Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • GAY MEN'S AND THEIR RELIGIOUS RELATIVES' NEGOTIATION OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION, RELIGION, FAMILY VALUES, AND HOMOPHOBIA

    Author:
    Chana Etengoff
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Colette Daiute
    Abstract:

    Building upon recent work studying how people use cultural tools and strategies to mediate conflicts (Daiute, 2010; Etengoff & Daiute, Forthcoming; Vygotsky 1934/1978), this dissertation explores systematically how gay men, their religious relatives, and therapists negotiate conflicts around religious, sexual, and familial issues. In addition, the dissertation studies how gay men and their allies use and modify religious and secular objects and systems, such as biblical text and therapy, to address the often conflicting demands of sexuality and religion. This dissertation analyzes the conflicts and negotiational efforts that emerge within intrapersonal, interpersonal, metaphysical and intersystem contexts for gay men and their religious families. Therefore, the principal research questions guiding this study are: How is the process of sexual orientation and sexual orientation disclosure negotiated within a religious, familial, and societal system?; What are the salient conflicts that emerge in religious families of gay men who have recently disclosed their sexual orientation?; How does one's own or a relatives' sexual orientation mediate religious orientation and activities such as bible study?; What religious and secular objects and activities do actors across the activity-meaning system use to negotiate conflicts? In contrast to much scholarship on gay men from religious backgrounds that focuses only on the negative impacts of institutionalized homophobia, this work focuses on how inter-group and inter-personal relations can be improved for gay men and their religious family allies. Due to the unique socio-religious context of the participants in this study, this dissertation employs an applied activity-meaning system framework to explore how individuals and their socio-religious contexts are reciprocal agents of construction and human development. Therefore, the theoretical bases of this dissertation are Vygotsky's (1934/1978) cultural historical activity theory and relational complexity theory (Daiute, 2012). In addition, mediational strategies in this study are defined within the relationally complex framework of humanization (Bell & Khoury, 2011). These developmental theories are particularly relevant to gay men and their religious families due to their multifaceted interactions within relational, familial, religious and social contexts. Fifty participants comprised of gay men (n=23), their key religious family member (n=15), and clinicians (n=12) were sampled to give voice to the multiple social relationships of gay men brought up in very religious Jewish and Christian families. All participants completed semi-structured interviews and gay men and their family allies were also asked to write a letter to a religious figure. Multiple forms of narrative construction were used to expand the unit of analysis to include the study of how families make-meaning of the interactions between their sociocultural and sociorelational experiences. In addition, the letter writing task was designed to empower participants to engage the power-laden contexts of religion and sexuality as participant-activists as opposed to only participant-observers. Narrative analyses began with the following four process steps: (a) identification of conflict(s) and difficulties present within narrative, (b) identification of family and individual negotiation efforts, (c) Identification of cultural tool use such as religious texts, (d) characterization of the mediational strategies. This coding system was inductively derived from the narratives and informed by cultural historical activity theory. Analyses of participants' relational uses of religious and popular objects support the argument that development is a meaning-making process occurring within sociocultural and historical contexts. Furthermore, results indicate that participants' use of religious and popular objects was often a goal directed and aimed at affecting sociorelational and sociocultural change within their activity system. In addition, findings indicate that gay men's and their religious family allies' awareness of the sociocultural contexts of each other's lived experience is an important component in the successful negotiation of post-disclosure conflicts within religious and familial contexts. Moreover, analyses suggest that both gay men and their religious family allies successfully negotiated the conflicts between their family system, religious values, and social stigma experiences by focusing on humanization strategies such as recognizing the shared human experience and the diversity of the gay community. This investigation also illustrates that exploratory semi-structured interviews engaging participants in such acts of humanization can potentially yield substantial improvement in family dynamics. While prior research indicates that sexual minorities can overcome the negative romantic effects of social stigma by engaging in meaning-making activities (Frost 2011), the present results suggest that this meaning-making intervention paradigm can be expanded to include other familial relationships and systems as well.

  • Inter-Religious Relationships and Anxiety in the Regulation of Automatic Inter-Religious Prejudice

    Author:
    Karla Felix
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Curtis Hardin
    Abstract:

    Shared reality theory predicts and evidence suggests that inter-religious relationships are motivated to maintain or regulate interpersonal interactions with others. However, this motivation has been given little attention within the automatic attitude literature. This research is centered on the idea that automatic prejudice is moderated by two fundamental themes, shared reality and anxiety. These themes are reviewed to determine the degree to which participants socially tune to ingroup versus outgroup religious experimenters. In Experiment 1, automatic inter-religious attitudes toward Christian and Jewish experimenters were assessed via a subliminal prime procedure. Religious orientation (extrinsic, intrinsic) and regulation of inter-religious relationships were also investigated. Paternal shared reality but not maternal shared reality moderated the effect of experimenter religion on automatic inter-religious attitudes. This finding was also similar among highly devoted Christian participants. In addition to measuring implicit inter-religious prejudice, Experiment 2 measured explicit measures of affect, intergroup anxiety and blood pressure reactivity in addition to implicit prejudice. Christian participants negative affect, systolic blood pressure, and pulse decreased as a result of interacting with Christian and Jewish experimenters. Religious experimenters did not significantly affect Christian and Jewish participants automatic inter-religious attitudes but only components of intergroup anxiety (belief similarity and intergroup interactions) were context dependent. The effects were found not to be moderated by level of devotion or parental shared reality. This research suggests inter-religious relationships among fathers but not mothers affect inter-religious prejudice and these effects are further attributable to anxiety and blood pressure for Christians but not Jews.

  • Functional Differentiation Between the Left and Right Hemisphere for a Sub-Region of Wernicke's Area is Revealed with fMRI-Guided, Single-Pulse TMS.

    Author:
    John Ferrera
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Joshua Brumberg
    Abstract:

    During the past two decades, studies of neural organization have been bolstered by the addition of functional and structural brain-imaging techniques capable of localizing and correlating brain activity to cognitive functions. With potential clinical applications abound, localizing language-related activity prior to neurosurgery is an interest shared by both neuroscientists and neuroradiologists who are interested in protecting essential language regions in neurosurgery candidates. Since imaging is correlative, however, it does not distinguish essential brain activity from supporting and associated activity and therefore cannot be used independently to determine hemispheric language dominance. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), on the other hand, is a non-invasive technique that stimulates targeted brain regions directly and can therefore inform causative structure/function relationships. The goal of this study is to develop non-invasive techniques that definitively identify hemispheric language dominance. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) was used to locate language-related regions in 36 right-handed participants. In most participants, there were two clusters of activation within classic Wernicke's territory. We termed these dorsal and ventral Wernicke's areas. On a separate day, fourteen of the thirty-six participants returned to participate in a single-pulse TMS experiment which targeted dorsal and ventral Wernicke's areas and their right-sided homologues. Picture naming latency was decreased following TMS of left-sided dorsal and ventral Wernicke's areas as well as right-sided ventral Wernicke's homologue. No effect was observed following TMS of dorsal Wernicke's homologue. These results highlight the advantages of using cross-modal imaging techniques by providing direct evidence in support of modern theories of neural language organization that propose a bilateral sub-region of Wernicke's area involved in phonological processing, and a unilateral left-sided component involved in integration and relay of semantic information to other cortical regions.

  • Functional Differentiation Between the Left and Right Hemisphere for a Sub-Region of Wernicke's Area is Revealed with fMRI-Guided, Single-Pulse TMS.

    Author:
    John Ferrera
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Joshua Brumberg
    Abstract:

    During the past two decades, studies of neural organization have been bolstered by the addition of functional and structural brain-imaging techniques capable of localizing and correlating brain activity to cognitive functions. With potential clinical applications abound, localizing language-related activity prior to neurosurgery is an interest shared by both neuroscientists and neuroradiologists who are interested in protecting essential language regions in neurosurgery candidates. Since imaging is correlative, however, it does not distinguish essential brain activity from supporting and associated activity and therefore cannot be used independently to determine hemispheric language dominance. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), on the other hand, is a non-invasive technique that stimulates targeted brain regions directly and can therefore inform causative structure/function relationships. The goal of this study is to develop non-invasive techniques that definitively identify hemispheric language dominance. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) was used to locate language-related regions in 36 right-handed participants. In most participants, there were two clusters of activation within classic Wernicke's territory. We termed these dorsal and ventral Wernicke's areas. On a separate day, fourteen of the thirty-six participants returned to participate in a single-pulse TMS experiment which targeted dorsal and ventral Wernicke's areas and their right-sided homologues. Picture naming latency was decreased following TMS of left-sided dorsal and ventral Wernicke's areas as well as right-sided ventral Wernicke's homologue. No effect was observed following TMS of dorsal Wernicke's homologue. These results highlight the advantages of using cross-modal imaging techniques by providing direct evidence in support of modern theories of neural language organization that propose a bilateral sub-region of Wernicke's area involved in phonological processing, and a unilateral left-sided component involved in integration and relay of semantic information to other cortical regions.