Each year the psychology department welcomes a new cohort of students to take part in their honours program. This program is designed to be an eight-month intensive student-led research project that is arguably equivalent to those done for a master’s degree. To complete a study and write up the subsequent report in approximately eight months is nothing short of remarkable. Yet every student in this program will have accomplished this before they finish their time at Mt. A. All of these students are doing incredible and fascinating work which I believe deserves to be highlighted. Below is merely a smattering of the remarkable ingenuity and dedication these students showcase in their research projects.
Abbie Butler is currently doing her research with Dr. Ouellette on on-campus predictors for students’ mental health, specifically, the influence of perceived social support, perceived availability of campus resources, and how consistently available people think these two resources are. As a final component, they are also looking at locus of control (the extent to which people believe they have control over the events in their life). Butler believes it will mediate the relationship between availability and consistency of resources and peoples’ psychological well-being (their ability to manage stress and function in the day-to-day). “There has not been a lot of research looking at campus resources or their stability,” Butler said, “so I believe it is important to look at.” When asked whether she expected perceived campus supports or social supports to have the greater influence on students’ mental health, Butler stated: “I expect them to be somewhat similar because we are looking at students. Since most students spend most of their time on campus and live near campus, I would expect a similar impact.” According to Butler, students are susceptible to psychological distress and mental illness in turn, which is why research in this area is paramount. She aims to understand what the perception of available resources is at Mt. A and use this information to help promote those resources in the future. Her survey is now available through LimeSurvey for students to complete.
Emma Skelton is researching how first-year university students cope with romantic and sexual rejection with her supervisor Dr. Hamilton. “Romantic and sexual rejection is a subcategory of rejection in which one does not get what they desired in a sexual situation. Like someone saying no when you ask them on a date. Or your partner saying they are not in the mood for sex.” According to Skelton, “rejection in sexual situations can lead to escalated violence, such as aggression, manipulation, and coercion.” Skelton’s project looks at whether educating students on how to cope with rejection will have an impact on their responses later on. After an independent study last year, she began to consider that learning to deal with difficult emotions due to rejection should be a part of consent education. Her project includes multiple steps involving surveys and an education model where participants either learn how to cope with the transition to university (the control group) or how to deal with rejection (the experimental group). A three-month follow up from these sessions will be key to Skelton’s assessment of whether participants’ responses to rejection have changed. Skelton hopes that participants who receive the education on rejection will experience “fewer negative rejection-related behaviors [or,] contribute to the many efforts to improve sexual consent education and ultimately reduce sexual violence.”
Laurent Grant is doing work with Dr. Wasylkiw on the imposter phenomenon, self-compassion, and mental health in undergraduate students. The imposter phenomenon is characterized by feelings of incompetence and self-doubt despite evidence suggesting the contrary. “Self-proclaimed imposters often think they have fooled those who view them as competent. They fear that their phoniness will be revealed,” Grant said. The imposter phenomenon is a common notion I am sure many university students have experienced. According to Grant, feeling like an imposter is associated with shame, low self-acceptance, and poor mental health. Her current project has grown from an increasing interest in the imposter phenomenon. Grant noted that the imposter phenomenon finally allowed her to “put a name to the discouraging feelings of incompetence and fraudulence” that she felt during her degree and that she “wanted to learn more about.” Any introductory psychology students interested in partaking in this project can complete an online survey through LimeSurvey. Grant believes that the imposter phenomenon will be related to greater depression, anxiety, and stress. However, the amount of self-compassion one has may lessen this connection; being kinder to yourself may prove to be a “protective shield” against the imposter phenomenon and the negative mental health consequences associated with it. “The ultimate goal of my research is to be able to help students who are struggling with imposter feelings to improve their mental health.”
Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how horrendous a situation is, one should maintain a positive outlook. It is also the topic of Rachel Binns’ honours project with Dr. Wasylkiw. However, this is not the same as optimism. Toxic positivity differs as it involves denial of the negative aspects of the situation and the suppression of negative emotions. Binns became interested in this topic because of a pre-existing interest in emotion regulation. “[D]uring the beginning of the pandemic, I [noticed] a lot of people were trying to push through the bad and scary and almost ignore all the negative events occurring at the time. As a result, they were suppressing their negative emotions.” Interestingly, this is a relatively new concept in psychology; part of Binns’ honours project has been establishing its characteristics and creating a method to measure it. As a result, she has created a self-report scale that measures individuals’ tendencies to exhibit thoughts and attitudes in line with toxic positivity. Presently, she is working on a second study for her thesis. Her study will examine how toxic positivity impacts the self and others. “This will be done by measuring how scores on my toxic positivity scale correlate with mental health, mood, and interpersonal relationships”. Binns hopes that her project will have demonstrated that her toxic positivity scale is reliable and has strong evidence of validity, and that it will be related to important outcomes such as emotion regulation, mental health, and mood. Her second study is currently up on SONA for any introductory psychology students interested in participating.
When asked if there was anything else they would like to add, each person highly recommended “conducting your own research” if given the opportunity to do so. So, consider this your sign. If you were previously debating doing research in any capacity, go out there and do it. Each of these individuals has reported it to be an incredibly rewarding experience and one absolutely worth pursuing.