Mini-Con 2019

Mini-Con, or Mini Convention, is held every year in the spring to celebrate the terrific work our second year PhD students have accomplished.

Mini-con is a convention style presentation in which each second year student gives a 10 minute presentation based on their second year paper. The presentation encompasses the research they have conducted, data collected, and future prospects, with a Q&A from attendees. The students are evaluated on the professionalism and ability to present research to the scientific community.

Engineering Sciences Building (ESB) 1001

May 14, 2019, from 8:40am - 5:20pm


Morning Session

8:40am Breakfast

9:00am Opening remarks by Michael Miller, Chair

9:10am Morning Session starts with a coffee break at 10:30am

11:40am Richard E. Mayer presented by Heejung Kim

11:50am Lunch 

Afternoon Session

12:55pm Afternoon Session starts with coffee breaks at 1:55pm and 3:25pm

4:55pm Charles G. McClintock Award presented by Shelly Gable

5:05pm Harry J. Carlisle Memorial Award presented by Tod Kippin

5:15pm Closing remarks by Michael Miller, Chair

Morning Session

9:10am Vinnie Wu (SOC)

Using Feedback to Influence Approach- and Avoidance-Oriented Individuals’ Intergroup Relations

Previous research has established that positive intergroup contact can improve intergroup interactions (e.g. Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). However, individuals experience intergroup interactions differently, depending on whether they are more approach-oriented (adopting goals to obtain desirable outcomes) or more avoidance-oriented (adopting goals to avoid an undesirable goal; Elliot, 1999). These motivational goal orientations are associated with different patterns of affect (Carver, Sutton, & Scheier, 2000), leading to divergent psychological responses to outgroup members. This study examined whether feedback influences the emotions associated with these orientations during intergroup interactions to affect interaction quality. In this study, 199 non-Black female participants were randomly assigned to receive success or failure feedback about their online interaction with a Black female partner. Results demonstrated that for individuals high in approach-orientation, success feedback (rather than failure feedback) increased feelings of happiness (but did not affect sadness), improving interaction quality. For individuals high in avoidance-orientation, failure feedback (rather than success feedback) increased feelings of anxiety (but did not impact relief), lowering interaction quality. This study demonstrates the importance of success feedback, particularly for individuals high in approach-orientation, in boosting interaction quality, and the importance of avoiding failure feedback, particularly for individuals high in avoidance-orientation, in intergroup interactions.

9:30am Carol He (CPCN)

How your navigation attitudes are linked to navigation ability: impact of exploration tendency and GPS dependency

A spectrum of individual differences in navigation ability and underlying cognitive mechanisms have been discussed for decades. However, possible motivational and emotional dispositions related to navigation attitudes highlighted in the presented studies call for more attention. We found that people with low spatial anxiety have high tendency to explore different places and less tendency to rely on Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in navigation. Also, these navigation behaviors can be treated as partial mediators to explain why anxiety influences their ability. Growth mindset in navigation ability (a belief in malleability of navigation ability), serving as an intrinsic motivation to train participants themselves in daily life, explains a unique portion of variance in navigation ability. The factors beyond cognition, including emotional or motivational dispositions and spatial attributions of environments, could be further studied using Rasch Model or Item Response Theory to advance understanding of people’s performance in other objective navigation ability paradigm in the future.

9:50am Diane Lee (DEVO)

Children know food is contaminated before using knowledge to inform behavior

Food choice is cultural (Fischler, 1988; Millstone & Lang, 2002; Rozin & Rozin, 1981). Indeed, even infants prefer foods liked by members of their group (Shutts et al., 2009) and expect culture to guide food choices (Liberman et al., 2016). People learn not only what to eat, but also what to avoid. Previous work suggests that children do not avoid contaminated foods until 8 years of age (Rozin et al., 1986). Combining these lines of research, we ask how children reason about foods that are contaminated by someone from within versus outside their culture. We presented 3- to 11-year-olds with videos of a native speaker and a foreign speaker each liking a food. Across studies, we varied whose food was contaminated: the foreign speaker’s food (Study 1), or the native speaker’s food (Study 2). By 5-years-old, children rated the contaminated food as germier than clean food, regardless of who contaminated it. However, when asked which food they wanted to eat, children avoided food contaminated by a foreigner by 5-years-old, but only avoided food contaminated by a native speaker by 9-years-old. Thus, although children understand that contaminated food has germs, their choices are guided strongly guided by cultural factors until late in childhood.

10:10am Laura Pritschet (CPCN)

Estradiol shapes resting-state functional connectivity over a complete reproductive cycle in a single individual

We traditionally study the brain through group-averaged cross-sectional designs. Recent approaches in cognitive neuroscience have moved towards densely sampling individuals to understand sources of intra-subject variability in functional brain networks, finding that task-free “resting-state” brain networks are largely stable within individuals over time (Gratton et al., 2018). Sex steroid hormones have widespread impacts on the central nervous system and vary daily across individuals, but are consistently overlooked. Every 28 days, females experience a ~12-fold increase in estrogen and an ~800-fold increase in progesterone. A small body of work comparing women in isolated phases of the menstrual cycle has shown that sex steroid hormones modulate fMRI activity (Sacher et al., 2013). Despite being a natural feature in half the study population, no brain imaging study has examined the dynamic neuroendocrine changes that unfold over a complete reproductive cycle. Here, we examined the extent to which endogenous fluctuations in sex hormones alter functional connectivity of resting-state brain networks in an individual who underwent 30 daily MRIs and blood draws. Our findings reveal that estrogen has a direct influence on major intrinsic brain networks, including the default mode network and frontal control network. These results suggest that sex steroid hormones should be considered when examining variability of large-scale brain networks within individuals.

10:40am Michelle Shteyn (SOC)

Immediacy and Psychological Distance: Effects on Environmental Action

The present research investigates how extreme weather salience affects support for environmental action, and how natural disasters may differentially motivate environmental behavior among individuals with varying levels of general environmental concern. We investigated these questions at the aggregate level using big data (Study 1) and at the individual level through an online experiment (Study 2). Combining three national datasets in Study 1, we examined whether regional Google searches for extreme weather events (Google Trends) predicted regional climate change beliefs and support for policy (Yale Climate Opinion Maps). Controlling for political ideology, with a regression that included proportion of people voting Republican by region, we found that the more people searched for “Wildfire” or “Drought”, the more they reported belief that climate change is happening. In Study 2, we examined whether experimentally inducing psychological proximity to climate change by asking individuals to imagine what it would be like to experience a disaster in their local community (with and without linking it to human-caused climate change) would increase support for pro-environmental action. We also questioned whether individual environmental concern moderates the effect of psychological proximity on environmental action. We did not find significant differences among experimental conditions; however, there was an interaction of environmental concern and psychological proximity, such that individuals initially more indifferent about the environment who were self-reportedly more proximal to climate change were more motivated to behave pro-environmentally (Study 2). Implications for examining how extreme weather may alter the beliefs and actions of environmentally-indifferent individuals are discussed.

11:00am Ashleigh Wells (CPCN)

Playing Targeted Video Games for Executive Function Skill Acquisition

The present study aims to determine the efficacy of three focused video games on skill acquisition. Each of the three games – All You Can ET, Gwakkamole, and Crush Station – were designed to train the executive function skills switching, inhibiting, and updating, respectively, based on cognitive theories of skill training. Experiment 1 found that playing two hours of All You Can ET improved switching ability compared to those playing a control game. Experiment 2 found no difference between the inhibiting ability of those playing two hours of Gwakkamole and a control game. Experiment 3 found no difference between updating skill in those playing 2 hours of Crush Station and a control game. Post-hoc power analyses revealed Experiments 2 & 3 were under-powered, therefore further data collection is necessary to draw conclusions about the efficacy of these games on training their target skills. Self-report measures revealed participants found Gwakkamole too easy, not fun, and not motivating to play indicating the game was not appropriate for college-age students.

11:20am Delancey Wu (SOC)

Will I Be There for You? Affectionate Touch and Self-Disclosure Can Influence Willingness to Sacrifice in Romantic Relationships

Research on affectionate touch has shown the benefits of touch in romantic relationships, but no prior research examined how touch affects willingness to sacrifice for one’s partner or how moderators would alter this effect, such as intimacy of the context. We examined how affectionate touch influenced couple members’ willingness to sacrifice and how intimacy level may influence this decision. Participants received affectionate touch (or not) from their partner and then were given an opportunity to sacrifice for their partner. We predicted that touch and intimacy level would interact such that participants would be most willing to sacrifice when they received touch in a high intimacy context and least willing to sacrifice when they did not receive touch in a high intimacy context. Although results did not support this hypothesis in the full sample, we found that women who received touch were less willing to sacrifice than men who received touch. Exploratory analyses also suggest that this effect may be driven by perceived partner responsiveness (PPR), as participants receiving touch reported marginally higher PPR than participants who did not receive touch. This study has the potential to advance our understanding of the conditions under which touch can benefit individuals and relationships.

Afternoon Session

12:55pm Roxie Chuang (SOC)

Collectivism moderates the Association Between Political Ideology and Social Attitudes

Much conflict in our society derives from the divide in people’s political ideology, as ideology often predicts social attitudes. However, the strength of this relationship differs between people of different cultural value orientations. Three studies examined the moderating effect of collectivism on the association between political ideology and social attitudes. Study 1 examined people’s xenophobic reactions to Ebola threat. Overall, more conservative people were more xenophobic. However, political ideology predicted xenophobia less strongly among high than low collectivists. Study 2 examined support for pro-environmental policies. More conservative people showed less pro-environmental support, and political ideology predicted pro-environmental support less strongly among high than low collectivists. Study 3 manipulated people’s collectivistic and individualistic tendencies and examined their xenophobic responses to Zika threat. Exploratory analysis suggested that individualism increased xenophobia among highly conservative participants, whereas collectivism did not. It hinted at the role of individualism accentuating ideological polarization whereas collectivism attenuating it.

1:15pm Leo Chavez (N&B)

Sex vs Age: Exploring affective distress elicited by a history of binge alcohol-drinking in C57BL/6J mice

Previous findings suggest binge alcohol-drinking plays a significant role in the manifestation of negative affect in mice. Specifically, adolescent male mice in early withdrawal have shown to be more resilient to the aversive effects of alcohol than adult male mice in early withdrawal. However, when the adolescents are tested as adults, the incubation in the withdrawn-induced anxiety is expressed. In this study, we aimed to explore the affective disturbances in adolescent and adult C57BL/6J mice of both sexes at various withdrawal lengths and determine levels of corticosterone before and after behavioral testing. A total of 187 mice were subjected to 14 consecutive days of binge alcohol-drinking using a multi bottle-choice Drinking-in-the-Dark procedure (5, 10, 20 and 40% v/v). The remaining animals (N = 160) consumed only water. At their assigned withdrawal day, all animals were subjected a to 1-day behavioral test battery, including the light-dark box shuttle test, marble-burying test, and Porsolt forced swim test. Binge drinking animals consumed on average 4.97 ± .11 g/kg. Consistent with previous trends, adolescent mice consumed more alcohol than adult mice and female mice consumed alcohol than the male counterparts. Interestingly, our results revealed that changes in negative affect are age-selective, but sex-independent. A better understanding of these differences will aid in the development of future research aimed at improving our understanding of the etiology of alcohol abuse and developing targeted pharmacotherapies for individuals suffering from Alcohol Use Disorders.

1:35pm Madeleine Gross (CPCN)

In the eye (and ear) of the beholder: Perception in creative, curious, and schizotypal individuals

What is nature of the relationship between creativity, curiosity and schizotypy? Schizophrenia-spectrum conditions and creativity have been linked to difficulty filtering sensory information, and curiosity is associated with perceptual exploration. This raises the possibility of a perception-based link between all three traits. In this talk I discuss a study (N=88) investigating perceptual differences as a function of creativity, curiosity, and schizotypy. This study employed two perception-based tasks—an active auditory oddball task and a free viewing eye tracking paradigm. Creativity was measured using the figural portion of the Torrance Tests of Creativity Thinking (TTCT). Schizotypy and curiosity were measured with self-reports. In this study, creativity was associated with increased reaction time to the rare tone in the oddball task while also being positively associated with number and duration of fixations in the free viewing task. No association was found between oddball performance and curiosity nor schizotypy. However, both creativity and curiosity were associated with explorative eye movements (number of unique regions visited). When individuals were classed into high and low groups for each trait, all three groups, respectively, exhibited differences in Shannon entropy; however the pattern of findings was in the opposite direction for schizotypy than was observed for creativity and curiosity. These findings may suggest a perception-based link between creativity and curiosity, but not schizotypy. Implications and limitations of these findings are discussed.

2:05pm Katy Walter (DEVO)

Sex Differences in Mate Preferences Across 45 Countries: A Large-Scale Replication

Considerable research has examined human mate preferences across cultures, finding universal sex differences in preference for attractiveness and resources, and systematic variation in these preferences. However, the original data supporting these findings is decades old. Using a new 45 country sample, n = 14,399, we attempt to replicate classic studies examining sex differences in mate preferences. Participants reported their preferences for an ideal long-term mate in terms of physical attractiveness, good financial prospects, kindness, intelligence, and health, and reported the age of their current romantic partner. We then examined the sex differences in mate preferences and age choice across cultures, as well as the variability in mate preferences and sex differences in preferences as a function of pathogen prevalence, gender equality and sex ratio. Support for universal sex differences in preferences remains robust: men, more than women, prefer attractive, young mates, and women, more than men, prefer older mates with financial prospects. However, results for cross-cultural variability are more mixed.

2:25pm Kasie Mays (N&B)

Modeling Single Serotonergic Fiber Behavior: A Stochastic Approach

Innervating practically all parts of the brain and influencing a wide-array of behaviors, the function of the serotonin system is as far reaching as the fibers it consists of. The densities that serotonergic fibers create vary across different brain regions and have been shown to be altered in some mental disorders. The present study examined if single serotonin fiber behavior could be described using the vMF parameter of 𝜅 and if density differences arise from these values. Serotonergic fibers were visualized using three different approaches and then imaged and analyzed to obtain their 𝜅 values and optical densities. Although the trend was in the expected direction, no significance was found when 𝜅 values were compared to optical density values within a region. These results demonstrate that 𝜅 values can be obtained from traces of single fiber trajectories, however; further research needs to be conducted to determine the role of 𝜅 in fiber densities.

2:45pm Julian Gerson (N&B)

A novel tool for real time, high-precision, measurements of serotonin using electrochemical aptamer-based (E-AB) biosensors

Serotonin (5-HT) is a neurotransmitter that has critical participation in a wide range brain functions, such as arousal, motivation, learning, etc, and equally has been implicated in disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, insomnia e.t.c. Despite its implication in almost all forms of psychiatric disorders, the ability to study serotonin levels in brain has seen extremely limited evolution over the last 50 years and pales in comparison to our ability to resolve changes in neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Consequently, real-time and high temporal resolution, in-brain measurements of 5-HT would be extremely helpful in characterizing 5-HT changes in normal brain fucntion, as well as characterizing deviations that may arise as a result of disorders proposed to involve 5-HT. Our group has created and implemented the electrochemical aptamer-based biosensor (E-AB) platform to enable the detection of small molecules in living subjects both in real time and with high temporal (sub-second) resolution. Here, we describe our development of an E-AB sensor capable of detecting physiologically relevant concentrations (low nM – high uM, Kd = 500nM) of 5-HT in vitro settings (artificial and fetal bovine CSF). Modification of a previously reported optical aptamer, selective for 5-HT, allows us to attach the aptamer to a gold working electrode surface and, through the use of a redox reporter, translate changes in current to concentration levels. Currently, we are testing the utility of this E-AB sensor to measure 5-HT release in a variety of brain regions in response to administration of exogenous drugs, by using a specially designed micro-probe designed to function in freely moving animal subjects. If successful, this research program is positioned to transform our understanding of 5HT dynamics in the same way that cyclic voltammetry has transformed our understanding of dopamine system function and the plethora of behavioral outputs it is associated with.

3:05pm Nicole Han (CPCN)

Peripheral Cues Guiding the First Eye Movements to Faces

Face processing is a fast and efficient process due to its evolutionary and social importance. A majority of people direct their 1st eye movement to a featureless point just below the eyes to achieve optimal performance in face recognition tasks. Yet, not known are the properties or features of the face that guide the 1st eye movements the optimal point of fixation. In this study, we manipulated the facial frame, individual features, and different spatial configuration of features to investigate their effects on the mean and variance of the 1st eye movements to faces. Results showed that the brain utilizes the facial frame, individual facial features and feature spatial configuration to guide the 1st eye movements and helps reduce the variability of 1st fixations. The brain relies more heavily on the eyes to guide the 1st eye movements which might explained by the higher visibility of the eyes in the visual periphery. Together, the results investigated how the brain uses multiple properties of the faces in the visual periphery to direct the eyes to points of fixation that maximize the acquisition of information to support evolutionary important visual tasks.

3:35pm Diego Padilla-Garcia (SOC)

The Effects of Stigmatization on Reward Responsiveness

Anhedonia, one of the symptoms of depression, is the inability to react to pleasurable stimuli and is often a result of being exposed to stress. The focus of this study was to test the prediction that stigmatized individuals will exhibit a blunted response to rewards when compared to non-stigmatized individuals. 199 self-identified Mexican-American participants were recruited and split into two groups where one was exposed to stigmatizing videos while the other viewed content-matched, non-stigmatizing videos. A signal-detection task with an asymmetric reward schedule was used to measure four variables: response bias, discriminability, accuracy, and reaction time. No significant effects of the manipulation were found, but significant effects of the signal-detection task provided further support for the task’s ability to objectively measure reward responsiveness. The findings and implications are further discussed.

3:55pm Devi Klein (CPCN)

Context Surpasses Saliency in Visual Search

Humans are remarkably adept at scanning the visual field to accomplish various goals, such as finding one’s car keys atop a cluttered desk. Palmer (1975) propounded that context effects immensely facilitate object recognition tasks. He operationally defined context effects as, “effects of the environment of an object on the perception of that object, independent of the intrinsic properties of the object itself.” Eckstein et al. (2017) built off this notion by demonstrating that humans will often miss targets that are extremely large in comparison to their surrounding context. Critically, they reasoned that humans incorporate the global properties of a scene and the contextual information associated with it to facilitate search by rapidly discounting potential distractors. Here, we investigated how low level saliency interacts with contextual effects about object size to influence visual search. We also expanded on the previous studies by utilizing naturalistic images instead of 3D rendered images. Furthermore, participants were simultaneously exposed to a giant target and a regular sized target—both of the same semantic category—within the same image. We assessed how observer choices during search were influenced by contextual relationships about size and saliency. Out of 13 trials, participants selected the regular sized targets 4 more times, on average, than their giant sized counterparts. Specifically, participants missed the giant targets on trials where those targets were vastly bigger in size than their regular sized counterparts. However, when participants selected the giant sized targets, the difference in size between the two targets was small. Additionally, participants did not choose the more salient targets, on average. Taken together, context is an important factor that is considered as humans search for targets in novel scenes. When objects are extremely large relative to their context, they will be missed, suggesting that context is primarily driving the participant’s search. When the objects are closer in size to their regular sized counterparts, then a more nuanced interaction occurs between context and saliency to modulate object detectability. Our findings further the understanding between the influence of contextual expectations and saliency on human visual search.

4:15pm Rammy Salem (SOC)

Being counted to feel that you count: The effect of racial classifications on self-perceptions

Membership in a racial or ethnic minority group may increase the likelihood of being inappropriately classified or being denied the opportunity to accurately self-categorize. As a result, racial/ethnic minorities may feel less valued as a member of the culture that denies these possibilities. This research explores whether giving racial/ethnic minorities the opportunity to self-categorize with their preferred racial/ethnic group affects minorities’ emotions, feelings of inclusion with other Americans, and personal judgments about their social rank in relation to others. We predict that being recognized as, and being able to choose, a preferred racial/ethnic identity provides both optimal identity distinctiveness and inclusion in the superordinate American group, and thus the most positive psychological outcome.

4:35pm Melissa Hingorani (N&B)

A Gene-expression Analysis of the Relationship between Peripheral Serotonin and Brain Serotonergic Signaling

Serotonin (5-HT) is most commonly known for its role as a neurotransmitter, but brain-derived serotonin accounts for only 5% of the 5-HT in the body. The vast majority of 5-HT is stored in blood platelets in the periphery. Recent research has demonstrated that not just platelets, but numerous immune cells such as T cells, macrophages, mast cells, and dendritic cells, express the machinery to store, generate, respond to and/or transport 5-HT. In addition, the impermeable nature of the blood-brain barrier has been contested by a study demonstrating that elevated brain 5-HT levels can produce a significant increase in blood 5-HT levels. Furthermore, research determining a new role of platelets in which they recognize neuronal damage and communicate with the cells of the immune system suggests a potential interaction between the brain serotonin system and the peripheral serotonin system. In this study, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and western blotting were used to investigate if selective platelet depletion causes changes in the expression of some genes in the neocortex and in the basal nuclei. The results suggest that the expression of some genes may be affected and that further examination is required to understand the link between peripheral and brain-derived 5-HT.