Seniors run psych research

Alien abductions, parricide and alcohol — seniors in the Psychology Department are currently researching these, among other topics, to fulfill their senior project requirements.

While some students compile research that has already been published, others are collecting and analyzing their own data in experiments they designed themselves, some with the hope of having their research published. This year, research topics in psychology include why people believe they have been abducted by aliens, the criminal psychology of those who commit parricide, a comparison of the psychological effects of alcohol on different racial minorities, and a study that is trying to quantify and strike a balance between the benefits and negative consequences of alcohol consumption.

Stephanie Bloch ’06 is both consolidating existing research and conducting her own experiment. She is studying the perceived experiences of those who believe themselves to have been abducted by extraterrestrials. Bloch said she first became interested in the topic after reading an article during her sophomore year about false memories and the ability of the human mind to create and believe memories of events that never happened.

“Studies in this field haven’t been consolidated as much as in other fields,” Bloch said. “There are few books out there about the psychology behind people who think they’ve been abducted by aliens.”

Bloch said the previous research that has been done on this topic has determined that there is an identifiable pattern that the stories of most abduction patients follow: Most abductees remember being captured, then examined, experiencing telepathic communication, taking a tour of the alien spacecraft, taking a journey on the spacecraft, and then returning home and dealing with the aftermath of their perceived encounter.

Bloch hypothesizes that the media plays a crucial and unifying role in explaining why almost all abduction encounters follow this same pattern.

Meanwhile, Jason Meizlish ’06 is researching the psychology of criminals who commit parricide, the murder of one’s mother or father. Last summer, Meizlish worked in Connecticut at a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.

“Talking with people who had committed parricide and seeing these people first-hand was very interesting,” Meizlish said. “It was fascinating to hear their stories and look at the crimes from a psychological perspective.”

Using data already gathered by the hospital where he worked, Meizlish said he is working with one of the biggest data sets in the English language on parricide. He said the data he has been looking at, as well as other data on the topic, has shown that the offenders are usually schizophrenic people who move back in with their parents after living on their own.

“Parricide is the result of both the mental illness on the part of the offender and risky behavior on the part of the parents,” Meizlish said.

Focusing on a different type of risky behavior, Jose Minan ’06 is conducting research about alcohol consumption behaviors and attitudes in statistically underrepresented ethnic groups. Minan said over 85 percent of the students who have participated in most surveys administered to college students about alcohol behavior are white.

“I thought it was inappropriate that those conducting the surveys didn’t even try to match the ethnic groups of the participants to the demographics of the colleges,” he said.

Minan’s research compares Asian and Hispanic students to white students to see how the groups vary in their attitudes and opinions about alcohol consumption. He said there are clear biological differences in how different groups metabolize alcohol, and that he believes it is not unlikely that there would be psychological differences as well.

Minan is working at the Behavioral Alcohol Research for Clinical Advancement laboratory under the supervision of psychology professor William Corbin. Corbin said he thinks Minan has a good chance of getting his research published because few people have data sets with racial minorities this large.

Corbin is also overseeing the senior project of Damon Benedict ’06. Benedict’s research is examining both the benefits and negative consequences of drinking alcohol. Benedict said most colleges only advocate abstinence from drinking, and that promoting alcohol consumption in moderation may be more helpful in preventing illnesses, injuries and deaths related to excessive alcohol consumption or addiction.

“Alcohol treatment should focus on moderation rather than just on abstinence,” Benedict said. “My study is trying to find the optimal zone where the negative consequences associated with drinking are minimized, and the benefits are maximized.”

Corbin said Benedict’s research may prove very useful in preventing alcoholism, especially because most students are not interested in stopping drinking altogether.

Damon Benedict ’06 and Jose Minan ’06 are studying the psychological effects of alcohol for their senior projects this year.
Trevor Swett
Damon Benedict ’06 and Jose Minan ’06 are studying the psychological effects of alcohol for their senior projects this year.

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