Undergrads spearhead psych studies
Psychology majors conduct, analyze survey projects
November 23, 2009 —
More students are coming to Saginaw Valley because its psychology department does something others don’t.
Andrew Swihart, professor and chair of psychology, says he continually sees students transfer here from schools across Michigan because SVSU offers undergraduate psychology students an opportunity to perform hands-on research.
“Giving undergraduates the opportunity to work directly with a person at the doctorate level in psychology gives them a huge advantage,” he said. “It gives them insight into how painstaking research can be.”
The practice also gives students planning to attend graduate school a better understanding of how to handle the process, he said. But even for those who aren’t, the interest and motivation to do it adds résumé appeal for potential employers.
Swihart says that around half the psychology staff participates in laboratory research, and each one specializes in a different branch of study. If a students are interested in perception and imagery, they could ask pyschology profressor Matt Margres whether he is accepting any new students for his research team.
“This is stuff you can’t learn from textbooks,” Margres said.
It’s better than reading about research or going on a field trip to a conference to hear about it, he added.
In Margres’ lab, upperlevel psychology students create experiments to answer a research question.
While Margres requires students to create an original experiment, others allow students to do a mock study where they may replicate a study that has already been published to collect their data.
Students such as psychology junior Kaitlyn Jahr are in the process of calculating their mock study results.
Jahr replicated the studies of Devendra Singh, who discovered that the waist size of a woman is seen across cultures as a marker of health, fertility and feminine beauty.
General education psychology course takers can sign up to be test subjects and earn extra credit in their class. Jahr recruited about 130 students to take a survey she created.
The survey consisted of several linear drawings of female waist-tohip ratios assigned by different body mass indexes, or BMIs. Volunteers were asked to rate the body types by how much they would prefer them in a partner.
Jahr said the process of calculating results is still under way, but she is finding just what she expected for the United States:
•Those with a very low BMI were most likely to be chosen for a shortterm casual relationship.
•Females with a normal BMI were most commonly chosen for long-term marriage.
•Those with a high BMI and a boxier shape were thought of as maternal, and thus likely to be chosen for reproduction
•Shapes assigned a higher BMI were thought to be shy, and were not typically chosen for a partner, because they were thought to be unhealthy.
Students interested in conducting research regularly attend lab meetings to learn the procedure.
At these meetings, Margres said student researchers can be doing any number of things, such as proposing to upcoming conferences, analyzing or gathering data, or planning for the next experiment.
Psychology junior Matt Ensing is researching the effect of exercise on self-efficacy. Although he does not study under Margres, he agrees with him and Swihart: the investment can be overwhelming.
“It’s a lot of work, and it may be hard, but the fact that you get to pick what you want to do research in makes it more entertaining,” Ensing said.
“You get a better appreciation for it.”