psychology

Facilitating Memory Through Games: How Will I Do It?

IMG_4429It’s been three full weeks that I have been exploring memory performance in preschool children. I’ve been spending all my days at the Children’s School, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not only do I get to enjoy time in the sun and fresh air (instead of being stuck at a desk all day), but I also get help shaping my research project from the children themselves. Playing some memory games with them for the past two weeks has helped me think more deeply about what I want to study, what I can actually study within the available time, and how to make the study as engaging as possible for the children. Finding a balance between all three is no easy feat, much more complex than I anticipated, but thankfully the summer is just heating up (literally).

IMG_4399In the first week of the fellowship, before the Children’s School Summer Camp began, I started my literature review by reading about short term memory (immediate memory for an event that just occurred), long term memory (memory for events and knowledge that were previously encountered), and, most importantly for my research project, working memory, or memory that stores information to be readily available for use. I predicted that working memory would be the focus of my project, but had not thought of how often working memory operates implicitly in our everyday lives.

IMG_4391Of the different ways working memory is used, the two broad topics that struck me were communicating and problem solving. It hadn’t occurred to me how much working memory helps us communicate, mainly because my working memory is not impaired. One of the books I have been reading (A Mind At A Time)  explained memory in the context of memory impairment, which highlighted why studying memory is important. As I write this blog post, my working memory is holding reading and writing knowledge so that I have it available when I need to know how to spell a word or where to add punctuation. With an impairment, it would be difficult to remember the beginning of the sentence by the time I get to the end, which might cause the sentence to not make sense, or sound choppy and disconnected. These impairment effects also impact spoken communication, where we need to remember the beginning of the sentence in order to finish it. More importantly, we need to remember the previous parts of a conversation in order to continue talking appropriately about a topic.

IMG_4424With problem solving, much of the same idea applies. We have to remember the problem we are facing to find a solution. The job of working memory is to hold the problem and its components and have them ready for reference while we search our long term memory for the best solution and related steps. If we keep forgetting the problem parts while devising a solution, the problem may never get solved! Setting goals and performing tasks also falls under problem solving. For example, we have all faced a moment where we walk into a room and forget why we came. This situation probably happens to everyone once in awhile, but imagine if we always forgot what we wanted to do while we were trying to do it. From my recent readings, I realized that working memory is crucial to getting anything done, because without it, we wouldn’t be able to hold together parts of ideas as they develop, devise parts of a plan to solve problems or complete tasks, or bridge the gap between short and long term memory.

Furthermore, with memory comes attention. We can’t remember what we don’t notice. One of the challenges I encountered is making the games interesting enough to keep the children’s attention, which will be important if I am trying to facilitate working memory strategies through memory games. However, from all the games I have played in the past two weeks, I have a better understanding of what motivates children and what to say to keep them engaged. For example, I was surprised when many children kept asking for a version of the basic memory matching game where they had to match items with opposite meanings. I thought there might be reluctance to play because the idea of opposites is more complicated than necessary for the game, and might have caused more failures in making matches. Instead, I found that the children requested games with more complex images more often. They are more attentive toward the games that have faces or complex images, preferring the challenge over the simplest version of the game with concrete objects for which the children have labels. When talking to the children, I have to be animated and speak loudly to keep their attention on the games, especially when competing with the pools and art projects at camp. So far, I found that the most effective way to keep their focus is to ask the children for help when I am taking a turn during the game. They seem more motivated to pay attention when they feel like they are helping me improve my performance, which then improves their own.

IMG_3920I am now even more convinced about the importance of studying memory and especially the importance of improving memory ability and strategies in young children, while their brains have the most ability to adapt to and use such strategies. There are a lot of details that need to be worked out, and I have about five weeks left in Pittsburgh with Dr. Carver and only two with the children at camp to do so. It takes a village to raise a child, and it might take the entire Children’s School population (with my hedgehog mascot named Seagull) to determine the focus and methods of my research project before the summer ends, but if the first three weeks were any indication, it will no doubt be something to remember.

Learn more about my project.

The Beginnings of My Project

Hello! This week was my 2nd week working on my thesis project with Dr. Vicki Helgeson. Over the last two weeks, I have devoted hours upon hours to reading various books, research articles, and people’s personal stories regarding the difficulties that come with living with a type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis in order to bolster my knowledge on the subject. Similar to most people, I went into this project with most of my knowledge of T1D management coming from TV commercials showing people cheerfully pricking their fingers with a cool looking gadget. I went into this project knowing I had a lot to learn; and over the course of 2 weeks, the things I have learned completely changed my perception of the illness and brought me immense respect for those who live with it. I hope to share a bit of that learning with you here today.

Starting with the essentials, Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic illness in which the body cannot produce insulin. T1D is often diagnosed in children, however, contrary to popular belief, it can actually develop and be diagnosed later on in life. The body’s inability to produce insulin leads to increases in blood glucose levels (blood sugar), which in turn can lead to heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, or limb amputation. Pretty intense list of complications that can follow, right? Rarely in the mainstream representation of T1D are any of these complications and health outcomes mentioned, but all of them are possible with inadequate self-care.

T1D is extremely tricky to live with because illness management is predominantly the responsibility of the patient, and is a continuous responsibility across their entire lifetime. In addition, management of T1D changes on a daily basis based on the patients physiological standing in that moment. Health management predominantly refers to adherence to strict diets, constant blood glucose monitoring and insulin administration (if necessary), and exercise. But even while attending to these management forms, difficulties can arise. For example, when exercising, diabetics need to be careful that their blood sugar levels do not drop too low due to their exercising.

One thing that I found very surprising as I furthered my literature search was the lack of psychological importance in T1D management. T1D is highly associated with other psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which can make coping difficult; despite this, there is such little emphasis upon taking care of patients mental as well as their physical wellbeing. It brought to mind the overall lack of respect and recognition of the mind-body connection in the current biomedical model of health care that America upholds. In this model, the patient’s treatment is predominantly based on physiology, when in reality, self-care extends to their mental wellbeing as well. It’s rare to find someone in good mental health without good physical health, or good physical health without good mental health. The two go very hand in hand.

In sum, dipping my toe in the literature over these two weeks has brought me immense joy and I look forward to working hard to fill in the gaps of knowledge that exist. And to continue to promote the importance of altering our health care system to value not just patient’s physiological standing, but their psychological wellbeing as well.

Part 11 (Finale): Rest

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A very thick thesis I turned in

The last thing I had to do for undergraduate work was present my thesis at the Meeting of the Minds, an annual research symposium Carnegie Mellon holds every year. I got to share my work with colleagues, friends, family, and even a couple who had donated money to help fund my research. It’s a pretty fitting conclusion to college for me considering that I have devoted much of my time and effort into my thesis and research in general and that I will continue to do research as a career.

That being said, I’m also super hyped about not having to do work for the next 3 months until I go to graduate school. Today I felt bad about not doing work, but then I remembered I didn’t even have any work to do! If anything, the one thing I might do over the summer is to make my thesis publishable. It would be better if I do a follow-up study where I include more measures (such as asking participants whether they perceived a cost in their sacrifice) and maybe another type of intervention other than touch to see how results differ depending on what’s implemented. It wouldn’t be necessary to do, but it will help me build a stronger and more thoughtful case if I add another layer to my study. That will have to wait until graduate school though, and for the most part, I can look forward to pure relaxing, which is something I haven’t felt in a long time.

Anyway, as cheesy as this will sound, I mean this very genuinely. I’m very appreciative of my time at CMU. I have met many intelligent, inspiring people who have been so encouraging and supportive of me. I truly would not have had the fortunate opportunities that I got to experience without the education and advice I’ve received in my time here. I wish all the luck to the fellows who are graduating and to the new fellows as they start their work. You all will do great things 🙂

Part 10: Predictions Can Go Awry, but That’s Okay

The past couple weeks have probably been the most intense weeks of my thesis, but they were intense for a reason. Over the past two weeks,  I have ended my study and analyzed my results. After about 9 months since I came up with my hypotheses, I finally have results to report.

Mediation Figure Final.png

Figure of my hypotheses, although my results did not work out this way at all

First of all, affectionate touch did not significantly affect any of my results: participants in both the touch and no-touch conditions did not differ in how much they sacrificed, their motivations, or how aware they were of their relationship or how positively they felt about their relationship. There was, however, a marginal effect of touch on altruistic motives, but weirdly enough, participants in the touch condition were less altruistic than participants in the no-touch condition. Other results included that approach (wanting to achieve something) and altruistic (prioritizing the partner) motives were associated with more sacrifice while avoidance and egoistic (prioritizing the self) motives were associated with less sacrifice, which generally aligned with what we predicted. Also, being more aware of one’s relationship was associated with more altruistic motives, but having a more positive orientation towards the relationship was negatively correlated with approach motives, meaning participants were motivated to make sacrifices less. While I didn’t make any predictions about approach motives, this seems to contradict what we would generally expect if we assume that having positive feelings about your relationship makes you want to help your partner more.

For the most part, these results have not really supported my hypotheses, but that’s not a bad thing at all. If anything, it’s more interesting when you find results that are contrary to what you thought would happen. It makes you question existing theories or realize that a theory may not apply in all contexts and needs some revising. In this particular case, touch had the opposite effect of what I predicted, albeit small in magnitude. Even though touch has been theorized to promote trying out challenges via feeling secure, in this case, touch made participants wanted to sacrifice less. When I was thinking about why this was, the first thing I thought of was that touch in my study might have been interpreted differently. Instead of interpreting their partner’s touch as “I support you, and you can take on any challenge,” instead they interpreted their partner’s touch as “I support you, and I will do things for you if you don’t want to do it.” Touch in this case would serve as a reminder that participants can depend on their partner when they were in need, therefore they were less likely to sacrifice and rather have their partner do stressful task for them (the negative relationship between positive orientation and approach motives may support this reasoning too). Also, the situation my participants were in may differ from previous studies. No touch study has looked at how touch would influence sacrifice behaviors, so it’s possible that sacrifice provides a unique context where touch differs in its effects.

Even though many psychologists intend to confirm their hypotheses, I have no problem with my results contradicting my hypotheses instead. If anything, this gives me, and possibly others, the opportunity to reevaluate the meaning of touch and what it means when we touch someone in our daily lives. Of course, I have only ran one (severely underpowered) study, so no one should put too much stock in this study. In order to reach more justifiable conclusions, others (and maybe me too if given the chance again), should run more studies trying to replicate (or even refute) these findings.

Part 9: Inspiration for More

In terms of updates on my study, I’m still collecting data for my study and have about 3 weeks left (cross fingers that I can get enough participants). Also, research assistants and I have started the coding I have mentioned in my last post, and although there were discrepancies in the beginning, we are now working at a good pace. (Kudos to them too! It’s not easy working with a brand new coding system.)

 

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Santa Barbara was definitely one of the nicer places I visited.

Although nothing too eventful is happening with my study here in Pittsburgh (although I am very happy that coding is working out), I have been busy with my research in other ways. Recently, I have been on interviews for graduate school, and during my trips, I’ve had the awesome opportunity to meet many intelligent and insightful psychologists. I not only learned about the cool work they’re doing but also received feedback on my current study. Often they would ask really hard questions of things I haven’t thought of, such as whether participants were considering my raffle task as a sacrifice, meaning do they perceive a cost in the task. In my study, I never directly ask participants whether they are taking a cost because I took that fact for granted, even though I really shouldn’t have. Although I do ask questions like “I did not want to do the task,” which would imply that there was some cost, I really should have included an explicit question about whether there was a cost in giving more tickets to themselves than their partners. Despite the mistakes I’ve made, I now at least know what I should do moving forward, and if anything, this actually motivated me to make better studies.

I have received positive feedback to build off of as well. A few faculty members have suggested future study ideas for what I could do in graduate school. For example, what if I had participants choose a kind of motivation to follow and then see what the outcomes are, instead of measuring motivation at the end? Other than touch, what other activities could promote intrinsic motivation? The ideas I discussed with faculty members were super interesting to me, and for the first time in a while, I felt really inspired to do research. (Not to say that I’m not excited about my research now, but there definitely have been slow days.)

When I first heard that I had to go through the interview process, I was terrified. Spending most of the day being interviewed by at least four faculty members sounded super intimidating, and I was sure I would be too nervous to hold a conversation. Much to my happy surprise, turns out faculty members are very chill and fun to talk to. Sure, they were evaluating me and pretty much determining my academic future, but I had fun discussing research ideas and future work I could do. This was the first time I got the chance to discuss ideas with so many psychologists, and this makes me even more excited at the prospect of pursuing research as a career and having the chance to collaborate with some great thinkers!

Part 8: Coding Between the Lines

For the most part, my research has reached a pleasant stasis since my last blog post. A team of experimenters and I have been running sessions every week and slowly but surely collecting data.

That being said, I’m still working on new things. I am now working on a new part of data collection/analysis: coding response data. (I know this is CMU, but no, not programming coding.) A section in my study is where participants write about whether they made a sacrifice for their partner and what their motives were for their actions. My focus is on whether they had intrinsic motivation, but I am also assessing other types of motives to see how they all relate with each other and fit with the literature’s findings. Now we have to take the participants’ responses and code them for what kinds of motivations appear so we can see what kinds of motivation touch promotes.

Unfortunately, no one has released a standardized coding scheme for motivation for writing responses. Researchers have come up with definitions and methods to categorize behaviors as certain types of motives, but no one has implemented a way for how these motivations would manifest in writing. Thus I have to work from scratch. I started with the basic definition of each motivation and then thought about how these would play out in responses. For example, intrinsic motivation is about doing an activity because you truly want to do that activity, such as doing something out of enjoyment or interest. A phrase such as “I wanted to help my partner” would be coded high on intrinsic motivation because phrases like “I want” indicate that the participant truly wanted to make a sacrifice.

coding-manual-edits

Fun fact: 90% of my life is just editing

Of course, there’s always the danger of reading too much into what a participant wrote or making too many leaps of inference. That’s why it’s important for coders to give higher ratings for statements that are explicit and clear and to not overthink ambiguous statements. For now, I am working with my advisor to work out the kinks of how to code these responses and how to make it easy and clear for new coders to learn. We should be able to have a workable coding scheme come January.

No Slacking November

 

img_5183November is here, and that means two things: it’s almost the holidays(!!!!) and it’s almost time for everything that I have been working on (or not) throughout this semester to be due. Though I am delighted by the prospect of having a month off from school, I know that getting to that point will be no walk in the park.

Throughout this month, I will continue to work on my grad school applications, as well as writing the beginning sections of my final thesis paper. Though both of these tasks are not only very important, but also very time consuming, I must admit that I have fallen prey to the temptation of procrastination. However, now that I only have a month to finish everything, it’s go time. I have always told myself that I work well under pressure, and this month will be the ultimate test of that. Though, as usual, I am worried, I am confident that I will get everything done with the help of my advisor, family, and friends.

Luckily, the beginning of November brought me more than just a reality check. I just recently received data back from the soft launch of my study, and everything seems to be going well! Though the soft launch data only contained data from 12 participants, it provided a final opportunity for edits. In our piloting phase, we were focused on making changes to the study based on flaws in the design, questions, etc. However, this data allows us to make changes based on actual participant responses. I will be presenting my study to the entire Relationships Lab this Friday, and, after getting some final feedback from my colleagues, I should be ready to fully launch the study! Thankfully, data analysis isn’t in my plan until next semester. So, once the study is fully launched, I can keep focus on my current tasks, and just wait until the data is sent back to me.

Part 7: Learning Through Teaching

Despite the fact that I have been deep in schoolwork for a little over a month, my honors thesis has been making progress, albeit a little slower than I had hoped (something I’m sure all the fellows here can relate to). Ideally, I had hoped to start my study by the first or second week, but piloting and setting up the study took a little longer than I thought, and it took more like three to four weeks to actually start oops. On the plus side, as of writing this post, I have recruited three couples 😀 Again, I would’ve liked to have recruited more couples at this point in time, but I would rather have everything carefully prepared than rush into things. I also still have until March to recruit all my participants, so anything (good or bad or unexpected) can happen until then.

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Some of my TA notes that also apply to my own research

Another plus side to school starting is that my TA job has started. And no, I’m not just happy because I’m earning money. I’m TA’ing for a research methods class in social psychology, where students learn about research methodology in the classroom and also by running their own studies. I not only do the typical grading job but also help out students with their research projects. In a weird way, now I get to be a mentor for these students. Much like how my advisor helped me over the summer with polishing my ideas and offering methodological advice, now I get to help my students figure out how to best conduct their research to study a topic they’re interested in. Of course, I’m not an expert, but hopefully I’ll be able provide some insight since I’ve gone through the research methodology process this past summer.

This role reversal will also help me out in my research because I’ll have more exposure to others conducting research. Just because this is in a class setting doesn’t mean that I won’t experience similar issues that my students are going through now. Deciding how to measure constructs, coming up with study designs, and creating a study procedure is something all researchers deal with no matter how experienced they are. In a sense, I’m really lucky that I get to run my study for my thesis along with guiding my students with their own research because these two experiences play off of each other and provide a unique experience for me to learn from and to continue improving.

Honors Fellows Wrap Up Summer Research

Group photo

Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.

Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.

Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.

“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”

Read more.

Part 6: Calm Before the Semester

It wouldn't feel right if I didn't end the summer without mentioning Au Bon Pain in some way.

It wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t end the summer without mentioning Au Bon Pain in some way.

As I was writing this blog post, it occurred to me that I’m going to start school in a couple of weeks, meaning that I have two weeks to get my research study ready for the start of the academic year. This is where I would say that’s plenty of time to get my study ready, but to be honest, I won’t actually know if it’ll be enough time until the semester starts because anything can happen in these two weeks. I feel pretty prepared for whatever can come up though, so bring it, last two weeks!

Even if I don’t manage to get piloting done before school starts, I have still accomplished a lot over these past three months. I had to squeeze researching background literature, brainstorming a procedure, crafting questionnaires, writing a proposal and drafting the introduction section of my thesis paper all in one summer. Especially since I haven’t done any of this by myself before, I’m pretty impressed at what I’ve done. I’ve received a lot of guidance and help from my mentor, but I still got to exercise a lot of agency in what I wanted for my project. So, if anything, I can definitely look back at this summer fondly as the summer that I worked my butt off for work that I really enjoy!

Anyway, other than piloting and waiting for the IRB, my schedule regarding the fellowship has calmed down. I’ll be taking my first break and go back home about a week from now (I’ll still be working, but at least it’ll be in a relaxing environment). I’m definitely going to take advantage of this mini vacation because things are going to ramp up once I get back. That said, I love running studies, so despite my busy schedule in the fall, I’m also super looking forward to seeing my summer work flourish into a real study!