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Psychology students win top prizes from ASU's Institute of Social Science Research

Students presented research findings as part of graduate student poster contest


Collage of portraits of ASU psychology students Adi Wiezel, Paula Baker and Matt Langley.

(From left) Adi Wiezel, Paula Baker and Matthew Langley each won top awards at ASU’s Institute of Social Science Research this fall.

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December 07, 2021

This fall, Arizona State University psychology students Paula Baker, Adi Wiezel and Matthew Langley each won top awards from the Institute for Social Science Research. Each semester, the institute invites students who are conducting social science research to participate in a poster contest, in which they may present planned or completed research.

Matthew Langley

Langley is a fifth-year psychology doctoral student who is part of the Perception, Ecological Action, Robotics and Learning (PEARL) Lab. His research interest broadly is the investigation of object and scene perception. Langley conducts research with Professor Michael McBeath.

“Specifically, I want to know how aspects of the environment shape our perceptual system’s ability to pick up the relevant information present and ultimately inform our experience of the world and the behavior used to act in it,” said Langley.

His poster, “Top to Bottom Saliency Bias: Analysis of Object and Scene Location,” won first place under the completed-research category and funded his travel home during the holidays. 

This research predicted that our perceptual system, co-evolving with the environment, would have a bias to visually attend to the most informative locations. For objects, there was a bias to attend to similar information located on the top half of the test stimuli, compared with information found on the bottom half. The theory behind this was that most natural lifeforms present the most information on their top halves, such as people, animals or objects.

However, the results found that observers judged comparison stimuli of scenes to be more similar when they shared the same bottom half as the test stimuli, rather than the top stimuli.

“I hoped that people would take away that the perceptual system is coupled to the natural regularities in the environment. Sometimes there are advantages to having biases or shortcuts in order to perceive the environment,” said Langley.

Langley also mentors undergraduate Koop Bills and supports his research on walking behavior and right-side passing side preference.

Adi Wiezel

Wiezel is a sixth-year social psychology graduate student and conducts research with Professor Michael Edwards and Associate Professor Michelle “Lani” Shiota, as well as with President’s Professor Douglas Kenrick. Her research centers on political ideology, partisan affect and leadership. Wiezel also teaches a seminar course on social psychology in contemporary politics.

“Political ideology is frequently thought of in terms of a continuum between liberals and conservatives. Other times, it is broken down into attitudes related to social issues (such as abortion) and attitudes related to economic issues (such as taxation). However, the work finding this distinction has sometimes excluded issues that don’t sort cleanly into economic or social categories, such as immigration,” said Wiezel, adding, “We began investigating the question of how people's attitudes about the government's role in specific policy issues cluster across a broader set of policy issues.”

Wiezel’s presentation, “Introducing a New Four-Factor Measure of Political Attitudes,” examined people’s attitudes about the government’s role in 27 diverse policy issues.

“We found that people’s ideology seems to be more fine-grained than previously considered. Specifically, there seem to be four somewhat independent dimensions of people's attitudes about what role the government should play in: regulation and redistribution; responding to foreigners/outsiders via immigration and trade; enforcing sociomoral codes; and protecting against potentially dangerous others.”

Wiezel’s research continues to find that these four dimensions also seem to be related to differences in individual difference measures, prejudices and behavioral intentions.

RELATED: A new model of political attitudes

Paula Baker

Baker’s research focus is on religion and spirituality as an aspect of diversity and multiculturalism. She conducts research as part of the Culture, Adaptation, Religion, Morality, Anthropomorphism (CARMA) Lab and is a student in the Online Master of Science in Psychology program.

“As a 40-year-old, nontraditional student, this recognition is validating and an indication I am on the right track in pursuing a massive career change,” said Baker.

The research project she presented aimed to discover what personal characteristics — such as a need for meaning or religious commitment, and religious or spiritual struggles — correlated to the various God representations. Baker wanted to know how people think about God and how personal struggles such as doubt might correlate to how they represent God.

She hopes that this research helps to improve understanding of the diversity of God representations in order to avoid microaggressions and increase inclusivity within religious organizations.

“Realizing there are diverse ways of working with the divine may reduce shame over not believing in a particular 'type' of God promoted by mainstream circles,” said Baker.

As part of winning the competition, the graduate students received funding to travel and to conduct future research.

“It is always exciting to see our students excel and win competitions,” said McBeath. “We are so proud of all our graduate students, and these presentations highlight some of the great work done in the department.”

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