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Exposure to Early-Life Stress Exacerbates the Effects of Inflammation on Amyloid-Beta Accumulation and Cognitive Dysfunction

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Haley Moore Psychology Christopher Hagen Biology Julia Peterman Psychology Jordon White Psychology
Advisor(s): Gary Boehm Psychology Michael Chumley Biology

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and is currently estimated to affect over 5 million Americans. There is no treatment for AD, and the incidence is expected to increase, as our population grows older. Many risk factors for AD have been identified, several of which involve stress and inflammation. Repeated injections of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a bacterial endotoxin, have previously been shown in our laboratory to exacerbate AD pathology, i.e. increase amyloid-beta (A-beta) levels and cognitive dysfunction. Our study aims to explore the connection between early-life stress and AD pathology in adulthood. Furthermore, we seek to understand how inflammation interacts with previous stress exposure. Using a non-transgenic mouse line, maternal separation (MS) was implemented daily from post-natal day 2 (PND 2) to the time of weaning (PND 21) to model developmental stress. After weaning, all animals were housed under regular conditions until adulthood. At 5 months of age, animals were administered LPS for 3 or 7 days , modeling an acute stress event. Following LPS administration, cognition was assessed using a contextual fear-conditioning (CFC) paradigm. Tissue was then collected and A-beta levels were quantified. Current results demonstrate that cognition was impaired in animals exposed to early-life stress, but this effect was not potentiated by LPS administration. Additionally, MS alone was insufficient to increase A-beta levels, but MS interacted with 3 days of LPS exposure to exacerbate A-beta accumulation in the hippocampus. Overall, results suggest that early-life stress exacerbates inflammation-induced AD pathologies. Further studies are needed to identify the specific mechanisms involved in inducing these changes.

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Birds and Words: How Children Learn Names from Contiguous Presentation

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Stephanie Neaves Psychology
Advisor(s): Anna Petursdottir Psychology

The pace of children’s vocabulary learning reaches a peak between the ages of 8 and 10 years; however, little research has focused children’s acquisition of new vocabulary after toddlerhood. The purpose of this study was to contrast two theories that address how contiguous presentation of words and images produces object naming. The Naming Hypothesis predicts an advantage to hearing the name before seeing the image (Horne & Lowe,1996), whereas accounts based on perceptual conditioning may predict an advantage to observing the image first (Greer & Longano, 2010). Children between the ages of 4 and 7 years participated. Each child received six training sessions, each consisting of 20 presentations of images of four novel birds paired with their spoken names. In the word-first condition (three sessions), the bird name was played before the image appeared on the screen, and in the bird-first condition (three sessions), the bird image was shown ahead of the auditory stimulus. After each session, the participants were tested for recall of bird names. Results are pending completion of data collection.

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Feeling crowded? Get creative: Crowding cues lead to increases in creative thinking.

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Molly Remondino Psychology
Advisor(s): Sarah Hill Psychology

For years, animal researchers have demonstrated that animals living in crowded environments diversify both body and behavior, opening new resource niches for exploitation. Two studies tested the hypothesis that crowding should also lead to diversity in human psychology, illustrated by increases in creative thinking. Increased creativity would help secure new opportunities for resource acquisition in environments filled with competitors. In both studies, participants viewed a crowding or control prime, then completed measures of creativity. In Study 1, participants completed a measure of openness, a trait positively associated with creativity. Individuals exposed to crowding cues reported more openness than those exposed to the control. In study 2, participants completed self-report and behavioral measures of creativity, followed by measures of resource concern and early environment. Analyses using conditional process revealed that crowding led to increases in creativity, with these effects being mediated by increases in resource concerns and moderated by childhood environment.

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Attenuating Pain with the Past: The Relationship between Nostalgia and Physical Pain

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Ramon Romero Psychology
Advisor(s): Cathy Cox Psychology

Previous work has demonstrated that nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past, is associated with several psychological, emotional, and social benefits. More recently, research has found that nostalgic reflection can improve individuals’ physical health (Kersten, Cox, & Van Enkevort, 2016). Building on this, the current studies examined the relationship between nostalgic reverie and the experience of physical pain. In Study 1, a community sample of participants (Amazon’s Mechanical Turk; mTurk) reported their level of pain severity and then completed a measure of nostalgia proneness. In Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to a pain induction (versus a balance task; the control condition) and then everyone completed a measure assessing feelings of state-level nostalgia. Finally, participants were randomly assigned to write about either a nostalgic or ordinary event and were then either exposed to a painful procedure (i.e., algometer task; Study 3) or asked to rate their perceived pain severity (Study 4). The findings demonstrate that individuals who experience chronic pain are more prone to nostalgic thought (Study 1), and eliciting pain in participants results in greater feelings of nostalgia (Study 2). Further, in comparison to the control condition, nostalgic reverie led participants to report lower pain sensitivity (Study 3). Lastly, the current research examined whether nostalgic thinking helps to reduce the perceived severity of physical pain among chronic pain sufferers (Study 4). Collectively, these findings demonstrate the interventional potential of nostalgic reverie by being the first to show how nostalgia can be a potential mechanism to offset physical distress.

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The Association between Attachment and Physiological Responses to Relational Aggression during Emerging Adulthood

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Gianna Tiedemann Psychology
Advisor(s): Naomi Ekas Psychology

Introduction: Relational aggression refers to behaviors that are intended to harm others through the manipulation of relationships, social status, and/or feelings of belonging (Crick, 1996; Grotpeter, 1995). It is important to understand the factors that might predict why some individuals engage in relational aggression. Heightened reactivity to witnessing relational aggression may promote feelings of discomfort and deter the individual from engaging in this type of aggression (Wagner & Abaied, 2016). Other characteristics may also influence not only participation in but also reactivity to relational aggression. Studies have found that parenting styles are a predictor of relational aggression during emerging adulthood (Jordan, 2007). A person’s attachment to his or her parent sets a working model for future relationships. Therefore, it is possible that attachment working models may influence engagement in relational aggression. Finally, self-esteem is another factor that influences aggression (e.g., Baumeister et al., 1996; Donnellan et al., 2005; Golmaryami & Barry, 2010). The current study asks if attachment representations, parenting styles, and self-esteem impact female engagement in, and physiological responses to, relational aggression.

Method: For this study, 90 college female students between 17–23 years of age participated. Prior to the visit, participants filled out questionnaires about their demographics, their experiences with their parents (CRPBI; Margolies & Weintraub, 1977), their attachment style (ECR; Brennan et al., 1998), their self-esteem (RSES; Rosenberg, 1995), and their participation in relational aggression (SRASBM; Linder, Crick, & Collins, 2002) Participants’ physiological response was measured with galvanic skin sensors while they watched a video clip from Mean Girls depicting relational aggression and also participated in an interview about social stressors and experiences.

Results: The results revealed a significant influence of attachment anxiety, b = -.666 (SE = .322), p = .041, R2 = .23, on relational aggression. Additionally, greater maternal autonomy had a significant effect on relational aggression, b = .122 (SE = .051), t = 2.39, p = .019, R2 = .23. Maternal firm control, b = -.111 (SE = .058), t = -1.92, p = .058, R2 = .12, had a marginally significant effect on relational aggression as well. Attachment anxiety had a significant influence, b = .180 (SE = .075), t = 2.40, p = .018, R2 = .28, on proactive relational aggression. Attachment anxiety also had a significant effect on reactive relational aggression, b = .223 (SE = .068), t = 3.26, p = .002, R2 = .26. Maternal autonomy had a significant influence on proactive relational aggression, b = -.036 (SE = .011), t = -3.23, p = .002, R2 = .28. Additionally, there was a marginally significant influence of maternal autonomy, b = -.020 (SE = .011), t = -1.80, p = .075, R2 = .26, on reactive relational aggression.

Discussion: It appears that parenting and attachment influence both reactivity to and engagement in relational aggression. Good parenting serves as a protective factor against relational aggression. On the other hand, insecure attachments appear to be a risk factor for engaging in relational aggression. This research helps with understanding the mechanisms behind relational aggression and ways to support and help emerging adults so that they do not engage in relational aggression.

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Shocking News: A Rat's Tail of Uncertainty

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Megan T Whittington Psychology Brenton G Cooper Psychology James O Taylor Psychology
Advisor(s): Brenton Cooper Psychology

The ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) of rats are produced at frequencies above the level of human hearing. USVs are often used as a tool to assess the emotional state of rats. Previous research has identified two main call types for rats: 22 kHz (related to strongly negative emotion) and 50 kHz. 50 kHz calls can then be further broken down into constant frequency (CF) and frequency modulated (FM) subtypes. FM calls are produced with a bandwidth greater than 15 kHz; these calls are related to positive emotional states. Whereas, CF calls are produced with a constant frequency and a bandwidth less than 10 kHz. Our lab hypothesizes that CF 50 kHz calls are expressions of anxiety in rats. Our lab has previously explored the vocalizations of rats across a continuum of negative affective state (i.e., from anxiety to fear) within a single testing session using a sequence of temporally consistent mild footshocks. The current experiment explores USV production in male and female rats when the temporal predictability was reduced by randomizing the time between footshocks. We utilized an unpredictable footshock paradigm with the goal of increasing or prolonging a state of anxiety as compared to our previous procedure. In this paradigm, shocks were administered across three successive days: on Day 1, mild footshocks were administered in a pseudo-randomized pattern, on Day 2, subjects were returned to the same context but did not receive footshocks, and on Day 3, a single reinstatement shock was administered. In addition to USVs, rearing and freezing behavior were also recorded and used to assess anxiety and fear. To explore sex differences, both male and female rats were tested in this paradigm. Significant differences between sexes were found in both overt behavior (rearing and freezing) as well as USV production. Specifically, the male rats exhibited behavior that suggests a more strongly negative emotional state (i.e., fear). These results could aid in the construction of a more efficient animal model to use in research for the study of anxiety disorders and potential therapeutic interventions.

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