Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF REPRESENTATIONS FOR EXECUTIVE FUNCTION IN THE CONTEXT OF HIV MEDICATION ADHERENCE AND METHAMPHETAMINE USE

    Author:
    William Kowalczyk
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Sarit Golub
    Abstract:

    The current research seeks to clarify the relationship between executive function and the behaviors of medication adherence and methamphetamine use in HIV+ men who have sex with men. Executive function is impaired by HIV, and those impairments are associated with difficulties in adherence. Difficulties in adherence lead to greater disease burden and more impairment. Methamphetamine contributes to the problem by exacerbating executive function directly, and by impacting executive function indirectly through disease progression related to poorer adherence, less effective treatment, and by directly increasing the replication rate of HIV. Executive function is the process by which distinct cognitive functions are coordinated in order to direct behavior towards a goal. The construct of executive function and many of the neuropsychological tests used to measure it are multifaceted in nature, making it difficult to delineate specific components of executive function. This inability to accurately differentiate components creates a barrier to targeted intervention development for impacting executive function problems that may lead to nonadherence and methamphetamine use. The present study operationalized executive function in three ways: a) by using individual neuropsychological test variables; b) by averaging individual variables to create a executive domain NPZ score, the standard for the current literature; and c) by using factor scores created through exploratory factor analysis of the individual neuropsychological test variables. These three methods were compared in their association with demographic variables, methamphetamine-use characteristics, disease progression, and adherence variables. The factor analysis yielded a six-factor solution: Executive Inhibition, Decision Making/ Reinforcement Processing, Wisconsin Card Sorting Test Performance, Motor Impulsivity, Slowness of Processing, and Sustained Attention. All three methods for operationalizing executive function predicted adherence behavior while controlling for methamphetamine dependence severity. However, the comparison of the three representations of executive function demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Analyzing the relationship between executive function and HIV-related health behaviors using neuropsychological test variables individually retained specificity, but lacked statistical predictive power. The executive domain NPZ score was a powerful predictor, demonstrating a relationship between executive function and adherence even when controlling for demographic factors. However, this method lacked specificity and was sensitive to misinterpretation. The factor scores were not as powerful, but greatly added to the interpretability of function associated with HIV-related health behavior. These three methods for operationalizing executive function all retain some value for predicting HIV-related health behaviors. The factor scores provide an intermediate level of power between individual scores and an executive domain NPZ score. Most importantly, the convergent and divergent evidence provided by the factor loadings increases the confidence that the factor scores are measuring specific delineated functions than. Clarifying the relationship between specific functions and health behavior is the first step in paving the way to targeting executive function difficulties for intervention development in HIV+ persons.

  • Biological motion processing in typical development and in the autism spectrum

    Author:
    Aaron Krakowski
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    John Foxe
    Abstract:

    Biological motion (BM) analysis and interpretation is a fundamental process of human neurocognition that has been only minimally explored neurophysiologically. In addition to its importance in understanding the underlying roots and development of social cognition, BM processing is a prime candidate domain for exploring the underlying etiology of social cognitive disorders such as the autism spectrum. In an initial experiment, typical adults observed BM point-light displays of a human actor (UM) as well as their spatially scrambled counterparts (SM), in both an unattended distractor task as well as an explicit attention task. Results showed a neurophysiological response manifested as three phases of activity over parieto-occipital sites: an early (100-200 ms) automatic phase that was task-invariant; a mid-level activity (200-350 ms) that was amplified by attention; and a later phase of activation (400-500 ms) that only manifested when BM was explicitly attended. In contrast, in follow-up experiments with typically-developing children (TDs), BM processing that distinguished UM, SM, and inverted motion (IM) occurred later (250 ms onward) and appeared as only one contiguous window of activation that was unaffected by attention. It was also observed that children with an autism spectrum disorder (cASD) demonstrated both typical BM behavioral ability as well as typical BM-related electrophysiological activity as manifest in the interactions between group and the three BM stimulus-responses (UM, IM, SM). Notably, all three stimulus-responses individually generated similarly distinct between-group effects from quite early (129 ms) suggestive of more general visual processing dysfunctions in the disorders. In addition, a more powerful secondary analysis detected between-group effects even in the differences between the responses evoked by the UM and SM conditions, suggesting the presence of specific BM-processing dysfunctions in ASD. The role of such sensory deficits in the development of social impairments in the disorders such as in theory-of-mind is discussed.

  • PSYCHOMETRIC PROPERTIES OF A MULTICHANNEL BATTERY FOR THE ASSESSMENT OF EMOTIONAL PERCEPTION

    Author:
    William Krause
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Joan Borod
    Abstract:

    Perceiving the emotions of others is an important, even critical, skill for success in social interactions. The lack of this skill has been associated with decreased social competence and poor interpersonal relationships (Shimokawa et al., 2001). It frequently co-occurs with psychopathology. Furthermore, there is a large and rapidly growing literature examining the neural substrates of emotional processing. Studies have examined the processing of particular emotions, as well as how emotions conveyed through different modalities are processed. The New York Emotion Battery (NYEB; Borod, Welkowitz, & Obler, 1992) includes tests for the perception of eight discrete emotions across three communication channels: facial, prosodic, and lexical. The NYEB has been used to study psychiatric and neurological conditions, as well as normal aging. For the current study, data were collected from 122 healthy, right-handed adults, ages 20-89. Paarticipants completed emotion perception and nonemotional control tasks from the NYEB. Perceptual tasks included both identification and discrimination of emotion. All participants completed a screening battery which included measures of cognitive, perceptual, and affective functioning. The aims of the current study were: 1) To establish the internal consistency reliability and construct validity of the NYEB. 2) To examine the structure of its observed and latent variables and compare those structures to theory. 3) To describe any demographic or response biases of the NYEB. Results indicated that the NYEB has very good internal consistency for identification tasks, but lower internal consistency for discrimination tasks. Performance on the NYEB (both overall and in its identification subtests) is strongly determined by a general factor of emotion perception ability. Individual identification subtests often display a moderately strong second factor, but are still good measures of general emotional perception ability. Analysis of hierarchical grouping of the battery's emotions provides support for the approach/withdrawal classification of emotions (as it relates to perceived emotions). Individual emotions varied in how accurately they were perceived and how frequently they were named in responses. Overall, the NYEB has good psychometric properties, should be a valid and useful instrument for assessing emotion perception deficits in psychopathology, and has potential to be adapted into an abbreviated form.

  • NEUROANATOMICAL AND BEHAVIORAL CHARACTERIZATION OF MICE DEFICIENT IN HEPARIN-BINDING GROWTH-ASSOCIATED MOLECULE

    Author:
    Jason Krellman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Susan Croll
    Abstract:

    Heparin-binding growth-associated molecule (HB-GAM) is an extra-cellular matrix-associated protein involved in a variety of neurodevelopmental processes that has neurotrophic and neuroprotective effects. Previous studies suggest that HB-GAM knockout mice exhibit cognitive inflexibility, anxiety, and motor impairment and that the brains of these animals possess increases in cortical neuronal density. Collectively, these features are most similar to the pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). Therefore, the current studies sought to further characterize the neuroanatomical and behavioral phenotype of HB-GAM knockouts within the context of the hypothesis that these animals might serve as an animal model of the PDDs. Consistent with this hypothesis, HB-GAM knockouts demonstrated cognitive inflexibility, heightened anxiety, and both a contextual and social neophobia. In addition, the knockouts' brains were shown to possess cortical neuronal area decreases and cortical neuronal packing density increases. These data suggest that multiple abnormalities similar to those observed in individuals with PDDs characterize the phenotype of HB-GAM knockouts. The validity and limitations of HB-GAM knockouts as an animal model of the PDDs are discussed, as are suggestions for future studies of these animals.

  • Teaching Gaze Shifting in the Context of Requesting and Joint Attention to Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Author:
    Ivana Krstovska-Guerrero
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Emily Jones
    Abstract:

    Impairment in eye gaze, including gaze shifting (GS) and making eye contact in early social communication is severely impaired in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This study examined the effectiveness of prompting and reinforcement to teach GS in the context of responding to a request and initiating joint attention to four toddlers with ASD. Intervention lasted 3-9 weeks with all toddlers demonstrating GS to mastery across both contexts. Toddlers also showed generalization to a repertoire of social-communication behavior, including increases in smiling. Some improvements in symptoms of autism and overall functioning were observed. Results suggest a promising brief intervention to address the earliest form of social communication that remains a part of successful social-communication interactions throughout life.

  • THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LEVEL OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, EMOTIONAL AWARENESS, AND SYMPTOMS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL STRESS AMONG HOMELESS PARENTS

    Author:
    Jason Kruk
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Psychology
    Advisor:
    Peter Fraenkel
    Abstract:

    This study examined the relationship between symptoms of psychological stress and levels of emotional intelligence and awareness among parents living in a homeless shelter. The literature indicates that homeless parents are exposed to a large number of stressors and traumata, but that their level of emotional intelligence and awareness may affect the degree to which they are affected by those stressors. This study is designed to explore the extent to which their emotional intelligence and level of emotional awareness is associated with their ability to exist in a traumatic environment with lower likelihood of psychological symptomatology, pathological dissociation, and demoralization. Although the study does not directly measure the relationship between emotional intelligence/emotional awareness and interpersonal coping methods, psychological symptoms, dissociation, and demoralization are symptoms of poorer psychological coping. Emotional intelligence was assessed using the Mayer/Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and Emotional Awareness was assessed using the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS). Levels of psychological stress were assessed with the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), and the Psychiatric Epidemiology and Research Interview for Demoralization (PERI-D). A negative relationship was hypothesized to exist between the measures of emotional intelligence and awareness and the measures of psychological stress. The results of this study indicate partial support for its' hypotheses. As predicted, participants in the study are contending with a greater degree of symptomatology, dissociation, and demoralization than the general population. Additionally, their affect regulatory capacity as measured by the MSCEIT and the LEAS is limited compared to the general population. A significant negative relationship between psychological stress and affect regulatory capacity was not found. However, this pattern was evident for participants who engaged in pathological forms of dissociation. The statistical power of this study was limited by the small sample size (n=42), which may have obscured small but significant correlations that were consistent with the studies' hypotheses. Therefore, future research with larger samples is needed to ascertain more precisely the nature of the relationships that may exist between these variables. Future research is needed to develop sound typologies of homeless families in order to better direct policy and intervention with this population. Additionally, longitudinal research that can ascertain the extent to which affect regulatory capacity predicts good outcomes for this population is necessary in order to further the efficacy of clinical work with these families. Finally, evaluations of programmatic interventions designed to increase emotional knowledge and general affect regulatory capacity are needed.

  • 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.