Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sixteen pictures: Prioritizing characteristics in new acquaintances

Confidence building through science: A glimpse into SRAP research life

The Student Research Apprenticeship Program (SRAP) is a paid summer research program at the University of Wyoming for high school students in tenth through twelfth grade. It is sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR and funded by the National Science Foundation. This is the eighth of eleven stories about the laboratories where this year’s SRAP students are working.

Monique Baca works in Dr. Bartsch psychology lab in July.
When people first meet someone else, the first characteristics they notice are usually gender and skin color, according to most psychology research. What other characteristics do people notice immediately? Behavior? Actions? Intentions?
This question is the premise of Dr. Karen Bartsch and SRAP student Monique Baca’s research this summer. They are trying to determine if a person’s actions are more or less important than these other characteristics. Specifically, they are researching whether someone doing something helpful or harmful is more prioritized than gender or skin color.
To do this, Dr. Bartsch, in collaboration with her graduate student, Tess Young, has designed two studies for people 3 years and older. The first study involves sorting sixteen pictures into categories. Participants are asked to put the pictures into two piles and then asked why they sorted them that way. Each picture shows a child, either male or female, light skinned or dark skinned, doing something helpful or harmful while doing another activity (such as playing with a dog).  Participants can either sort the pictures according to gender, skin color or action, and Dr. Bartsch says that this categorization will help her and Monique understand which characteristic is the priority.
In the second study, participants are shown a picture of a boy and a picture of a girl. One has light skin and the other has dark skin, and one is doing something helpful while the other is doing something harmful. Participants are then shown a third picture. The participant is then asked to match this third picture depending on gender, skin color or action. The researchers are interested in which characteristic the participants match and believe that this will indicate which of the three characteristics is the most important.  
These studies require a lot of hands-on time, which Dr. Bartsch says is ideal for SRAP. “It’s a nice project for this purpose because we can involve Monique in a number of different things that are part of the study.”
Monique is helping not only with data collected from previous studies, but is also reading past research, collecting materials for these studies and helping interview adult participants. Her research will focus on data from the adult group, but she will have the opportunity to observe the interviews with the child participants.
In all of her work, Monique brings her interest, enthusiasm and dedication. Her attitude and motivation are Dr. Bartsch’s favorite part of working with SRAP. “I just find it very encouraging to work with a high school student who is already so interested in research in my area,” Dr. Bartsch says.
This is the first year Dr. Bartsch has had a SRAP student and she wishes more high school students could have this opportunity. “It’s a really unique experience for a high school student to come in and absolutely be involved in so many aspects of professional research in psychology,” she says.
Monique is one of the lucky high school students who have the opportunity to experience research at the professional level, but it was not simply luck that brought her to the program. It was her attitude and determination as a student.
“Of the students I’ve met, I’m impressed with their seriousness as scholars,” Dr. Bartsch says. “I find that very encouraging.”

By Kali S. McCrackin

Photo courtesy of Dr. Bartsch

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