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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
Last week, Isabelle gave her first presentation in the lab titled Unmotivated or Motivated to Fail? A Cross-Cultural Study of Achievement Motivation, Fear of Failure, and Student Disengagement that focused on the Quadripolar Model of achievement motivation.
The Quadripolar Model categorizes students into groups based on level of success orientation and level of fear of failure and is used to predict which individuals may be susceptible to self-handicapping, defensive pessimism, and helplessness when it comes to academics. The purpose of the article being presented was to incorporate and strengthen research on achievement and motivation related to success orientation, fear of failure, and disengagement through a cross-cultural comparative design based on the self-worth theory. One study was conducted in Japan and another study was done with an Australian sample that both assessed the students’ tendency to approach success, failure appraisal, and patterns of adaptive learning. It was predicted that fear of failure would positively associate with maladaptive coping mechanisms and specifically positively associated with self-handicapping in the self-protector group. For failure acceptor students, the researchers predicted that there would be an interaction between success orientation and fear of failure in helplessness attributes. Another prediction was that success orientation would negatively associate with self-handicapping and helplessness while positively associating with defensive pessimism.
The interaction between success orientation and fear of failure on helplessness and self-handicapping were significant cross-culturally, with Australian students having higher rates of self-handicapping overall than Japanese students who had low success orientation scores. Japanese students were less vulnerable to adopting the maladaptive coping mechanisms, but the different cultures had no impact when it came to success orientation. Among the self-protection strategies, self-handicapping was most common among self-protecting students with helplessness, truancy, disengagement significantly correlating with fear of failure. Furthermore, researchers discovered trends of low self-esteem and poor academic performance in self-handicapping students. Isabelle is currently looking further into self-handicapping with a focus on long-term effects on academic achievement in the student population. Awesome work, Isabelle! We are looking forward to seeing where this line of research takes you!
Senior undergraduate member, Kat Fraus, successfully defended her independent senior’s thesis titled “A Multitude of Events on PTG in Adolescence” that investigates the cumulative impact of childhood trauma among teenagers.
Kat set out to identify if adolescents attribute multiple life events to PTG and if there are specific aspects of PTG associated with experiencing multiple traumatic events. Kat also identified the possibility of a curvilinear association between trauma severity (number of events, stress, etc.) and levels of PTG and tested for both linear and curvilinear relationships. Before running data analyses, it was hypothesized that certain types of PTG would be attributed to experiencing multiple events and if enough adolescents reported severe trauma, a curvilinear relationship between PTG and various measures of severity should be demonstrated.
Data previously collected from a sample of 139 high school students, ages 15 to 17, were used to test her predictions, revealing partial support for both hypotheses. Most participants attributed the growth to a single event resulting in the relationship between PTG and multiple events was not significant, although multiple events were attributed to changed priorities, increased self-reliance, and establishing a new path in life PTG domains. Significant linear relationships were found with measures of Posttraumatic Stress Symptomology, event severity, and PTG. Curvilinear relationships were shown between stress and counting on others as well as events and negative life outlook.
Not many studies on PTG have been done with the adolescent population, so this project has added to the understanding of how younger people experience growth after trauma. Amazing work, Kat!
In other exciting news, Kat is graduating with a Bachelor’s in Psychology this semester and will be attending graduate school in the fall at the University of Michigan! She will be studying in the Master’s of Social Work program with an interpersonal practice and integrated health/mental health concentration. We will miss you but are very much looking forward to seeing you flourish in the next step of your academic career. Congratulations!!
Kolton, first year Master’s student, recently shared updates on his thesis project, Victim-Perpetrator Overlap and Post-Traumatic Growth.
His presentation included detailed information on the procedure, survey structure, and data analysis for the study. The focus of this project is Victim-Perpetrator Overlap (VPO), the idea that a current perpetrator of a problematic behavior was previously a victim of the same problematic behavior in the past. Kolton noticed that there is a lack of literature on the perpetrators of the trauma events being reported in Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) studies; he would like to explore the possibility of how PTG might play a role in victims becoming perpetrators.
Data will be collected via an online survey that will include questionnaires about experiences as both a victim and perpetrator along with a PTG inventory for traumatic experiences for both. It is predicted that participants who experience PTG as a victim will be less likely to report instances of committing problematic behavior as a perpetrator. The survey will be randomized so that some participants will complete the questions about their traumatic experiences as a victim first, complete a filler questionnaire, then complete questions about their traumatic experiences as a perpetrator and vice-versa. It is predicted that participants in the condition who answer questions about their experiences as a victim first will be less likely to report instances of being a perpetrator than those in the condition who initially reflect on experiences as a perpetrator. The information gathered from this study could deepen our understanding of why individuals commit crimes and strengthen crime prevention strategies. This project is coming together nicely, Kolton!
Last week, Ph.D. student Kayla presented updated plans for her project titled Growing Toward the Common Good: Collective Action during COVID-19.
Kayla aims to develop an understanding of collective action behaviors as a predictor of action-focused growth and constructive PTG by studying how bystanders might promote collective action among their group for the benefit of society during a pandemic. Not only will the relationship between PTG and collective action behavior be examined, but the possibility of narcissism and optimism being indicators of illusory PTG will be explored. Her study will include a preliminary survey collecting data on individual differences, evaluation of collective behavior, and attitudes towards COVID-19 along with daily surveys collecting data concerning behavior during public outings (e.g. mask wearing, how many people present). She is hoping to recruit about 400 participants who have resided in the United States since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and are at least 18 years old.
It is predicted that participants who score high on the PTG scale will engage in more collective action interventions. She also predicts that people who have high PTG scores and do not engage in collective action interventions will reflect illusory growth and anticipates that narcissism and/or optimism could be influencing factors in this relationship. This project has the potential to help identify predicting factors of who will take part in collective action as a reflection of action-focused growth. It seems like this study will collect extremely rich and relevant data. We are very excited to see the outcomes! Amazing presentation, Kayla!
At the beginning of the semester, first year Master’s student Joey presented his Master’s thesis presentation titled Understanding the Cultural Differences in Behavior During a Global Pandemic with updates on his preparations for conducting the study.
Joey’s thesis focuses on how individuals with different social identities engage in prosocial behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic and how pandemic circumstances contribute to depression symptoms. In regards to his thesis, social identity refers to participants’ identification with either an individualist or collectivist cultural background. Individualists are commonly independent and prioritize personal goals while collectivists are most often categorized as interdependent and concerned with in-group goals above personal goals. Joey predicts that collectivists will be more likely to report prosocial behavior in response to the pandemic (e.g. wearing masks) than individualists. He also hypothesizes that collectivists will report higher levels of depression and suicide ideation than participants who identify with individualism due to the protective measures taken during the pandemic that resulted in prolonged socially isolating circumstances.
The hypotheses will be tested using samples from university students in the United States, which has an individualistic culture, and Japan, which has a collectivist culture. The main goal of Joey’s study is to examine a possible relationship between perceived social identity and prosocial responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Joey is also interested in the mental health effects of the pandemic based on social identity and if social identity priming can influence one’s alignment with individualism or collectivism. This work has the potential to give insight into individual priorities and subsequent reactions to a global pandemic and develop a better understanding of how necessary limited social interaction can adversely affect mental health. We are excited to see how things go once data collection begins!
In other exciting news, Joey’s abstract submission titled Impact of Racial Discrimination on Academic Motivation and Academic Achievement was accepted for the Midwestern Psychological Associationconference! This project focused on the relationship between racial discrimination, academic motivation, and academic achievement in undergraduate students. Congratulations to Joey, fellow lab member Kayla, and PTG alumni Alvin, who worked on this project together!