Kaylie’s Master’s Thesis Proposal

First semester Master’s student, Kaylie Williams, recently introduced her Master’s thesis titled, Types of Thinking Behind Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Changing Belief in Conspiracies which focuses on what influences people to believe in conspiracies, how to change those beliefs, and the relationship between mental illness, trauma, and conspiracy beliefs. Different types of thinking have been found to influence conspiratorial beliefs, so this project will include analytic thinking and intellectual thinking priming tasks followed by active listening and teaching with evidence therapeutic techniques in an attempt to decrease conspiratorial thinking.

The study will collect data from university students and the broader community virtually through online questionnaires, thinking style priming tasks, and therapeutic interventions. It starts with the survey which measures PTSD symptoms, paranoia, thinking style, self-esteem, antisocial behavior, personality, and general conspiracy beliefs. Participants will then be primed with either a thinking style or engaged in a therapeutic technique. The priming tasks involve reading a passage and completing a series of either “how” tasks or “why” tasks to prompt them to think about how they would go about achieving a goal or why they want to achieve that goal. Participants in the therapeutic technique conditions will engage in either an active listening session where the focus is listening to the participant’s beliefs or teaching with an evidence session focused on explaining why certain conspiracies are not true. There will be a control group and the participants’ levels of general conspiratorial belief will be measured in all before and after the intervention.

Kaylie hopes her research will contribute to our understanding of how thinking styles influence conspiratorial beliefs and motivate the proposal of interventions for those who believe in conspiracies. The results could also lend to an understanding of what types of individuals are most vulnerable to being convinced that conspiracies are true, which benefits the development of specific treatments for maladaptive levels of these beliefs. Belief in conspiracy theories has resulted in individuals and groups of people engaging in violent acts, so strengthening our grasp on the issue could benefit the safety of those affected by these acts and the people whose beliefs cause them. This is a very intriguing project, Kaylie! We look forward to hearing more as it further develops.

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Joey’s Master’s Thesis Update

Second-year Master’s student, Joey Rhodes, recently presented updates on his Master’s thesis titled Understanding cultural differences in behavior during a global pandemic. Based on the current climate of the COVID-19 pandemic and previous research on cultural values, he aims to examine the differences in precautionary behavior between those who identify as either more collectivistic or individualistic. Joey also mentioned using this research to understand the best methods of promoting precautionary behavior among different cultural populations. Findings may also shed light on the possible adverse effects of social distancing on depression and suicidal idealization.

The online survey created for the study, which includes various measures on self-perceived independence, interpersonal values, individualism and collectivism, and dichotomous thinking, has been used to collect data from both American and Japanese samples. Joey is currently working on preliminary data analysis for the American sample and plans on testing his hypotheses soon with both samples. An implication of the current study could be a newfound insight into the individual priorities of those from different cultural backgrounds during a global pandemic and how that influences their actions under the COVID-19. The current study could also inspire research on the role of precautionary and prosocial behaviors beyond the scope of a pandemic to see how our cultural identities influence our interactions with others on a daily basis. Great work, Joey, we are excited to hear more!

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Lazo’s Article Presentation

First-semester undergraduate lab member, Lazo Dordeski, recently gave a thought-provoking presentation on an article titled Perceived Neighborhood Violence and Crime, Emotion Regulation, and PTSD Symptoms Among Justice-Involved, Urban African-American Adolescent Girls.

The purpose of the study was to examine how perceived neighborhood violence and crime (NVC) and emotion regulation (ER) and their effects on one another influence the participants’ PTSD symptoms over time. Researchers also were interested in how these relationships acted following the participants’ release from detention facilities.

NVC has been linked to poor life outcomes, delinquency, and a variety of internalizing and externalizing issues, and more. It also disproportionately affects African American youth in urban areas, with a subpopulation of justice-involved African-American adolescent girls for which the interaction between NVC and PTSD symptoms appears to be particularly strong. Dysfunctional ER strategies are linked to the development of many issues related to justice-involved AA youth and may elevate the adverse impact of an individual’s environment.

The sample was made up of 85 female participants aged 13-17 years old. The researchers surveyed Perceived Neighborhood Violence and Crime, measures of ER, PTSD symptoms, and their history with trauma/adverse experience immediately after their release and again three months later. Results for main and interaction effects indicated that perceived NVC and dysfunctional ER were positively associated with PTSD symptoms post-release. The participants who reported high levels of perceived NVC reported more severe PTSD symptoms when engaging in more internal dysfunctional ER strategies. This result specifically suggests the need for interventions targeted towards female adolescents reporting high levels of NVC and internal dysfunctional ER, because they may be more vulnerable to developing PTSD.

Lazo made some very insightful conclusions from his literature review and understanding of the justice system. He highlighted the need for interventions and research to take a community perspective approach because of the strong influence perceived NVC appears to have on PTSD symptoms post-release. Community interventions could protect vulnerable justice-involved adolescents once they come back to their neighborhoods. Another significant point Lazo made was the push for more intersectionality in research on these topics, to help generalize results and broaden the reach of interventions to vulnerable populations. Great work, Lazo!

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Victoria’s Senior Thesis

Kicking off the Fall 2021 semester, Victoria Kaznowski presented on the initiation of her research project, Mechanisms Driving the Nature and Psychological Well-Being Relationship: Mindfulness and Connection to Nature Intervention. Previous research has discovered a positive significant relation between nature and well-being. It has been proven that 10 to 20 minutes of being outside in a natural area benefits college students’ mental health. Expanding upon the established research, the purpose of the Mindfulness and Connection to Nature Intervention study was to design a nature intervention to investigate the nature well-being relationship (NWBR). The research study will examine changes in psychological well-being and emotional perceptions through nature exposure. Mindfulness and connectedness to nature will be evaluated as mechanisms in the NWBR through manipulation.

Oakland University’s Biological Preserve is being used for the nature intervention. To reduce COVID-19 risk, it is a self-guided intervention. The goal is to recruit a total of 90 students to participate. Participants must be 18 years or older, have access to a mobile device with internet access, and can walk a half-mile with regular nature exposure. They will be completing a pre- and post-test. The intervention is currently taking place with time slots available every day of the week during daylight hours. There is a one-participant limit per time slot. The procedure includes a pre-study screening survey, pre-test, 15-minutes following instructions of the assigned conditions, and a post-test. Surveys will be taken through Qualtrics via mobile device.

Earlier on in the semester, Victoria gave a “Step-Back” presentation to propose her project to fellow lab members and brainstorm tasks to assign for intervention groups and details for the logistics of a self-guided intervention. Many of the ideas worked through by the group contributed to her final study design.

Hypothesis one predicts nature exposure with heightened mindfulness and connection to nature will show increased positive affect and decreased negative affect, the highest mindfulness/connection to nature across all groups, and the lowest stress across all groups. Hypothesis two predicts that nature exposure with decreased mindfulness and connection to nature will show decreased positive affect and increased negative affect, the lowest mindfulness/connections to nature across all groups, and the highest stress across all groups. Lastly, hypothesis three predicts participants will report different perceptions of emotions from the pretest to the posttest.

The Mindfulness and Connection to Nature Intervention project might add support for mindfulness and connectedness to nature as mechanisms in the nature and well-being relationship. Another possible implication is providing evidence to strengthen the clinical utility of nature exposure being used in psychological treatment. Victoria also hopes the study might aid in proposing the Biological Preserves as an on-campus nature mental health resource for students. We are looking forward to your findings, Victoria. Keep up the great work!

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The FF-PTG Lab Welcomes New Members

The FF-PTG Lab welcomed two new students this fall!

Kaylie Williams is a first-year master’s student who graduated from Michigan State this past spring with a bachelor’s in psychology. She joined the FF-PTG lab because of its many opportunities for research relevant to her interests, like the effects of childhood trauma on psychopathology and intimate relationships. Kaylie’s interest in the area came from experience working in a juvenile court and inspires her to investigate childhood trauma in the context of the criminal justice system. Eventually, she hopes to obtain a PhD in Forensic Psychology. We are excited to be working with you, Kaylie!

Also joining the lab this fall is Lazo Dordeski, a senior undergraduate with a major in psychology and a minor in political science. He joined the lab in hopes of gaining research experience and knowledge about posttraumatic growth that can be applied to the legal field. Lazo is interested in action-focused and its interrelations with PTG and racial disparities, inequality, and mass protests. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he plans to pursue law school. Welcome to the FF-PTG Lab, Lazo!

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Kana Reflects On Her APA 2021 Main Stage Interview

I just uploaded a new video on Youtube where I talk my experience of being interviewed for the APA 2021 Main Stage keynote panel on the science of resiliency and bouncing back from adversity.

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Kana Headlines APA Main Stage 2021!

The APA (American Psychological Association) Annual Convention will be held virtually in August 12-14 this year.

Kana participated in the Saturday main stage headline session with Dr. Maryam Jernigan-Noesi and answered a few questions, such as:

  • What does posttraumatic growth look like?
  • What is the first step toward growth after a traumatic experience?
  • Is PTG something that requires support from a trained professional?
  • What do you do to set yourself up for growth?

Taku, K. (2021, August). Growing from our Traumatic Experiences. Invited interview for the Main Stage session, “The Science of Resilience – Bounce Back from Adversity”, at the 129th American Psychological Association (APA) Annual Convention, Online.

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Emilee’s Honors College Senior Thesis

Congratulations, Emilee, on being awarded “Thesis with Distinction” from the Honors College and given a “Thesis Award in Psychology (certificate and sash)” in recognition of her considerable and exceptional accomplishment!!

Emilee Causey presented her Honors College senior thesis that was later presented at Oakland University’s Honors College Research Day and is titled Is Resilience Hiding a Dark Side? An Exploration of Resilience and Unrealistic Optimism.

Her research objective was to further examine the relationship between unrealistic optimism and resilience along with the extent to which resilience may affect an individual’s judgment of event likelihood. It was hypothesized that individuals who are highly resilient will report a lower likelihood of themselves

experience the same events, and less likely to alter their answers after being given fabricated rates framed as the true prevalence. Events would include being struck by lightning, failing a course, and so on. A sample of 118 college undergraduate students was recruited through introductory psychology courses and completed an in-person survey that included Brief Resilience Scale and Event Likelihood. Research participation gave credit compensation for various courses. Emilee performed a correlational analysis and linear regression analysis.

Hypotheses one and two were not supported by correlational analysis and linear analysis. Highly resilient individuals did not report a lower likelihood of negative events happening to themselves. They also did not rate others as being more likely to experience the same negative events. On the other hand, hypothesis three was partially supported. Highly resilient individuals were less likely to change their answers for certain events but not others. Three of the negative events lacked significance, which suggests the relationship between an individual’s estimations and their resilience level differ based on the event.

Despite the lack of the significant results, there was a prevalent trend of negative associations between resilience and event likelihood, which can be attributed to the correlation between self-esteem and social competence to resilience. Higher levels of social competence tend to correlate with frequent engagement in risky behaviors. Self-awareness can also influence the resilience of the individual; therefore, participants with higher resilience may have a strong sense of self and recognize their abilities. After participants heard the actual statistics, they did not change their answers which suggests highly resilient individuals may less cautious. This could be a result of high levels of optimism in resilient individuals that indicates a potential “dark side” to resilience. High levels of optimism could result in positively viewing the future leading to failure to recognize the possible bad experiences.

Future research could investigate the implications of negative psychological effects and more events related to impulsivity and risk-taking. Researchers could continue to investigate other specific factors of resilience that lead may lead to negative effects along with other negative sides to resilience in addition to risk-taking, inaccurate estimations, and psychological stress effects.

One more thing — Congratulations on your graduation, Emilee! We are so happy to share in the excitement and joy of your graduation, and very proud of you!! We appreciate all your contributions to the FF- PTG Lab and continue to support you as you continue to further your education. We wish you all the best in your new career for Master’s in Counseling program at Wayne State! We hope you swing by Pryale!

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Taylor’s Senior Thesis

Towards the end of the semester, Taylor presented her senior thesis project that will be submitted to the 2022 Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference titled An Empath’s Ability to Read People: Examining the Relationship Between Empathy and Emotion Recognition Ability.

The current literature has established that individuals with higher levels of empathy are better at accurately identifying facial expressions. Taylor’s study further examines this phenomenon by looking at the general relationship between emotion recognition ability (ERA) and empathy, as well as the role of empathy in recognizing specific emotions.

It was predicted that higher empathy scores would correlate with higher ERA and that higher empathy would correlate with higher ERA for individual emotions. A sample of 420 undergraduate students was recruited for an online survey that included the Questionnaire Measure of Emotional Empathy and Standard Expressor Version of the Japanese and Caucasian Facial Expressions of Emotion.

The first hypothesis regarding ERA and empathy was supported and the second hypothesis making predictions about individual emotions was partially supported for disgust, fear, sadness, happiness, and surprise. Empathy was not positively correlated with anger or contempt. These results reveal that empaths have an easier time recognizing emotions on a general basis, but struggle with correctly detecting some negative emotions. Taylor’s study provides helpful insight on useful ways to develop emotion recognition workshops that benefit both those with different levels of empathy, like targeting curriculum for correctly recognizing and responding to specific emotions for individuals with low empathy.

Examining outside factors like traumatic experiences and personality traits in a future study may be beneficial because they could be influencing an individual’s ability to recognize particular emotions. Amazing work, Taylor! We really enjoyed witnessing the development of this project.

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The Human Right to Experience PTG without Resiliency

I just uploaded a new video on Youtube where I talk about the relationships and differences between resiliency and PTG and suggest PTG researchers should pay more attention to those who may experience PTG without being resilient.
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