Summer Science Research at Bryn Mawr

'2005' Archive

Ball of Physics

Posted May 10, 2010

The Ball of Physics, developed two years ago, is an outreach program geared towards elementary school students. The goal of the program is to spark children’s interest in the sciences by providing them with exciting demonstrations of physics concepts that they would not otherwise be exposed to. Initially, BOP (Ball of Physics) developed large-scale demonstrations and put on shows in school auditoriums. The goal of my work this summer is the development of small, hands-on presentations of physics concepts that can be used in elementary school classrooms.

The Nature of Play

Posted May 10, 2010

The Serendip website contains a section called the Playground, which provides visitors with an opportunity to playfully explore interactive games and exhibits concerning a variety of concepts. The top of the page contends that “playfulness is … not only to be enjoyed but to be accorded high value for its fundamental role in the success of all organisms, including humans.”, a quote from the article “Variability in Brain Function and Behavior” by Paul Grobstein. Although a link to this article is provided at the bottom of the page, the material though relevant is dense and not entirely focused on play. The site would benefit from the development of a background section focused on defending this assertion about the benefits of play in humans and other animals. In addition, many of the links and resources for further exploration about the “serious nature of play” are broken and/or dated, and revision and expansion of these resources would be useful.

My goal will be to update the Playground with more background material and resources about the nature of play. I will provide information about the crucial nature of play to the fitness of various animals and will especially use my background and interest in primatology to elucidate the link between play, learning, invention, and possibly symbolism in monkeys, apes, and humans. The resulting material will be used as a resource for the institutes this summer and for classes throughout the year, and will be available to all visitors to Serendip.

Name Phonology and Gender Stereotypes

Posted May 10, 2010

Gender schemata and stereotypes play a central role in the realm of psychology, as well as in the everyday world. Recently, much research has shed light on the importance of name phonology (how a name sounds) in relation to gender and stereotypes. For the duration of my fellowship, I will examine name phonology in relation to product name preference in adults and children. Masculine and feminine names have distinct phonological properties that enable people to infer the gender of an object simply by knowing its name. Names also help disseminate concepts of gender as well as activate people’s stereotypes regarding gender. Through my research, I will answer the question, to what degree do the phonological qualities of a product name correlate with the product’s intended consumer (males or females)? To investigate this, I will create a catalog of women’s and men’s products and ask subjects to chose which name they think is more appropriate for a given product from a pair of pseudonames—one with typically feminine phonological properties, the other with masculine properties. I hypothesize the feminine sounding names will be chosen for the stereotypically feminine products, and the opposite for masculine products. This phenomenon will be investigated with adults as well as children. By conducting the research with both age groups, we will be able to see if gender concepts become more robust as people age, which may shed light on the development of gender schemata in the human mind. I will also examine the name phonology phenomenon by looking at ads for prescription drugs in several well known magazines. Finally, I will be assisting Professor Cassidy in the write-up of her research regarding name association stereotypes. As the data has already been collected, we will work together writing the final paper to be submitted for review.

The Physiological and Linguistic Markers of Emotional Suppression

Posted May 10, 2010

The suppression of emotions is believed to have important health consequences due to increased physiological arousal. In my summer research I will be investigating moments of suppression in a study of married couples. Suppression is defined as a moment in which an individual reports feeling strong emotions but appears not to be expressing them. I will be focusing on physiological and linguistic correlates of these moments. In the study, the couples were asked to talk about something that their partner did recently that upset them and their interactions were filmed. After the interaction, each partner was asked to rate how much emotion they experienced during the interactions. The filmed interactions were coded as to how much emotion each partner expressed. I will be examining whether suppression is linked with increased physiological arousal, specifically the skin conductance levels and heart rates. I will also be looking at the language that participants use during suppression moments and comparing it to the language they use in moments when they are not suppressing to determine if there are linguistic markers of emotional suppression.

Persistent Preference in Concurrent-Chain Schedules

Posted May 10, 2010

Six pigeons will be exposed to concurrent-chain schedules to examine the effect of history on choice patterns. The initial links will be fixed-interval (FI) 15s, 30s or 60s schedules, depending on the pigeon, and the terminal-links will be 5-valued variable-ratio (VR) schedules of reinforcement, varying by condition. During baseline, terminal link requirements will be identical VR 60 schedules (equal alternative conditions) for both of the red and white keys. Preferences will be established by making the response requirements on the red key alternative larger (VR 90) or smaller (VR 30), depending on the condition (unequal alternative conditions). After preferences are established, all subjects will be exposed to forced choice sessions with the same equal terminal-link response requirements as during baseline before a return to baseline. The amount that preferences persist will be assessed with returns to baseline when terminal-link response requirements are equal.

Human-Pet Attachment

Posted May 10, 2010

Many people believe that humans have substantial relationships with animals. However, science has yet to understand the mechanisms that drive this connection. Some people wonder whether close relationships between pets and humans should be viewed in a negative or positive light. Anecdotally, there have been many stories that tell the delights of pet ownership as well as the horrors. Everyone has heard extreme stories on both ends of the spectrum, such as: a pet saving a child from drowning or a millionaire spending a small fortune on a diamond dog collar. Unfortunately, millions of pet owners do not fall into these extreme cases. Rather, they have typical satisfying interactions that are overlooked. The modest amount of empirical research conducted on human-pet attachment has left many aspects of pet attachment a mystery.

Gesture Comprehension Study

Posted May 10, 2010

I am working with a graduate student, Kristin Kopple, on a research project that is investigating gesture comprehension in young children. We are under the supervision of Professor Robert Wozniak. This research delves into overarching inquiries about child development. The participants for the study are 2½ and 3½ year old children recruited from local schools, daycares, and acquaintances in the suburban and urban area. Parental consent is a required before any experimental sessions. The main questions that we are investigating are: whether children in these age groups comprehend gestures and whether comprehensions differ depending on the type of gesture, specifically Body-Part-as-Object gestures (BPO) or Imagined Object gestures (IO).

The Effect of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex and its Inhibitory Effect on the Amygdala

Posted May 10, 2010

The Amygdala, a component of the limbic system in the brain, is a set of subcortical nuclei that is important in decoding emotions such as fear and anxiety. The amygdala facilitates symptoms of anxiety (anxiogenic), when input signals of potential danger are received. These symptoms of anxiety help the organism protect itself from the posing threat. In the brain there seems to exist structures that act like a brake to the amygdala, inhibiting symptoms of anxiety (anxiolytic), and have a reciprocal relationship with the amygdala, such as the septum and the medial prefrontal cortex. The purpose of this research is to provide further evidence of the role of the medial prefrontal cortex, a structure thought to have similar anxiolytic effects as the septum, in the inhibition of the amygdala.

The Effect of CDP on the Medial Prefrontal Firing Rate in Different Situations

Posted May 10, 2010

The anti-anxiety, or anxiolytic properties of the drug chlordiazepoxide (CDP), marketed commercially as Librium, have been fully established. The effect of this drug has been studied in rats conditioned to fear certain stimuli, such as tones, which are paired with a shock in order to teach the animal to fear them. When the animal is fearful, the neurons in a structure in the brain called the amygdala increase their rate of firing. This amygdala excitation results behaviorally in signs of fear, such as freezing, increased grooming behaviors, and scanning the environment for dangers. In a sense, the firing of the amygdala IS fear. In conditioned animals, the conditioned stimulus, the tone, creates fear and therefore increased amygdal firing.

Time Dependence of Many-Body Interactions in a Sample of Ultracold Rydberg Atoms

Posted May 10, 2010

This summer I will be working with Michael Noel and Thomas Carroll continuing the study of Rubidium (Rb) atoms excited to the Rydberg state. We will be using a Magneto-Optical Trap (MOT) to confine Rb atoms in a vacuum chamber. This confinement is achieved by scattering photons off of the atoms, which slows them down, and by using a magnetic field as a restoring force. The atoms in the cold vapor are excited to a Rydberg state through the use of a pulsed dye laser. This setup allows us to observe the dipole-dipole interactions of the ultracold Rb atoms. Focusing the dye laser beam narrowly creates a small volume which is nearly one dimensional. In this setup each atom is only able to interact with 2 others (the one in front of it and the in back of it), which suppresses Many-Body interactions. However in a larger and less focused volume Many-Body interactions are more prevalent since each atom is able to interact with various other atoms around it.

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