The Lab’s Instagram Debut

The FF-PTG lab has taken over Instagram! Follow our lab along with fun content @FFPTGLABatOU! We will be posting lab updates and more information that you will NOT want to miss.


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Congratulations and Lab Member Updates!

The FF-PTG has some exciting news to share about some of the members of the lab.

Kaylie, a masters student was accepted into a clinical Ph. D. program through Bowling Green State University! She will be pursuing her research passions with Dr. Carolyn Tompsett. Dr. Tompsett is partnered with the local juvenile court and researches substance abuse and juvenile delinquency using a community framework. Kaylie is planning to research the role of trauma within the context of juvenile delinquency as well as the effect of trauma on the development and maintenance of antisocial behaviors. We are so proud of your achievements and are excited to see what your future project entail Kaylie!

Paxton, an undergraduate student and current lab manager, has been accepted into Oakland University’s BA/MS program. This means that along with getting his bachelors degree he will immediately begin working towards getting his Master’s. Paxton will be staying with the FF-PTG lab as a graduate student! He will continue to pursue his topics of interest when it comes to researching tipping points while working on his thesis. The current study has just been awarded the Provost Research grant! This means he now has funding to further investigate these topics meaning more research is possible! During the summer he will be continuing his study on tipping points as well as working on other projects!

Isabelle, the former lab manager, research assistant, and Honor’s College student, is graduating. She will be leaving the lab and pursuing a career within the medical field. Isabelle aspires to earn an MS in Cardiovascular Perfusion to become a CCP. She currently is observing various perfusionists in the state of Michigan through Trinity Health, Corewell Health Beaumont, and Comprehensive Care Services. Since 2018, Isabelle has worked in healthcare for Corewell Health Beaumont. She will be continuing to work with the organization as a Nuclear Medicine Assistant along with Rochester General Surgery as a surgical medical scribe to further develop her professional skills for her future career.

We are so proud of the outcomes of our lab members. We know that wherever each of them go success will follow them! The FF-PTG is a place to facilitate individuals passions for research and psychology. We cannot wait to see what the future holds for each of our assistant; for those who are leaving the lab for future pursuits and those staying alike!

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Many of the lab members are currently attending MPA, Midwestern Psychological Association Conference, in Chicago!

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Isabelle’s Honor’s College Thesis Defense Preparations

Isabelle, the former lab manager of the FF-PTG lab, presented her Honor’s College thesis on the paradoxical nature of resilience, optimism, and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resilience is a familiar topic in the PTG lab being a person’s ability to easily return to a normal state after experiencing trauma. Instead of experiencing negative or positive outcomes, resilient individuals return to a typical baseline easily. Resilience can be positive, but having too much resilience can have several consequences, including being overconfident, an unhealthy tolerance of adversity, and unhealthy optimism. Previous research has also linked high resilience to learned helplessness. Optimism operates in a similar vein to resilience; having the right amount can be beneficial. Having too high or low levels of optimism can lead to negative outcomes with high optimism having impractical expectations, and low optimism leading to increased stress. Some research even suggests that lacking pessimism rather than having some optimism can be more beneficial to positive health outcomes.

Due to how recent the COVID-19 pandemic is, many of these variables have been unexplored in this specific context. Especially when considering potential paradoxes, which can be described as a seemingly contradictory relationship, between optimism, resilience, and anxiety. For example, individuals who have high optimism should not be experiencing high anxiety because of the fact that they are optimistic. Isabelle’s thesis data hope to observe these relationships and clarify some of these paradoxes. The study suffered some limitations which include high attrition; many respondents did not complete part 2 of the survey which removed the possibility of observing the relationships longitudinally. The sample also suffers from a lack of diversity. Isabelle hopes to rerun the study to gather longitudinal data after 2 years to see if these paradoxes still exist in the behaviors of those affected. She also hopes to examine whether differing experiences, such as those who had COVID or those who are and are not vaccinated could show differences in these relationships.

Isabelle was able to share her presentation at the ICE festival hosted by the Honor’s College at Oakland University. This was a chance for her to present her topic in front of many of her peers. We are proud of your accomplishments and cannot wait to see your next steps, Isabelle!

Recently, Isabelle successfully defended her thesis in front of friends, family, and faculty advisors. She demonstrated several paradoxes in the relationships between the core concepts and behaviors and attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic. One example includes the significant association with precautionary behaviors (i.e., wearing a mask) and health anxiety with some individuals expressing high health anxiety but low post behaviors. What made this project especially difficult was the lack of a scientific consensus on the definition of a “paradox” and only use of qualitative data in previous research. Isabelle hopes that future research can enlighten on what paradoxes in attitudes and behaviors can look like in the fields of psychopathology and healthcare and then into society through the use of empirical data. Excellent work Isabelle!

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Avery’s Article Presentation

Avery Machuk, a new member this semester, presented a research article to the members of the FF-PTG lab. The article titled “The Protective Effect of Agency on Victims of Humiliation” investigated if agency and emotions can influence the effects humiliation can have on an individual after an embarrassing experience.

In order to understand this topic we have to define some terms. Agency in this case is the ability of an individual to actively respond back to an individual. If someone is the cause of the humiliation one is feeling, and the person can confront them about it afterward, this would be considered a high agency. Being able to confront the person who humiliated you in this way may decrease feelings of internalization; when an individual takes what someone says and begins to think that way about themselves as well. Previous research also observed agency having connections with self-esteem; an important factor in how one might respond to humiliation. The researchers hypothesized that if victims of humiliation could respond to the perpetrator of the humiliation in an agentic way then the negative emotional effects associated with the humiliation would be diminished. They also tested whether the hostility of the humiliation would affect the emotions felt, such as anger and shame, and the internalization of the humiliation.

They tested this hypothesis through a series of experiments. The first experiment asked individuals to self-report their feelings based on a humiliating scenario they were asked to think about as if they had experienced it. They were then divided among those who did or did not confront the perpetrator of the humiliating scenario and recorded what their responses would be. In the second and third experiments, the participants were put into potentially humiliating scenarios. The participant answered questions to the best of their ability and the researcher, regardless of correct their answer was, told them they were wrong. This response from the researcher could either be hostile or non-hostile. In experiment two the participants could not respond (non-agentic) while in the third the participants could (agentic). The results showed significantly lower feelings of shame, humiliation, and internalization in the agency condition compared to the non-agentic condition. Experiments 2 and 3 showed mixed results with internalization and humiliation both being lower in the agentic condition, but not shame.

The results showed that agency can have some effects in alleviating the negative emotional effects of humiliation. The hypotheses were supported to varying degrees. Several limitations exist in this experiment, including the first experiment being solely based on self-reports. The experiments were conducted in a lab setting which could have influenced the participants responses. Lastly, the sample was all from the same university so the results should be replicated with different populations to further consolidate the findings. This research can have a positive impact on the world. These application include anti-bullying programs which would encourage standing up against to a bully in a productive way. Research on the subject of humiliation can also decrease the negative feelings experienced by those who experience discrimination. Working to reduce the negative impact a situation can have and empowering those by encouraging responding in a productive way may help as this research demonstrates.

Thank you for sharing your research interests with us Avery, and we are excited to see how this shapes your future projects!

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Lewis’s Thesis Defense Preparation

Lewis Luttrell, a first-year Masters student, has been preparing to defend his thesis on poly-culturalism as a method of increasing intergroup relations. Intergroup relations are the interactions between members of different ethnic or cultural identities. When groups interact in hostile ways this can be described as an intergroup threat. America is experiencing increased intergroup threats currently with many issues regarding racial discrimination, injustice, and civil unrest. That is why researching ways to decrease intergroup threats is more important than ever. Polyculturalism may have practical use in decreasing intergroup threats.

Polyculturalism is an approach to interethnic relations where culture focuses on the shared aspects between different ethnic groups that are all a part of one whole. This method differs from other interethnic ideologies such as colorblindness, where differences between groups are de-emphasized or ignored completely, and multiculturalism, in which each race or ethnicity is individually given attention. What these interethnic theories lack, however, is the influence each group can have on one another. Appreciating these influences that build each culture may better alleviate tension that contributes to intergroup threats. One source of intergroup threat is social dominance orientation. This idea posits that one’s own ethnicity or race is superior to others. This construct has associated with discrimination, prejudice, and intergroup threat. Lewis hopes that by teaching poly-culturalism feelings of threat can be reduced as well as feelings of social dominance. Lewis’s experiment will be conducted online and further investigate the potential benefits of teaching poly-culturalism. The study will also be collecting data over time to pinpoint the direct effects that learning poly-culturalism can have on perceptions of threats.

As some may be aware intergroup relations in the United States is especially tense. Research on topics of intergroup relations will have a significant impact on our society. As Lewis points out, previous programs have been ineffective with some even contributing to bias. Lewis states that if poly-culturalism is successful in reducing threat it could potentially change the ways in which we teach our youth about other cultures. It can also impact our society and how we recognize individuals of different cultures and contribute to reducing future intergroup conflicts.

We are proud of the progress Lewis has made and we wish him luck when it comes to defending his thesis!

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Taylor Elam’s Talk at the OU Graduate Student Conference

Taylor Elam, first year Ph.D. student, recently gave a talk at the OUGSC titled “Shaken by Guilt or Growing with Confidence: Positive and Negative self-evaluations during COVID-19.

Elam explains how we all experience trauma whether that is a major life crisis or a natural disaster. When the COVID-19 pandemic came about, many were forced into their homes and even lost people close to us. These types of adverse events can cause a disruption in one’s core beliefs (CBD). Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is defined as the positive psychological changes someone can experience as a result of trauma. This all connects to guilt and confidence through the aim of this study: To examine individual state emotions of guilt and confidence at the beginning of COVID-19, and their associations with CBD and PTG.

Using the Core Belief Inventory (CBI), Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory Expanded (PTGI-X), and the Modified Emotional States Questionnaire, 1000 participants over the age of 18+ with the mean age of 35 were included in this online study. Data was analyzed using a one-way ANOVA. Across the four groups (guilt only, guilt and confidence, confidence only, and neither) there were significant group differences in CBD (f(3,908 = 3.17, p=.02) and PTG (f(3,909 = 6.90, p=.01). The guilt-only group reported more CBD (M=3.35, SD=1.12) than the confident-only group (M=2.92, SD=1.27; p=.02, but the confident-only group reported more PTG (M=2.11, SD=1.28) than guilt-only group (M=1.62, SD=.95; p=.01) and neither guilt or confident group
(M=1.70, SD=1.09; p=.01)

Implications for these findings include providing evidence for the associations that the emotional states have with cognitive processing related to adversity. The findings showed that people who reported more PTG felt more confident, while those whose core beliefs were shaken felt more guilt. Additionally, we are able to use this research for prospective reports during another worldwide traumatic event to analyze current feelings and state emotions. Future directions for this study include possibly looking at influence of current coping mechanisms on state emotions or tipping points that transform guilt into confidence.

Amazing job, Taylor! We are so proud of how far you’ve come and can’t wait to see more!

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Research Series Talk: Amber & Paxton

Undergraduate members of the FF-PTG lab made their debut presenting for the department of psychology during their research talk series. Amber Efthemiou and Paxton Hicks presented their respective topics among other undergraduates in different labs.

Amber’s presentation was about the effects of losing specific loved ones on PTG. Specifically, how loved grandparents could indicate higher rates of PTG and resilience more so than the death of other relatives. The idea behind this is thought to be that those who experience the death of a grandparent may have more of an expectation of their death. If a grandparent dies of old age or health-related conditions this may be more expected than the sudden death of a parent. Participants in the study were divided by the types of death experiences, whether that was a grandparent, anyone other than a grandparent, or multiple deaths (grandparents included). Results showed that there were significant differences between PTG for those experiencing the death of a grandparent and those experiencing the death of someone else. None of the groups differed significantly in resilience. Future research should consider the types of relationships an individual has with any type of relative. Individuals in this study could have been close with their grandparents which made the potential for growing stronger, while others had a distant relationship with an aunt. The types of relationships and their closeness could be a factor in the amount of PTG experienced.

Paxton was able to present an upcoming study that will be conducted. Many of the details cannot be shared but what can be is the study’s focus on prosocial lying. Prosocial lies are those that benefit someone else rather than the teller of a lie. For example, parents who tell their kids that Santa is real are a form of prosocial lying. Telling the kids that Santa is real makes the children happy with little to no benefit to the parent telling the lie. Another example is complimenting a friend’s outfit that you may not like. You tell them it looks good despite your own truthful opinion to not hurt their confidence. Paxton successfully completed an application for the Provost Research Award Grant to get funding which is still being reviewed.

We are excited and proud of your members for presenting some of their work so far! Amber and Paxton were able to share information on topics they are curious about with a larger audience! We look forward to the future of both members’ projects!

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Taylor’s Thesis Proposal

Taylor, a first-year Ph.D. student, successfully presented her thesis proposal to peers and professors alike. In the presentation titled “I’ll believe it when I see it” Taylor details the progress, she has made toward developing her topic of interest. Her research of choice centers around the tipping points in changing one’s initial impression of an individual. In other words, at what point can an individual’s perception of another change despite what the initial impression may have been? How may this impression’s tipping point differ when changing a negative perception to a positive one; from a positive to a negative? Taylor hopes to answer these questions by implementing previous research methods and new techniques alike.

In order to understand this research we have to talk about personal perception. Person perception is a concept where people learn about an individual and then make assumptions based on what they learn. This assumption can also be considered an impression. This impression, whether right or wrong, is created based on what we saw and what it means to us. Our impressions of someone can often affect the ways in which we interact with a person. According to the moral primacy model, morality is an important factor in deciding what we think about a person. Sociability and competency are also factors that decide our impression, but neither are nearly as influential as morality. Morality can be simplified as understanding whether someone is good or bad. If we see someone holding the door open we think that is a good action and the person engaging in that behavior is good.

In Taylor’s proposed research design, different mediums will be used in order to display an individual groin through change. These mediums include visual media, auditory media, and text-based media. Participants will also be divided in whether they see a good person eventually do bad things or the opposite. They will witness this change in the person gradually and then be asked to come back in a week to complete a survey. Taylor hypothesizes that participants who see an individual changing from their initial behaviors will then change their perceptions sooner seeing good people doing bad things, rather than people hearing or reading about bad people doing good things. Taylor’s inspiration from her study comes from gaps in previous literature. Other studies have not considered the medium in which individuals learned about an individual, which grossly underestimates the amount that we learn about a person by seeing or hearing about them.

The practical applications of this research are numerous. For starters, previous literature has established the importance of character judgments we make about others. When we make these judgments we want these decisions to be informed. A good and informed decision can keep us away from danger. What is important about these decisions is that they are correct. If the method by which people learn about a person’s actions can affect the perception of it we can better convey good or bad behavior. These implications ripple into the world of law and politics; if someone has truly learned their lesson from their actions it may be better to see that change rather than hear it from the individual. This research will also help to reduce negativity bias, the phenomenon in which people are stuck with a negative perception of someone despite real changes being made. Thinking that someone “will never change” is unrealistic, and change may be more likely than some people give credit for. Lastly, a study like this will have more practical application in the real world where we see people act in moral or immoral ways daily. Showing people these actions will better replicate how we may happen to see these events.

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Amber’s Article Presentation and Upcoming Research

Amber, a second-semester undergraduate research assistant, recently presented the article, “A Randomized Controlled Trial for an Individualized Positive Psychosocial Intervention for the Affective and Behavioral Symptoms of Dementia in Nursing Home Residents” (Van Haitsma et al., 2015).

Following Amber’s experience working in a nursing home, she found an interest in researching interventions for people with mental health disorders such as Dementia and Alzheimers. The person-centered model of care is based on recognizing the individual’s needs and preferences in caretaking. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a model of personality and motivation while the Broaden-and-Build Theory states that positive emotions widen an individual’s behavioral repertoire. There have also been findings within the research of modest effects of using non-pharmacological interventions such as music therapy to reduce behavioral symptoms of dementia. When planning these interventions, it is important to match the activity to skill level and interest.

With that, the purpose of this study specifically was to test the effectiveness of a preference-based activity intervention in nursing home residents with dementia. The researchers hoped to improve effect and behavioral engagement while reducing negative affect and negative behaviors. The authors hypothesized (1) One-to-one activity interventions will reduce residents’ negative affect, verbal, and nonverbal behaviors and (2) Individuals receiving the intervention will have increased instances of positive affect, verbal, and nonverbal behaviors. The sample had a mean age of 88.7 years with moderate to severe cognitive functional impairments and lived in the nursing unit for more than a month.

The participants were divided through random assignment into three groups: (1) Usual Care (UC), (2) Attention Control (AC) + UC and (3) Individualized Positive Psychological Intervention (IPPI). There was a 3 week treatment period where these interventions were applied.

The results showed that overall, the residents receiving IPPI showed the greatest benefit, followed by AC. The AC group showed benefits and more negative behavior. This may be due to the adverse effects standardized one-to-one interventions can have on highly vulnerable populations. Limitations of this study include the lack of diversity in the sample, the line-observation coding system (only observing one behavior state at a time rather than multiple), and the research assistant’s influence throughout the study. Amber also pointed out the issues involving researching individuals in assisted living facilities. Family members can be quite protective of their relatives during their later years in life. In an attempt to protect their loved ones, they sometimes refuse to consent to studies like this. Whether it is the harsh language calling it an experiment, or lacking trust in research it is a struggle to reach this population despite the good it can do. Amber hopes to address these concerns and reduce the stigma associated with researching elderly people.

Future directions of this study include replicating the study with a more diverse sample and the integration of other types of therapy such as CBT or mindfulness training. Amber will be able to use this knowledge and her interests to influence her future research plans regarding behavioral interventions, and cognitively impaired individuals with a diverse age range and population in mind. We are excited to see what Amber accomplishes!

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