Alcohol Administration Studies and Emotion Recognition: Dealing with Complex Data

As of my last post, I planned to conduct a meta-analysis to clarify the strength and direction of alcohol’s acute effects on emotion recognition among community samples. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Kasey Creswell, my thesis advisor, and Lakshmi Kumar — a doctoral student of the Behavioral Health Research Lab of which the three of us are all a part of. However, since collecting articles and extracting data for the study, the project has faced some interesting challenges and undergone major changes.

The first step of the project was finding articles to include in the review. I conducted literature searches using the databases PubMed, psycINFO, and Google Scholar to identify relevant studies published since 1970, with search terms including [alcohol] AND [emotion recognition OR emotional expression OR facial expression recognition]. The latter terms were included to address the fact that the process of identifying emotions in others is referred to by different names across the literature. The searches were limited for two of the databases such that keywords had to appear in the title for Google Scholar searches and in the abstract for psycINFO searches. The reference lists of identified studies were also scanned, and reverse searches were generated and scanned for appropriate studies.

To be considered for the meta-analysis, studies were required to follow an experimental design that administered alcohol to non-clinical human samples and include at least one measure of emotion recognition as an outcome variable. Articles were excluded from the meta-analysis if at least one of the following were true: used non-human animals, published in a non-English language, was non-peer reviewed/unpublished, and/or sampled from clinical populations (e.g., those diagnosed with schizophrenia, alcohol dependent patients). In the end, a total of 10 articles were identified to meet all inclusion criteria.

The next step involved reading through the articles and extracting relevant data, of which the following variables were collected: sample type and size, demographics, definition(s) for emotion recognition, measure(s) for emotion recognition, dosage(s) of alcohol administered, and recognition outcomes across emotions based on alcoholic versus non-alcoholic (i.e., placebo and/or control) condition assignment.

After pulling out all variables of interest, we found that there was great variability across the studies– resulting in a complex dataset. For instance, studies used differing tasks to measure emotion recognition abilities in participants and collected very different outcome data. Additionally, studies varied based on design – including between- and within-person designs (i.e., different versus same participants used across all conditions), as well as repeated measures and independent group approaches (i.e., repeated versus single exposure to condition(s)).

The differences across papers posed a problem because meta-analyses are usually conducted on studies that are similar, and traditional statistical approaches for meta-analyses are often used on simple datasets. I spent much of my time reading articles for statistical recommendations to address such complex data (such as studies that include more than one treatment group or collect information on multiple outcomes) and discussed approaches with my project team.

We finally agreed that based on recommendations across the literature, our dataset was too complex and the studies were not similar enough to conduct a meaningful meta-analysis. Instead, we’ve decided to conduct a systematic review on the articles we found. This means that we will narratively review trends across studies to understand the acute alcoholic effects on emotion recognition among community samples, and we will still be the first team to review this relationship in the literature. While the project hit some bumps along the way, and the initial plan has changed, I am continuing to work with my research team to address the goal of better understanding how alcohol impacts recognition abilities for non-clinical persons.


Research Implementation – Educational Game Design Support

As I’ve got the IRB approval for my research, now it’s the stage to finalize my research protocol and start recruitment and workshops. 

An interesting thing for educational research is that its research method is not as carefully controlled as the lab studies in cognitive science, so there are many uncertainties in the rubrics or the design prompts for this type of workshop study. Initially it feels strange for me, as someone who was originally trained in cognitive psychology research, having so many confounding variables floating around and being unable to backup every one of my decisions with existing literature are a little bit uncomfortable. But it’s also interesting to experience how research are being done in different disciplines, and it will help me cross barriers for interdisciplinary research in the future. So I’ve been asking around for experts’ opinions, and I’ll continue to implement my research in the following year.

As a summary of this summer’s research experience, I’ve kept up with the schedule pretty well, thanks to the frequent check-in meetings with my faculty mentors and the proper planning in the proposal. Preparing for my graduate school application and doing research at the same time is also a meaningful experience, as I am able to further clarify my career aspirations, which helped me decide on some details of the research protocol. 

For example, as the essay prompts let me reflect back and connected the dots of my previous experiences, now I’ve discovered that I want to research on improving informal CS education for grad school. Thus, instead of a math game, I’d like the workshop to generate some games that teach students CS. The theme of math was set originally because of a relative ease of recruiting math teachers, but now I specify a CS theme more in alignment with my future research interest, so I will be able to tell a better story as well in my application. A win-win situation! 

This program really enables me to do something meaningful and interesting with my summer. I got the grant to freely investigate a topic of both my interest and its own values, the support to handle research logistics, and the fellowship portion also makes me feel really rewarding for my research and helps build my confidence in academia. I’ll post my full research story on my personal website afterwards, so feel free to follow up there! 

Still Mentally Accounting

Hi there, thanks for being on board with me during the summer! I have gone through a lot – readings, designing paradigms collecting data, analyzing them, and reflecting on what we have achieved. Even though this is just a start for my honor thesis, the experiences I have gained will surely be tremendously beneficial. To be very honest, there aren’t much physical progress being made in the past month due to my frequent traveling for family matters. It was, however, explaining what I am researching to family and friends that have prompted me to reflect on my study and gave me an angle of advantage when peeking forward.

I was working on my PhD application essays at the same time — yes, (hopefully) I will be in a grad school a year from now. It was in fact quite an illuminating experience to reflect on the journey that I have set sailed for a few years ago and eventually took me to where I stand right now, both intellectually and personally. I will be applying to a few top-tier marketing programs that do behavioral marketing — this mental accounting study is one example of which. I have had the fortune to receive tremendous amount of helps from prof. Gretchen Chapman, who has not only supervised my independent study, my honor thesis, but also my grad school application.

Thank you again for being on board with me during this journal! Now would be a great opportunity to share with all of you my 3MRT presentation, which is supposed to give everyone an easier understanding of my project! Hope you enjoy them!

Introducing Myself and My Project

My name is Bethany, a rising fourth year majoring in Psychology with a clinical concentration and a minor in Gender Studies. On top of my studies, I also have a love of working with children – which led me to find work at a local childcare center! These interests in psychology, social identities, and youth motivated me to pursue a career aimed at providing mental health services. I intend to aid others in their wellness journey and contribute to destigmatizing mental health for the next generation – especially for those who have been historically, and continue to be, neglected and ignored by our social systems. As a person with stigmatized (and jumbled) identities myself, such as a mix of Mexican and Russian-Jewish heritage, social and health disparities are particularly close to my heart and home.

Part of this journey I’ve dedicated myself to will involve improving upon the understanding of mental disorders in order to develop better diagnostic tools, education approaches, and interventions. In order to get involved in this process, I’ve worked in the Behavioral Research Lab with Dr. Kasey Creswell – my thesis advisor – for the past year. The focus of the lab centers addiction research; particularly, with the goals of understanding the underlying mechanisms, behaviors, and risk factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of addiction. Because addiction comes in many forms, and those who struggle with it are often stigmatized by society, I developed an interest in exploring this area of research.

My thesis project aims to clarify how alcohol consumption gives rise to alcohol-induced social outcomes. These outcomes can fall into two main categories: positive and negative. Positive and desirable outcomes, such as increased social bonding, may act to encourage alcohol use because of the social rewards gained – which may contribute to problematic drinking. On the other hand, alcohol intoxication has also been linked to negative and undesirable outcomes, such as increased aggression and interpersonal violence. However, the mechanisms that contribute to these positive and negative outcomes remain largely unknown.

Emotion recognition, your ability to identify emotions in other people, may contribute to the link between alcohol and the social outcomes discussed above. Emotion recognition has been associated with various aspects of social functioning, like contributing to the development and maintenance of relationships. Alcohol administration studies, which follow an experimental design where participants are randomly assigned to consume an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage followed by completion of a task, are a common approach to studying the relation between alcohol and emotion recognition. And yet, the literature on this topic remains mixed and inconsistent; that is, the literature hasn’t been able to reliably establish how emotion recognition is impacted following alcohol consumption.

Meta-analyses, which follow a statistical approach to clarify the strength and direction of the relationship between two variables of interest across the literature, are a useful tool to study the relation between emotion recognition and alcohol. There are two known meta-analyses that analyzed these two variables and found impairment to emotion recognition following heavy and prolonged alcohol use; however, they focused on comparing persons diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and/or other substance use disorders to healthy participants and relied on non-experimental data. How emotion recognition is causally affected following alcohol intoxication among nonclinical, community samples is unclear.

Thus, my project will be a meta-analysis focused on nonclinical samples that participated in experimental alcohol administration studies. Understanding how these alcohol-induced social outcomes arise among community samples has important implications – such as for improving alcohol education, policy-making, and intervention development.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Christianity and Suffrage: Update

This summer I am researching the religious debates that ensued after the publication of The Woman’s Bible, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s feminist commentary on the Bible. This research explores the relationship between Christianity and American political life in the late 19thcentury.

I read several secondary sources in order to contextualize The Woman’s Bibleand narrow down my research question. I read Kathi Kern’s Mrs. Stanton’s Bible, which provided a background on Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s thoughts on religion and the public reception of The Woman’s Bible. I also read Elaine Weiss’ The Woman’s Hour, which chronicled the fight for Tennessee to ratify the 19thamendment. Weiss’ book was relevant to my research because The Woman’s Biblewas utilized by the anti-suffragists to publicly bash the suffragists, claiming that the suffragists were against religion. While I was interested in how The Woman’s Bible was still used to discredit the suffragists over two decades after its publication, I ultimately decided to shift my focus to the religious arguments that ensued immediately after its release. While this work was not hugely influential on my final topic, it did inspire me to research more into the religious arguments antisuffragists made.

  I have also been searching online archives for historical newspapers. Kern’s work has been incredibly helpful for teaching me about the different religious newspapers that commented on The Woman’s Bible.Now, I am researching newspapers from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). As the name suggests, this organization was largely influenced by Christianity. I am interested to learn what the WCTU publicly said about The Woman’s Bible. To me, the WCTU represents the junction between Christianity and women’s rights. Stanton posited that Christianity and women’s rights are inherently opposed to each other, but the WCTU serves as an example of women who were devout Christians and also fought to advance rights for women. 

Coding Progress – Exploration on the Go!

Here with a midsummer update on my project. The two main developments of my project are that I (a) finalized the coding manual and (b) changed my sample.

  1. Just to recap, my project is focused on how infant locomotion, such as crawling and walking, influence subsequent opportunities for exploration and social interaction in the home. In order to capture the concept of exploration, I am using two variables <caregiver> and <object> to determine whether or not the primary caregiver or any manipulatable objects are present and within reach when a baby stops moving. Though <object> is a broad category and could be divided into baby objects (i.e., toys), household objects (i.e., blankets, clothes), etc., I would most likely have collapsed these categories in a final analysis. Regardless, just from pilot coding, I’ve anecdotally observed high proportions of locomotion events ending near a caregiver for crawlers and near objects for walkers which may have interesting implications to be discussed in a paper. In order to capture the concept of social interactions, I adapted the concept of “joint engagement” (Adamson and Bakeman, 1984; Roemer, 2020) which can be simply put as an infant-caregiver dyad actively attending to and playing with the same object together. In order to diminish any ambiguity around attention and intention, I created a variable called <jointaction> in which the infant-caregiver dyad either actively manipulate an object together or onlook to a partner’s manipulation of an object. Contingent to <jointaction>, I will also be coding for which partner(s) is performing the manipulation to better understand who may be initiating these social interactions as well as whether caregivers are coordinating play with relevant verbal input (i.e., “That’s your sippy cup,” “Shake the rattle,”). Altogether, I should collect a lot of data characterizing the environments and actions that follow an infant’s bout of crawling or walking.
  2. With regards to the project sample, I originally planned on working with a sample of 89 12-month-old infants at either a typical or elevated likelihood of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) later in life. Although I have a strong clinical interest and believe work with overlooked populations is vital for field advancement, my mentor and I decided to switch to a neurotypical sample for several reasons. First of all, with a total sample of 89 infants, the outcome groups would have been smaller than ideal and potentially, not enough power for statistical analyses. For example, out of 89 infants, maybe only 25 infants would be later diagnosed with ASD, 10 diagnosed with a language delay, and 54 with no diagnosis. These groups would have been even more divided when looking at demographics of who is still crawling and who is walking at 12 months (which is about a 50/50 split). Another reason, I decided to switch samples is because I haven’t found much literature looking at <jointaction> in a neurotypical sample. It’s standard to study development in neurotypical samples prior to investigating development in more variable samples, so it’s best for me to take a step back and set some proper footing. I would be delighted to work with a clinical sample following this project, if all goes well. Rather, I will be working with a sample of 30 infants across the transition from crawling to walking. There will be three timepoints: 1 month prior to walk onset (considered a crawler), month of walk onset, and 1 month post walk onset. This way I’ll be able to compare experienced crawlers to novice walkers, independent of age, thus more likely to reap meaningful results linking locomotion to exploration and social opportunities.

It’s been a lot of work thus far, and I’m still chugging along. My next steps for this upcoming month include peer mentoring and training another undergraduate student for interrater reliability, beginning behaviorally coding, and drafting the Introduction and Methods sections of this paper. I do hope to submit an abstract for a Developmental Conference in November 2021 and write and publish a manuscript in the spring/summer of 2022.

Just to end on a fun note, in the past month I’ve also visited my family in Tacoma, gone wine-tasting in Napa, and explored Portland, so this summer is going phenomenally in my book.

High-Intensity Drinking in Underage Young Adults

Binge drinking is traditionally defined as consuming 4+/5+ drinks/occasion for females/males, and peaks in young adulthood with approximately 35-40% of 18 to 21 year-olds in the US reporting at least one episode of binge drinking in the past two weeks. This behavior contributes to a substantial proportion of alcohol-related deaths, including suicide, in addition to a host of other negative outcomes such as alcohol poisoning, unintentional injuries, vehicular accidents, and increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder. The probability that negative alcohol-related consequences will occur greatly increases with more frequent binge drinking episodes and when individuals consume larger quantities of alcohol during a particular drinking episode.

Importantly, a substantial proportion of young adults drink at levels far beyond the standard binge threshold, typically referred to as high-intensity drinking. For example, White and colleagues (2006) found that approximately 43% of college student drinkers endorsed drinking at levels twice the recommended binge cut-off in a single sitting. In a nationally representative sample of US high school seniors, Patrick & Terry-McElrath (2017) found that approximately 25% consumed 5+ alcoholic drinks, 10% consumed 10+ drinks, and 5% consumed 15+ drinks at least once in the last 2 weeks. Young adults who engage in this high-intensity drinking are particularly vulnerable to severe alcohol-related harms, including blackouts and death, which is why identifying those who are at risk to engage in high intensity drinking, and understanding why these individuals are at increased risk, is a research priority. 

Personality is one construct that has been identified as important in predicting unhealthy alcohol use. Specific personality traits, including neuroticism and extraversion, have been linked to binge drinking and may also help explain who is at increased risk of engaging in high intensity drinking. However, we have only found two papers on this topic, and only one investigated neuroticism and extraversion (mean age 50). Much of the research on predictors of high intensity drinking has thus far focused on motivations or reasons for drinking. Several theories propose that drinking motives are the most proximal predictors of alcohol use that all other distal determinants (e.g., personality traits) operate through, and many studies have shown that motives mediate the relationship between personality traits and alcohol consumption. Four possible drinking motives have been identified, including social (positive-external; drinking to obtain/facilitate social gains), conformity (negative-external; drinking to feel included/avoid social rejection), enhancement (positive-internal; drinking to enhance a positive mood), and coping (negative-internal; drinking to avoid/regulate negative feelings). 

A large body of research has accumulated showing that drinking motives predict alcohol use and alcohol-related consequences, but little research has investigated whether drinking motives predict high intensity drinking. White and colleagues (2016) found that over six months, increases in social and enhancement motives were higher among college students who transitioned from non-binge drinking to high intensity drinking. In addition, in a clinical sample of adolescents with alcohol-related problems, Creswell and colleagues (2020) found that the maintenance of relatively high endorsement of enhancement and social motives over time was associated with high intensity drinking, and that decreases in coping motives were associated with less risky drinking in young adulthood. Taken together, drinking motives seem to be a promising avenue to pursue in better understanding the emergence of high intensity drinking in young adults, but no prior studies have examined whether drinking motives mediate the link between personality traits and high intensity drinking (which is what my research aims to do).

Progress Report: Special Needs and COVID-19

In my last post, I discussed my background in working with children with special needs and how it has led me to research how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their ability to get a supportive and effective education. Now, two months into the summer, I have made plenty of progress on the project, moving forward with my research questions and goals.

My major goal for this summer was to put together all of the materials needed for an IRB application. For this, I needed to have a firm grip of what my study was going to look like, including a detailed draft of my survey. To prepare for all of these application requirements, my first major step needed to be collecting background information.

To start, I spent a lot of time reading. I would sit for hours searching through databases for relevant studies and prior research regarding special-needs education, pandemic education, or any other relevant thing I could find. All of this reading was extremely independent and self-motivated, which often made it difficult to get through. Ultimately, all of the background reading that I have has given me a strong basis for writing, both in terms of my survey and, ultimately, my final paper.

I have also been collecting background information in the form of consultations. With the help of Dr. Sharon Carver, I have been connected with a handful of volunteer consultants, including a Pittsburgh private school administrator, a Pittsburgh public school administrator, an administrator at a laboratory school in Toronto, and a parent of a child with special needs. In these Zoom conversations, I was able to ask about each person’s experience with special-needs education throughout the pandemic, gaining more insight into their personal experiences than a study or article may be able to provide. While I will not be able to use these conversations directly in my data, being able to have these discussions with each consultant, I was able to add more personal and anecdotal background to my survey, allowing the survey to be more tailored to what each group of people may have experienced.

Looking forward, I am hopeful that I will soon gain IRB approval so that I can hit the ground running in the fall with conducting my survey. In the meantime, I plan on really utilizing the background knowledge I have to begin putting together the introduction to my paper and forming my main argument. I also plan on testing my survey with family and friends, making revisions where necessary, in order to understand what my data may look like. 

The Woman’s Bible: Christianity and Suffrage

Hello! I am Mallory Page, a rising Senior majoring in Social and Political History and Japanese Studies. I am interested in studying The Women’s Bible, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s commentary on the Christian Bible. Stanton was highly critical of Christianity, believing that it contributed to women’s subjugation. However, not every suffragist shared Stanton’s feelings towards Christianity, and she ended up being essentially blacklisted from the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, a movement that she helped form. 

While there has been research on The Woman’s Bible, previous scholarship focused on Stanton’s own motivations for penning this work and her resulting ostracization from women’s rights movements. I am more interested in studying the public debate surrounding The Woman’s Bible. I am using The Woman’s Bibleas an opportunity to explore the relationship between Christianity and American political life in the late 19thcentury, studying criticisms from both outside and inside the women’s movement. I will mainly be looking at the comments on The Woman’s Biblein newspapers from the time.

I am interested in studying The Woman’s Bible because it merges two of my historical interests: women’s history and Christianity. As a Religious Studies minor, I am fascinated by how Christianity has been used to oppress people and inspire others to do charitable works. In this case, Christianity was used by both parties to argue for suffrage for women and argue against it. 

There’s No Investigation Without Literature Review

Hello, again! It’s Renée, here with another update on my research project. To recap, my senior honors thesis project is creating a survey experiment to test media framing effects on how the American public perceives Chinese Americans. Last time I wrote something, I was introducing my project and telling everyone how I came up with the idea for it. Now, I will tell you what I have accomplished from then to now and the stuff that I still need to do.

Progress (What I Have Done So Far)

I have been doing A LOT of reading. I’ve found so many articles about media priming and how other studies measure attitudes toward an ethnicity or race. Basically, I’ve used most of the summer doing a literature review. Yes, reading and taking notes on different articles doesn’t sound exciting; it sounds like something I would do on-the-regular during the school year. However, the literature review is important because it gives me ideas about how I want to design my experiment. Currently, I have confirmed that I want the dependent variable of my experiment to be “attitudes toward Chinese Americans” — measured by survey questions on a 6-point scale. I also have demographic questions drafted to control for fixed effects in my survey experiment.

Reading about how other researchers measure attitudes toward an ethnicity or race helps standardize how I will measure attitudes toward Chinese Americans from participants in my own study. I want the operationalization of attitudes toward Chinese Americans in my study to be consistent with the measurements of other researchers, so that I can be reassured of the validity of my study’s measurement of the experiment variables. I can even save some effort in designing the survey questions for my experiment by using survey questions from other studies. I have been reading survey questions from Colin Ho and Jay W. Jackson’s (2011) study of an Attitudes Toward Asians (ATA) survey to gain inspiration for my own survey questions. I might even use some of them.

Next Steps

My goal is to have my experiment design finished by the end of the summer so that I can submit it to the Ethics Review Board and start collecting data in the fall. So, after I feel like I have gained enough knowledge from the literature review, I will start crafting my survey experiment in Qualtrics and recording my experiment procedures.