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Student researchers attend national psych conference

Can practicing mindfulness and meditation lead to reduced stress levels? Will watching political satire shape a person’s political views? Do our personalities influence the types of video games we play, or vice versa? College of Idaho students are looking for answers to these questions as undergraduate researchers in psychology professor Dr. Meredith Minear’s Cognitive Plasticity Lab.

During winter term, seven C of I researchers shared their work at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans, one of the top psychology conferences in the nation. The group heard from some of America’s leading psychologists and shared their research with peers – primarily graduate students – from around the country.

“We’ve put in a lot of work during the past two years, but it was definitely worth it,” said C of I senior Ellen Gott, a psychology/biology double major from Grangeville, Idaho. “Going to the conference and publishing research with our names on it as undergraduates was an amazing experience and an incredible opportunity.”

Gott and her research partner, Makenzie Ellsworth, focused on the mindfulness and meditation question. During a six-week period between spring break and finals week last year, the students performed experiments to determine whether regular mindfulness and meditation practice would help C of I students deal with stress. The resulting data, in a nutshell, showed that students who meditated did show a decrease in stress, more so than students who participated in a yoga class. Recent C of I graduates Kelley Fitzpatrick and Jacob Mamer also contributed to the project.

“Having students doing their own research has benefits of its own, but the target of this particular research is to find answers that could help our entire student body,” Minear said. “Bringing mindfulness practice into education is something that could help students long-term.”

Students Andrew Moore and Josh Sukeena focused their research on the video game question. Their project is an ongoing study of the reasons people play different types of video games and the personality traits associated with different types of gamers. The project was met with great interest at the conference and has led to video game research collaboration with students from other schools.

“People were impressed,” Minear said. “No one could believe this work was being done by undergraduates.”

The third research team, which included students Katrine Franks and Mindi Price along with recent alumna Faith Brasher and lab manager Mandy Brasher, focused on the political attitudes of people who watch political satire such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. Surprisingly, results so far have shown that people who report watching satire also report being less cynical about American politics. The research is ongoing, with the team expanding its efforts into exploring the factors that influence people’s choices in television viewing.

“I love giving students opportunities,” Minear said. “For undergraduates, doing research and attending a national conference where they can showcase their work allows them to gain the practical and marketable skills and experience they need to be competitive for graduate programs.”

To learn more about the Cognitive Plasticity Lab and the ongoing research being done by Minear and her student team, please visit www.minearlab.com. The site also includes pictures, full descriptions of current projects and links to the group’s published research posters and papers. Andrew Moore also documented his experience at the SPSP conference in his C of I Student Experience Blog.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 11 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.