The Oberlin College Research Fellows program is a two year program in which students work closely over the summers and during the school year with a professor/mentor. I worked with Nancy Darling, Ph.D. in the psychology department starting in the summer of 2008. I helped her carry out two separate lab studies and gather data on a sample size of over 100 people. Within the lab my duties were many, including creating protocols, collecting spit samples, cold calling potential participants, entering data in Excel, manipulating statistics in SPSS, creating a website using dreamweaver, coding videos, and editing grants. I wrote and presented two different research papers for each year of the grant. The powerpoint presentations are below:
Resilient Children: Ordinary or Extraordinary – Resilience is the ability to develop normally after experiencing some type of trauma. This project explores the difficulty in defining and measuring that within the framework of psychology research. Certain studies have focused on the innate personality characteristics that allow a child to cope, including extroversion and openness. Other studies have focused on environmental factors including membership to a church and the constant presence of at least one reliable adult. The impossibility of quantifying resilience became quite blatant, leading me to the conclusion that resilience is a human attribute and trauma has the power to either damage or shape a human being.
Cardiac Vagal Tone and Emotion Regulation Individual vagal tone has been correlated to capacity for emotional regulation. The Vagus nerve is the tenth cranial which acts as a brake for the human heart, in addition to many other functions. When a person breathes in, the vagus nerve is inhibited and the heart hastens just a little bit. The opposite happens during exhalation. In order to measure vagal tone we measured the milliseconds between heartbeats and found the average difference in heartbeat speed from inhalation to exhalation. The greater the difference, the more a person can handle their own emotions. In the lab we took vagal tone from mothers and children during an argument. This informed us on the further implications of vagal tone during confrontation and it’s interaction with other physiological aspects.
I gave this second presentation as part of the 2010 Oberlin College Senior Symposium. Here are both the abstract and the bio from the brochure:
Inheriting Vagal Tone: Examining the Effects of Shared and Disparate Vagal Tone in Mother-Adolescent Pairs
The human heart rate varies slightly during the cycle of breathing. Vagal tone represents the difference between the average speed during inhalation and the average speed during exhalation. In this study, we measured and compared the vagal tones of mother-child pairs as they performed different tasks. While it was hypothesized that vagal tone could be hereditary, the children’s vagal tones correlated with certain behaviors from the mother, including actions associated with maternal control and warmth.
Ellen, born and raised in Monterey, California, was lured from her private “Eden” by Oberlin’s creative writing program. She “avoids her work” by writing and editing the events section of the Oberlin Review, coordinating and leading student volunteer trips with Immerse Yourself in Service, serving as head cook at Tank Co-op, and working with her mother’s construction business during winter and summer breaks.
Here is the official Senior Symposium brochure.