Senior Project (Comp)

Every Alleghenian completes a Senior Comprehensive Project—a significant piece of original work, designed by the student and a faculty advisor in the major field, that demonstrates to employers and graduate schools the ability to complete a major assignment, to work independently, to analyze and synthesize information, and to write and speak persuasively.
In psychology, the Junior Seminar is used to explore potential project areas. The project itself is completed during the senior year. Small groups of students work with a faculty member in a senior seminar, exploring ethical research standards and literature related to their topics. Under faculty supervision, students critique one another’s work and present their results orally to the group.

SENIOR PROJECT MANUAL

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**Library copies of your senior comp are now submitted online.  To submit your senior comp to the library, please click this link.**

Some recent examples of projects:

“The effects of musical key changes in the frontal lobes of musicians and non-musicians using EEG alpha desynchronization”

“Older adults’ perceptions of elderspeak in relation to a physician’s sex: The influence of gender roles”

“Judging responsibility: The effects of agent-target relationships and outcome severity”
“Electrophysiological effects of cocaine or gamma-vinyl-GABA on mesencephalic dopaminergic and GABAergic cells”

“Effects of a therapeutic art group on adolescent females”

“The role of epidermal growth factor receptor activation in mediating migration in the forebrain”

“Personality, family environment, social support and resiliency in children of alcoholics”
“The effects of Miranda rights and evidence on perceptions of guilt”

How to Survive a Senior Project in Psychology

In an ideal world, the senior comprehensive project or comp is an opportunity for you to demonstrate the creativity, analytical skills, writing ability, self-reliance, and self-discipline you have acquired during your years at Allegheny. In addition, it provides you with an opportunity to investigate in depth an area of interest within your major. Perhaps the problem is that many faculty prefer the “ideal” while students approach the comp as the final obstacle to entering the “real world.” This manual is offered as a guide to students beginning their comp. Hopefully, it will enhance the academically “ideal” experience of your comp and lower the height of the last obstacle as well.

The first section of this manual is designed to get you started. It gives some ideas on choosing a topic and an advisor. The part of the manual entitled Presenting the Results includes the details on such matters as how to number the pages of the paper and what goes on the title page. Separate sections describe in some detail preparing an experimental and a library comprehensive paper. General Rules and Guidelines for Writing the Paper is designed for all students, no matter which type of comp they are completing. This section includes details on referencing, how to prepare a table, as well as some hints and clues to improving your writing.

This manual is a major revision of the Psychology Department Manual written by William DeLamarter and David Anderson. Answers about form that are not answered by this manual can most likely be found in the latest edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Finally, you are likely to have questions at many points in this effort: questions about form, about style, and about content. The final arbiter for any of these problems is your first reader. When you have a problem, check the manual first and then ask.

Getting Started

The first, and for many students, the most difficult part of a senior project is choosing the topic. The prime criterion for selecting a topic is that it must be interesting to you. There are a number of questions which you can ask yourself which may assist you in selecting a comp topic. First, if you have an idea of what you would like to do when you graduate, you can select a topic which is relevant to your future role. For example, if you think that you might be interested in some form of social service work, then find a topic which would be relevant to social service. Second, was there an issue or topic raised in a class or in your seminar which could be developed into a comp topic? Finally, is there some issue or topic in which you are sincerely interested which you would like to develop?

Keep in mind that ideas rarely occur spontaneously or “divinely.” Allow sufficient time before the deadline for the proposal to develop an interesting and sustaining topic. You should have a number of possible ideas for a comp by the beginning of the second semester in your Junior year. During the first half of the second semester, spend some time thinking about these ideas and what interests you most. Also, talk to your academic advisor as well as other faculty to get their opinions of your ideas. These conversations can be an invaluable source of feedback, ideas, and clarification.

Along with the topic, you will need to select a first and second reader for your comp. The main criterion for selecting a comp advisor (first reader) is expertise in the area. Second, you should select someone with whom you can work for a full semester. The second reader is frequently not as involved in the project as the first reader. However, this person can be very helpful in formulating the thesis. Finally, check the list of faculty and their interests to see what faculty member(s) might be interested in working with you.

Working with a Comp Advisor

Working with a comp advisor can be full of rewards as well as frustrations. It is frequently difficult for a faculty member to keep track of eight, nine, or more comps at once. Therefore, do not become exasperated when you advisor does not remember the details of your study. It is quite likely that you will know more about the specific details of your project than your advisor. In most cases, retaining a sense of humor during the comp process will help to preserve a mutually satisfactory relationship.

And always remember that you are responsible for the final paper. If there are errors, they are your responsibility. Therefore, you should always understand suggestions from your advisor before implementing them. If you disagree with a suggestion, state your disagreement and your reasons and then talk out any difference of opinion.

One of the major reasons that students feel pressured when completing a comp is ineffective time management. Self-discipline is extremely important. You must budget your time throughout the course of the year allowing for the unexpected.

Be prepared to write rough drafts of your paper. Few people can simply write out a paper and do a good job. When you ask someone to read a rough draft, make certain that you select someone who will be critical. Peers and the first reader of your project are excellent candidates for this task.

Faculty

The following are the topics that faculty in the Psychology Department are willing to supervise as senior projects. Some faculty have also indicated their preference for how the project might be organized, i.e., one or two semesters, etc.

Professor Monali Chowdhury

I am broadly interested in supervising projects on topics related to (1) developmental issues of emerging adulthood (college-age years) and adolescence, and (2) autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.

(1) Emerging adulthood
I am particularly interested in topics related to the period of adolescence and emerging adulthood (which is roughly college age years: 18 -23 years) such as: friendship, family relations, romantic relations, dating, dating abuse, body image, sexual health, identity development, effect of media and social networking (use of Facebook, Twitter etc.) on developmental issues etc.  I also have some interest in other periods of the human lifespan such as childhood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood.

(2) Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
My own research is in the area of ASDs and I am interested in most issues related to ASDs. To name a few topics: attitudes and opinions towards ASDs, ASD-like features among college students (e.g., social aloofness or awkwardness, inflexible adherence to rituals, heightened preoccupation with a narrow range of interests etc.), Asperger’s Syndrome among college students, love and dating among high-functioning individuals with ASDs, support groups for individuals with ASDs etc.

Organizational preference: I prefer to supervise two-semester comp projects.

Professor Rodney Clark

My research interests are: Neurochemical correlates of motivation as well as interactions between drug effects and ongoing behavior including animal models of drug abuse. Additionally, I have two separate lines of research.  The first line of research involves the behavioral pharmacology of the antimalarial drug Mefloquine and its motivational properties.  Second, I study classical conditioning of the immune system with pharmacological agents.    Broadly defined project topic areas are as follows:

  • Behavioral Pharmacology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Basic Experimental Analysis of Behavior
  • Behavioral Teratology
  • Biomedical Ethics (Archival, survey, etc.)
  • Applied Behavior analysis

Organizational Preference: Year-long comps (Psychology 600/610).

Professor Sarah Conklin

I am broadly interested in comprehensive projects that examine relationships between aspects of health, mood and behavior. Topic areas of particular interest are listed below.

  • Stress: psychophysiological reactivity to stress (heart rate and blood pressure) and methods to reduce perceived stress (potential methods listed below).
  • Diet: The influence of or association of diet on mood, behavior, cognitive performance, and autonomic function. Vegetarianism, veganism, supplement use and the influence of other dietary patterns on mood and psychophysiology.
  • Exercise: Exercise and mood, behavior and cognitive function.
  • Sleep: Assessment of sleep (patterns, quality, duration) in college students. Assessment can include actigraphy, polysomnography, and self-report.
  • Meditation: The influence of meditation or being quiet and relaxed on mood, behavior, cognitive performance and autonomic function.
  • Health behavior and beliefs regarding health in college students. Topics including sex, smoking, drinking, exercise, sleep, diet, stress management and lifestyle patterns.

Organizational preference: two semesters.

Professor Allison Connell

I am broadly interested in projects that focus on cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Specific ideas include:
• Visual attention
• Spatial attention
• Haptic perception of 2D raised-line surfaces
• Haptic perception of 3D objects
• Applying visual attention theories to our sense of touch
• Visual-impairment and haptic perception
• Identifying important individual differences (e.g., visual imagery skills)
• Electroencephalography (EEG) applied to any of these topics

Professor Jeffrey Cross

Application of a physiological/neuroscience perspective, with a focus on topics linked to animal models of neurodegenerative disease and prenatal insult effects on brain development. Recent comp topics have included:

  • animal models of stroke
  • animal models of autism
  • animal models of Parkinson’s disease
  • tissue transplantation to repair CNS injury/disease
  • Organizational preference: Year-long comps (Psychology 600/610).

Professor Deborah Dickey

Developmental topics including:

  • Child-parent interactions
  • Education during childhood
  • Gender
  • Sexual identity

Organizational preference: Year-long comps (Psychology 600/610).

Professor Juvia Heuchert

Clinical psychology and psychopathology (abnormal behavior) topics including research on:

  • Mood (assessing mood; mood disorders; research with the POMS – Profile of Mood States; etc.)
  • Personality (particularly research on the Five Factor Model; using the NEO-PI-R to assess personality; etc.)
  • Peace (any aspect of peace – peace and personality; developmental aspects; peace promotion; etc.)
  • Touch (any research on touch – therapeutic touch; experiences of touch; effects of touch, touch disorders, etc.)
  • Any aspects of abnormal behavior in general, especially among adolescents/young adults.

Organizational preference: One-semester comps (Psychology 620).

Professor Jeffrey Hollerman

Behavioral, anatomical and electrophysiological investigations in the rat central nervous system, particularly in relation to animal models of autism and dopaminergic function and dysfunction (e.g., natural and drug reward, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s).

Organizational preference: Year-long comps (Psychology 600/610).

Professor Lydia Jackson

I am interested in supervising research projects on social psychological topics. Such topics may include projects on

  • attitudes and attitude change
  • intergroup relations, including stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination
  • norms and conformity
  • self-processes (self-presentation, self-esteem, self-control, etc.)
  • helping (or the lack thereof)
  • relationships

I am especially interested in supervising research projects in the following areas:

1. Immoral behavior: I am interested in personality characteristics and situational circumstances that facilitate (or inhibit) immoral behavior. Examples include investigating the importance of moral identity, the effectiveness of honor codes, the factors that make cheating more or less likely, the relationship between political attitudes and immoral behavior, and ways in which we justify immoral behavior (e.g., through restructuring the immoral behavior into something honorable or recalling previous moral behaviors).

2. Aggression and violence: I am interested in the cognitive processes that facilitate intergroup hostility and biases, but I am also interested in factors that make aggressive behavior more (or less) likely.

3. Social Justice and Political Psychology.

I am open to supervising both one-semester and two-semester projects.

Professor Aimee Knupsky

I am broadly interested in research in cognitive psychology
(attention, memory, and language). My current research focuses on
factors affecting student learning and communication, with an emphasis
on the use of computer mediated communication both inside and outside
of the classroom. I am also interested in examining factors that
affect visual search and attention using the eye tracker and am
developing research projects in the cognitive humanities focused on
affect and emotions. Projects in my lab have included:

  • Sociolinguistics: research examining verbal and nonverbal cues to deception, sex differences in interruptions and disfluencies (um/uh, like, you know), the influence of interested or disinterested listeners on speaker memory, the influence of note-taking and small talk on interview perceptions.
  • Computer Mediated Communication: research examining the characteristics of language use in CMC (e-mail, IM-ing, texting, blogs, Facebook), sex differences in requests for help in e-mail, the influence of meeting on-line or off-line on IM conversations, the use of CMC in the classroom (podcasts, blogs).
  • Second Language Acquisition: research examining the use of imagery for vocabulary acquisition, the phonemic restoration effect in French students, perceptions of foreign-accented speech, the process of second language production in Spanish and French students.
  • Psycholinguistics: research examining the process of language production in monolinguals, the influence of context on the visual processing of a scene (examining eye movements using the Eyetracker), the use of embodied cognition (movement) for language comprehension and memory in children, the influence of visual factors on narrative transportation in comic book reading.

Organizational preference: Year-long comps (Psychology 600/610).

Professor Elizabeth Weiss Ozorak

  • Community psychology
  • Activism and nonviolence
  • Social and cognitive aspects of religion

Organizational preference: One semester preferred except where students are using outside agencies or schools and therefore need extra time to cut the red tape. Students are encouraged to discuss their ideas early to decide on the best strategy for their interests.

Professor Lauren Paulson

Currently, my personal research projects are on the topics of eating behavior/disorders and rural mental health issues and concerns.
Specifically, I would be interested in supervising student research projects related to the following topics:
  • Eating behaviors:  disordered eating and eating disorders, body image, gender and cultural influences, exercise, perfectionism and other personality traits, D & A issues, prevention of eating disorders, interpersonal relationships.
  • Any topic related to rural mental health issues.
  • Any topic related to mental health (stigma, attitudes, specific disorders, etc.).

Professor Ryan Pickering

Broadly, I research the impact of both social identity and social experiences on physical and psychological health and performance. I am interested in supervising research on topics within social psychology, social psychophysiology, and sustainability. Topics may include:

  • Stress: Creating stressful laboratory situations and measuring physiological stress through a continuous noninvasive arterial pressure (CNAP) machine, electrocardiograph (ECG) sensors, and/or impedance cardiography tape.
  • Social status: Socioeconomic status background, income inequality, cross-class interactions, social class as a social identity/cultural influence.
  • Resilience/success/interventions for individuals from underrepresented groups.
  • Disclosure: When/why/where people choose to disclose concealable stigmas (e.g. sexual minority status, mental health issues, religious/spiritual beliefs, etc.) and whether those disclosures are perceived as socially acceptable
  • Sustainability Psychology- Behavior change, messaging/branding, how personality traits impact sustainability behavior
  • Social justice

I am open to supervision both one-semester and two-semester projects, but physiology projects should be two-semester projects.

Professor Patricia Rutledge

I am interested in supervising research-based projects, particularly those that make use of large, extant datasets. I also am interested in supervising library-based projects. My primary area of interest is alcohol and substance use and abuse, particularly among college students. I also am interested in the area of cognitive control (thought suppression and its effects). My organizational preference is for a year-long senior project (600/610).

OK. Now you are ready to begin. To get the details of how to do an outstanding job on your comp, click Table of Contents to find the information that you need.

Past Psychology Senior Comps

The authors and titles of Psychology Senior Projects are listed by year.

Senior projects that won a departmental prize are noted with a * next to the author’s name.

If you want to see the abstract of a particular comp, just click on the author.

Finding the Background Literature you need

(Using the library)

Librarians are specialists in using the library’s resources who stand ready to provide students with information and direction. The librarian serves both as a teacher and as a research assistant; he/she instructs the student in the intricacies of library research and may guide the student to specific source material. In order to make the most of the librarian’s services, however, students should must familiar with information in our library. This page is designed to help you become familiar with the resources that we have available to us at Pelletier Library, especially those resources that might be useful to those taking Psychology and Neuroscience courses.

When Help Is Available

As you look through the material below, you may find that you need some help with using an on-line database. Of course, reference librarians are on duty most of the time that the library is open. If you want an introduction to PsycINFO, FirstSearch, or other electronic databases, make an appointment with one of the reference librarians. (This will ensure that they have enough time available to work with you.)

On-Line Databases

We have access to one of the largest on-line database systems in the world via FirstSearch. There are more than 50 different bibliographic databases that range from Arts & Humanities to Social Sciences. There are 10 databases in the social sciences alone! One of the most useful is “SocSciAbs” as it is called. The Social Science Abstracts database covers more than 400 international, English-language periodicals in the social sciences. One advantage of this database over PsycINFO is that although PsycINFO has a wider coverage, you are more likely to find articles in SocSciAbs that we have in our library. The FirstSearch database is linked on the Connections page on the library’s web site.

In addition to FirstSeach, the library provides connections to a number of valuable databases. Just click the Connections option on the library’s home page. Of interest to psychology and neuroscience students are Expanded Academic ASAP which provides full text copies of articles from more than 800 journals (no need to wait for interlibrary loan!); ERIC/AE Test Locator (database of over 900 commerical test publishers; and Journal of Neuroscience, a fully electronic journal.

The Web of Science site provides access to two important databases, Science Citation Index and Social Science Citation Index. In addition to being a great way to locate material on a particular topic, these databases provide a great way to find recent references on a topic once you have located a key source. Let’s say you find a great article published in 1990 on depression. Using the Social Science Citation Index you can locate all the publications since 1990 that have cited the orginal article. Check it out! Link from the Connections option on the library’s home page.

Bibliographies

A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journal articles, essays) that are relevant to a topic. In most textbooks there are bibliographies at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the book; they show where the author found the information written about, and are referred to in the text of the book by number, by name, or by footnotes. These bibliographies have been compiled by experts in the field. To begin a research project by locating one reference at a time is wasteful when a good bibliography is already available.

Where does one find good bibliographies? Books usually have bibliographies. If you locates a relevant book in ALLECAT, the record will indicate if a bibliography is included, i.e., “Bibliographical footnotes,” “Bibliography: p. 250-260,” “Includes bibliography,” etc. Journal articles are also an excellent course of ready-made bibliographies. Almost all scholarly works in psychology will have bibliographies (reference lists). And still another source for locating bibliographies is “Bibliographical Index,” a published reference volume with a subject index to bibliographies. Taking advantage of published bibliographies allows more time for searching recent literature for new information on the topic.

Handbooks

In addition to the periodical literature, handbooks and manuals can be most useful to the student. These secondary sources are excellent means for reviewing the issues and research in a particular area. However, the student is cautioned that handbooks are quickly dated. Due to publication complexities, handbooks are usually at least a year or two behind the most recent research when they are published. The one exception to this is the Annual Review of Psychology which tends to limit its “time lag” to about six months. Below are a listing of some of the handbooks and manuals available in our library.

Annual Review of Psychology An excellent source book for an overview of particular fields. The articles indicate the major area of concern and the current directions of research and theory. The topics vary from year to year with major topics being repeated each year to two.

Handbook of Research Methods in Child Development

Handbook of Social Psychology There are several series by this name, the most recent edited by Lindzey and Aronson.

Handbook of General Psychology

Handbook of Parapsychology

Handbook of Perception A multiple-volume set containing the latest in perception literature.

Handbook of General Experimental Psychology

Handbook of Personality Theory and Research

Handbook of Political Psychology

Handbook of Practical Psychology

Handbook of Projective Techniques

Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change

Handbook of Adolescent Psychology

Applied Social Psychology Annual A summary of the progress in experimental social psychology, published yearly.

Advances in Experimental Social Psychology A summary of the progress in experimental social psychology, published yearly.

Advances in Clinical Psychology A summary of the progress in clinical psychology, published yearly.

Mental Measurements Yearbook This series, published irregularly, contains review of tests and books on all phases of mental measurement.

Tests A comprehensive reference for assessment in psychology, education, and business.

International Encyclopedia of Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Neurology

Dictionary of Psychology A good source for quick definitions of terms that you are not familiar with.

Human Motivation: A guide to Information Sources An excellent guide to the literature in motivation, the first of a series each in a separate area of psychology.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. New materials of this type are being added all the time. Check ALLECAT and the Reference Department.

Resources

Annual Review

The Annual Review of Psychology is another important source of information for defining and limiting a paper topic. The first volume appeared in 1950 and, as the title suggests, this series of published yearly. Each volume contains between 15 and 20 review articles that summarize the current status of the field of psychology. And perhaps as important, each article includes hundreds of references to the latest sources for the topic under review. 

PsycINFO

PsycINFO is a web-based electronic database that contains coverage of international literature in psychology and related fields. It scans over 1400 journals from over 50 countries. The database  is updated weekly. 

This database may be used by any student or employee of the college, either from on campus or off.  (See the library’s “off campus”  page for details on using this material from off campus.

Just click here for details on using PsycINFO.

Social Science Citation Index

This reference material contains citations to the literature not only in psychology but the other social sciences as well. Therefore, it is often more useful than PsycINFO if you are interested in an area that might involve data from sociology or political science as well as psychology. The SSCI includes three different indices: the Citation Index, the Source Index, and the Permuterm Subject Index. 

The Citation Index is, in a sense, the opposite of PsycINFO. That is, the Citation Index tells what articles have cited a given article AFTER the first article was published. For example, if you find a critical article in a certain area that was published in 1980 (you may have located this original article via PsycINFO) what you might now want to know is “Who has cited this article since its publication in 1980?” With this information you can track forward in time to make sure that you have located all the most important research on a particular topic. 

The Source Index is an index that is arranged by author. If you know that a particular researcher is important in a field, you can quickly locate what he or she has published in a given year. (PsycINFO also permits author searches but it is limited to authors who publish in the journals they abstract.) 

The Permuterm Subject Index, the third of the sections in the Social Citation Index, is arranged by subject. Unlike the PsycINFO, its indexing scheme involves taking one or two keywords from the title of each article that is listed. 

In addition to these three major sections, the Index also contains an “Organizational” section. If a particular organization, a hospital or research laboratory, for example, is important in an area of research, all the works published by that organization will be grouped together under the name of the organization in this section of the SSCI. 

All in all, the SSCI is a most powerful research tool. It may require a bit of time to learn how to use, but it can be most helpful in locating research materials. (There is also a Science Citation Index covering the natural and biological sciences. Material in some areas of psychology such as physiological psychology may be found in this index rather than the Social Science Citation Index.) 

Government Documents

A good deal of research in the United States is done in government laboratories or by government departments. Much of this research is not published in traditional journals, but in monographs or other non-traditional sources. There are even whole journals that are published by the government. Schizophrenia Bulletin is but one example that might prove useful to psychologists. There are two ways to locate information that has been published by the government. Material such as monographs or pamphlets are indexed in the “Monthly Catalog of US Government Publications.” It is organized both by author and keyword. Periodical listings are indexed in “Index to US Government Periodicals.” Both of these publications are available in our library. In addition, many of the documents that you may locate using these tools are available from our library. 

The library is gradually making all of this material available via ALLECAT but you still need to check with the reference librarians to make sure that you have done a thorough search on your particular topic. 

Other Abstracts

PsycINFO is not the only useful source of information on psychological topics. The list below is meant to suggest possible sources of information, it is not meant to be exhaustive.

  • Social Science Index – covers a subset of the core journals in all the social sciences. Items listed are likely to be found in our library.Available electronically through FirstSearch (see section on On-Line Databases.)
  • Education Abstracts – not only useful for items directly related to educational topics but to child development in general. (Also available on FirstSearch.)
  • Index Medicus – index of medically related topics, often includes references to psychiatric literature not covered in PsycINFO.
  • ERIC – psychological and educationally related topics with items not published in traditional journals. A good source of measurement instruments. It is available on CD-ROM..
  • Sociology Abstracts – guide to the sociology literature. (Available via FirstSearch.)
  • Biological Abstracts – sometimes includes material on physiological topics not included in PsycINFO.

General Policies and Guidelines

The senior project effort in Psychology requires the completion of  Psychology 600, 610, 620 or 630, Senior Project and Seminar.

Preliminary proposal 

The comp process begins in the junior year with the submission of a preliminary proposal. This written preliminary proposal is to be submitted on the Senior Project Proposal Form. The proposal must be filed before registration for the fall semester is completed, even if you don’t plan to take Psych 600 (or Psych 610, 620, 630) until the spring of your senior year. Although this preliminary proposal is usually only a paragraph or two in length, it should be the product of a good deal of thinking by the student and discussion between the student and his or her comp advisor. The completion of the preliminary form before the end of the spring semester of the junior year will help ensure that every student will be part of an appropriate senior seminar.

Registration

  • Psychology 600 is the first semester of a 2-semester senior project, and it is worth 2 credits.
  • Psychology 610 is the second semester of a 2-semester senior project, and it is worth 4 credits.
  • 620 is a one-semester senior project, and it is worth 4 credits.
  • 630 is a one-semester senior project in which a faculty member supervises a group of 10 or more students all doing comps on similar topics. It is also known as the “senior project seminar,” and it is worth 4 credits.

Regardless of what format the comp takes, students meet regularly as a group with the instructor, who serves as their Senior Project advisor, to discuss topics such as ethical standards for research, strategies for literature searches, organization and format of the project, and techniques for coding and interpreting data, as well as the specific projects being carried out by the students in the group.  Senior project committees include the student, a major advisor (the first reader), and a second reader. With joint/double majors, three readers are often the rule with two members of one department and one from the other serving as advisors and evaluators.

Each student is required to have at least one meeting with both readers no later than the middle of the semester.  An oral defense of the completed project is also required.

Due Dates

For the 2014-2015 school year:

Fall one-semester comps are due on Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spring one-semester comps are due on Tuesday, April 14, 2015.

 

Fall two-semester comps are due on Monday, November 10, 2014

Spring two-semester comps are due on Monday, March 30, 2015.

The final orals for each student will be done during the remaining weeks of the semester on a schedule arranged by the student.

Final orals will begin with a presentation by the student of the highlights of the project just completed, usually limited to 10 minutes. Members of the board will then have an opportunity to ask questions and raise issues prompted by either the written work or the oral presentation. 

Late Papers

The only acceptable circumstances that can lead to an extension beyond that deadline are those which are well beyond the control of the student. These include illness, death of animals, failure of some external agency to provide testing material on time, etc. Permission to give an extension for the completion of a senior project is a joint decision made by the first and second readers in consultation with the Psychology Department faculty. Discussions about providing an extension of the deadline should begin as soon as it becomes obvious that the project will not be completed on time.

Penalties for late papers

Failure to submit a project by the due date will result in a grade penalty of one-third of a letter grade for each day the paper is late.

What the department will pay for

The department underwrites the cost of several aspects of the senior project. At present, we pay all or part of the cost of the following:

  • animals, chemicals, drugs, etc.
  • purchase of published tests
  • reproduction of experimental materials
  • copying costs for one copy of the final paper
  • travel
  • long distance charges
  • costs for recruiting experimental participants

The department reimburses up to $75 for costs directly incurred in carrying out the comp research. To apply for reimbursement, go to the departmental forms page and download and fill out the “Comp costs reimbursement form.” Note that your first reader needs to sign this form.

Other sources of funding

If you are conducting a comp project that requires funds above the $75 available from the Psychology Department, you can apply to the Dean of the College for funding from the “Class of ’39 Fund.” This application consists of a brief rationale for why you need the funding, a budget, and a brief supporting letter from your first reader. If you are going to present the results of your study at a conference, you can apply to the Klions Fund (if you will be traveling before you graduate) or the Dale Fund (if you will be traveling after you graduate) by going to the departmental forms page, downloading the appropriate application, and submitting it, with a supporting letter from your first reader, to the Chair of the Psychology Department. Please note that money from these funds cannot be awarded retroactively – you must apply for the funds before you travel.

Class of ’39 Fund

There are times when you need to spend more than your allotted amount of $75. If that is the case, your comp advisor may suggest you apply to the Class of ’39 Fund. To apply, please fill out the Class of ’39 Request Form.   Then ask your comp advisor to write a brief memo of support.  After this has been completed, submit your proposal and memo of support to Sam Stephens in the Dean’s office. You may do this electronically to samantha.stephens@allegheny.edu or through campus mail Box 18.

The Latest From APA

The American Psychological Association recently published a fifth edition to its Publication Manual. The Publication Manual is the “bible” that contains all of the rules for manuscripts submitted to all psychological journals. The new edition of the manual included a few changes from the earlier editions. Only those changes which are likely to effect senior projects are noted here.

The APA Publication Manual contains information that will be of interest to anyone who is planning a career in psychology. If you have just one or two questions about a particularly odd reference citation, ask your advisor. Each faculty member in the department has a copy. However, if you plan to go on to graduate school in psychology, you may want to purchase your own copy. See the department chair for information on how to order your own copy.

1. Do not justify the right margin, and do not break words at the end of a typed line.

2. Indent the first line of each reference entry in your reference list just as you would a paragraph (using the Tab function). All subsequent lines of a reference should be left justified.

3. When reporting means, always include an associated measure of variability, such as standard deviations, variances, or mean square errors.

4. Report correlations, proportions, and inferential statistics (F, t, and chi-square) to two decimal places; report percentages in whole numbers.

5. Proceed text citations to non empirical work with a phrase to indicate that you are citing background information.

6. Provide an availability statement for electronic references, consisting of the protocol, directory, and file name for the on-line retrieval.

7. It is not necessary to put figures and tables on separate pages with the “Insert Figure 1″ note where the figure should be placed. Just put the figure or table directly into the paper where it should be located or on the next page if it is especially large.

8. Tables presenting complex ANOVA results now have a new format. See Table 3 (last page of the Senior Project Manual) for details. Among other things, tables no longer need include SS and MS, only df and F. MS error terms are presented in parentheses.

9. It is no longer appropriate to use a line graph when presenting the results of studies where the independent variable is categorical. Instead, histograms are more appropriate. A set of instructions for producing complex histograms or bar charts in now included in the Graphs folder.

10. APA has recently updated the format for citing material taken from the World Wide Web.  A summary of the format rules for web material can be found at: APA Style.org

Some other things to keep in mind as you finish your project

1. Use a 10 or 12 point font for your paper. Helvetica is the most popular font to use although Times is also acceptable.

2. Do not use enlarged fonts for titles or headings (although headings may be in bold or italic).

3. Be sure that your tables and figures meet APA guidelines. Although it is great to use computer software to produce a figure, do not assume that just because it comes from the computer, it is correct. For example, figures produced by Excel do not generally meet APA guidelines if you just use the default settings.  You can make quite acceptable figures using Excel, but you need to do a bit of work. (Examples of properly done tables and figures.)

4. Your paper should have a running heading on each page of the text in the supper right hand corner. The page number should be next to, not below, this running heading.

Trouble with APA format? If you are confused about how something should be done using APA format and you can’t find the answer in the Psych 600 manual, check out Psychology with Style. This web site includes details about APA format that are not included in this manual.


Experimental Projects

The sections of an experimental comp are the same as those that you see in a journal article.  The idea is to have sections where the reader can look to find specific details of your study.  Remember, the idea is to help the reader understand what you did, why you did it, and what you found. You may also wish to look at the section on grading experimental projects.

Introduction

The Introduction identifies the independent variables and presents the empirical and theoretical rationale for the proposed study. Organization of the Introduction is critical to an adequate understanding of the problem to be investigated.

Begin the Introduction with a brief paragraph which identifies the major independent variables in your research and notes the general problem to be investigated. This paragraph should also identify and limit the problem to be examined and should prepare the reader for the arguments and logic to follow. The final sentence of the opening paragraph should provide a transition to the first paragraph of the text.

The main body of the Introduction follows the opening paragraph. The major goal in this part of the paper is to provide the theoretical and empirical justification of the study. Doing so will require you to interpret the research relevant to your hypotheses. Basically, the body of the paper consists of the arguments you are developing to support and justify the hypotheses. Research is cited in described when it supports and justifies those arguments. When done well, the body of the paper leads clearly and logically to the hypotheses to be tested.

Finally, provide a narrative overview of the study leading to the specific hypothesis you tested. This narrative overview should not discuss the specific manipulations but rather should describe generally what variables were manipulated. That is, do not refer to specific levels of specific independent variables. Rather, you should discuss the independent variable in general, leaving the details of the levels to the Methods section.

In writing this section, there are a number of points to keep in mind.

Interpreting vs. reporting. In most cases the definitive study on the problem has not been conducted. If the research had been conducted, there would be no reason for your hypothesis. Therefore, you must not merely report the current state of the literature, you must interpret it. This means that you should keep in mind your research hypothesis as you review past studies. Note how past research is relevant to your research. It is also appropriate to critique past research and/or note implications that relate to your research. In interpreting, rather than reporting, it is useful to write by topic, citing studies which support or do not support certain effects, variables, or relationships. This is in contrast to an overly detailed reporting, study by study, which typically leaves it up to the reader to reach his or her own conclusions regarding past research.

Too much detail — too little detail. The determination of which studies are to be presented in detail and which are to be summarized very briefly is one of judgment and experience. Some studies are appropriate to a general review of the literature on that variable whereas others are directly relevant to your proposed study. As a general rule, briefly summarize those studies which contribute to the overview and describe in detail that research which is germane to your proposal.

Multiple drafts. Organization of a paper is to some extent a matter of trial and error. Be prepared to write multiple drafts of your Introduction as well as other sections of your paper. Try out different organizational frameworks. Allow sufficient time to write multiple drafts.

Abstracts and secondary sources. Do not rely on abstracts or secondary sources in a comprehensive project. If you allow sufficient time to write your paper, you can obtain most source materials through inter-library loan. Secondary sources and abstracts are inadequate sources of information. In the case of secondary sources, they have been interpreted by the author of the secondary source and it is possible that the original meaning of the article has been distorted. Abstracts do not provide sufficient information about the theoretical background, relevant research, methodology, results, or interpretations to be very useful as sources of information. Their major use is in determining whether the entire article is worth reading.

Justifying variables. Each independent variable must be justified through an examination of the relevant literature. For example, many studies control for sex effects by including sex of subject as an independent variable. Often, however, the sex of the subject is not justified in the Introduction. Justification of variables should be based on an examination of the literature.

Hypotheses. Hypotheses should be stated clearly and concisely. If differences among levels of a single independent variable are expected, it is appropriate to discuss hypotheses in terms of main effects. If an interaction is hypothesized, it is not necessary to specify the relationship of each condition to each other experimental condition, unless you are predicting a specific ordering of means.

Using subheadings and/or transitions. Subheadings can be an invaluable aid in organizing your paper. While short papers generally do not need subheadings, using them in long papers like a comprehensive project can aid in presenting a clear organization of ideas. Be certain that the subheadings used accurately reflect the section of the paper which it heads and that subheadings do not become substitutes for transitional statements. Transitions are sentences which are used to lead the reader from one section of the paper to another.

Use of quotes. Use quotes only when necessary to demonstrate a point, present a theoretical position, or clarify a concept. Remember that every quote must be explained in the body of the text. Never present a quote without indicating what it means in the context of your paper. Remember that a failure to quote or paraphrase properly is plagiarism, which violates the Honor Code.

Method Section

The Method section should provide information about how the research was conducted in enough detail so that the reader could replicate the study. By convention and for convenience the Method section is divided into a number of subsections. The following briefly reviews possible subsections. Some variation from this format is possible, depending upon the type of study. Check with your advisor if you need help. The most common sub-headings include the following.

Participants. This section should provide information on the background of the participants in your research. Note the total number of participants used, any selection criteria, and for human participants, where they were recruited, and if they participated for credit. State if they were randomly assigned to experimental conditions, and how many participants were in each condition. For example:

Forty students were recruited from Introductory Psychology courses on the basis of IQ scores. All participants received extra credit for experimental participation. Individuals were randomly assigned to experimental conditions with 10 students per cell.

Design and independent variables. This part of the paper specifies the experimental design used in the research along with the independent variables that were manipulated. Factorial, repeated measures, and mixed designs should be clearly stated. Note the independent variables and the number of levels of each. For example:

A 2 x 2 x 2 mixed design was employed with sex of subject (male versus female) and attractiveness (high versus how) as the between subjects variables and trials (one and two) as the within subject variable.

Dependent measures. This section describes the type and nature of the data to be collected. If questionnaires were used, it is not necessary to provide the exact wording of the questions in this section. However, a copy of the questionnaire should be included in an appendix.

Procedure. The procedure section describes what happened to participants from the time they entered the experimental room until debriefed and dismissed. The procedure must be reported in sufficient detail to allow the reader to replicate the study exactly if desired. Information such as detailed instructions to participants may be included in an appendix.

Additional sub-sections might include Tests, Materials, Apparatus, or Equipment.

Results Section

The major point to remember about a Results section is that data are reported, not interpreted. It is appropriate, however, to draw the readers attention to important findings (e.g., significant differences between means, noting which mean is higher). Report the most important data first, then move on to the secondary data. In reporting statistical conclusions, state the magnitude of the test, degrees of freedom, and probability level. Assume that the reader has a statistical background and do not discuss the assumptions for rejecting the null hypothesis. If results are complex, use subheadings to organize them in some meaningful way (e.g., Part I, Experiment I, etc.). Results are clarified by presenting them in tables or figures. See Section II of this manual for details on preparing tables and figures. Supplementary tables as well as raw data may be contained in an appendix if you think that this information may be useful to some readers. Check with your comp advisor as to which data to include in your paper.

Discussion Section

The Discussion is where one discusses the meaning of the results. Begin with a summary of the major findings of your research, whether or not the major hypothesis was confirmed. Following this summary of the results, explain what they mean. First, think about what the pattern of all results mean. When making an interpretive argument, justify that argument through the pattern of results. Second, think about alternative explanations for the data. The secondary measures may indicate whether or not an alternative explanation is viable. Finally, note the future research which your study could stimulate and provide a rationale, from your data, for that future research.

In writing your Discussion section, keep the following points in mind.

Discuss findings. Remember that you are discussing the entire pattern of results. It is not appropriate to ignore incomprehensible findings. At times you may have to admit that you cannot understand a finding. In addition, do not inflate the importance of findings. If a result is marginally significant, or nonsignificant, do not promote the result as if it were significant.

Reflect back on your Introduction. Remember that the Introduction of your paper notes the relevance of your study to current research and theory. Now that you have completed the research, what is the relationship between the findings and the theory and/or research which prompted your study?

Appendices

Include appendices for those experimental material which would be too bulky within the text, for example, verbatim copies of instructions, questionnaires, surgical procedures, etc. Appendices are lettered for reference in the text. Pages of an appendix are numbered consecutively with the rest of the paper and follow the References.

Library Projects

A library comp may involve greater work, intellect, resourcefulness, and time than the typical experimental comp. Library projects may present new ways to look at old data, move the field in new directions, relate previously unrelated areas, develop new theories, etc. In sum, the analysis, integration, and intellect present in library research determines in large part the future direction of psychology as a science. Analysis is generally the result of hard work, patience, and thought which can occur only if you allow yourself sufficient time to complete the project. It is likely that you will have to use inter-library loan to obtain the materials you need.

Unlike an empirical study, there are few rules governing the development of a library comprehensive. Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Review, and the numerous Advances in … series published by Academic Press provide excellent examples of what a library comprehensive should be. It would be very useful to review some of these publications before you begin writing. You may also wish to look at the section on grading library projects. (see below)

 

Grading the senior project

At the end of the final orals, the student is asked to leave the room for a few minutes while the faculty discuss the student’s performance. Although the criteria for each letter grade differ somewhat among faculty, just as they do for any course, the department has agreed upon a set of factors which will influence that final grade. These criteria differ slightly for laboratory and library projects.

Laboratory research

The following items are used to judge performance of a laboratory project.

a) Quality of the research idea or hypothesis. (Including originality, utility, uniqueness, etc.)

b) Conduct of the research. (A qualitative evaluation of how well the student conducted the project, including diligence, adherence to methodology, etc.)

c) Quality of the paper.

Introduction. (Is the problem clearly specified: Are the hypotheses clear? Does the paper logically lead to the hypothesis? Is the relevant research reviewed?)
Method. (Could a reader replicate the research given the information provided in this section? Are subheadings used correctly?)

Results. (Are the results presented in a clear logical manner? Are appropriate statistical tests employed? Are all significance levels stated clearly and accurately?)

Discussion. (Do the results of the study support the discussion? Are all results mentioned in the results section discussed? Are implications and/or applications of the study clearly stated?)

Format and Mechanics. (Do the tables and figures supplement rather than substitute for the text? Are tables and figures clearly and accurately presented?)

(Are preliminary pages included? Are all cited studies referenced? Are references presented correctly? Are appendices included when necessary? Are appendices presented clearly?)

d) Final conference. (Does the student understand what he or she has done? Can he or she explain the methods and procedures in a clear and logical manner? Does the student understand the relationship between this project and the wider research area or theory involved?)
Remember that these criteria are designed to indicate the range of items that are considered in assigning a grade. The weight given to each factor will vary from instructor to instructor.

Library research

The following items are used to judge performance of a library project.

a) Quality of the research idea or hypothesis. (Including originality, utility, uniqueness, etc.)

b) Conduct of the research. (A qualitative evaluation of how well the student conducted the project, including diligence, willingness to seek assistance, discussion of the project with the advisors during the formation of the project and its completion.)

c) Quality of the paper.

Introduction. (Is the problem clearly specified? Will the reader understand the scope of the problem from the introduction?)
Organization. (Are the chapters of the paper organized logically? Does the organization of the chapters lead the reader to the writer’s conclusions? Within a chapter are arguments organized logically?)

Justification. (Are statements justified in terms of relevant research and/or theory? Are studies interpreted correctly? Cited appropriately?)

Conclusions. (Are the conclusions supported by the cited data? Are the conclusions linked to the available research and/or theory or merely stated? Implications and applications of the project noted and justified?)

Format and Mechanics. (Are necessary preliminary pages included? Are all cited studies referenced? Are references presented correctly? Are appendices included when appropriate? Are appendices presented clearly and correctly?)

d) Final conference. (Does the student understand what he/she has done? Can he/she explain the methods and procedures in a clear and logical manner? Does the student understand the relationship between this project and the wider research area or theory being investigated?)

Selection of Topic

Earlier in this manual some likely sources for comp topics were presented (Getting Started). For a library project, added criteria must be included. First, a comprehensive project should be an analysis, not a report. A report is merely a “state of the art” paper, whereas an analysis is a reinterpretation of the existing literature. In other words, you should have a general hypothesis based on an examination of the relevant literature, before you begin writing. Among the appropriate goals of an analysis are noting directions for future research, relating the research on a given topic to some other topic in psychology, providing a new theoretical interpretation of an existing body of research, and providing a methodological critique of the current research.

Second, is there enough literature for an in-depth analysis? Make certain that there are existing data on the topic you select, or that the existing research is amenable to reinterpretation. Avoid “trends” or “fads” since there is rarely adequate work to support a library project.

Third, make your topic specific. Avoid selecting topics which are so broad and/or general that you will find it difficult or impossible to make specific comments about the area. Too often, students want to write “about mental illness.” While a laudatory goal, mental illness as a topic is simply too general and vague. Think about what you want to write about before you start and narrow the topic to something manageable.

Fourth, have some idea of what you are going to demonstrate through your analysis when you begin to read the relevant literature. Students often have little or no idea of what they want to do when they begin to read the literature. They hope that some ideas will come to them through the reading process. While this sometimes happens, it is rare. The usual result is that students read very broadly, become saturated with the literature, and eventually are forced to write without a firm grasp of what they are trying to do. Have some idea of where you are going when you begin. This initial idea will provide you with a frame of reference when researching the literature. Keep your ideas in mind when you read the literature but be flexible as you read and learn. Consult closely with your first and second readers in defining your topic.

Organization

A library comp should lead logically to your conclusion. Start out with an introduction to the problem which notes the topic of your comp, its importance, and what you intend to show in the body of the paper. Then review and interpret the available literature on your topic, logically leading to your conclusions. Traditionally, a library comprehensive is organized into chapters. What is included within a chapter, the number of chapters, etc., varies from comp to comp and topic to topic. Work with your first reader on these problems. Frequently, more than one organizational format will lead to your conclusions. Think through a variety of organizational structures to see which is clearest and most concise.

Use of Quotes

The temptation to use quotes in a library comp is even greater than in an experimental comp. Use quotes only when necessary to demonstrate a point, present a theoretical position, or clarify a concept. Remember that every quote must be explained in the body of the text. Never present a quote without indicating what it means in the context of your paper. Remember that a failure to quote or paraphrase properly is plagiarism, which violates the Honor Code.

Transitions

Adequate transitions are critical in a library comprehensive. Since a library comp generally involves the presentation of a great amount of literature, it is easy for a reader to get lost, losing the thread of your argument. Transitions from section to section and chapter to chapter assist the reader in moving logically from point to point and eventually to your conclusions. Do not use subheadings as a substitute for transitions. While a subheading provides a brief conceptual outline of your paper, a verbal transition provides a rationale for that outline.

Summaries

Summaries are also helpful aids in understanding a long paper. While the number and placement of summaries depends on the topic, length, and complexity of your paper, some rules of thumb may be useful. First, include a summary at the end of each chapter. This summary can then lead into a transition statement to the next chapter. If any section of a chapter is extremely long, provide a summary at the end of that section. Do not worry about redundancy in summaries. Remember that you will know more about your paper than either reader. Thus, what may appear to be redundant to you may be very helpful to a reader lacking familiarity with the literature.

Figures and Tables

Figures and tables are frequently very useful in a library comp. They can explain a complex relationship among variables, summarize research findings, etc. Figures and tables taken from other sources should be cited and referenced properly. Note the placement of figures and tables in the text in the same manner as in an experimental comp. Finally, use figures and tables to supplement not substitute for textual material. Explain and describe all figures and tables presented in your paper. Consult the section of this manual on figures and tables for details on their preparation.

 The Concluding Chapter

The concluding chapter of a library comp is analogous to the Discussion section of a research comp. Thus, many of the same rules apply. The concluding chapter should do more than make vague and general statements about the meaning of the topic and its implications. Be specific! Make reference to the literature you have interpreted throughout the paper. Make certain that all your conclusions are justified by the entire pattern of the data that you cited. When you are speculating in the absence of data, phrase your speculation so that it is clear that you are speculating. If there are data which are at variance with your interpretation, note the inconsistent data as well as the possible reasons why they do not fit with the general pattern. In sum, think carefully about this chapter because in many ways it is the most important chapter in your paper.