Applied Psychology OPUS


The following abstracts highlight the research of Honors students in the Applied Psychology Undergraduate Program. These authors have presented their individual projects at several professional and undergraduate research conferences including APA, EPA, Pace, NYU, Stanford, as well as other academic forums. Look for their work in future OPUS issues!

Reflections on Moral Decision-Making: A Qualitative Analysis of Holocaust Survivors 

Don Asher Cohen

Contemporary moral theorists stress the difficulties that trauma survivors face when making moral decisions. Moral decision-making has been demonstrated to be the outcome of an emotion regulation process and trauma survivors are particularly vulnerable to emotional dysregulation. As that is the case, research has primarily focused on trauma survivors’ inability to resolve hypothetical moral dilemmas. However, everyday life is inundated with subtle, morally-relevant decisions that survivors must make. To shed light on how trauma survivors make commonplace moral decisions, this study examined the moral decision making of Holocaust Survivors (N=4) who experienced life in a concentration camp between the ages of 12 and 16. Thematic analysis of Holocaust narratives revealed that the salience of compassion, duty/reverence, egalitarianism, justice, Holocaust vigilance, identity, other preservation, self-preservation, relationship/community-preference, religiosity/spirituality, and reciprocity motivated morally-relevant decisions. These findings contradict extant theories on trauma survivors and moral decision making and suggest that, over time, survivors become increasingly able to regulate their emotions and integrate them into moral decisions.

Predictors of Happiness among LGBQ College Students

Danny El Hassan

Experiencing happiness is considered one of the most desirable goals in Western society. Compared with other populations, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals may be challenged with increased obstacles to achieving happiness. According to minority stress theory, sexual minority people are at an increased risk of experiencing stress and poor mental health related to their stigmatization. However, certain characteristics have been found to buffer against the negative effects of minority stress. The purpose of the study was to assess whether social support and mastery might buffer against the negative effects of minority stress and lead to happiness in a sample of LGBQ college students. Additionally, the study aimed to assess whether perfectionism would be inversely related to happiness for this population. Participants were recruited during the fall of 2010 through the LGB listserv at two private universities located in New York City, and consisted of 51 LGBQ students aged between 18 and 21. On average, gay men scored highest on happiness and perfectionism, bisexual individuals scored highest on mastery, and individuals who identified as “other” scored highest on social support. A multiple regression revealed that the only variable significantly associated with happiness was mastery (b= .49, B=.36, p<.01), which only partially supports the hypothesis. Given these findings, future research should replicate the study with a larger sample and also investigate interventions to increase mastery among LGBQ college students.

Discrimination and Social Support: Impact on Behavior Outcomes of Children of Immigrants

Priya Gopalan

The dramatic growth of immigration into the United States in the past two decades has resulted in an escalating proportion of children from immigrant backgrounds in American schools. Children of immigrants have unique needs due to their special circumstances arising from acculturation and perception of discrimination. However, young children of immigrants are an understudied population and there is a gap in research about their needs. Immigrant families experience the negative effects of discrimination, which may impact the behavioral outcomes of their children. Social support and school setting are potential buffers against the negative effects of perceived discrimination (PD). Data collected by the Longitudinal Immigrant Families and Teachers Study (LIFTS) in the third wave (2009) was analyzed to examine the moderating influence of social support and school setting on the relation between discrimination and behavioral problems of third grade children (N=103) from immigrant families in public and Islamic schools. Results suggest that there are no significant differences in PD or social support between genders. However, a correlation exists between PD and behavioral problems of children, as measured by total CBCL scores. Thus, the role of PD in the maladaptive behavioral outcomes is a crucial study in cultural psychology.

Mothers' Book Sharing Styles and Children's School Readiness Skills

Maria Petrolekas

Parent-child book sharing is one context in which school readiness skills are fostered. A critical dimension of mother-child book-sharing is elaboration as it is predictive of emergent literacy. Narrative participation (i.e., the role mothers take during the interaction) is a second dimension posited to be related to children’s non-academic school readiness, especially for mothers in non-English speaking cultures. The current study examined both dimensions and their relation to children’s school readiness among 40 Greek and Greek-American mothers and their preschool-aged children. Dyads were asked to share a wordless book and interactions were coded for elaboration and participation. Children’s academic skills were assessed using letter recognition and vocabulary tasks; non-academic skills were measured using Leiter-R scale. Results show that for Greek dyads, participation is related to children’s school readiness skills and for Greek-Americans elaboration is only related to non-academic skills. Findings are discussed in relation to socialization goals for both cultural groups.

Internalizing Symptoms and Social Aggression Victimization among Early Adolescent Girls: Where Does Academic Achievement Fit In?

Katie Sylvester

Social experiences are increasingly meaningful to girls in late childhood and early adolescence. Studies focused on girls have demonstrated a clear relationship between aggression victimization and the internalization of problems (e.g., depression).  However, gaps remain in understanding the direction of the effects and whether experience of strength in one domain (e.g., achievement) protects against difficulties in another (e.g., social relationships). With a sample of ethnically diverse, fifth grade girls (N=100), the current study applies a developmental science and risk and resilience framework across one academic year to examine the predictive relationship between self-reported depressive symptoms and peer-reported victimization.  Furthermore, this study investigated the unique contribution of academic skills (i.e., teacher reported scores of students’ achievement in reading, writing, and math) in depressive symptoms, and whether achievement moderates the relationship between depressive symptoms and victimization.  Preliminary results indicate moderate correlations between depressive symptoms and victimization within and across time, with fall depressive symptoms predicting spring victimization after controlling for levels of fall victimization.  Implications for developmental science and school intervention are discussed.

Paternal Support of Emergent Literacy Development: Latino Fathers and Their Children

 Jackson J. Taylor

Despite growing evidence supporting the notion that fathers influence their children’s education, few studies examine the intersection of father involvement and children’s emergent literacy development. The present study explored the ways in which fathers support children’s developing literacy skills among a low-income Latino community. Twelve English-speaking fathers and their preschool-aged children participated in this study. In addition to completing self-report measures of involvement, home literacy, and an account of daily activities, fathers were asked to share a wordless picture book with their children. Fathers reported adopting several daily involvement routines, highlighting the important roles fathers play in their children’s lives. The documented variety of involvement activities lends support to the study of fathering as a multifaceted construct and serves to challenge past stereotypical depictions of Latino fathers as uninterested and uninvolved. Furthermore, fathers were observed to provide rich linguistic environments during the book sharing activity. Trends among narrative participation scores support past literature suggesting cultural differences in narrative style during parent-child book sharing. Results provide important contributions to the development of a contemporary framework for studying Latino fathering, and suggestions are made for future researchers.

Sociopolitical Identity of Turkish Emerging Adults: The Role of Gender, Religious Sect, and Political Party Affiliation

Vanessa Victoria Volpe

Emerging adults form their political identities through social interaction with their peers, family, and coworkers. While we understand that these identities exist in context, we have yet to explore how they are experienced in a political context. Using Turkey as a unique case, the current study sought to understand emerging adults’ identity formations in a political context that has been paradoxically described as both contentious and harmonious. Data were taken from a larger national study (Political Identity in Conflict Study: PI Selcuk R. Sirin) of diverse Turkish emerging adults (N=1242). Results indicate that the majority of emerging adults in Turkey experience both lower levels of social identity stress and own-group preference while maintaining relatively defined sociopolitical identities. Additionally, the experience of stress, own-group preference, and identity is a factor of gender, religious sect, and political party affiliation. Further studies should seek to understand the adaptive and flexible development of defined emerging adult identities nested within a variety of political contexts.