Mini-Con 2021

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

Minicon is a convention style presentation in which each second-year student gives a 12-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.


Virtual Zoom Webinar

May 20, 2021, 9:00am - 3:10pm


9:00 AM Opening Remarks by Michael Miller, Chair

9:10 AM Benjamin Gelbart (DEVO)

9:30 AM Daniel Thayer (CPCN)

9:50 AM Alisa Bedrov (SOC)

10:10 AM Richard E. Mayer Award

10:20 AM Coffee Break

10:30 AM Selina Mixner (DEVO)

10:50 AM Kevin Honeywell (N&B)

11:10 PM Suyi Leong (SOC)

11:30 PM Kelvin Lam (CPCN)

11:50 PM Harry J. Carlisle Award

12:00 PM Lunch Break

12:45 PM Sophie Peterson (N&B)

1:10 PM Sierra Feasel (SOC)

1:30 PM Charles G. McClintock Award

1:40 PM Coffee Break

1:50 PM Shravan Murlidaran (CPCN)

2:10 PM Laura Huerta Sanchez (N&B)

2:30 PM W. Connor Gibbs (SOC)

2:50 PM Closing Remarks 


9:10am Benjamin Gelbart (DEVO)

Photo of Benjamin GelbartCommitted or Calibrated? Assessing Commitment Device and Relationship Maintenance Models of Love

Abstract: Human long-term pair-bonding is cross-culturally pervasive but zoologically unusual. Although romantic love is central to these bonds, its function and evolved design are surprisingly mysterious. One popular hypothesis for the function of love is that love serves as a “commitment device.” In this view, feelings of love aid relationship stability by motivating partnered individuals to foreclose on romantic alternatives. Here, we test this commitment device hypothesis against a relationship maintenance hypothesis. According to the latter view, love motivates investment in ongoing relationships and is calibrated by the availability of romantic alternatives. Across 5 studies, we find stronger support for the relationship maintenance hypothesis. In studies 1 – 4, we find that discrepancies between one’s own mate and alternative mates, rather than being ignored, predict feelings of love, and this relationship is mediated in part through feelings of relationship satisfaction. In study 5, we replicate the relationship between love and romantic alternatives across 44 countries, suggesting cross-cultural regularities in romantic love’s functional design. The results suggest that love is less blinding than is commonly assumed and call for further investigations into the function and design of romantic love.

9:30am Daniel Thayer (CPCN)

Photo of Daniel ThayerAttentional modulation of feature-selective priority maps across human visual cortices

Abstract: Computational theories posit that attention is guided by a combination of spatial maps for individual features that are weighted according to task goals. Consistent with this framework, when a stimulus contains several features, attending to one or another feature results in stronger fMRI responses in regions preferring the attended feature. We hypothesized that multivariate activation patterns across feature-responsive cortical regions form spatial ‘feature maps’, which combine to guide attentional priority. We tested this prediction by reconstructing spatial priority maps from fMRI activation patterns across retinotopic regions of visual cortex using a spatial inverted encoding model. Participants viewed a peripheral visual stimulus at a random location on each trial which always contained both visual motion (clockwise/counterclockwise) and color (blue/red). On each trial, participants were precued to report the predominant direction of motion or color of the stimulus. Expanding on previous univariate results, stimulus representations in reconstructed priority maps were selectively enhanced in color-responsive regions when color was attended, and in motion-responsive regions when motion was attended at the location of the stimulus. These results suggest different cortical regions support spatial maps of different visual features, and that these maps can be reweighted based on task demands to guide visual behavior.

9:50am Alisa Bedrov (SOC)

Photo of Alisa BedrovThe Effects of Secret-Sharing Behavior on Interpersonal Evaluations

Abstract: Although secrets are shared often in everyday life, there has been little research examining the implications of secret-sharing on interpersonal evaluations. The present studies examined how we evaluate others based on the type of secret (personal vs. secondhand), who shares the secret (close friend vs. acquaintance), and its sharing breadth (exclusive vs. nonexclusive). Participants read brief vignettes about a secret and evaluated the secret-sharer on trustworthiness, closeness with the recipient, and social utility. In Study 1, sharing a personal secret led to higher ratings of trustworthiness and closeness relative to sharing a secondhand secret, regardless of who shared the secret, and sharing a secondhand secret led to higher ratings of social utility. In Study 2, we found a consistent interaction between secret type and sharing breadth. Compared to sharing a secret exclusively with just one person, sharing a personal secret nonexclusively decreased closeness ratings, and sharing a secondhand secret nonexclusively decreased trustworthiness ratings. Lastly, social utility was highest for sharing a personal secret nonexclusively. These findings suggest that both the type of secret being shared and how many people it is shared with have important implications for fostering intimacy and trust in close relationships, as well as demonstrating social value.

10:30am Selina Mixner (DEVO)

Photo of Selina MixnerProject Rainbow, an investigation of LGBTQIA+ mating preferences, coming out experiences and sexual orientation across the lifespan

Abstract: Do people have different mate preferences for other people, based on the gender of the person in question? The current study investigated if bisexual individuals—here defined as those romantically attracted to two or more genders-- have different mating preferences based on the gender of the target they are evaluating for mate value. Using a 3x2 ANOVA research design and a sample of 147 participants, results supported our hypothesis that participants will have different ratings for mate preference traits, depending on the gender of the target in question. Regardless of the participant’s gender, participants tended to prefer slightly kinder, more physically attractive and younger women, in comparison to men. Bisexuals regardless of their gender may also prefer healthier women in comparison to men, but this finding was not significant at this sample size. Notably, the gender of the participant did not significantly effect bisexual mate preferences, despite the gender of the participant being one of the biggest indicators of one's mate preferences in the wider literature. This leads to further questions about how gender and sexual orientation affect one's mate preferences.

10:50am Kevin Honeywell (N&B)

Photo of Kevin HoneywellAttenuating Methamphetamine Addiction with a Phosphodiesterase 4B Inhibitor

Abstract: Methamphetamine use has become a prevalent health issue and economic burden that requires novel treatments.  A key component of methamphetamine’s addictive and neurotoxic effects is the induction of an immune response and subsequent neuroinflammation.  Non-selective phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitors have been shown to quell inflammation and to attenuate behaviors related to methamphetamine addiction.  However, these drugs can also evoke an emetic response.  Therefore, we are exploring a novel therapeutic, A 33, which is a selective phosphodiesterase 4B inhibitor and shows promise in attenuating the addictive nature of methamphetamine without the elicitation of an emetic response.  The project looked at using A 33 to attenuate oral self-administration in female and male, C57BL/6J and C57BL/6NJ mice.  We have found A 33 to attenuate oral methamphetamine self-administration in a dose-dependent manner.  These findings support the utility of the inhibition of phosphodiesterase 4B in the treatment of methamphetamine addiction. 

11:10am Suyi Leong (SOC)

Photo of Suyi LeongThe Role of Collectivism in Individuals’ Compliance with COVID-19 Health Measures

Abstract: Digital contact tracing (DCT) and wearing face covering are effective health measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. However, they impose some personal cost, and require a great amount of compliance to be effective. In this study, we recruited participants from four countries (US, Singapore, Japan, Germany) that vary on their cultural orientation, and focused on individual-level collectivism as a key predictor of public compliance. We hypothesized that collectivists would more likely comply to these health measures, regardless of where they are from. We also identified different aspects of collectivism (e.g., tendency to prioritize communal over personal goals, influence of social norms, trust in government) that explains greater compliance. Across four countries, we found that more collectivistic individuals were more likely to opt-in to DCT and wear face covering even when it is not required. The relationship between collectivism and compliance was explained by collectivists’ tendency to perceive a stronger social norm of compliance, and greater trust in government, but not in prioritizing communal health over personal health. The findings highlight the role of cultural orientation in the making of personal health decisions that involve tensions between individual and communal benefit, with implications for policymakers, health authorities and even app developers


11:30am Kelvin Lam (CPCN)

Photo of Kelvin LamComparing spatial working memory performance for simple stimuli and real-world objects

Abstract: Much of what we know about visual working memory has been uncovered using simple stimuli such as colored squares, but recent studies have suggested that alternative conclusions can be drawn using different stimuli, such as real world objects. A possible explanation as to why these differences exist is because objects are redundantly coded broadly across several brain regions, where simple stimuli like colored squares are encoded in a more limited set of regions. We hypothesize that spatial position is enhanced automatically by this redundant encoding. Participants (N=30) were given a delayed spatial recall task in which participants remembered arrays of either real world objects or colored squares. Participants maintained the precise spatial position of 1, 2, or 6 visual stimuli over a brief 1.5s delay period. Participants recalled spatial positions of objects with higher precision than the colored squares. Moreover, in separate trials where participants discriminated which of two stimuli appeared at a probed location, performance was again identical between stimulus conditions. Altogether, these results support the notion that incidental features of real-world objects, such as their spatial position, can be remembered with greater precision than those for simplistic stimuli typically used in laboratory tests.

12:45pm Sophie Peterson (N&B)

Photo of Sophie Peterson Investigating the Neural Underpinnings of Context-Dependent Predictions

Abstract: When faced with ambiguous stimuli, animals -including humans- often rely on the surrounding context to interpret these stimuli and determine the correct course of action. Behavioral studies indicate that the contextual modulation of behavior engages complex hierarchical associative structures, dissociable from simple binary associations. Yet the neural circuit mechanisms underlying the contextual modulation of behavior remains poorly understood. We recently developed a new task, in rats, of context-dependent discrimination. In this task, the validity of certain cues to signal reward depends on the context in which these cues are encountered (i.e. a cue A is rewarded only in a context 1 but not in a context 2, conversely a cue B is rewarded only in a context 2 but not in a context 1). To further investigate the neural circuits participating in this contextual modulation of predictions, we quantified and mapped the expression of the activity-regulated gene c-Fos (a molecular marker of neural activation). We then compared the c-Fos activation map resulting from context-dependent discrimination with the activation maps resulting from simpler forms of discrimination that are not influenced by context. Preliminary findings suggest a critical role of the Claustrum in the contextual modulation of reward predictions.

1:10pm Sierra Feasel (SOC)

Photo of Sierra FeaselA longitudinal examination of the predictors of status-based identity uncertainty

Abstract: Destin and colleagues (2017) established the framework of status-based identity to better understand the subjective meaning that individuals give to their socioeconomic status (SES).  Periods of social mobility, such as attending college, can challenge an individual’s status-based identity, leading to status-based identity uncertainty (status uncertainty), or uncertainty around one’s standing in society. Emerging research provides evidence that status uncertainty negatively impacts well-being, academic efficacy, and academic achievement. However, little research has examined what experiences during college lead to status uncertainty. The current longitudinal study investigated the impact of three groups of variables on subsequent status uncertainty: belonging/fit, discrimination, and mental and physical health. Participants were low-income and/or first-generation Latinx college students. At the end of their second year, participants completed measures assessing their feelings of belonging and fit within the university, experiences of discrimination during the past year, and their psychological and physical health. Status uncertainty was assessed one year later, at the end of students’ third year. Results indicate that students who felt less belonging and fit, experienced higher levels of discrimination, and had poorer physical (but not mental) health experienced higher levels of status uncertainty one year later, regardless of their family income when they started college.

1:50pm Shravan Murlidaran (CPCN)

Photo of Shravan MurlidaranVisual Reasoning of Humans and Artificial Intelligence

Abstract: Recent advances in natural language processing and computer vision have led to AI models that interpret simple scenes at human levels (Xiujun Li et. al 2020, Jiasen Lu et. al 2020). Yet, we do not have a complete understanding of how humans and AI models differ in their interpretation of more complex scenes.  We created a dataset of complex scenes. AI and humans had to describe the scenes with a sentence.  We used a quantitative metric of similarity between scene descriptions (BERT: Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) of the AI/human and a gold standard of five other human descriptions of each scene.  Results show for our complex scenes the machine/human agreement scene descriptions are much lower than human/human agreement. Using an experimental manipulation that occludes different spatial regions of the scenes we assessed how machines and humans vary in how they utilize regions of images to understand the scenes. Together, our results are a first step toward trying to understand how machines fall short of human visual reasoning with complex scenes.

2:10pm Laura Huerta Sanchez (N&B)

Photo of Laura Huerta SanchezInvestigating the role of AMPA and NMDA-type of glutamate receptors in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex on sucrose self-administration in rats

Abstract: Incubation of craving refers to a phenomenon where there is a time-dependent increase in drug craving elicited by drug-associated cues that intensifies over time after drug abstinence. Previous research has shown that there is an incubation of cue-elicited glutamate release in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) that coincides with the incubation of cocaine-craving. This glutamate release activates a number of receptors including the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptors and N-Methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) receptors. This study aims to further investigate the role of AMPA and NMDA receptors in cue-elicited responding. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were trained to self-administer sucrose pellets (6hr/day x 10 days) where the delivery of sucrose pellet was followed by a tone-light cue. Then, rats were microinjected with Naspm (a GluA2-lacking selective AMPA antagonist), NBQX (a non-selective AMPA antagonist), D-AP5 (a non-selective NMDA antagonist), PPPA (a GluN2A-containing antagonist), and TCN-237 (a GluN2B-containing antagonist).  Following each microinjection, rats underwent a 2hr test for sucrose self-administration. Our results indicate that the microinjection of D-AP5 increased sucrose-seeking behavior while there were no significant effects on sucrose-seeking behavior following the microinjection of Naspm, NBQX, and PPPA when compared to rats that were not microinjected. 

2:30pm W. Connor Gibbs (SOC)

Photo of W. Connor GibbsExternal Structure During Employment Transitions: Exploring the Influence of Perceived Organizational Structure

Abstract: Challenges faced by military veterans during their transition to civilian employment include moving from high to low structure. The goal of this research was to explore the role a structured civilian work environment may play in occupational outcomes of veterans and non-veterans. It was hypothesized that to the extent veterans perceive their civilian employer to be highly structured, this would be associated with greater work efficacy and sense of belonging. Samples of veterans and non-veterans (2 studies, 800 total participants) completed online surveys measuring civilian organization structure, efficacy, belonging, and need for structure. In Study 1, for those high in need for structure (veterans and non-veterans alike), higher organizational structure predicted self-efficacy which, in turn, predicted greater belonging. In Study 2, perceived organizational structure was experimentally manipulated and it was shown that for those participants in the high structure condition, this was associated with greater self-efficacy and, in turn, sense of belonging. These results provide evidence for the role structured work environments may have in bringing about positive outcomes for multiple groups, including military veterans.