SPUR 2021 Projects: Social & Behavioral Science

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SPUR projects are listed in alphabetical order by faculty mentor last name.

Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science


BABY AFFECT AND BEHAVIOR STUDY (BABY STUDY)

Lee Raby, Assistant Associate Professor

Emotion dysregulation refers to experiencing emotions that are excessively intense, prolonged, or unpredictable. Emotion dysregulation is a feature of many mental disorders, and it often interferes with appropriate goal-directed behavior and interpersonal relationships. Emotion dysregulation can be transmitted intergenerationally from parent to child, resulting in increased risk for poor mental health and other problematic outcomes among children. The goal of this research study is to better understand exactly how emotion dysregulation is transmitted to young children early in their development. Specifically, we are examining how mothers’ levels of emotion dysregulation may: (a) program the child’s developing stress response systems during the prenatal period and (b) impact how they interact with their child during the first two years of the child’s life. To do this, we are recruiting approximately 220 pregnant women. During women’s third trimester of pregnancy, we are collecting questionnaire, behavioral, and physiological measures of emotional dysregulation from the women. After they give birth, we then evaluate their newborn's behavior. When the children are 7 and 18 months of age, we follow up with the families to examine how the children physiologically and behaviorally respond to stressful situations along with how the mothers interact with their children. This research project will advance our understanding of the consequences of mothers’ experiences of emotional dysregulation for their children’s early developmental outcomes. This information, in turn, can be used to help identify vulnerable young children and intervene early in order to prevent the development of problematic outcomes later in life.

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Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science


DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LANGUAGE: EXPLORING THE HIDDEN COGNITIVE EFFECTS OF DRIVING WHILE LISTENING TO DEGRADED SPEECH

Jack Silcox, Graduate Assistant, OUR Certified Mentor

Most of us are familiar with driving down the road while chatting with a passenger. The ease and regularity by which we both drive and listen to speech belie the computational complexities that underly these two different tasks. Speakers produce 140-180 words per minute and often blend words together, requiring the speaker to normalize and process the speech almost instantaneously. Much research has shown that when speech is degraded, either by environmental noise or hearing impairment, successful comprehension decreases, and memory outcomes are worse. Driving does not simply involve muscle memory. It requires the driver to stay vigilant and be aware of and adapt to a changing environment. A profusion of empirical evidence has shown that driving performance drastically decreases as a driver’s attention is split between multiple tasks, such as texting. Indeed, one study has found that talking on the phone while driving resulted in impaired performance that was similar to driving while being intoxicated at the legal limit. The effects of distraction on driving performance and the effects of degraded speech on comprehension have been well documented. However, it is less clear how listening to perceptually challenging speech while driving affects the cognitive processes associated with either process. Does listening to acoustically degraded speech while driving reduce a listener’s ability to remember the content of the speech? Does driving performance suffer more when listening to degraded speech versus nondegraded speech? To answer these and related questions, we will be conducting lab-based listening effort experiments in a driving simulator.

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Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science


EXPLORING THE EFFECT OF NATURE IMAGERY USING ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAPHY

David Strayer, Professor

Writers, philosophers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike have long believed that spending time in nature is good for the mind and the body. In line with this, many researchers have studied how exposure to nature can improve an individual’s mood, emotions, stress physiology, and attentional capacity. In our lab at the University of Utah, we use electroencephalography (EEG) to explore whether or not immersion in nature changes our brain activity. To do this, we take participants on a 5-day camping trip and record their brain activity before, during, and after the trip. So far, we have found changes in three brain wave components called the error-related negativity, the reward positivity, and the P300. However, access to nature is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more people move to urban centers and protection of wilderness spaces continues to be threatened. Therefore, the current project will explore if viewing images of nature is powerful enough to elicit changes in these brain components. Participants’ brain activity will be recorded after viewing images of either natural or urban environments, and we will compare these laboratory-collected results to the previous findings we observed on the camping trips. This research is important, as it may help answer the long-standing question regarding what “dosage” of nature is required to elicit changes in the brain. This research may also reveal a more accessible option for individuals that don’t have access to real nature, such as those in prisons or hospitals, to gain the benefits associated with nature exposure.

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