Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • An Investigation of Factors that Create and Mitigate Confirmation Bias in Judgments of Handwriting Evidence

    Author:
    Jeffrey Kukucka
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Saul Kassin
    Abstract:

    Over a century of basic cognitive and social psychological research shows that humans naturally seek out, perceive, and interpret evidence in ways that serve to validate their prevailing beliefs (i.e., confirmation bias; Nickerson, 1998). In criminal justice settings, a priori beliefs regarding the guilt or innocence of a suspect can likewise guide the collection, interpretation, and appraisal of evidence in a self-verifying manner (i.e., forensic confirmation bias; Kassin, Dror, & Kukucka, 2013). Recently, confirmation bias has been implicated as a source of forensic science errors in wrongful conviction cases (e.g., National Academy of Sciences, 2009; Risinger, Saks, Rosenthal, & Thompson, 2002). Accordingly, many have suggested procedural reforms to mitigate the detrimental impact of unconscious bias on judgments of forensic evidence. Three studies tested the effects of exposure to case information and evidence lineup use on judgments of handwriting evidence in a mock investigation. In Studies 1 and 2, participants who were aware of a suspect's confession rated non-matching handwriting samples from the suspect and perpetrator as more similar to each other, and were more likely to misjudge them as having been authored by the same individual. The findings of Studies 1 and 2 thus further raise growing concerns over allowing forensic science examiners access to case information that can unwittingly produce confirmation bias and result in erroneous judgments. In Study 2, the use of a simultaneous evidence lineup increased choosing rates relative to an evidence "showup," and produced a corresponding decrease in judgment accuracy. In Study 3, sequential evidence lineups dramatically reduced false identifications relative to simultaneous lineups, without causing a significant reduction in correct identifications. By showing parallel effects between forensic evidence lineup identification and eyewitness lineup identification, Studies 2 and 3 suggest the potential value of evidence lineups as a means of protecting against bias and reducing systematic error in judgments of forensic evidence.

  • Do anger management treatments help angry adults? A meta-analytic answer

    Author:
    Grazyna Kusmierska
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    William Gottdiener
    Abstract:

    Poorly managed anger could be a serious social and psychological problem. Despite the need for effective anger treatment models, little is known about what works and what does not work for various categories of angry people, and what could be done to better help them. This study was conducted to assess the efficacy of anger treatments with adults and to test four participant characteristics and three study characteristics presumed to moderate treatment effects. To that end, 74 anger treatment outcome studies were meta-analytically synthesized. The individual reports were included if they tested anger treatment with adults, used measures of anger, and provided data in a format for which an effect size was calculable. There was no limit as to the treatment model or modality, or the study's publication status. Randomized controlled trials, nonequivalent control group studies and single group pretest-posttest studies were included, but single-case studies were not included. A post-hoc decision was also made to include only studies reporting treatments that consisted of 1-18 sessions. The overall mean effect size was g = 0.584. The results were heterogeneous indicating the existence of moderator variables. One of the moderator variables was the population from which the participants were recruited. The treatment effect sizes ranged from large in people with intellectual disabilities and psychiatric outpatients, to small in medical patients, drivers, and veterans. Another moderator variable was the participants' gender. The effect sizes were larger in women than in men participating in anger treatment. The participants' cognitive and anger severity levels did not moderate treatment effects. There were no moderating effects of study design and treatment modality either. There was an association between the publication status of the individual reports and treatment effect sizes, with published studies reporting larger effect sizes than the unpublished studies. This meta-analysis confirmed that the majority of people who participate in anger treatment benefit from it. The current study also uncovered two participant characteristics that moderate treatment effects, identified areas that require more research, and indicated what participants' data should be included in individual reports to advance prospective meta-analyses of anger treatment outcomes.

  • Conflict and Playmaking: The impact of a recess enhancement program on elementary school playgrounds in New York City

    Author:
    Elizabeth Lake
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Roger Hart
    Abstract:

    As time demands for schooling increase and children's freedom to play is under threat, the question of how play during school recess can best be designed to serve children has grown in importance. This research examines whether a peer-training program can influence children's activity choices and social behaviors and reduce conflict on elementary school playgrounds during recess and what aspects of such a peer-training program are important to this goal. Three general recess issues are considered: conflict, activity level and choice, and gender inclusion. The data was collected as part of a Recess Enhancement Program in a select group of 21 participating elementary schools in New York City in 2003 and 2004. The research questions focused on recess before and after the intervention, and how the program changed the dynamics of play in these schools. A mixed methods technique, including observations, interviews, focuses groups, and surveys were used. Over the course of a school year, conflict rates decreased, activity levels increased in some schools (and decreased in others), and gender inclusive play decreased. The selection of the Student Leaders was the most critical aspect of the recess program's success, and high staff turnover provided challenges to its implementation. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of implications for how recess is planned and managed in schools and what kinds of further experimentation and research is required to address the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive aspects of play.

  • Ten Fingers and Ten Toes: Mothers of Children with Down Syndrome Constructing the Sociocultural Meaning of Disability and Motherhood

    Author:
    Priya Lalvani
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Anna Stetsenko
    Abstract:

    Advisor: Professor Anna Stetsenko This qualitative study concerns the lived experiences and negotiated identities of mothers of children with Down syndrome in the context of the meaning of disability and normalcy in society. The study explored mothers' experiences of the birth and diagnosis of their children with Down syndrome, their perceptions of parenthood, their understanding of cultural attitudes towards disability, and their negotiations of the social world on behalf of their families. Additionally, the study examined mothers' beliefs about inclusive education and their support for particular educational programs for their children. Data were collected from 19 mothers of children with Down syndrome through semi-structured interviews, which were audio-recorded, transcribed, coded and analyzed. The findings highlight the existence of oppressive interpersonal and institutional discourses on families of children with disabilities, centered on notions of damage, burden, and stigma. The mothers in this study strongly resisted dominant discourses about families of children with disabilities, rejecting the notion that being the parent of a child with Down syndrome is a negative experience. Instead, they represented their lives and those of their families in terms that emphasized the more normative aspects. Furthermore, they rejected notions of otherness in their descriptions of their children, and defined normative motherhood as encompassing a wide variety of tasks, roles, and challenges. The findings are indicative of transformations in these mothers' understanding of what is like to parent a child with Down syndrome and suggest that they located disability not only in their child, but also in the environment. For a majority of the mothers, the social implications of having Down syndrome were among the most pressing issues, and concerns regarding social acceptance strongly influenced their beliefs about inclusive education. The results of this study strongly support a need for a conceptual shift in understanding the experiences of families of children with Down syndrome; one that shifts its gaze from the "problem" of Down syndrome to the problematic constructions of normative motherhood and of the otherness of children with Down syndrome.

  • Internalizing and Externalizing Pathways to Suicidality in Abused and Neglected Children

    Author:
    Elise Landry
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Cathy Spatz Widom
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines major depressive disorder (MDD), substance abuse and/or dependence (DA), antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD) as potential mediators of the relationship between child abuse/neglect and suicidality in middle adulthood. Children with documented cases of physical and sexual abuse and neglect (ages 0-11) during 1967-1971 were matched with non-maltreated children and followed into middle adulthood (approximately age 40). Mediators were assessed in young adulthood (approximately age 29) through in-person interviews between 1989 and 1995. Suicidality was assessed via self-report during 2000-2002 (N = 892). Logistic regressions were used to test whether: (1) Children with documented histories of child abuse/neglect (as well as specific types of abuse/neglect) were at increased risk for suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior in middle adulthood in comparison with matched controls; (2) Children who have documented histories of abuse/neglect were at increased risk for lifetime diagnoses of MDD, DA, ASPD, and BPD in comparison with matched controls; and (3) Diagnoses of MDD, DA, ASPD, and BPD mediate the relationship between child abuse/neglect and suicidality. Interactions for sex and race were also examined and separate analyses were conducted for males, females, Blacks, and Whites. Child abuse/neglect was associated with increased risk for suicidality in middle adulthood and only MDD mediated the relationship between child abuse/neglect and suicidality. When specific types of abuse/neglect were considered, ASPD mediated the relationship for neglect and suicidality, while MDD and BPD mediated the associations for physical abuse and suicidality and multiple forms of maltreatment and suicidality. Separate analyses for males and females revealed significant sex differences. MDD acted as a mediator between child abuse/neglect and suicidality only for females, BPD was a mediator between child abuse/neglect and suicidality for males, and ASPD was a mediator for both abused/neglected males and sexually abused females. While MDD significantly mediated the relationship between child abuse/neglect for Whites, none of the diagnoses mediated the relationship between abuse/neglect and suicidality for Blacks. These results suggest the importance of considering the roles not only of internalizing symptoms but also of externalizing symptoms in suicide risk assessments among the maltreated population.

  • Daytime Napping: Effects on Relational Memory

    Author:
    Hiuyan Lau
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    William Fishbein
    Abstract:

    DAYTIME NAPPING: EFFECTS ON RELATIONAL MEMORY by Hiuyan Lau A plethora of theoretical models and empirical data suggest that sleep strengthens various types of memory. However, the role of sleep in a fundamental feature of memory, relational memory - the flexible representation of items not directly learned prior to sleep - is less clear. At the same time, the effect of daytime naps - relatively brief periods of diurnal sleep - on memory is not well explored. In the present research, a series of three studies were conducted to investigate the effect of daytime napping on three different forms of relational memory: 1) inferential associations of separately learned items, 2) the abstraction of general concepts, and 3) relational memory built on shared contextual elements. Results from all three studies indicate that daytime napping facilitates relational memory. In addition, Study II demonstrates that the effect of daytime napping on relational memory is not dependent on whether the nap immediately follows learning or occurs after a brief (approximately two hours) delay. However, the significant difference in task performance between subjects with and without a nap is not sustained after one week, as shown in Study III. Consistent with the majority of existing literature, slow wave sleep, among all sleep stages, appears to be the strongest contributor to relational memory. Yet it alone cannot fully explain the effect of sleep on relational memory, suggesting that mechanisms independent of sleep stages may be involved. Overall, the results from the present research imply an active role for sleep in multiple memory processes that are not limited to the mere strengthening of memories, but also the binding and reorganizing of separately learned memory traces for flexible use at a later time.

  • The Influence of Naive and Media-Informed Beliefs on Juror Evaluations of Forensic Science Evidence

    Author:
    Victoria Lawson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Deryn Strange
    Abstract:

    The National Academy of Sciences (2009) concluded that with the exception of nuclear DNA, none of the forensic sciences has been scientifically validated. It is not clear, however, that people are aware of these deficiencies. Indeed, people tend to think quite highly of forensic science, and find it to be convincing trial evidence. It is not clear to what extent their erroneous beliefs about validity influence the weight given to such evidence, or how best to challenge these beliefs. In the present research, I examined people's beliefs about forensic science and how their beliefs influenced their evaluations of forensic evidence. I also investigated the most effective ways to challenge their beliefs either during the trial (i.e., via cross-examination) or prior to the trial (i.e., via the media). In the first part of the project (Study 1), I investigated pretrial reliability beliefs, and the influence of DNA, fingerprint, toolmark, and bitemark evidence in a homicide trial. The evidence matched or did not match the defendant and was countered by non-substantive, expert-focused, or evidence-focused cross-examination. Forensic evidence was viewed as more reliable than non-forensic evidence, and reliability beliefs influenced people's perceptions of the evidence. Although participants had some awareness of the comparative reliability of different disciplines, they tended to give too much weight to less valid disciplines. Further, evidence that matched the defendant was viewed as higher quality than evidence that did not match. Although cross-examination made people more skeptical of the forensic evidence, it did not reduce guilty verdicts. In the second part of the project, I investigated the effectiveness of fact-based (Study 2) or story-based (Study 3) media reports in challenging people's beliefs about the validity of bitemark evidence, and whether reading such reports could help them to evaluate forensic evidence more appropriately. I found that a report which used complex language and attacked bitemark evidence from several angles was the most effective fact-based report. An illustrative story by itself was ineffective, but when the story was supplemented with factual information, it appeared to be the more effective than facts presented alone. Possible implications of these findings are discussed.

  • PARENT-CHILD DYADIC PLAY AND DEVELOPMENT:

    Author:
    Leah Lax
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Anna Stetsenko
    Abstract:

    In this study, dyadic play in a culturally diverse sample was observed and coded. Thirty mother-child dyads participated, of which 10 were Chinese immigrant families, 10 Hispanic immigrant families and 10 were native born Caucasian Americans. The age of the mothers ranged from 23-39 (M = 31, SD 3.81) age of the fathers from 25-41 (M = 33.34, SD 4.40). The age of the children ranged from 18 - 36 months, (M = 26.70 months, SD 6.05). Of the 30 children, 17 were male and 13 were female. The education level of parents ranged from Junior High School through Graduate School and was well balanced across all groups. Twenty four of the 30 children in the study had siblings. Eight of the children in the study received a therapeutic service and siblings of 7 of them were reported to have received a therapeutic service. Fifteen families reported that they had private health insurance: Medicaid status was used as a proxy for income. A questionnaire of Parental Beliefs about Play and Development was completed as well as an observation of parent-child play. The type of play, child behaviors and level of parental scaffolding were coded to determine the relationship between the parents' responses to the questionnaire and their actual play. Responses to the questionnaire were summarized to form 3 groups -- parents who believed that play and development were interactive, that development was fixed, and that development was based solely upon maturation. Parents who believed that play and development were interactive demonstrated higher levels of scaffolding behavior of their child in play F(2,27) = 4.74 p<0.01. There was no effect observed for socioeconomic status or the presence of a disability upon parental beliefs; there were some differences in beliefs about development by ethnicity. The focus of this study was not to reveal cross cultural differences but rather, to ensure that there was enough cross cultural representation to demonstrate that the findings are likely to apply to parents in general, rather than to parents belonging to a specific SES, race or culture.

  • ECOBEHAVIORAL DIMENSIONS OF JAYWALKING: JAYWALKER-CAR COLLISIONS AS A FUNCTION OF THE SOCIO-SPATIAL CONTEXT

    Author:
    Mauricio Leandro
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Gary Winkel
    Abstract:

    A three-level hierarchical model assessed the combined effects of a multilevel approach to the explanation of injury severity in a sample of jaywalker-car collisions that occurred in New Jersey between 2006 and 2009. First-level units were individual jaywalkers who were involved in the collisions. Second-level units were the road segments (spots) of approximately 0.5 miles radius around the point at which at least one collision occurred. The third-level units were municipalities having had at least one collision. Results indicate that younger jaywalkers, those who wear light clothes, those who cross the road without running or darting, those who are not under the influence of drugs or medication, and those who collide with drivers not driving in a straight strip of road tend to receive less severe injuries. Along with the individual-level factors, significant interaction of some of the second and third-level predictors was found. When roads were dry, wearing light clothing minimizes the severity of injuries. When jaywalkers were under the influence of drugs or medication, greater sidewalk coverage helped to reduce the injury severity. When fewer cars were parked on the roadside to protect against speeding drivers, wearing clear clothing helped to reduce injury level. No moderation effect was found of macro-level factors on micro-level variables predicting injury level. Nonetheless, environmental features like sidewalk coverage, recreation areas nearby, distance to public transportation, population density, and poverty contributed significantly to explain severity of injuries.

  • Early Sensory Processing Deficits in Schizophrenia

    Author:
    Victoria Leavitt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    John Foxe
    Abstract:

    Sensory processing deficits have been found in individuals with schizophrenia across sensory modalities, including auditory, visual, somatosensory, and olfactory systems. These deficits have been identified at very early stages of cortical, and subcortical processing. It remains to be seen whether or not these deficits have implications for higher order cognitive processes and the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Before we can begin to understand the role they play in the etiology and manifestation of the disease, the deficits themselves must be fully characterized. Three high-density (168-channel) electrophysiological investigations are detailed herein, the first two of which are concerned with the auditory system, and the final, the visual system. First, we present an investigation of the middle latency auditory evoked potentials, a processing period which has not previously been explicated in the schizophrenia literature, and one which represents the transition from brainstem-level processing to late-latency cortical processes. Next, we present a normative investigation of the ventral and dorsal (`what' and `where') auditory pathways which employed functionally distinct behavioral tasks in an attempt to characterize the evoked componentry within each of the respective pathways. On the basis of the notion that dorsal and ventral pathways show differential impairment in individuals with schizophrenia, the paradigm was then applied to a group of patients to determine whether the pattern of processing within the two pathways differed from that observed in healthy controls. Finally, we present a visual experiment that employed a monocular deprivation challenge as a means of amplifying known early visual processing deficits in schizophrenia, namely the visual P1 deficit which was recently identified as an endophenotypic marker for schizophrenia. Taken together, the deficits that were identified and characterized within each of these sensory modalities may contribute to an overarching model of sensory processing deficits in schizophrenia wherein the contributions of many decrements, taken together across sensory modalities, result in a profile common to individuals with schizophrenia.