within a genealogy of urban theory rooted in psychogeography and historical geography. As such, the focus here is on selected urban interventions that creatively combine cartographic and design practices with archival practice, and that engage with a distinct sense of urban temporality. The various examples of urban interventions provided throughout this dissertation present a provocation to develop alternative ways of talking about and researching urban experience within the social sciences.

  • 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.