The opportunity for students and faculty to collaborate on research has always been a strength of the undergraduate experience at William and Mary and the February 2011 Undergraduate Science Research Symposium showed that the tradition is alive and well as 10 psychology and neuroscience undergraduates and three faculty presented the results of their research. The topics of research ranged from the impact on children when their mothers are incarcerated, to the effect of nicotine on hippocampus-dependent memory.
INCARCERATED MOTHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN
With the help of undergrads Rachel Miller and Adrian Bravo, Assistant Professor Danielle Dallaire expanded her existing body of research on how a parent’s incarceration affects the life and development of his or her children. The focus of this particular research project was the effect of maternal incarceration and violence exposure on child behavior and emotional development. They interviewed 31 incarcerated mothers, their 41 children, and the 31 caregivers who provided for those children during the period of their mother’s incarceration. The study produced several findings, among them that there is a correlation between the number of incarcerations and mother-reported child behavior problems.
ADULT EXPOSURE TO NICOTINE AND HIPPOCAMPUS-DEPENDENT MEMORY
There has been a considerable amount of research conducted on the effects of nicotine, but one area that has been under-researched is the effect of nicotine on memory. Associate Professor Robert Barnet formed a research team that included Christopher Sowers, Don Anderson, Melissa McCue, Bryan Kline, and Casey Sears to investigate this through animal research. Using facilities of the newly completed Integrated Science Center, they exposed two groups of rats to either saline or nicotine for a two-week period. Half of each group was exposed to nicotine (or saline) during adolescence and the other half was exposed to nicotine (or saline) as adults. Later, all rats were trained in the context-conditioning paradigm which requires formation of new memories and is thought to rely on the hippocampus. Their research revealed that only rats exposed to nicotine during adolescence were impaired in their ability to form new memories and learn in the context conditioning paradigm, suggesting adolescence is a unique period of vulnerability for the impairing effects of nicotine on brain systems responsible for memory formation.
EXAMINING LONGITUDINAL DATA FOR AT-RISK ADOLESCENTS
Although developmentalists have long understood how temperamental characteristics affect outcomes later in life, this literature has tended to examine temperamental risk factors relative to temperamental protective factors. For her honors thesis Engin Ege examined archival data sets from a large, longitudinal study done in Chicago neighborhoods to assess temperamental protective factors that protect at-risk adolescents against the development of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Findings indicate that higher activity levels and greater sociability protect against the development of internalizing problem behaviors.
IMPULSIVE DECISIONS: LESS NOW OR MORE LATER?
Impulsive decisions are associated with numerous psychological disorders, including drug abuse, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and pathological gambling. Associate Professor Josh Burk collaborated with undergrads Akie Fujita and Mohammad Mian to study impulsive decision making by investigating behavior in a delay discounting task. Delay discounting is the extent to which an organism devalues a reward as the time to receive that reward is increased. In this procedure, the subject is typically given a choice between an immediately accessible, small reward and a delayed, larger reward. In the present experiment they examined whether delay discounting would occur in rats for a water reward. They found that subjects strongly preferred a larger reward when that large reward was immediately accessible. However, when the large reward was delayed, they found that subjects were more likely to switch and prefer the smaller reward. Their research further expands the existing known conditions for which delay discounting can be documented and offers a novel paradigm for assessing impulsive decision making.
Congratulations to all faculty and undergraduate students who collaborated in this research and then presented findings at the 2011 Undergraduate Research Science Symposium. Research of this nature can often be tedious, and time-consuming. It requires a combination of creativity and clear thinking to define a construct, operationalize that construct, design an experiment to produce the necessary data, analyze the data, interpret results, and apply findings to real-world problems and situations. Congratulations to all faculty and students who made these contributions to science. We hope you keep it up.