The FF-PTG Lab Welcomes New Members

This fall, the FF-PTG lab would like to welcome 4 new members!

Welcome to new graduate student lab member, Kayla! Kayla is a first year PhD student with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She became interested in PTG after doing research and working with hurricane victims from North Carolina. Her current research interests involve how communities respond to trauma and crisis, and she is excited to pursue these interests more as she begins her time at Oakland University. Kayla can be reached at kbenson@oakland.edu

The FF-PTG lab also welcomes new graduate student lab member, Joey! Joey is a first year Master’s student with three bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, sociology, and psychology from Arizona State University. His main interest in psychology concerns examining human behavior through a social and cultural lens, especially when faced with taxing stimuli. He joined the FF-PTG Lab due to its focus on human behavior and response to extremely taxing stimuli, as well as the opportunity to develop and hone his research skills. His long-term goal is to earn a PhD in Psychology so that he can teach as a university professor while simultaneously working on research to add to the current literature in social psychology.  Joey can be reached at josephrhodes@oakland.edu

The lab would also like to welcome graduate student lab member, Kolton! Kolton is a first year Master’s student, graduating from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology with a minor in youth studies. He became interested in psychology due to his childhood fascination of the show Criminal Minds, which revealed how interesting the human mind can be. Kolton enjoys learning about psychology and how the mind works, specifically how it affects human behavior. After completing his Master’s, he plans to eventually obtain a PhD in counseling psychology. Kolton can be reached at koltonsmith@oakland.edu

In addition, the FF-PTG lab would like to welcome aboard new undergraduate member, Victoria! Victoria is currently a junior at Oakland University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Holistic Health. She joined the lab out of an interest to do research that contributes to clinical psychology. Her personal interests involve exploring how the outdoors interact therapeutically with mental health and if spending time in nature can influence PTG. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, she hopes to pursue a graduate program in counseling psychology. Victoria can be contacted at vkaznowski@oakland.edu.

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The FF-PTG Lab Welcomes New Member

Welcome to Emily Burley, our new undergraduate research assistant! Emily is currently a sophomore at Oakland University, double majoring in psychology and human resources management. She joined the lab due to her interest in using psychology to help others achieve a better quality of life, and hopes that learning about PTG will help her do so. Emily plans to study PTG as it relates to specific groups of people, such as grade school teachers and people who cause traumatic events by hurting others, both intentionally and unintentionally. After completing her undergraduate degree, she plans to attend graduate school and start a career in psychology. Emily can be reached at emilyburley@oakland.edu.

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Potential Research Topics in 2020-2022

We are excited to start the new semester in a month and look forward to initiating new lines of FF-PTG LAB research projects. Here is some ideas.

  • Social, political, and psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic, including the distinctions between PTG, resilience, and well-being
  • Impact on values and trust in government and statistics that relate to personality, anxiety, coping, and PTG
  • Racial disparities, inequality, the mass protests in the U.S.,and justice related to action-focused growth 
  • PTG as defense mechanism against anxiety under COVID-19
  • Tipping point for post-traumatic/daily cognitive, emotional, personality, relational, and physical changes
  • Bright, dark, and ugly side of resilience and PTG
  • Impact of being hurt and harming others within the same person
  • Issues surrounding PTG, authentic growth, and illusory growth
  • PTG as a means of revenge, and DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim and offender roles)
  • Sustainability of PTG and PTG as a temporal coping/mood
  • Values of leisure, outdoor activities, sports and athletes under COVID-19 relate to mental and physical health
  • Impact of cyber harassment, rejection, and bullying on well-being

If you would be interested in any of these topics, please let us know so we can collaborate and delve into some big unanswered questions together!

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Kat’s Presentation

Second semester undergraduate lab member, Kat, gave a presentation titled Examining Curvilinear Relationships within PTG. Her presentation addressed the literature that has found quadratic relationships between trauma and PTG. This relationship suggests that moderate amounts of trauma may support greater PTG, while events perceived as less traumatic may not shake one’s core beliefs enough to facilitate PTG, and very severe traumatic events may be too debilitating to experience growth. In contrast, other studies have found only a linear relationship between trauma and PTG, so no consensus has been made when defining the relationship. For her presentation, Kat aimed to test for these relationships using data from one of our lab’s previous studies. Uniquely, the data is from a sample of high school students, and measures for PTG based on multiple events, both of which are less prevalent in the literature. Kat analyzed the data to examine if there is a curvilinear relationship between PTG and different measures of trauma severity, such as the stressfulness or number of traumatic events reported. The results were mixed, which indicates finding curvilinear relationships may be due to statistics or a combination of many different variables, and therefore needs to be further studied. Kat plans to continue working with this dateset and investigating the relationship between trauma and PTG. Nice job on your presentation, Kat!

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Emilee’s Article Presentation

First semester undergraduate lab member, Emilee, recently gave her first article presentation titled Is Resilience only skin deep? Rural African Americans’ socioeconomic status – Related Risk and Competence in Preadolescence and Psychological Adjustment and allostatic load at age 19 that was published by Gene H. Brody et al. in 2013. The researchers of this study wanted to analyze the interaction between resilience and negative physical outcomes in a population of disadvantaged African-American preadolescents. They predicted that the preadolescents who exhibited high psychosocial competence despite their lower socioeconomic status would at the same time show signs of stable mental health and increased physical health problems, specifically higher levels of allostatic load (a measure of a person’s stress response). The results showed that higher resilience, or psychosocial competence, in the preadolescents correlated with higher levels of allostatic load and physical health issues at age 19, but these results were found only for the disadvantaged preadolescents. This suggests that resilience is multidimensional, positively affecting mental health while simultaneously negatively affecting aspects of physical health. These results help to facilitate the discussion of the complexity of psychological constructs and the possible “dark side” to ones which are consistently viewed in a positive light. The researchers believe that future directions should seek to explore mediating factors and functions behind the biological and physiological effects of active coping skills. Emilee would like to use this article to build upon her own interests in examining the unexplored sides to common psychological constructs. Great job on your presentation, Emilee!

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Members of the lab attended the Graduate Student Research Colloquium on campus in March and presented their posters. We also had the opportunity to listen to presentations and view other OU graduate students’ posters from a variety of subjects, ranging from evolutionary psychology to engineering and biological sciences!

Olivia and CJ presented their poster: The Association Between a Caregiver’s Education and Their Child’s Levels of Openness and Personal Growth. They hypothesized that parents with higher levels of education would have children with higher levels of openness and more personal growth. Their results found that children whose parents had a master’s degree or higher reported both greater levels of personal growth and openness than those with parents who had a bachelor’s degree or less. The higher level of openness in children with highly educated primary caregivers could be due to the fact that the caregivers are often from a higher social class, which may allow parents to provide children with more opportunities for new experiences, therefore increasing their openness, and indirectly encouraging personal growth.

Kara Presented her poster Perfectionism in medical professionals increasing deliberate rumination and PTG. She investigated how perfectionism may increase rumination following a medical mishap, leading to PTG. Perfectionist behaviors have been found to increase rumination, which is known to be positively related to PTG. Her results found that perfectionism, overall, positively correlated with the frequency of thinking about the mishap. In turn, the frequency of thinking about the mishap also positively correlated with PTG. Rumination forces individuals to work through the event that causes psychological struggle, while perfectionism increases the desire to understand why things went awry. Future research may help training medical professionals to ruminate on their mistakes to facilitate growth.

Olivia and Kat presented their poster A Sense of Personal Growth and Creative Behaviors among Children, in which the number of creative behaviors children have engaged in outside of school was positively related to their sense of personal growth. Interestingly, the relationship was consistent when controlling for other variables and demographics, except for gender. They found that the relationship between creativity and personal growth was much stronger in girls than in boys, which reflects gender differences in perceiving or reporting growth.

Dr. Taku had a good time serving as a poster judge with Drs. Jennifer Vonk and Lisa Welling!

Everyone worked hard and did a great job presenting their posters!

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Free Form PTG (FF-PTG) Lab Re-Launched in 2020!

We are excited to announce the new name of our research lab, Free Form Posttraumatic Growth (FF-PTG) Lab! Our research aligns with the Social-Personality concentration in the Psychology Department at Oakland University.

Our research concentrates on people’s mind, personality, perceptions, cognition, emotions, attitudes, feelings, behaviors, values, and beliefs (so pretty much everything) while living, which may or may not correspond to the path of posttraumatic growth – positive psychological changes that may occur as a result of the struggle with major life crises or traumatic events.

We are hoping to contribute to the fields of clinical, trauma, developmental, personality, social, and cross-cultural psychology.

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Taylor’s Research Study Proposal

Recently, third semester undergraduate student, Taylor, presented her proposal for an independent research study titled, Individual Differences in Emotion Recognition: Examining the Relationship Between Posttraumatic Growth, Empathy, Personality, & Facial Expression Recognition. Based on previous research conducted, Taylor is interested in looking at the relationship between posttraumatic growth (PTG) and emotion recognition ability (ERA) and how the Five Factor Model personality traits of: agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness to experiences, and extraversion may moderate this relationship. Taylor aims for her research to help aid in understanding the ways that PTG can impact day-to-day communications and individual’s interpretations of them. With her research, Taylor hopes to point towards the possibility of promoting PTG in trauma victims that suffer from mental disorders to improve their ERA. This will, in turn, positively impact daily social interactions, aid in creating healthier relationships, and increase success in professional domains. Great work Taylor, we can’t wait to learn more from your study!

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Brooklin’s Michigan Academy & MOM Presentation

Second year undergraduate lab member, Brooklin, recently gave her last presentation in the lab, as she will be graduating this semester. Brooklin presented her analyses for one of the lab’s current studies, Survey using Vignettes, in preparation for the Michigan Academy and the Meetings of Minds conferences. Her presentation for Michigan Academy examined the relationship between resilience and optimism among college students, by utilizing different measures of optimism. Uniquely, one of the optimism scales measured how participants rated and adjusted their probabilities of experiencing various life events. The results confirmed the positive correlation between resilience and optimism measures, but indicate that controllable events show greater correlation to resilience in comparison to events that happen at random. For Meetings of Minds, Brooklin further explored these scales, measuring if resilience correlates with optimism and having the perception of control over events in life. Her presentation highlighted the overlap between traits of resilience and optimism, and she plans to analyze the events to see, of those participants, who did not change their scores and determine whether they are low or high in optimism. Great Job Brooklin, you worked hard this semester! We can’t wait to see what you accomplish at University of Detroit Mercy next year, good luck!!

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Congrats Whitney!

Recently, fifth-year PhD lab member, Whitney, successfully defended her dissertation titled, The Impact of Dolphins on Children’s Mental Health: Longitudinal Analyses of Three Interaction Programs. Whitney conducted 3 separate studies where she analyzed (1) the impact of swimming with wild dolphins and whale watching on the psychological factors of children, (2) the impact of Wild Dolphin Assisted Therapy on children, and (3) the impact of differing lengths of captive dolphin interaction programs on children’s mental health and educational variables.

For the first study, she predicted that psychological factors such as social support, emotion regulation, empathy, posttraumatic growth (PTG), sense of awe, and knowledge of dolphin welfare would increase over time and show a greater change in participants of the dolphin condition rather than the whale watching condition. For study 1, she also predicted that the childrens’ heart rate would decrease more in the swim-with-dolphin condition than the whale watching condition. Whitney found that emotion regulation, sense of awe, and PTG changed over time for the children but more so in the whale watching conditions than the swim-with-dolphin condition, partially supporting her prediction. She also found that heart rate remained stable in the swim-with-dolphin condition and decreased in the whale-watching condition, not supporting her prediction.

For the second study, Whitney predicted that heart rate would decrease over the span of the 5-day program for the children along with stress levels. Meanwhile, she predicted that the childrens’ comfort in water and positive emotions would increase over the span of the program. Lastly, she predicted that the program would be perceived as enjoyable, as well as, helpful among the participants, and those feelings would carry on at least one month later after the program ended. Her results showed that heart rate decreased for some of the participants over the span of the program, partially supporting her prediction. She also found that stress and anxiety levels also decreased for some of the children, partially supporting her prediction. Overall, the children found the program to be enjoyable and helpful, fully supporting her prediction.

For Whitney’s third study, she predicted that educational and psychological variables would increase over the span of the program and continue for one month after. She predicted that the programs with a longer time duration would be more effective than the shorter programs. Along with that, she predicted that time touching the dolphins would influence the impact that the dolphin interactions had on the children, assuming that the more time touching the dolphins, the greater the changes will be. Lastly, Whitney predicted the children would find the program enjoyable and helpful. Her results showed that swimming with captive dolphins can aid with emotion regulation, knowledge of dolphin welfare, and heart rate but there is little long-term impact. She found that there were no significant differences between the program length’s effect on the children, except when it came to the perceived support from the parents. More time touching the dolphins did correspond with higher knowledge of dolphin welfare and overall, the participants found the dolphin interactions to be entertaining and enjoyable.

Overall, Whitney’s research shows that dolphin interactions programs are more than just fun, they can help with learning about the dolphins, increasing feelings of calm while decreasing stress and anxiety, and they provide feelings of social support. Her research leaves a lasting impact on considering dolphin interactions as a means of therapy for children undergoing stressful life experiences and daily hardships. Whitney has dedicated a significant amount of time and energy into her research, providing amazing results! We can’t wait to see what you plan to do next! Good luck, Whitney, and awesome job!

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