Psychology Students Compete in "Edible Brain" Competition

Students in Professor Flannery's Neuropsychological Assessment Course competed in an Edible Brain Competition this semester as part of their coursework.  Students worked in teams to identify a syndrome or concept in Neuropsychology and translate it into something we can enjoy eating, e.g., the brain’s neural circuits for Prosopagnosia vs. Capgras syndrome.  The students then researched the syndrome or concept and documented the process for creating their Edible Brains. Students were prepared to discuss their projects with classmates and judges from across the campus.

Innovative Addiction Study on the Hilltop

by Abigail Mark, '18

Tucked behind a heavy, white door in the Psychology Department at Saint Anselm College is a maze of hallways. Entering the first door, one is bombarded by the clanging sounds of machinery and the squeaking of rats which echo off the walls. Enthusiastic students dart in and out of small rooms, gloved hands gripping syringes and bottles of carefully measured solutions. Here, these students, along with Psychology professor Dr. Joseph Troisi, are using rats as test subjects in a series of experimental research related to drug addiction.

ratlab pic3Students’ eyes light up when asked about the time they are spending working in the lab. Patrick Conley, a senior Psychology major, says he is particularly interested in using his major for animal research. “Reading an article on this kind of thing is boring, but doing it in person is wicked cool. I think it’s awesome that we have this accessibility to the rats here.” Olivia Koporek, also a senior Psychology major, agrees with Patrick. She says, “Without Dr. Troisi's passion for the research and the Saint Anselm Psychology Department's generation of resources, I find it hard to believe I would have this opportunity at any other college. Many friends I've spoken to who attend other schools, large and small, are not aware of any similar opportunities.”

The rats experience counterbalanced, varied states of consciousness – neutral or under the influence of caffeine or nicotine. Under each condition, the rats undergo a form of operant conditioning in which they are reinforced with food pellets by pressing their nose to a lever in their chamber. The twist is this: some “nose touches” are rewarded by food; others are not. Professor Troisi explains that “for some animals, the drug state is used to indicate that their behavior in the operant chambers will be reinforced. For those same animals, the non-drug state is used to indicate that responding won’t be reinforced.” Rats are also tested on days where there are no pellet rewards under either condition. On these test days, a highratlab pic4er response – a larger number of “nose touches” – is found in rats who experienced the drug condition which was rewarded with a food pellet in the past. A lower response – a smaller number of “nose touches” – is found in rats who experienced the drug condition with no reward in the past. Because the rats experience reward – and lack thereof – in both the drug condition and the non-drug condition, their tendency to “nose touch” for a reward is related to whether they received a reward in the past rather than directly related to how the drug makes them feel. In this way, the tendency toward behavior due to the drug state alone and the tendency toward behavior due to experiencing reward are separated – the drug and the environment become two different factors entirely.

ratlab pic2As Professor Troisi notes, “Environmental cues interact with interoceptive cues to regulate behavior – it’s not one or the other. When a person engages in a behavior for taking a drug, they’ve learned a relationship between the emotional state that occurred before it, the behavior that occurred under that state and the reinforcing effect of the drug.” More simply put, focusing solely on extinguishing the behavior of taking the drug is insufficient. What Professor Troisi and his team of students have come to believe is necessary is  “extinguishing the behavior in the presence of those cues, but also in the presence of other environmental and internal cues that have no relationship with the drug.” At the same time, it is important to create new habits and behaviors which provide alternative types of reinforcement – rather than drug effects – when those environmental and internal cues are present.

ratlab pic1This multitude of valuable, innovative research has incredible translational importance in the arena of drug addiction and related psychological therapy. It is an unfortunate but true fact that drug addiction, in numerous forms, is a continuing problem in our country – even particularly in the city of Manchester. Noelle Michaud, a junior Psychology major, is a newer member to the student team of researchers. She says, poignantly, “A vast majority of people have experience with family or friends being affected by addiction. It is something that will always be relevant because addiction will always exist. This research is a huge contribution to better understand both the psychological and biological processes that come into play for those with an addiction- with the ultimate hope to form effective solutions to extinguish them.” As psychologists, the goal is to examine every element of the issue and target areas to focus on for decreasing its prevalence; this is exactly what Professor Troisi and his team of students have attempted to accomplish in their research. “It’s not just the environment, it’s not just the emotional state, it’s both,” he says. That means working with patients over long periods of time, in multiple contexts, in lots of different situations, and that’s probably the best way to treat drug addiction rather than to treat it just with drug replacement therapy. That’s why we’re studying it.”

Student Research Spotlight: Evan Rushton

by Elizabeth Gallagher '17 and Meredith Whitney '16evan2

Last week, we sat down with Evan Rushton, '16 to discuss the research he has been working on with Psychology Professor Adam Wenzel. Evan presented his research at the New England Psychological Association (NEPA) Annual Meeting at Fitchburg State University on October 10th.

1. Could you briefly describe your research?

We used a within-subjects design measuring for taste threshold and intensity. Before and after, subjects were given two taste modifiers, Miracle fruit, which turns sour tastes sweet, and Gymnema Sylvestre tea which suppressed sweet taste entirely.

2. What is your year of graduation and majors/minors?

I am a senior psychology major with a minor in human relations and work.

3. How did you get involved with this research? Which professor are you working with?evan

In relation to this research, Professor Wenzel and I collaborated. At the end of the spring semester sophomore year, an email went out about a summer research position related to the INBRE grant. INBRE (i.e., Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) is a program that funds research opportunities for undergraduate students to work on biomedical research. I talked to Professor Wenzel about doing something with taste because whenever I would talk to him after class he would always mention something from the class I took with him, Sensation and Perception, such as the miracle fruit. I thought that it was pretty interesting so I was glad to get on board with the project.

4. What is the most valuable tool you have gained from being involved in research?

I think the most important thing gained from being involved in research is experience. Since I am looking to go into graduate school, it is helpful to have experience especially if you are looking to go into a research-oriented field. Also, it gave me the independence and ability to organize a research project. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t know how to go through the Institutional Review Board application and many other research procedures.

5. What advice would you give to incoming freshman about getting involved in research?

I would tell the freshman to definitely try to get a research position. Get as involved as early as possible with the department and develop a relationship with professors. Eventually you are going to need their help, and they are very helpful to say the least.

6. What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I would very much like to go into grad school, or get a job right out of college. I am interested in organizational psychology. If I go to grad school, I am interested in pursing a doctorate.

7. How do you think this experience will benefit your future goals?

In relation to the research that I did, even though it is not directly relatable to Industrial Organizational psychology, it gave me valuable tools in order to understand the research process.