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Students present research at national undergraduate conference

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Two Bethel College students presented their research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) April 3-5 on the campus of the University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Seniors Laura Jensen, Everest, and Rachel Unruh, Raytown, Mo., exhibited a poster based on their work in a Cognitive Psychology laboratory in spring 2013.

“It was very meaningful to me to be able to compare the methods of data collection available to us here at Bethel to other, larger schools that presented research at NCUR,” said Jensen, a psychology major. “No great difference was greatly apparent. Some students that visited our poster were even surprised and impressed by our use of EEG caps.

“Before going, I was greatly intimidated by other student researchers,” she continued, “but once I visited other presentations and posters, I realized just how well Bethel has prepared us to fit in with other top universities.

“In all, the conference increased my confidence and excitement in doing further research and continuing on to graduate school.”

“The entire experience was quite beneficial and really gave us a chance to learn a lot about different research methods used across the country,” said Unruh, who is also a psychology major. “It was exciting to talk about the work we did at Bethel and hear a variety of perspectives from other students at different institutions.”

Jensen and Unruh did their study, which they titled “Stereotype Spillover Effects on Women in Mathematics,” in collaboration with other members of their Cognitive Psychology class. They based it on previous literature on stereotype threat in women with reference to mathematics testing, and stereotype spillover.

Stereotype threat can occur when a person is put into an environment or situation where s/he feels s/he may be negatively stereotyped and, as a result, because of increased anxiety and emotional vigilance, performs worse than if s/he had been in a stereotype-free environment.

Stereotype threat may have spillover effects that last after the individual leaves the threat-filled environment, which leads to continuing loss of executive control.

Jensen and Unruh examined spillover effects by measuring performance not only in a mathematics test but also in a color-naming task, and by simultaneously measuring a brain electrical response (called “error-related negativity”) believed to be related to a person’s process of monitoring her/his own errors.

The pair and their colleagues started with the perceived stereotype that men do better than women in mathematics, and used an evaluated method called “reappraisal” for lessening that stereotype threat.

They found that, on the contrary, women in their study of 46 Bethel students actually did worse with reappraisal.

Since the “non-reappraisal” women did no worse than male controls, it appears the women may not have suffered stereotype threat in the first place, while the reappraisal group may have been led to question their own performance more than they ordinarily would have.

In addition, the non-reappraisal group showed greater brain activity indicative of error monitoring during color naming, a task that commonly induces many errors.

The teacher for the lab in which the research originated was Bethel graduate Brad Celestin, now a graduate student in social psychology and cognitive neuroscience at Indiana University.

The students’ other faculty mentor was Dwight Krehbiel, Bethel professor of psychology, who accompanied Jensen and Unruh to NCUR.

More than 4,200 undergraduate students and faculty from institutions across North America attended NCUR. Students from all disciplines presented their work in poster sessions, oral sessions, exhibits and performances throughout the weekend.

Krehbiel has taken students to NCUR, which meets on a different campus each spring, a number of times in the past.

“This conference is quite an educational experience for students of all disciplines,” he said.

The only other Kansas college or university represented at NCUR was the University of Kansas. “I think I may have taken half the Kansas students [who were at] this conference,” Krehbiel said.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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