Centenary students recognized for research at international psychology convention
SHREVEPORT, LA — Centenary College students Edvard Granrud and William Morrison presented their honors thesis projects at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual convention in Portland, Oregon, earlier this month along with assistant professor of psychology Dr. Peter Zunick. Both students are seniors majoring in psychology who eventually plan to pursue a Ph.D. in the field.
The SPSP annual convention is an international gathering of more than 3,800 social and personality psychologists from academia, non-profits, governments, and the private sector. Attendees have the opportunity to present and discuss research, network and collaborate on projects, and pursue professional development. In addition to presenting their projects during poster sessions, Granrud and Morrison were able to discuss their research with other attendees and attended talks introducing cutting-edge techniques and approaches.
“Attending the conference gave Edvard and William a chance to see the broader picture of what is happening in the world of social psychology research, which I think was useful after spending a year focusing on the specific research topic of their honors thesis projects,” explains Zunick. “Especially working at a small college like Centenary, where you’re the only one in your particular research area, it’s very invigorating to go spend a few days constantly surrounded by other scientists in your field.”
Granrud’s project, “’Like’ me: How social inclusion vs. exclusion affects mental representations of one’s own face,” examined whether inclusion or exclusion by peers on social media has the potential to change not only mood and self-esteem, but also how social media users visualize their own faces. Granrud created a technique to induce feelings of having been either included or excluded on social media. After completing this procedure, participants then did a task to assess their mental image of their own face. In this task, participants repeatedly chose which of a pair of slightly different images looked most like them. By averaging together each participant’s choices, Granrud created images representing how each participant viewed themselves, which he then presented to new participants to rate for attractiveness. He then assessed whether his inclusion/exclusion manipulation, along with variables such as self-esteem and mood, influenced how participants viewed themselves, with the goal of better understanding what factors bias people’s mental images of themselves, whether positively or negatively.
Granrud is originally from Hamar, Norway, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology after graduating from Centenary in May 2019. His experience at the SPSP conference helped him make valuable connections with other researchers and exposed him to ideas and techniques that will be important as he advances in the field.
“I think the most important learning experience at the conference was seeing the different methods other people used in their experiments,” says Granrud. “I saw several cool manipulations and theoretical approaches that I think would be really interesting to look into in the future.”
Morrison approached the question of visual representation from a different angle, using the same image selection task and averaging technique to investigate participants’ mental images of transgender individuals. Participants in the study read about a transgender woman, Sarah, and then viewed pairs of slightly different images, choosing which image best matched their mental image of Sarah. Morrison averaged each participant’s choices to create one compilation image representing how each participant pictured Sarah. He then analyzed whether participants’ various attitudes and beliefs about gender, and specifically transgenderism, influenced whether they imagined Sarah as appearing relatively masculine or feminine. This research sheds light on how people’s attitudes and beliefs shape not just their opinions about transgender individuals, but how they mentally picture those individuals in their minds’ eye.
Morrison, a native of St. Martinville, Louisiana, was also selected to receive a Diversity Undergraduate Registration Award from SPSP. He eventually plans to earn a Ph.D. in social psychology, and SPSP was his first major conference experience.
“With my first conference under my belt, I have a better idea of what to expect next time,” says Morrison. “As a transgender person who wants to better my community, it was great to meet many interesting people and discuss their own and my research. The whole weekend truly pumped me up, leaving me ready to run more studies and conduct more research.”
Zunick sees the potential for further research and development in both students’ projects, including the possibility of publication in significant journals in the psychology field. He will be working with both students to continue to shape the projects and shepherd them toward publication.