Kaylie Williams: Master’s Thesis Update

Kaylie Williams, a second-year Master’s student, recently gave a presentation on her thesis progress. The purpose of the study titled “Psychological Mechanisms Behind Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Changing Conspiratorial Belief”, includes identifying individual differences that influence people to believe in conspiracies and how to change people’s belief in conspiracies through thinking style.

Williams hypothesized that (1) PTSD symptoms, antisocial personality traits, vaccine hesitancy, openness to experience, and general thinking style will correlate with conspiracy beliefs (hypotheses A-E correlating with each variable mentioned), and (2) participants primed to think more concretely will report lower belief in conspiracy theories, while those primed to think more abstractly will report higher belief in conspiracy theories. 355 adults living in the U.S. were recruited for the online study with 288 passing attention checks. Items measured in the study were conspiratorial belief, antisocial behavior, personality surrounding the Big Five, screening for PTSD, public attitude toward vaccination, and thinking style (Analytic, Abstract, and Concrete Thinking).

After the analysis of the data, hypothesis 1 showed no significant relationship between PTSD and conspiracy beliefs (1.A), antisocial traits and conspiracy beliefs (1.B), openness to experience and conspiracy beliefs (1.C), and no significant relationship was found between general vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy beliefs for hypothesis 1.D. However, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy revealed a slight significant correlation with belief in conspiracies. This result is particularly interesting because COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy was driven by conspiracies themselves which may have arisen due to the novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic & vaccine along with isolation and anxiety from the pandemic. Lastly, hypothesis 1.E showed no significant relationships between external, conservative, and global thinking styles and belief in conspiracies. However, post hoc analyses revealed internal and liberal thinking styles both had small, positive correlations with conspiracy beliefs, while local thinking styles did not reveal a significant correlation with belief in conspiracies. Williams discusses how those who believe in conspiracies may refute outside information, and only base their beliefs on their own thinking rather than allowing outside forces to influence their beliefs, and that novelty is valued within liberal thinking styles.

Limitations of the study were pointed out by Williams surrounding online & self-report measures, the college sample, and the potential for dishonest answers. Also, the study was limited to the U.S. which could influence thinking styles. Potential future directions with this research include adding the Dichotomous Thinking Inventory, a new openness measure, a new trauma measure, and the possibility to force a response to political affiliation.

We are so excited to see Kaylie progress through her Master’s thesis on this fascinating topic and complete data analysis for hypothesis 2. Congratulations on a job well done!

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FF-PTG Lab Staff 2022-2023

The FF-PTG Lab is excited to begin its educational endeavors this fall semester. Welcome, new members! And, welcome back, returning members!

Top row (left to right): Natalie Safo, Dominic Turcott, Taylor Elma, Isabelle Teasel, Amani Qaqish, Kayla Benson, Kaylie Williams

Bottom row: Dr. Kanako Taku, Amber Efthemiou, Paxton Hicks, Lazo Dordeski, Lewis Luttrell

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Kayla Benson: Thesis Defense Update

Kayla Benson, a third-year Ph.D. student, recently gave a presentation in preparation for her thesis defense. The purposes of Benson’s study, “Growing Toward the Common Good: Collective Action Engagement as Evidence for Posttraumatic Growth”, include understanding the collective action behaviors as an indication of action-focused growth and constructive posttraumatic growth [PTG] and the relationships between community identity and collective action. The study will also strive to evaluate narcissism and optimism as potential components restricting constructive PTG.

Benson hypothesizes (1) people who are high in PTG will engage in more collective action interventions overall; (2) When individuals believe that their identities are strongly connected to the community, they will engage in more collective action behaviors; and (3) individuals who display patterns of illusory growth (high PTG, low in collective action) will be higher in narcissism and/or optimism. A total of 168 participants ranging from the ages of 18 to 47 years old (M=20.21, SD=3.19) participated in the study. The items that were measured in the online survey were posttraumatic growth, narcissism, optimism, altruism, social identity, and COVID-19 collective action.

After the completion of data analysis, hypothesis 1 of those who report PTG in response to events high in event centrality (constructive growth) will report more collective action behaviors than those who report PTG following low centrality events (illusory growth) was not supported. However, if using altruism as the outcome, the first hypothesis is partially supported, since constructive growth is higher than the low PTG group but no different from the illusory group. Hypothesis 2, narcissism and/or optimism will be higher in participants defined as having illusory growth, was not supported. It is important to note that the results were consistent with the literature that PTG is positively associated with optimism.

Hypothesis 3, individuals defined as experiencing constructive growth will engage in more mask-wearing when not required by a local mandate, was not supported. In fact, there were no differences found between groups in terms of masking when it was not required. It was found through additional correlation analysis that narcissism and a sense of community had small correlations with masking when it was no longer required.

Benson states the limitations of the study include: data collections initiating 1.5 years after the start of the pandemic, college student [only] sample, measurement error with the ‘COVID-19 Collective Action’ variable, study format, and the definitions of constructive versus illusory growth. There are potential future directions with the data which could investigate the interesting patterns recognized through Benson’s study. For example, there could be an examination of the four types of identity relating to other individual differences in numerous ways or further exploration of the PTG subscale could be performed.

Congratulations on the completion of the “Growth Toward the Common Good: Collective Action Engagement as Evidence for Posttraumatic Growth”, Kayla! We are eagerly awaiting your defense presentation in the upcoming months.

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Psychology Department 2022 Distinguished Lecture

The Psychology Department is hosting the event, Distinguished Lecture 2022.

The following discussions are scheduled the next day, September 29th (Thursday) at 5pm.

If you would like to have zoom invites, please email to Kana Taku at taku@oakland.edu

Questions? Please email to Kana Taku at taku@oakland.edu

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The FF-PTG Lab Welcome New Undergraduate Students

Within the Fall 2022 semester, we will have four new undergraduate students joining the FF-PTG Lab!

Natalie is currently a junior at Oakland University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Health Communication. She joined the lab to gain experience in research about PTG and further specify her interests. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to obtain a PhD in clinical psychology to work as a therapist and continue research. Natalie can be reached at nataliesafo@oakland.edu.

Amber is currently a junior at Oakland University, majoring in psychology and minoring in holistic health. She joined the lab to gain research experience and learn more about PTG as a whole and in relation to behavioral psychology. Amber is generally interested in studying non-pharmacological interventions for mental disorders related to traumatic life events in adulthood and late life. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to attend graduate school and later practice clinical psychology. Amber can be reached at amberefthemiou@oakland.edu.

Paxton Hicks is a junior at Oakland University. He is majoring in Psychology Major with a minor in biology with aspirations to pursue clinical psychology or other similar pursuits. By a professor’s recommendation and by his own interest in growing his experience, the FF-PTG Lab seemed like the best opportunity for me. He is interested in research related to emotions and their relation to patient outcomes. Paxton can be reached at phicks2@oakland.edu.

Amani is currently a junior at Oakland University, majoring in psychology with a minor in human resources management. She joined the FF-PTG lab to gain hands-on research experience and to understand how post-traumatic growth can affect people in the workplace. In the lab, Amani is interested in exploring work-life balance and burnout in relation to people who have experienced PTG. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, Amani plans to pursue an industrial-organizational psychology graduate program to become an I/O psychologist. Amani can be contacted at amaniqaqish@oakland.edu 

We are so excited for the new undergraduate students to be joining us! We are looking forward to working with you and seeing what you will accomplish.

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Welcome Incoming Graduate Students

Welcome to the FF-PTG Lab! Let’s introduce the three incoming graduate students.

Taylor is a first-year Ph.D. student with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology with a minor in writing and rhetoric that she obtained from Oakland University. She initially joined the lab as an undergrad due to her interest in emotions and individual differences related to trauma, PTG, and resilience. Her current research interests include understanding emotions, nonverbal communication, and person perception in clinical settings. Taylor can be reached at elam@oakland.edu.

Lewis is a first-year Master’s student with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a minor in applied statistics from Grand Valley State University. He became interested in PTG due to his own experiences in the Marine Corps and getting to meet other veterans with similar backgrounds and experiences, but drastically different outcomes. His primary interest concerns the changes in cultural and ethnic impact on self and social identities as society continues to promote and encourage diversity. Following his instruction at Oakland University, he intends to continue his education in pursuit of a Ph.D. Lewis can be reached at luttrell@oakland.edu

Dom is a first-year master’s student who earned a bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Detroit Mercy with honors in 2020. He became intrigued with post-traumatic growth and bridging the gap as it relates to practices of cognitive-behavioral therapy and substance abuse recovery. Working as a substance use and domestic violence therapist, he carries a passion for serving members of the community who are in need. Going further, his research interests include alcohol and drug abuse, religious trauma syndrome, clinic efficacy and efficiency, gun violence, and more. Dom is goal-oriented on completing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology after obtaining his master’s at Oakland in order to one day contribute to greater knowledge through research education while striving to conduct the best therapy he can. He can be contacted at DomTurcott@oakland.edu.

We are so excited for the new undergraduate students to be joining us! We are looking forward to working with you and seeing what you will accomplish.

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Our New Lab Manager, Isabelle Teasel, Featured on Instagram!

We are really excited that our new lab manager, Isabelle Teasel, has been featured on Instagram by Oakland University’s Honors College. Here is the link!

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APA in Minnesota (2022)

Some of the FF-PTG lab members recently attended the 2022 American Psychological Association (APA) Conference that was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota from August 4th-6th. It has been more than 2 years since we attended a conference in person! They were able to present on their recent research projects as well as network and learn from other researchers in the psychology field.

Kaylie and Joey were first to present their poster titled The Role of Dichotomous Thought on Aversive Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This research, which originated from Joey’s Master’s Thesis, found that both dichotomous thinking (thinking in polar opposites) and gender were significant predictors of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic but not depression. They believe these findings may be due to how dichotomous thinking typically involves thoughts of the environment which aligns more with anxiety than depression. Whereas depression may align more with thoughts of oneself.

Joey and Kaylie’s next presentation was titled Isolation, Self-Construal, and Aversive Mental Health During COVID-19. They predicted that self-construal (how an individual constructs their identity in relation to their in-group) and isolation would predict depression and anxiety. Their findings showed that self-construal and isolation were in fact predictors of depression but only isolation predicted anxiety. Their research shows that those who view themselves as overlapping with their group may be more susceptible to depression with the increase in isolation caused by COVID-19. In addition, this highlights that isolation impacts both depression and anxiety which may have been more brought on during the pandemic restrictions and protocols.

Matt, a fellow graduate student in the Psychology Department, presented a data blitz talk, which was also derived from Joey’s Master’s Thesis, titled Religion and Precautionary Behavior During a Global Pandemic. Matt and Joey were able to find that stronger religious beliefs may lead to less belief in (1) the efficacy of masks, (2) scientific evidence and research, (3) government guidelines, along with (4) wearing masks to prevent COVID-19. These research findings help us to better understand how religion has impacted human behaviors during the pandemic.

Taylor gave a data blitz talk as well, titled Examining the Rationale Behind Perceived Severity of Modern and Traditional Types of Depression. She presented on the differences between modern-type (MTD) and traditional-type (TTD) depression by identifying the reasons behind the perceptions made of them when participants were shown vignettes of individual “X.” Findings showed that X with TTD was perceived as more severe than X with MTD, coinciding with previous research. However, people relied on different information to make judgements of X with low severity ratings; having a “heavy workload” for TTD but “complaining about workload” for MTD. Yet, for both MTD and TTD, high severity depression ratings were based on experiencing “negative physical symptoms.” This shows that people place more severity on the physical symptoms someone is experiencing with depression than the other behaviors.

Overall, fantastic work, FF-PTG Lab! We cannot wait to attend next year!

  • Williams, K., Rhodes, J., & Taku, K. The role of dichotomous thoughts on aversive mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic (03 – Society for Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Science Division).
  • Rhodes, J., Williams, K., & Taku, K. Isolation, self-construal, and aversive mental health during COVI-19. (08 – Society for Personality and Social Psychology Division).
  • Lico, M. P., Rhodes, J., Kozak, A. T., & Taku, K. Religion and precautionary behavior during a global pandemic (08 – Society for Personality and Social Psychology Division).
  • Elam, T., O’Brien, C., & Taku, K. Examining the rationale behind perceived severity of modern and traditional type of depression (08 – Society for Personality and Social Psychology Division).
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Lazo Dordeski: Hypotheses Presentation

Ending the Winter 2022 semester, undergraduate research assistant, Lazo Dordeski, presented his hypothesis presentation titled “Victim-Perpetrator Overlap: An Analysis of Chronology and Impact of Events”. The purpose of the study was to examine the chronological timeline of perpetration and victim events to see which precedes the other and the interactions between the chronology of Victim-Perpetrator Overlap [VPO] and the impact of victim and perpetrator experiences. It strived to conduct an exploratory investigation between non-violent actions and VPO.

The first hypothesis states there should be three groups depending on the timing of each event: (1) perpetrator event occurs first, with victimization occurring after; (2) victim event occurs first, with perpetration occurring after; and (3) overlap, which means the events co-occur. Dordeski also proposed the degree of shaken beliefs in victim experiences should be the largest in Group 2 (V to P), whereas the degree of shaken beliefs in perpetrator experiences should be the largest in Group 1 (P to V). The third hypothesis was lying and excluding someone will be suppressed if participants are experiencing overlap.

A total of 84 valid participants from the ages of 18-32 years old (M=20.57, SD=2.69) collected via the Qualtrics survey were used for data analysis. The measures used were “The Victimization and Perpetration Scale” (Smith, 2020) and “Shaken Beliefs” (Taku et al., 2015).

The study concluded that hypothesis one was supported since data analysis demonstrated three different groups depending on the timing of each event. Hypothesis two was not supported, because there were no significant differences between the two groups with P or V experiences. However, hypothesis three was supported after the performance of a One-way ANOVA and post hoc for analysis for confirmation of the differences between the groups. A negative mean difference was present between overlap and P first group in the exclusion event, and negative mean differences between overlap and both P and V first groups regarding the lying event, thus supporting hypothesis three. “Manipulative” behaviors were more likely to be suppressed when participants experience overlap. This overlap allowed for a greater impact of the events on the individuals. Limitations of this study would include the sample size of 84 participants, demographics limiting generalizability, and measures still focusing more on violent behaviors.

Great job, Lazo! We appreciated all of your contributions to the FF-PTG Lab. Wish you the best of luck in your academic endeavors.

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Isabelle Teasel: Honor’s College Thesis Update

Senior lab member, Isabelle Teasel, gave a presentation on the progress she has made with her Honor’s College Thesis titled, “The Paradoxical Nature of Resilience, Optimism, and Anxiety in Relation to COVID-19.” The project focuses on the paradoxical relationships between resilience, optimism, and anxiety in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study’s major concepts are resilience, optimism, and anxiety. Resilience is the process of successfully adapting mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally to difficult traumatic experiences through life and is also the ability of an individual to return to pre-traumatic functioning after they experience trauma. Optimism is defined as a positive attitude that good things will occur and an individual’s aims will be fulfilled. Both resilience and optimism may be paradoxical in nature. Too much or too little of either may lead to overconfidence or adverse mental health conditions, in the case of resilience, and to impractical expectations or even better health in the absence of optimism. Their connection can be understood as high resilience leading to unhealthy, or high, levels of optimism, creating a vicious cycle of disadvantages for affected individuals.

Anxiety is defined as excessive worrying that is hard to control three or more symptoms present (i.e., restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, etc.) and has different variations: trait anxiety, state anxiety, and health anxiety.

The study will not only examine the paradoxical relationships these three concepts have within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, but due to recent changes in the political and social climate within the United States, it will also examine discrimination and xenophobia within the U.S. as well.

The study’s hypotheses are: (1) the paradoxical nature of optimism will hold true in relation to the levels of the three types of anxiety; (2) the paradoxical nature of the resilience will hold true in relation to when individuals have lower trait anxiety and health anxiety; (3) individuals who rank higher on the discrimination and xenophobia scale have higher levels of trait anxiety and health anxiety.

The current study uses data from a prior study titled, “Reactions to COVID-19,” conducted by Olivia Rithig, Dr. Kanako Taku, and Kara Pado, which was approved on March 31st, 2020. The purpose of the original longitudinal study was to examine public perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, including emotions, behavioral, cognitive, and physical reactions as well. Data was collected through an online survey at two time points. Time 1 Data was collected on March 30th, 2020, while the Time 2 Data was collected as a follow-up on April 27th, 2020.

Time 1 Data will be used for the current study and will include 604 surveys, consisting of participants who are 18 years or older. The study will include measures of resilience, optimism, anxiety (for each of the three types), xenophobia, and discrimination.

Isabelle’s next steps will be to clean the data collected using SPSS to prepare for data analysis beginning in the Fall 2020 semester.

By understanding the paradoxical relationships between resilience, optimism, and anxiety, and the interactions between xenophobia and discrimination and anxiety, Isabelle hopes to establish a foundation of literature that has yet to be seen in current research.

You’re making amazing progress Isabelle! We can’t wait to see where your study heads next! Good luck!

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