2022 Undergraduate Research Abstracts

The Effects of Parental Response to Emotion on Internalizing and Externalizing Behavior in Middle Childhood

Claudia Gaebler, Advisor: Kirby Deater-Deckard

Previous studies have found that parents’ response to children’s negative emotions play a key role in emotion regulation skills in childhood (Hong et. al., 2020). My focus is on the role these responses have on the child’s behavioral development. Are children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors influenced by parent response towards children’s negative emotions? Additionally, household chaos moderated the link between non-supportive parental responses and children’s emotional regulation (Hong et. al., 2020). Does child gender moderate associations between parental responses to negative emotions and child internalizing and externalizing behaviors? If so, how do they differ? I predict that parents’ use of supportive responses to negative emotions, such as emotion/problem focused reactions and expressive encouragement, will be associated with lower internalizing and externalizing behaviors in children. Further, I expect that parents’ use of non-supportive responses, such as punitive, minimizing, and distressed reactions towards their child, will be associated with higher levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors. When considering gender as a moderator, I expect that boys will have higher internalizing and externalizing behaviors than girls when accompanied by non-supportive parental responses based on the socialization of boys at a young age and the construct of what it is to “be a man”. To test my hypothesis I will analyze longitudinal data from the Cognition, Affect, and Psychophysiology Lab at Virginia Tech with a focus on the 6- and 9-year-old time points (N = 224).

Age-related Impairments in Memory Recall Depend on What You Are Remembering

Jennifer Gove, Merika Wilson, Audrey Jiang, Rosie Cowell

Within the cognitive science realm of high-level vision and memory, the medial temporal lobe (MTL) structures have traditionally been thought to engage in memory function only. The role of recall has been ascribed to the hippocampus, and there has been thought to exist a stark division between a “perceptual system” in the ventral visual stream (VVS) of the brain, and a “memory system” in the MTL. Contradicting this traditional account, recent research has demonstrated not only a role for the hippocampus in perception but has demonstrated that structures outside of MTL in the VVS can participate in memory processes, such as recollection.

Within the VVS neural representations build up in complexity from simple features to representations of whole objects. The theory behind my study suggests that the hippocampus can be thought of as an extension of this pathway, binding individual objects with spatial, temporal, and contextual information. Rather than labelling brain regions based on cognitive processes, brain regions are engaged based on the neural representations that they are equipped to process. Damage to the hippocampus does not result in a loss of “memory,” but in a loss of the ability to process these complex associative representations, which constitutes an effect on perception as well.

My experiment utilizes images of complex scenes, which should engage the hippocampus, and individual objects, which should not need to engage the hippocampus. Given that the hippocampus declines with age, I tested a control group of younger adults, and an experimental group of older adults. The task is a recall task, so that if the key "process" that requires the hippocampus (and thus is impaired in old age) is "recollection", then older adults should be equally impaired across both conditions (objects, scenes). I predicted an interaction between stimulus type and age group, such that older adults would demonstrate 1) an impairment in memory performance for scene recall, relative to younger adults, but 2) no memory deficit, or a reduced deficit, relative to younger adults, for object recall. Results from this experiment do uphold these predictions, suggesting that age-related changes to memory are not uniform, but depend on the content of the memory.

Coparenting and Family Social Support Across Different Family Forms

Jessika Antinori, Advisor: Maureen Perry-Jenkins

The way that parents work together to raise their children, (i.e., coparenting), is related to the quality of parenting children receive and child outcomes. What we know about coparenting, however, is largely based on the experiences of White, middle-class two-parent married or divorced couples (Poblete & Gee, 2018). We know less about how diverse family structures (e.g., cohabiting) may shape coparenting processes. Since first-time low-income parents are increasingly likely to be cohabiting or single parents (McHale & Lindahl, 2011), the importance of understanding how coparenting works across family types is important. Family support prevents parents from feeling overwhelmed in the coparenting role (Poblete & Gee, 2018), especially for single parents due to the more challenging nature of coparenting with a non-residential parent (McHale & Lindahl, 2011). Using data from the Work and Family Transitions Project, I examine how family structure, specifically married, cohabiting and single parents, relates to coparenting quality. Second, I examine the role of family support in the relationship between family structure and coparenting for 270 first-time ethnically diverse parents with low income experiencing the transition to parenthood. To test whether coparenting support is reduced and coparenting conflict is greater in single parent families compared to cohabiting and married families, two one-way Analysis of Variance tests will be used. Additionally, to examine whether family support has a stronger effect on the coparenting relationship for single parents compared to cohabiting and married families, multiple regression analyses will be applied using an interaction term (family support x family structure). Overall, the present study revealed that coparenting support was higher for cohabiting mothers compared to single mothers one-year postpartum. Additionally, coparenting conflict was higher for cohabiting fathers compared to married fathers one-year postpartum. Third, married fathers experienced more coparenting support than cohabiting fathers after mothers’ return to work. Family support only impacted the relationship between family structure and coparenting conflict under one condition, specifically for married fathers high family support was protective and related to less coparenting conflict than for cohabiting fathers. Under conditions of low family support, married fathers reported more coparenting conflict than cohabiting fathers. These findings exemplify that the coparenting relationship varies across family types. Therefore, future research should account for family structure to effectively inform interventions and governmental policies pertaining to child development. 

Advice for Parents: How Parental Attitudes and Behaviors Impact Children’s Development

Luana Balbino, Erik W. Cheries & Kirby Deater-Deckard

There is much evidence that shows that how we behave later in life is correlated with how we were raised during our childhood. It is important to understand that nature and nurture together form a significant impact on development. While the topic of childhood development has been studied extensively in psychology and other fields, this information historically has not been easily accessible to parents. By showing parents how positively and negatively they can influence their children’s development, hopefully they will have the necessary tools to raise their children positively and will be more likely to raise mentally healthy children. This book serves to collect all of the relevant research in one place and translates it to easily understandable language with strategies for parents to adopt in their homes. Parents will find the book divided into four chapters: Emotional Development, Social Development, Cognitive Development, and Academic Performance. Each chapter concludes with recommendations for parents that include tangible actions.

Does Sleep + Nap = Nap + Sleep? Effects of Sleep Order on Procedural Learning in Preschoolers

Sophia Struzziero, Advisor: Rebecca Spencer

Overnight sleep and mid-day naps together comprise 24-hour sleep for young children. Naps at this age support multiple types of learning. Procedural learning is enhanced by a nap, but that benefit is not seen until the next day, following overnight sleep. Whether this improvement in procedural learning is due to the amount of sleep or the timing of initial learning, however, remains unclear. In this study, we had two aims: 1) to determine if overnight sleep followed by a nap would have a greater benefit on learning than overnight sleep alone, and 2) to determine if the order of the sleep bouts affects procedural memory consolidation. We hypothesized that a nap would benefit procedural learning more when it is combined with, and precedes, overnight sleep. Using a within-subject design, preschool children (age 34-67 months; N=8) performed a tablet-based mirror tracing task. Before bedtime, children traced the shapes, viewing their hand through a mirror. They then performed the task again the following day, either before or after their nap (conditions counterbalanced). Accuracy was measured by the percentage of time spent tracing inside the shape template. Accuracy improved more following the overnight plus nap condition vs. the overnight only condition (p =.010). This suggests that overnight sleep plus a nap may aid in improving children’s procedural learning more than overnight sleep alone. We also hypothesized that taking a nap before overnight sleep would confer a greater benefit on procedural learning than overnight sleep followed by a nap. Using a between-subject design, we analyzed previously collected data from eight other preschool children, who learned the mirror task before a nap, and compared their task accuracy with the eight participants above (age 34-67 months; N=16). Results showed no main effect of group or group x session interaction suggesting that children performed similarly on the task regardless of sleep order. In sum, overnight sleep plus a nap confers a greater benefit on procedural learning in preschoolers though the order of those sleep bouts had no differing effect. Future directions include recruiting more participants for each group as well as replicating the nap followed by overnight sleep group data through the same methods as used in this study.

Community Perceptions of Domestic Violence

Yana Deeley, Advisor: Maria Galano

Millions of U.S. adults experience intimate partner violence (IPV) annually. Often survivors initially disclose abuse to informal supporters during the help-seeking process, yet assessments reveal a lack of community awareness of IPV. Positive social reactions to disclosure are associated with treatment engagement and better psychological health, whereas negative social reactions are associated with worse outcomes. Acceptance of IPV-related myths, mental health, trauma exposure, and demographics likely contribute to social reactions to IPV disclosure. IPV myths are defined as statements that invoke character blame, behavioral blame, exoneration of the perpetrator, or minimization of the issues’ seriousness. Yet, little research has examined factors that influence myth acceptance among informal supporters. The current study examines how social identity and mental health are associated with the acceptance of IPV-related myths. A sample of 208 adults (Mage = 25.06, SD = 11.52) completed a confidential online survey assessing demographics, IPV myth acceptance, and current mental health. A significant negative relationship was observed between the DVMAS behavior blame subscale and depression, in addition to stress. Men reported greater acceptance of behavior blame, exoneration, and character blame myths than women. Students reported greater acceptance of exoneration and minimization myths than non-students. Younger age was associated with greater acceptance of exoneration and minimization myths. Being single was associated with greater acceptance of exoneration myths only. Community education surrounding IPV myths should be tailored toward younger people, non-partnered individuals, and men. How supporters' stress levels impact the disclosure process should be considered; teaching stress management alongside IPV education programs may improve the informal support of IPV survivors.