John Ra

Project Update: Examining the Effects of Volunteering on Cognitive Functions

My primary initial goal for the early summer weeks was to finish the first round of interviews by mid-June. However, attracting the last few participants proved to be a more difficult task than I had expected. After a CMU alumnus connected me with a representative from another Pittsburgh organization, I was able to schedule the remaining participants for interviews during the week of the 16th. If all goes well, I will complete the first round of interviews by June 20th (only one week behind schedule).

Read the Project Description Here

Accordingly, the most valuable resources for my work have been the organizations from which most of my participants have come from (i.e., the Osher programs at CMU and Pitt, and AgeWell Pittsburgh). These organizations have advertised my study to their members, and as a result, close to (if not more than) 40 of my 50 participants were members of one of these organizations.

As I continued to work independently on my project, I was most surprised by the range of existing research about volunteering. I have read an article about volunteerism’s effect on fMRI-measured brain activity as well as articles about volunteerism’s effects on generic aspects of well-being. As I begin to write the introduction of my Senior Thesis, I will draw upon this literature as a foundation of my own research.

Recently, my workdays have been structured around any scheduled interviews. If interviews were scheduled for the morning, I would spend the morning interviewing participants and entering the interview data into SPSS, then the afternoon reading and outlining articles (and the opposite would be true if interviews were scheduled for the afternoon).

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The Beginning: Students Discuss Their Research Projects

In this video, the four students participating in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program’s inaugural year discuss their projects, which range from relationship research to anthropology and ethnography studies.

For more information on the program, the projects and how to get involved or provide support, visit

What I’m doing over the summer – One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

Over the summer, I will continue to recruit and interview participants until 50 older adults have been interviewed in total. Then, I will run preliminary analyses on the data acquired from this first set of interviews. I will also develop and implement a procedure to code the volunteer responses in preparation for in-depth analyses (e.g., categorizing the responses). All of this will contribute to the design of the second interviews. Toward the end of the summer, I will begin the second set of interviews (of the same people from the first interviews) and write the introduction to my Honors Thesis; to accomplish this, I will further research the existing literature pertaining to the effects of volunteering and social participation/interactions on health outcomes, specifically cognitive functioning.

Since the first four weeks of the summer will be primarily spent finishing up the interviews and running preliminary analyses on the data, the only physical resource I will work with is the interview room. In terms of personnel, the participants could be considered a resource, as well as my advisor, Dr. Vicki Helgeson.

Regarding the summer work, I am most excited about being able to focus on my research without having to balance it with the stresses of academic coursework.

As I get started, I am somewhat anxious about the preliminary data findings. I know it will only be correlational data, but I’m afraid to see no positive correlation between time spent volunteering and greater health outcomes (cognitive functioning, specifically).

This summer’s work will be different than any of my previous experiences at Carnegie Mellon University. This is the first major independent research project I have undertaken as an undergraduate. Again, I have not been able to focus completely on research without having to worry about academics, so this summer fellowship is most different in this regard.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects