Celebration of Student Research 2015

At the 15th annual Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship and Creativity, (Friday, January 23rd, from 1-4pm in Detchon International Hall) there will be four posters/talks by students conducting work in psychology. Two (by Colin Downey ’15 and Charles Wu ’15) describe work conducted in summer research internships, a third (by Lu Hong ’15) describes the results of an independent study, and the fourth (by Adam Boehm ’15, Daniel Bowes ’16, Keaton Holsinger ’15, Chris Stazinski ’15, Chase Young ’16, Niki Kazahaya ’18, & Adam Rains ’17) describes preliminary analyses from data collected on an immersion trip to Montreal last November.

[Edit: the Wabash web site has a nice write-up on the Celebration, including some quotes from Lu Hong '15, who was presenting research projects in both Psychology and Chemistry]

If you happen to be on campus, we hope to see you at the Celebration this afternoon, and we are very impressed with the wide range of work that our students have done over the last year!

Posters – 1-2:30PM – Detchon International Hall

#3 Adam Boehm, Daniel Bowes, Keaton Holsinger, Chris Stazinski, Chase Young, Niki Kazahaya, & Adam Rains Differences in brain activations during memory-guided and GPS-guided wayfinding in a virtual city
#9 Colin Downey Non-cardinal color mechanisms: Stimulus size matters
#17 Lu Hong Assessing navigation performance in virtual environments on mobile devices



2:10PM Detchon 111 Yunan Wu How do children learn to access the unsaid?



Summer research – Downey ’15

Colin Downey ’15 prepares for a presentation at mGluRs on his summer research. Photo by Dr. Z.

Colin Downey ’15 spent the summer of 2014 doing research at Wabash, and you can read about his experience below:

This summer I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Karen Gunther, PhD, on a color vision study at Wabash College. Our goal was to observe the effect of stimulus size on non-cardinal color mechanisms. We tested individual subjects, including ourselves, in visual search on a computer screen specifically tuned for visual testing. I was the one conducting the experiment on individuals and in the meantime, reading published articles that I was interpreting so that I could use them in my introduction for our paper that we will be working on throughout the 2014-2015 school year. The final goal of the project is for it to be published in a scholarly journal, and for such an experiment to be published, you need significant results, which we have. Our experiment tested the three different planes of color vision, which are red-green/blue-yellow, red-green/black-white (Luminance), and blue-yellow/Luminance. By testing the different color axes, we can combine them to see the difference in how subjects performed within each plane. In addition, our non-cardinal colors were tested as well, which were orange-turquoise and purple/lime. We manipulated the stimulus size from 0.5 – 3 degrees, to see how well subjects performed when testing their cardinal and non-cardinal colors within visual search. The significant results were shown by a main effect in dot size and color axes for the RG/BY, RG/LUM, and BY/LUM, by which we have started a pilot study with smaller dot sizes to see if we can attain results that will further validate our experiment.

Working over the summer at Wabash really helped prepare me for my senior project. Every year a psychology major has to choose a senior capstone, which is an experiment that they conduct and interpret on their own throughout the entire year. This summer project helped me get ahead on my capstone, by acquiring solid data, immersing myself in the articles and “language” of color vision, and taking this experiment to the next level by choosing it as a capstone project. Dr. Gunther and I also worked on drafts of my abstract and introduction of the final paper, which further put me ahead for my senior year. Being involved with research at Wabash College allows the student to be immersed in the field that they choose to study and learn with their professors as colleagues, instead of their students. In addition, summer research gives you opportunities to present your experiments elsewhere, for example, Dr. Gunther and I attended the Optical Society Vision Conference held in Philadelphia, PA at the University of Pennsylvania in October to present our research to a scientific audience specifically within color vision.

Finally, I am also planning on applying to graduate school for neuroscience, and I think that a research internship like the one I participated in will help me get to the next level, especially if our work is published at the end of the year. It was, and is, an awesome opportunity to work for Wabash College for anyone who thinks that they may want to pursue psychology, neuroscience, sensation & perception, cognition, or whatever it may be. Having the opportunity to be around professors everyday and learn from them while it was not the school year, was a humbling and exciting experience that I won’t forget. Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Gunther for giving me the opportunity for this research position and pushing me to be the best writer, scientist, and student that I can be.

A summer (of research) at Stanford – Wu ’15

Wu ’15 presenting work from his previous summer internship at Harvard in 2013

This summer I worked as a research intern at the Language and Cognition lab at Stanford University, where my job was not only data collection, participant recruitment and data analysis, but I also contributed my ideas to the study design and thought about how our study would fit in the bigger picture of research in the particular area. During the internship, I met fellow interns who are extremely brilliant psychologists, linguists and computer scientists hailing from distinct areas of the country and had excellent discussions with them at our weekly seminars. I was able to learn about curiously interesting ideas and perspectives as well as develop friendship with my peers who have similar goals and dreams in the future—to understand language as a cognitive system and more broadly, how the human mind processes and manipulates languages that are inherently symbolic to achieve concrete communicational and social goals.

My project this summer is mainly exploring children’s understanding of pragmatic inferences, in other words, their ability to “read between the lines”. Specifically, we are trying to understand whether children are able to process implicatures given a certain context and if not, what could improve their performance. Pragmatic inferences are ubiquitous in our daily life. For example, if A says : “Is John good-looking?” B answers: “Well, he has a good personality”. In this case, B is not just commenting on the personality of John, but also implying his answer to A’s question—which is very likely a negative one. So a pragmatic inference is when the meaning of a sentence goes beyond its literal sense. We, as speakers, follow certain rules, as summarized by Paul Grice. One of these rules is that one’s speech has to be informative but economic. As adults, we are proficient in dealing with these inferences, whereas children are found to be not as good. However, they are shown to be somewhat sensitive to which sentences are informative and which ones are not. So my mentors designed this experiment to assess children’s real-time processing of implicatures, where children are shown two plates—one has a banana, and the other has a banana and a carrot. If a sentence says: “Elmo’s plate has a banana”, children are expected to look at the plate that only has a banana more than the other one if they understand the speaker’s intentions, like the adults would. And it turns out that children younger than 4 are still not inferring the speaker’s intention. So we added a prosodic cue, which is a contrastive stress on the word “banana”, so the sentence becomes “Elmo’s plate has a BANANA”. We hypothesized that children should be able to pick up the speech cue to help them disambiguate the referent. As of now we only have preliminary data for the study, and they look very promising. I’m hoping to collect more data by the end of this year and see whether our hypothesis can be validated.

In terms of research methodology, the program is very computationally oriented so the interns are taught various extremely useful skills including programming languages like R, Javascript and HTML, experience with version control and code-sharing, and building mathematical models to simulate cognitive processes of language. The interdisciplinary nature and connection with cutting-edge technology really opened my eyes to a whole new world of conducting research and gave me fresh perspectives in the field of psychology.

If anyone is interested in the area of psycholinguistics, I strongly suggest they apply for a research position in the lab and explore what they can offer. For psychology research in general, I passionately encourage my fellow Wabash students to search for resources online in their area of interest and exploit them as best as they can for unique opportunities that could benefit their future career.

-Charles Wu ’15

(Train your) Brain Day 2014

The 6th annual Brain Day will be held at the Carnegie Museum in Crawfordsville on Saturday, July 12th from 1-4pm. This year’s theme is “Train Your Brain!”

Prof. Karen Gunther demonstrates the Rubber Hand Illusion at Brain Day 2010.

With the rise in popularity of “brain-training games” (think of the Lumosity commercials!), you may wonder: can you really change your brain? Well, brain-training games may not be worth your money, but your brain does change every day.

Join us on Brain Day for some simple demonstrations of how your brain adapts when the world changes (in prism-goggles cornhole), train your brain using biofeedback and using the Star Wars Force Trainer, and get tips on how to keep your brain healthy, and much more!

Since 2009, Wabash faculty and students have partnered with the Carnegie Museum to lead an afternoon of brain-related activities for all ages. Like Brain Awareness Week, which is organized by the Society for Neuroscience, Brain Day is intended to demonstrate basic principles of brain function, and to help us all better appreciate and care for our brains.

Wabash Psychology Department Intern Romeo Amao ’13 shows Dr. Keith Baird ’56 and his grandson, Nicholas Johnson, one of the sheep brain samples at Brain Day 2010

This year, three faculty from the Wabash College Psychology Department will lead Brain Day (Karen Gunther, Teresa Aubele-Futch and Neil Schmitzer-Torbert), who will be assisted by several Wabash students.

Prof. Neil Schmitzer-Torbert points out structures in a sheep brain at Brain Day 2010.

We hope that you can join us for another “brainy” years!

Summer psych in Hawaii: Reid ’15

Before starting his work this summer as a Sales Research Assistant Intern at Avangate, Jackson Reid ’15 took in the annual SIOP (Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology) conference in Oahu, Hawaii. The three-day conference included sessions on leadership, big data, high potential talent, self-determination theory, and more. Jackson wrote that his main reason for attending was to determine if he was interested in pursuing graduate study in Industrial and Organizational Psychology after Wabash, and whether he wanted to pursue a Master’s or PhD. After his discussions with many successful IO psychologists from all fields, which included former Presidents of SIOP and big name researchers, he has decided to pursue a PhD in IO psychology.

Big Bash 2014 and the year in review

The Psychology Department welcomed alumni back to campus with a reception in the Haenisch Reading Room in Hays Hall, the department’s temporary quarters as renovation work is completed in Baxter Hall.

The Psychology Department reception for Big Bash was held on Saturday, in Hays Hall. We had a great time, and enjoyed catching up with alums who we’ve had as students, and meeting alums who graduated before many of the current department members arrived at Wabash.

Photos from the reception (courtesy of Steve Charles) are posted here. If you made it to Big Bash, we hope that you had a chance to catch up on the recent events at Wabash and in the Psychology Department (a post on our Fall newsletter is available here). We plan to send out another departmental newsletter in the fall, but for now, we wanted to put out a short update to follow up on our Big Bash reception.


Moses Brand ’57 (who attended the Psychology Department Big Bash reception in 2013) talks with Sherm Franz and Professor Rush.

Highlights from 2013-14:

  • Twenty-five senior psychology majors graduated this year. Each senior completed a year-long capstone research project, which he presented at the Butler Undergraduate Research Conference, and at our Psychology Research Symposium.
  • Dr. Olofson received tenure, and was named the McClain-McTurner-Arnold Research Fellow
  • Dr. Bost was promoted to full professor. Dr. Bost will also be serving as the College’s Institutional Research Officer for the next several years.
  • Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert was named Daniel F. Evans Associate Professor in the Social Sciences.
  • Dr. Rush joined the department in the fall, serving as Dr. Bost’s replacement during sabbatical and next year while Dr. Bost serves as our IR officer.  Dr. Rush came to Wabash from University of California, Riverside, and last year he taught Psychology and Law, Cognitive Psychology, Literature Review and Introduction to Psychology. Dr. Rush’s work focuses on memory and eyewitness testimony, and he is working with four Wabash students this summer in research.
  • Dr. Aubele-Futch accepted a tenure-track offer to join the faculty at St. Mary’s University. We will certainly miss her here, but wish her the best in her new position! Over the past two years, Dr. Aubele-Futch has taught in our neuroscience courses, Introduction to Psychology, Literature Review and Hormones and Behavior as a sabbatical replacement. Last summer, she worked with Brad Wise ’14 on a study of the effects of nitric oxide on sexual behavior in male rats, which Dr. Aubele-Futch and Brad will be presenting as the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in Washington, D.C., this fall.
  • Profs. Preston Bost, Robert Horton and Ryan Rush had research articles published in 2013, two of which included Wabash students as co-authors.
  • Another research article appeared in print this spring, describing work that Dr. Olofson conducted with three Wabash students in their senior capstone project on autism.
  • And Dr. Gunther had two articles come out in print this spring, in the Journal of the Optical Society of America A (you can find abstracts for these articles here, and here).
  • Connor O’Rear ’14 was named the Distinguished Senior in Psychology, and Nathan Bryant ’14 received the Capstone award.
  • Andy Walsh ’14 and minor Ryan Cloyd ’14 delivered an excellent pair of speeches at Commencement.
  • Profs. Gunther, Aubele-Futch and Schmitzer-Torbert brought the 5th annual mGluRs undergraduate research conference to Wabash in the fall.
  • The Psychology Department is still housed in Baxter Hall, but if you are looking for us this summer, you’ll have to drop by Hays Hall. While the second and third floors of Baxter are being renovated this summer, we have temporarily moved into two classrooms in Hays Hall, one for office space and one for Dr. Gunther’s lab (in which Colin Downey ’15 will be working as the Parks summer research intern).

4/30 results

Wabash College’s first Day of Giving in April was a great success, raising over $460,000 in a single day. As part of the Day of Giving, the Psychology Department created an “Affinity Challenge” to raise money to support student research by Wabash students (through the Special Psychology Fund).

We created the Special Psychology Fund last year, to help us support a wide variety of student research activities. Currently, the Psychology Department has one endowed fund, which supports a student internship each summer (the Parks Research Internship, which honors Professor Eldon Parks). But, we do not have other endowed funds to support student research (outside of our annual departmental budget).

On the Day of Giving, our Affinity Challenge did not start until the afternoon, but even so we received 17 donations, for a total of more than $400. Next to the total for the day (>400k), this would seem to be a modest amount! But, it is important to note that before 4/30, only one person (a Psychology faculty member) had made a donation to the Special Psychology Fund, so this was a dramatic improvement! And, we were impressed with the diversity of donors, who included alumni, current students, faculty (in Psychology and other departments) and friends of the College.

Brad Wise ’14 presenting his senior capstone work at the Psychology Research Symposium

With the funds that we have received so far, we will be able to send a recent Wabash graduate (Brad Wise, ’14) to attend a national research conference in D.C this fall, to present on work that he did for his senior capstone research project with Dr. Aubele-Futch.

Over the next few years, we are hoping to grow the contributions to the Special Psychology Fund, to continue to support our research with Wabash students, and to provide them with more opportunities to conduct and present excellent work.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the College, whether on 4/30 or any time. We appreciate your support for the work that we do with Wabash students. If you are considering making a donation to Wabash, you can earmark part of your gift for our psychology students by directing your donation to the Special Psychology Fund.


Save the date: Big Bash 2014

Mark Rain (’73) and Nestor Matthews (Dennison University) at the Big Bash 2013 Psychology Reception

Coming to Big Bash this year? If so, please join us for our annual Psychology Department Reception (2-4pm) on Saturday, June 7th.

Due to summer construction, the second and third floors of Baxter Hall will be closed. So, the department has moved to temporary office space in Hays Hall. And, we will be moving the reception to Hays Hall (Room 206, on the north side of the building).

We always enjoy this chance to catch up with our recent alumni, as well as share stories with alums who were here before many of our current faculty members came to Wabash. We hope to see you there!

The full reunion schedule for Big Bash if available here: https://www.wabash.edu/alumni/reunion/schedule

Schmitzer-Torbert awarded Daniel F. Evans Chair

Prof. Schmitzer-Torbert at Brain Day in 2010.

Last week. Dr. Neil Schmitzer-Torbert was named the Daniel F. Evans Associate Professor in the Social Sciences. Daniel F. Evans ’43 was a longtime Trustee and Treasurer, and served as the College CEO in 1992-3.

The Evans chair was established by the Board of Trustees in 1994, and is awarded to a Wabash faculty member every three years. The award “recognizes an individual whose teaching and scholarship are admirable and effective, and whose intellectual leadership promises to affect the quality of instruction in his or her discipline and across the College.”  Previous Psychology faculty who have held the Evans chair are Profs. Robert Horton (2008-11) and Charles Blaich (1999-2002).

Prof. Schmitzer-Torbert received his bachelor’s degree from Knox College in 2000, and completed his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota in 2005. He joined the Wabash faculty in 2006, and received tenure in 2011. He teaches in the department’s Introduction to Psychology and Research Methods & Statistics courses, as well as the department’s offerings in neuroscience (Introduction to Neuroscience, Behavioral Neuroscience).  This fall, he will be travelling to Montreal with his Behavioral Neuroscience students to conduct research with a colleague at McGill University.

Psychology Awards 2014

Connor O’Rear ’14 presents his senior capstone research project at the 2014 Psychology Research Symposium

Each year, the Psychology Department gives out two awards, the Distinguished Senior in Psychology, and the Capstone Award. The Distinguished Senior in Psychology Award is given each year to the senior major who best represents the department’s ideal for outstanding scholarship, research and service, while the Senior Capstone Award is given each year to the senior major who completes the top senior capstone research project. The Capstone Award considers the scope of the senior capstone, the initiative of the major in completing it, and the public presentations that the senior makes (including our Psychology Research Symposium poster session).

At Awards Chapel last week, Connor O’Rear ’14 was announced to be the 28th Distinguished Senior in Psychology. Connor has excelled at Wabash, receiving Distinction on his Senior Comprehensive exams, and he was also named a Mackintosh Fellow at Awards Chapel. Connor came to Wabash from South Bend, and in his time at Wabash he has been very active in research (completing two summer internships, one with Dr. Schmitzer-Torbert and one with Dr. Horton) as well as three semesters of research with Dr. Horton outside of class. For his capstone project, Connor worked with Dr. Olfoson, in a study of the development of theory of mind in children. Outside of psychology, Connor also completed an area of concentration in Asian Studies and has been involved in the Chinese Club and Psi Chi and worked as a tutor at the writing center.

After Wabash, Connor will begin his PhD studies in Psychology at Notre Dame, where he will be continuing his focus on developmental psychology, in research on children’s understanding of math with Dr. Nicole McNeil (whose lab he volunteered in while still in high school).

Nathan Bryant ’14 receives the Capstone Award at the Psychology Research Symposium Keynote address.

This year, Nathan Bryant received the 2014 Capstone Award, for his project: The Effects of the Serotonin Agonist Sumatriptan on Aggression in a Neutral Cage in Adult Male Rats. Nathan is from Indianapolis and attended Ben Davis High School. He is a Senior DeMolay, and Freemason. At Wabash, Nathan served as a student senator, IFC representative, and vice-president of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.

Working with Dr. Aubele-Futch, Nathan found that infusions of sumatriptan, a serotonin agonist, into the nucleus accumbens in rats significantly increased aggressive behavior in male rats. A copy of Nathan’s poster, presented at the Psychology Research Symposium, is posted below.

Nathan Bryant’s poster summarizing his capstone research project.