BLISS 2013 Project Descriptions
Email Jennifer Shephard (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions.
Click arrows to learn more about each project.
Cooperative and Competitive Social Relationships
Mahzarin R. Banaji (Limited availability.)
Carey website (FAS Psychology)
I work on conceptual development: causal reasoning, logic, executive function. All of the work concerns understanding the human conceptual repertoire, which is unique on this earth. I run a summer internship program for students from around the country (and increasingly, from around the world), and the BLISS Fellow(s) will be part of this program. Summer interns are paired with a graduate student, postdoc, or RA on a project ready for real progress over a 10-week period.
BLISS Fellow(s) will have the first chance at choosing which of 10 to 12 projects on offer during summer 2013 they want to work on. Some example topics include:
BLISS Fellow(s) will gain an in-depth experience in designing, conducting, and/or analyzing a study. They will:
The goal of this summer program is to introduce students to how scientific knowledge is actually produced. Its main goal is to help students decide whether they might pursue science as a career. Many do, many do not. At this age it is important to learn what one does not want to do with one’s life as well as what one does want to do with it. At exit interviews the lab gets only raves about the program, and all students agree that the experience will enrich how they read and evaluate scientific literature (both in courses and in the media). The internship has been honed over a 15 year period and the lab now gets applications from all over the world. Three BLISS students worked in the lab over the past two summers, and all gave the program a thumbs-up review.
Although many of the interns have a cognitive science background (psychology, philosophy, linguistics, computer science), this is not necessary. One of our most cherished BLISS Fellows had a history of science background. I and the mentor assigned to each student can teach them skills they need for their projects, and guide their reading of the relevant background literature.
Carpenter website (FAS Government)
I lead a research team that is examining the diffusion of petitioning in American history. The focus is both “micro” (how individual petitions were put together) and “macro” (how petitions in greater numbers were sent to Congress and state legislatures). Up to two BLISS Fellows may collaborate with the team to examine both of these processes, focusing on slavery-related petitions at first and then broadening scope to include petitions on a range of subjects and up to the present day. This project provides an opportunity to work closely with a highly skilled and thoughtful research team and a faculty member recognized for outstanding teaching and undergraduate mentorship. The research will combine qualitative and quantitative methods, as well as narrative and visual imagination, and will provide an inter-disciplinary academic experience for the undergraduate, combining aspects of the humanities and the social sciences, history and political science, even literary and historical interpretation with statistical skills.
The petition stands as one of the most vital institutions and expressive patterns of American culture and American democracy. Petitions comprised a critical vehicle for the expression of resistance during the American Revolution; they were common means of communicating across cultural boundaries and they were central modes of expression and organization in dozens of social movements, ranging from temperance and anti-Sabbatarianism, to women’s suffrage and minority rights, to anti-slavery and anti-segregation campaigns.
Reflecting this history, the amount of petitioning in American history appears to be vast. Historical records suggest that, for the first 150 years of the American republic, petitioning was an incredibly widespread and common practice in everyday life for millions of Americans, a practice that welcomed the energies of African-Americans, Native Americans and women whose liberties in voting, property-owning, mobility and other forms of expression were severely circumscribed for most of American history. Among many repositories, the petitions and memorials collection of the National Archives and Records Administration for the House of Representatives (from 1789 to 1945 alone, Record Group 233) holds approximately 6,100 cubic feet of petitioning materials. Plausible calculations suggest that this collection alone may contain more than one million petitions, with a billion or more signatures. Taking into account the wealth of petition collections in state archives and other locations, it is plausible that much more petitioning material is available in other venues.
Nearly all of these vast collections remain little documented; the history of petitioning has suffered from relative neglect. Students and scholars of American culture and history enjoy much greater access to newspapers, electoral and voting data, broadsides, sermons and speeches, party platforms and other media. Our project is an attempt to begin narrowing the gap. Our endeavor will have long-term benefits for social science research (the study of networks, social movements, participation and representation, the history of abolition and other movements), and for primary and secondary-school classroom, college teaching, and genealogical research.
The first step in the project is the transcription of the signatory lists of specified petitions. Once that is completed, the student will move on to conducting genealogical research utilizing the cutting edge tools that are becoming widely available through Ancestry.com. Once this task is completed, the student will learn how to geocode the data so that it will accurately reflect the location of said movement on the specified petition. The student will then search newspapers from the specified time period and location that may provide more insight into the reasoning behind the signatories' desire to participate in the movement. Using biographical and city historical data, we can examine the role played by networks and civic space in petition canvassing. Finally, we will supplement these historical petitions with data on contemporary petitions (one of our team members has assembled a database of 2006 petitions related to the Iraq War, also with signatories geocoded). Through partnerships we are developing with political organizations, we are gaining access to electronic petitions. Modern petitions – whether paper or electronic – also have a significant role to play in politics. In the past year or so we have witnessed business policy reversals by Bank of America and Verizon because young people have started online petitions contesting their practices.
The student must have an interest in developing a mix of qualitative and quantitative research skills, including narrative historical analysis and statistical analysis. The student should have basic computer skills (e.g., spreadsheet), with a willingness and ability to learn new ones such as geographic information systems. Most important, the student must demonstrate creativity and be able to work independently and as part of a team.
Cohen website (HKS Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs)
What explains the persistence of sexual violence during wartime and its aftermath? Sexual violence during conflict has become widely recognized as a problem of international security. The UN Security Council recently passed a series of resolutions on the topic, and the UN Secretary General has described sexual violence as having reached “unspeakable and pandemic proportions.” British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced a major new initiative in November 2012 aimed at ending wartime sexual violence. However, despite this increased policy attention to the problem, numerous open questions remain. Scholars and policymakers have made many, sometimes conflicting, claims about the causes and consequences of wartime sexual violence. Currently, there is little systematic data available to assess competing explanations. The lack of reliable quantitative data has hampered the scientific study of sexual violence and war, which is currently dominated by journalistic and anecdotal accounts that are difficult to generalize.
An international research team co-directed by Cohen is in the final stages of collecting the first comprehensive dataset of sexual violence by all armed actors during all conflicts in all countries since 1989. The objective of this project is to advance the understanding of the patterns and causes of sexual violence during wartime and its immediate aftermath through a new cross- national data collection. Better data on wartime sexual violence will allow scholars to test causal hypotheses, increasing the empirical possibilities for the study of sexual violence. Using a variety of public sources, over the past two years our research team has gathered detailed, systematic data on when and where conflict-related sexual violence was perpetrated, as well as which armed actors were responsible for sexual violence, which victims were selected for violence, the types of violence that occurred and the locations and contexts of where the acts were perpetrated.
With the completion of this comprehensive dataset on wartime sexual violence, we hope to be able to address questions of critical importance to the theories of civilian victimization during wartime and to the understanding of repertoires of violence in armed conflict more broadly. Systematic data is sorely needed for the establishment of evidence-based policy and early- warning systems that may serve to mitigate the horrors of wartime sexual violence.
The BLISS Fellow will be involved in the final stages of completing the dataset and the associated materials, including cleaning of the data, and editing the codebook and the related documentation in advance of the public release of the data. Most importantly, the BLISS Fellow will be involved in the first stages of the analysis of the global dataset. We plan to begin several research projects using the data this summer, and the fellow will be able to participate actively in this process. These research projects include analyzing the patterns in the data (e.g. What types of actors are most likely to be reported as perpetrators and why?) as well as patterns in the reporting practices of the sources (e.g. Of the three main sources—Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department—which institution reports more or worse human rights violations and why?)
As such, depending on the fellow’s skills, background and interests, the BLISS Fellow may be asked to conduct background research for literature reviews, and to draft sections of academic articles. The fellow may conduct preliminary statistical analyses of the data and/or may research the details of particular cases for the preparation of case studies to be used in academic articles. Finally, the fellow may be involved in the development and drafting of policy briefs intended to disseminate the findings from the dataset to a public audience.
The fellow will have regular contact with researcher partners at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), one of the premier research centers for the quantitative study of conflict. This is an ideal opportunity for a student interested in gaining and developing quantitative and qualitative research skills, in learning about the process of collecting and analyzing a large dataset, and in pursuing a project at the intersection of social science and international policy.
A background in political science, economics or sociology is preferred, as well as a strong interest in social science research. The ideal candidate will have excellent research and writing skills, as well as knowledge of statistical software (STATA is preferable) and Excel.
If you are interested in experimental research but haven’t yet had a chance to work on an experimental team… If you are curious to know how behavioral researchers are exploring cognitive biases and other factors that predictably—and unconsciously—shape our decisions… If you want to work with faculty and other researchers from a variety of different disciplines and schools across Harvard in order to explore different topics and research questions in behavioral science…
Then you should be a BLISS Fellow at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory (HSDL).
Who we are
Researchers from all across the university and at all levels of the scholarly community—from senior faculty to undergraduates—use the HDSL to investigate the biochemical, neurophysiological, and behavioral underpinnings of the emotional and cognitive processes that combine to shape human judgment and decision-making. Some of these researchers are David Rand in evolutionary biology, Amy Cuddy at Harvard Business School, Joshua Greene in the department of Psychology, Dustin Tingley in the department of Government, and Günther Fink in the School of Public Health.
The laboratory provides experimenters with the means to monitor specific physiological signals (heart rate and heart-rate variability, thoracic blood flow, blood pressure, peripheral temperature, respiration rate, skin conductance, electromyography) as well as neuroendocrine processes (through, for example, salivary assays); to relate these signals to specifically induced affective states; and to pursue specific research hypotheses as to how these relate to risk perception and risk tolerance, evaluation of alternatives, and choices of action.
Because we are administratively situated in HKS, we also actively seek to create engagements between behavioral scientists, scholars of policy, and decision-makers in the public and private sectors. Undergraduates working in the lab have an opportunity to participate in these conversations, in order to see at first-hand the rising importance of insights gained from behavioral research in shaping policy interventions and deliberative processes.
What you’ll do
BLISS Fellows at HDSL will be assigned to work alongside senior investigators in a number of different disciplines undertaking research in the lab during the busy summer months. BLISS Fellows will have an opportunity to collaborate in the conceptualization and design of experiments; to program these designs using standard tools for subject interaction (for example, MediaLab, z-Tree, E-Prime, MatLab, Qualtrics); to conduct the experiments and interact with subjects in the lab; and to compile and analyze experimental data.
In addition, as part of your basic training in the tools of this laboratory, as an HDSL BLISS Fellow you’ll be trained on the use of physiological monitoring systems for behavioral experiments. This “Physio Boot Camp” involves training in the correct placement of sensors, assuring the clarity of a signal for data collection, skills for respectful interactions with subjects, and use of software tools (specifically BioLab) for the analysis of physiological data.
Core Competency Training
Through study in the lab practicum course and work experience in the laboratory, the HDSL training program for BLISS Fellows is designed to help develop the following core competencies:
None. Joining the Lab provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn a broad range of experimental tools in the setting of a working, world-class laboratory.
Professors Enos and Tingley are experimental political scientists. They conduct experiments in a variety of settings to understand subjects ranging from racial attitudes to international relations.
During the 2013 BLISS program they will be overseeing several projects, working closely with a BLISS Fellow and coordinating their efforts. They hope this will provide twice the mentoring experience. As mentors they will focus on providing a coherent and integrated experience in the emerging use of experiments in political science. The BLISS Fellow will learn about the implementation of cutting-edge social science methodologies and will develop interpersonal skills necessary for working with a research team.
Enos' project consists of experiments on the effects of racial segregation on attitudes and political behavior. The BLISS Fellow will work to design and implement laboratory and survey experiments that help us to understand how racial segregation affects the way people think about other groups.
Tingley's project primarily consists survey and laboratory experiments about public attitudes towards global warming. The BLISS Fellow will work in conjunction with Tingley and other members of his team to implement these experiments and analyze the data. This will involve collecting literature on the topic, designing and programming surveys, and analyzing data. A related project uses web scraping techniques to extract arguments and debates about global warming from online sources.
While separate projects, they all have a similar research structure and emphasize similar inferential issues that confront social scientists. In addition, the projects will provide ample opportunities for skill attainment. The BLISS Fellow will be expected to participate in the skill development/tracking program setup by Tingley's Program on Experience Based Learning in the Social Science (PEBLSS), which is housed in the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences (IQSS). (It is our hope that all the other BLISS Fellows will also participate in the efforts of PEBLSS to quantify and study skill attainment opportunities in Harvard University Research Assistance programs.)
None are required, but familiarity with learning computer software and basic statistical knowledge is always a plus.
Feldman website (HLS Edmond J. Safra Center for the Study of Ethics)
I am a Professor of Law at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, visiting the Banaji Implicit Social Cognition Lab and the Edmond J. Safra Center for the Study of Ethics at the Harvard Law School. My research interests lie at the intersection of economics, psychology, and law, and my methodologies include a combination of psychological experiments and field studies of legally-based behavior. My current focus is the contribution of bounded ethicality to the legal treatment of "good" people who mindlessly choose to engage in corrupted practices. Through a series of collaborative projects with prominent scholars like Mahzarin Banaji, Henry Smith, Dave Rand, and Kahtleen Vhos, I am studying the interaction between automatic and deliberative processes in ethical decision making, the role legal ambiguity plays in facilitating corruption, and the optimal specificity of law and the relationship between ethicality and innovation.
A BLISS Fellow would be involved in three types of projects this summer, assisting with the study design, data collection (mostly on the web), and possibly with some preliminary data analysis. In the first and the third project the focus would be data collection and analysis, while in the second project the focus would be identifying relevant codes, focusing on sampling issues and helping in research design. I will meet with the Fellow at least twice a week to discuss the progress. The Fellow will learn a variety of research designs and their applicability to given questions, as well as being exposed to some of the trade-offs and tensions between basic and applied research. S/he will learn how to program on Qualtrics and how to run participants using various web-platforms. S/he will gain experience in reading research in both law and psychology in a critical way, and will learn how to use knowledge about psychology to inform policy-making.
The role of interpretation in accounting for implicit corruption. Much of the recent research on bounded ethicality suggests that for corruption to occur there is no need for people to be "bad". One of the main techniques "good" people can use to self-justify unethical behavior is to engage in constructive interpretation of the legal requirements they are required to follow. Psychological processes such as self-deception, elastic justification, moral disengagement, and motivated reasoning suggest that people might be able to behave unethically without feeling in violation of the law. A series of lab- and web-based experiments, where participants are asked to decide the reasonable mixture of hard and easy questions on the GRE, will be conducted to answer the following questions: What is the interaction between automatic and controlled processes during this decision-making process? In which mode of reasoning will interpretation be more biased toward the immediate self-interest of the individual? What role does motivated reasoning and self-deception play in legal interpretations? To what extent do people recognize that their interpretation might be biased? What sorts of the "self" interest lead to greater bias: monetary rewards, group loyalty, or self-esteem bolstering? What are the effects of raising awareness and accountability on the magnitude of the bias involved in the interpretation processes? What is the effect of differing monetary rewards and payment mechanisms on people's interpretations? The findings will be used to draft a paper with policy recommendations for how to curb implicit corruption and incompliance.
The expressive effects of ethical codes. The aim of this applied research project is to understand how people in different segments of the population interpret the ethical codes in their own organizations, with a particular focus on aspects of these codes which could be seen, objectively or subjectively, as "open to interpretation". How do people react to various sections of code (e.g., perceived efficacy, legitimacy)? Are the definitions in the code equally clear to people? What sections are less likely to be understood in a similar way by most participants? Which factors (e.g., past experience, familiarity) are primarily responsible for shared understanding? What aspects of the code (e.g., moral language, usage of examples) make people more certain in their interpretation of the behaviors in question?
Equity, good faith and optimal specificity. Laws can be written with different levels of specificity, some as vague standards and others as specific rules. Many arguments exist in the literature with regard to the optimal degree of specificity with which laws should be designed. One line of research suggests that when laws have more than one interpretation people choose the one that best fits their self-interest. Clearly, one of the main techniques good people can use to self-justify unethical behavior is to engage in constructive interpretation of legal requirements, where psychological processes such as self-deception and motivated reasoning may allow one to behave unethically without feeling guilty. Ambiguity and vagueness in legal language and contracts have different effects depending on whether the rule in question impacts performance or compliance. They are also expected to have different effects on different people based on the person's level of intrinsic motivation to cooperate with the requirements. To test some of these hypotheses we will use a 2X2X2 experimental design where people are instructed to edit a document, either specifically or using general terms, either with the reference to good faith or without it, either with accountability and sanctioning or without it. The assignments were designed such that people can engage in various levels of editing. By analyzing the level of rule-following behavior, as well as beyond-compliance practices, we hope to contribute to the discourse around the dilemmas presented above.
Some background in Psychology and experience with research design. Experience with data analysis and an interest in Law, Government, or Behavioral Economics, a plus.
Gilbert website (FAS Psychology)
I am an experimental social psychologist whose methods run from large-scale survey research (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010) to brain imaging, but generally focus on laboratory-based studies of human behavior. My primary research focus over the last 15 years has been on the errors people make when attempting to predict their emotional reactions to future events.
By joining my lab BLISS students will gain specific research skills that will be invaluable should they decide to go to graduate school, but they will also gain critical thinking skills and an appreciation for the process by which knowledge is generated, which will be invaluable no matter what they decide to do. The skills that are required for research like ours—synthesizing and evaluating research articles, designing experiments and avoiding confounds, thinking empirically and analyzing data—are necessary for research in all areas of science, and are important for success in a wide range of careers. Students who have hands-on training in science make better scientists, but they also make better managers, better lawyers, and better senators.
I have had undergraduate research assistants working with me every year for 25 years, and many are now distinguished scientists. I believe that their experiences in my lab—much more than their experience in the classroom—were largely responsible for their career choices. Not only did they become interested in science by doing it, but they also got a close-up view of the “academic life,” of professors, post-docs, and graduate students. They were able to see first-hand what it would be like to go to graduate school, what it would be like to be a professor, and as our own research has shown, observing other people’s lives is the best way to predict how much you would like living them (Gilbert, Killingsworth, Eyre, & Wilson, 2009).
My project for summer 2013 involves three exciting new lines of research developed in collaboration with graduate student Bethany Burum, described below.
The effects of co-experience. First, Burum and I have begun to examine what happens when a person believes that another person is having precisely the same experience at the same time. We have now done several preliminary studies to determine whether holding this belief changes the way people process and remember information, make judgments, and so on. We have developed an experimental paradigm in which participants interact with a confederate (a researcher who pretends to be a fellow participant) and then complete a task while believing either that the confederate is simultaneously completing either the same task (co-experience condition) or a different task (solo-experience condition). Our initial studies have shown that relative to participants in the solo-experience condition, participants in the co-experience condition showed changes in memory and emotion. We are currently conducting studies to help us understand just how and why this happens.
The effects of mental access. Second, Burum and I have begun to examine what happens when a person believes that another person has access to the normally private contents of his or her mind (e.g., his or her thoughts or feelings). We have now done several preliminary studies to determine whether believing that someone has such access changes one's own beliefs about one's thoughts or feelings. We have developed an experimental paradigm in which male participants see a film of a woman trying on bathing suits in a store's dressing room that was purportedly taken by an illicit hidden camera. Male participants find the film arousing because the actress is attractive, but they wish they didn't because of the nefarious circumstances under which it was purportedly made. After viewing the film, some participants are told that the experimenter was monitoring their physiological arousal by measuring pupillary dilation (access condition), and others are not told this (no-access condition). Participants then report on their own arousal. Our prelimary studies show that relative to the no-access condition, participants in the access condition are more likely to deny having been aroused by the film. In other words, knowing that another person had access to one's feelings appears to change one's memory of those feelings such that people remember feeling what they wished they had felt rather than what they really felt. We are currently conducting studies to help us understand just how and why this happens.
Altruism and patience. Third, Burum and I have begun to examine whether the willingness to make sacrifices for another person (altruism) is related to the willingness to make sacrifices for one’s future self (patience). One of our recent papers (Mitchell, Schirmer, Ames, & Gilbert, 2010) shows that people tend to think of their future selves as “someone else,” which suggests a potential connection between interpersonal and inter-temporal sacrifice. In our preliminary studies we have found a positive correlation between various measures of altruism and patience when people make hypothetical decisions. We are currently preparing to conduct more studies to determine whether this relationship holds for real decisions. For example, in one study participants believe that they are joining either the prosecution or the defense for a mock court case that will continue when they return in a week. Some participants are made to feel less connected to their future self in a week by being told that they will have to switch to the other side of the case when they return. Participants then have the choice between completing work immediately or saving it for when they return. Preliminary evidence suggests that participants who are told they will have to switch sides save more work for when they return, in essence being less altruistic toward their future selves. We will be conducting follow-up studies to explore this effect. The possibility that patience, prudence, and foresight are actually extrapolations of our basic social abilities strikes us as a potentially important idea.
Previous research experience in the social or biological sciences is very helpful but not necessary.
Jones website (GSE)
The Ecological Approaches to Social Emotional Learning (EASEL) laboratory, led by Dr. Stephanie Jones of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, explores the effects of high-quality social- emotional interventions on the development and achievement of children, youth, teachers, parents, and communities. Our work takes place in applied settings (e.g., schools and communities), and we employ a combination of rigorous quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate how particular configurations of and transactions between individuals, their social groups, the settings in which they interact, and broader social contexts influence human development.
Some of our current projects include:
Pre-K to Grade 3
SECURe: Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Understanding and Regulation in Education
In the past 5 years, a number of efficacy trials have demonstrated that children's academic and social-emotional functioning can be improved by targeting executive functioning and emotional and behavioral regulation via preschool and elementary school curricula (Bierman et al, 2008; Diamond et al, 2007; Raver et al, 2009). While these findings emphasize that high-quality, targeted programs can place children on more positive academic and developmental trajectories, a less optimistic hypothesis suggests these gains will be sustained only as long as children continue to have access to the conditions and teacher practices that supported the development of skills during the intervention year(s).
The SECURe project addresses this issue by developing a school-based intervention that is both horizontally and vertically aligned: in it we develop curricula that targets executive functioning and social, emotional, and cognitive regulation skills (horizontal alignment across developmental domains), while developing benchmarks, teacher training, and school structures and routines that span the Pre-K to school divide (vertical alignment across the Pre-K to school transition). Key aspects of the project include program development and implementation, data management and analysis, and development and documentation of the school and teacher alignment processes.
Research assistants will gain familiarity with the literatures on executive functions and social- emotional development and school-based intervention programs, and will have the opportunity to contribute to various phases of program development and implementation. Specific summer 2013 projects may include adapting the curriculum, classroom supports, and teacher training and coaching materials; and preliminary analysis of implementation, feasibility and evaluation data.
Elementary and Middle School
4Rs: Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution Program
The New York City Study of Social and Literacy Development is a longitudinal, experimental evaluation of the 4Rs program in 18 New York City public elementary schools. The evaluation began with 18 public elementary schools, 9 of which were randomly assigned to the intervention group (4Rs) and 9 to the non-intervention control group. In these schools, a cohort of approximately 900 3rd grade children were followed for 3 years to examine the longitudinal influence of the 4Rs program components on children's academic and social- emotional outcomes. Comprehensive and detailed data were gathered from students, their teachers and parents, from both archived and school-based academic and disciplinary records, from independent classroom and school observations, and qualitative interviews with school principals. Students have been followed throughout the transition to middle school.
The evaluation's specific focus is on the impact of the 4Rs program on students' social- emotional and academic development, their health risk behaviors including aggression, depression, and substance use, teachers' professional development and relationships with students, parenting and parent involvement, and overall classroom and school climate. We are particularly interested in (1) the degree to which changes in teachers' own professional development mediate impacts of the program on children, (2) the nature of the relationship between 4Rs and change in social-emotional versus academic outcomes over time, and (3) the impact of key classroom, family, and neighborhood moderators on the link between 4Rs and outcomes over time.
Research assistants working on this project will have the opportunity to learn and apply quantitative and qualitative data analytical techniques to explore individual development across time, and the effects of contextual, relational, social and psychological features on development. Specific summer 2013 projects may include quantitative analyses of students' and teachers' social networks, qualitative and quantitative explorations of key dimensions of student-teacher relationships, and evaluations of key individual and classroom-level mediators linking the experience of the 4Rs intervention and child and teacher outcomes.
School, Home, and Community Interactions
The Making Caring Common Initiative
This initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education seeks to place moral and social development at the center of conversations about raising and educating children, and seeks to strengthen the ability of schools, parents, and communities to support the development of children's ethical and social capacities, including the ability to take responsibility for others, to think clearly about and pursue justice, and to treat people well day to day.
The Making Caring Common Initiative is currently focused on three primary, overlapping bodies of work: (1) a school-based data driven improvement initiative, (2) resource and intervention development, and (3) media and messaging strategy development and dissemination. Research assistants working on the project will gain familiarity with broad social-emotional, moral development, school climate, and bullying literatures and current prevention and intervention strategies and resources. Specific projects may include the analysis and reporting of student survey data focused on moral and social development and school relationships; the development and review of research-based resources for schools, parents, or students; and the development or analysis of interventions that target social-emotional or moral development.
Undergraduate Research Assistants
Members of the EASEL Lab are routinely asked to review and present recent research on their topic of interest within the larger framework of our work, and have the opportunity to present and debate their own ideas about ecological experiments and interventions. As members of this academic community, undergraduate students will be held to the same academic and professional standards of any other lab member. Through this apprenticeship process, undergraduate research assistants will have the opportunity to directly experience the research process within the field of applied developmental psychology and education, while collaborating closely with other students and researchers both onsite and in different locations.
No particular background is required to participate in this project. Skills in computer programming and statistical analysis, as well as strong interest in the structure of social relationships during early and middle childhood, would be helpful.
Lamont website (FAS Sociology, AAAS)
Together with a group of international collaborators I study responses to stigmatization among African-American middle class and working class men and women living in the New York area. We consider how responses vary with racial identification and segregation and also analyze variations between types of incidents, contexts, and responses. Results are compared with similar data collected among Afro-Brazilians residing in and around Rio de Janeiro, and among three groups living in and around Tel Aviv: Mizrahis, Ethiopian Jews, and Arab Israelis. We are completing a multi-authored book that considers how national ideologies, collective identities, segregation, racial identification, and other factors affect everyday responses to stigmatization and how these responses contribute to the transformation of racial hierarchies across national contexts. We hope to submit the book to publishers in the fall of 2013. Princeton University Press and other publishers have expressed interest in the project, which has already led to the publication of a book, Responses to Stigmatization in Comparative Perspective (edited by Lamont and Mizrachi), and of two special issues of journals (Ethnic and Racial Studies (April 2012) and the DuBois Review (June 2012)).
The project will not have a set weekly or daily routine. In fact, tasks will vary from week to week, depending on the specific needs and challenges dictated by the production of chapters. Tasks carried by the BLISS Fellows would include:
These various tasks will expose undergraduates to many of the stages that are central to the production of social science scholarship. Students would also get ample exposure to the dynamics of international and collaborative research – to its challenges and benefits. Our team has been collaborating since 2006. We have a positive and productive team spirit and would welcome the opportunity to incorporate new undergraduates into our group. We are confident that this can be achieved easily. Two undergrads have been involved in the project for the past year (as WCFIA fellows) and they have greatly benefited from the experience. One of them, Veronique Irwin (a 2012 BLISS Fellow), is heading for graduate school in sociology. Participation in this project would help students develop their understanding of the process of data analysis and data reduction; of how an argument is produced from analyzed data; and of how to fine-tune the presentation of results in dialogue with relevant literatures. Students would thus learn how to be research producers, and not only consumers of research. They will also develop collaborative skills as well as exposure to comparative research beyond the US.
Note that the research team includes several graduate students who will be interacting regularly with the BLISS Fellow(s) by email and in person throughout the summer and will assist me in supervising their work. They will share an office, located across the hall from my office in William James Hall. This will facilitate training and collaboration.
A strong capacity to synthesize literature is preferred; and familiarity with Atlas.ti and Excel would be a plus, as would be basic statistical skills.
Mitchell website (FAS Psychology)
The Mitchell lab employs functional neuroimaging (fMRI) and behavioral methods to study social cognition. In particular we study how people infer the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others (i.e., how we mentalize), how people understand the self, and how people understand social groups and categories. Other topics of interest include the causes and neural mechanisms of prosocial behavior and determining how social value is computed and used to make decisions.
Students will complete a project that falls under the umbrella topic of social cognitive neuroscience. We have several ongoing lines of research (described below) and will do the best we can to match students with research based on project needs and student interest. This opportunity will provide undergraduates with a chance to participate in research firsthand, from the inception of a project through data analysis. Students will have the opportunity to discuss research ideas, design materials, run experiments (both behavioral and neuroimaging), assist with data collection, and observe data analysis. Students will also be exposed to the latest and most informative empirical and theoretical literature on their topic of study. In addition, students will gain the daily experience of working in a social cognitive neuroscience laboratory and interacting with graduate students, post-docs, and the primary investigator.
Self-Disclosure. Humans communicate about themselves quite often, for example, about our daily activities, about our likes and dislikes, our thoughts and dreams. We share this information with a wide range of audiences, not only with real humans, but also to a great extent through social media sites. The goal of this current study is to explore why humans so frequently share information about themselves and what role it plays in social interactions.
Reading and social cognition. Can reading literature affect a reader's social life? Some texts merely relay facts, but other texts provide readers with an intimate window into the minds of other people. Fiction, in particular, often allows readers to learn about the thoughts and behaviors of unfamiliar people, to see how dyads interact, and to experience foreign societies. Previous behavioral research finds a correlation between the amount of fiction people read and their social engagement, suggesting that reading fiction may in fact improve readers' social experiences. In this current study, we will test the hypothesis that reading literature, and fiction in particular, plays a causal role in enhancing social cognitive experiences.
Social working memory. Navigating the social world requires keeping in mind a dizzying array of information about the dispositions and mental states of other people. Failure to do so may lead us to make inadvertent disclosures or be unintentionally rude. The capacity to maintain and manipulate information in mind is known as working memory. While working memory has been studied for decades, only recently has the possibility of working memory specific to the social domain been considered. The goal of this project is to further investigate the cognitive and neural underpinnings of social working memory. We aim to determine whether social working memory is more efficient than canonical working memory, and if so, why.
Representations of personality. As social perceivers, we associate a great deal of unique information with each person we know, but how much of it do we bring to bear in any one situation? The first goal of this project is to determine which parts of the brain are responsible for representing the personalities of individuals. The second goal is to discover whether these representations of individuals are holistic or whether context tightly constrains what information is brought to mind during any particular social inference.
Students are likely to engage in a variety of efforts regardless of which projects they are involved with. In early phases of research, students will likely assist in the generation of stimuli such as faces (real and computer-generated) and creating online surveys or, skills allowing, writing programs for in-lab experiments. During the data-collection phase of a study, students will likely run behavioral participants, assist in running fMRI participants, and/or serve as a confederate (fake subject). In the final stages of a project, students will learn about the analysis of fMRI and behavioral data. At all stages of research, students will learn about substantive psychological topics under investigation and how we design experiments to address these issues.
The main prerequisite is for students to have an interest in psychology and neuroscience. Priority will be given to students who have completed Science of Living Systems 20 or Psychology 1. Experience with computer programming is a plus, but is not required.
Rogers website (HKS Center for Public Leadership)
My research uses behavioral science (psychology, behavioral economics) to develop ways to improve educational outcomes for students. My goal is to develop educational interventions that are effective, low cost, scalable, easily tested with randomized experiments, and psychologically interesting. For example, some of my work uses psychological levers (“nudges”) to improve the persistence of college students, graduation rates of summer school students, homework completion among college and high school students, parental involvement in elementary school students’ educational lives, and general “noncognitive” skills among high school students. I work in collaboration with both psychologists and behavioral economists at Harvard Business School, Notre Dame, UC Berkeley, Wharton, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford.
In the past, I have used this same “nudge” approach to increase voter turnout. Over 8 years, collaborators and I developed a half dozen or so interventions that, when combined, double or triple the impact per dollar spent on voter mobilization efforts (to read about how these were used in the 2010 and 2012 elections see here and here and here).
The BLISS Fellow will work on randomized field experiments that test educational interventions at summer schools. These interventions will be based on behavioral science insights, and will be designed to “nudge” students toward better educational outcomes. We will likely be conducting several of these large-scale field experiments this summer and through the next few years, so the BLISS undergraduate fellow may continue to work on these after the summer, if interested. The BLISS Fellow will learn about the psychology of behavior change and decision-making. S/he will learn about how to translate behavioral science into real world, scalable interventions that address important problems while also advancing basic science of human behavior (ie, learn about "nudges"). S/he will also learn about randomized controlled field experiments, which are an increasingly common and important tool for evaluating innovations and programs in a wide range of fields (economics, psychology, political science, marketing, management, and private sector). Based on the student's interests and academic goals, s/he may develop these summer projects into a senior thesis or independent study project. This experience will also prepare the student for graduate training in psychology, public policy, management, organizational behavior, behavioral economics, political science, or education. There are several possible research projects that the BLISS undergraduate student may help with. Two are described below.
Increasing Homework Completion. Research in cognitive and social psychology has found that simply thinking through the how, when, and where of an intention helps people follow through on the intended behavior. In a recent paper, we found that asking people how, when, and where they will go to their voting place more than doubled the impact of voter mobilization contacts (Nickerson and Rogers, 2010). This has now become standard practice in voter mobilization efforts, but little is known about how plan-making can be applied to educational settings. This project will examine three questions: (1) How effective can daily plan-making be at increasing homework completion? (2) Can people become better “planners” by reviewing their previous day’s plans before making that day’s plan? (3) How large of an effect does increased homework have on actual learning outcomes? These questions will be answered by conducting randomized experiments at local summer schools.
Leveraging Parent-Teacher-Student Communication to Improve Academic Performance. In this project, we will investigate how the content of teacher-parent communication affects parent-student communication and student achievement. Studying teacher-parent communication is attractive because it is a low-cost, easily implemented, and potentially underutilized teaching practice. Recent research has documented the potential of teacher-parent communication to increase student engagement and academic grades (Kraft & Daughtery, 2011; Bergman, 2012), but little is known about the mechanisms behind these effects or how to make teacher-parent communication most effective. In an experiment last summer we randomly assigned parents to one of three conditions. Those in the control condition received an introductory phone call from their child’s teacher. Those in the positive information condition received the same introductory phone call as well as weekly communications highlighting something that the student was doing well in class (behaviorally or academically). Those in the improvement information condition received the introductory phone call as well as weekly communications highlighting something the student could improve on in class (the results are not yet public, but are very exciting). This summer the BLISS student will help to conduct an extension of this project, thereby working on the forefront of educational interventions in a very real way.
The BLISS undergraduate fellow will work on-site with the actual school or educational organization with whom we are collaborating, administer the implementation of the project, collect and analyze data, brainstorm new research ideas, and review existing relevant literature. The student will also likely be exposed to several other projects I am working on related to the psychological dimensions of student motivation.
The student should be interested in psychology, decision-making, influence, and/or behavioral economics. The student should also be motivated, punctual, hardworking, and flexible.
Somerville website (FAS Psychology)
Research in the Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab (ANDL) combines psychological and neuroscientific levels of analysis to try to understand how the human brain supports the tremendous variety of emotional reactions and experiences humans engage with in everyday life. One arm of this research is focused on understanding how stable factors that vary across people, like trait anxiety, predict differential recruitment of brain systems important for emotion processing and regulation. Understanding the relationship between such factors and biased neural recruitment might inform how the functional integrity of these brain circuitries breaks down in clinical psychiatric illnesses.
A second arm of this research aims to understand how brain development during adolescence relates to common changes in emotional and social behavior that take place during this time of life. Adolescents differ from both children and adults in their daily emotional experiences, and the extent to which emotion influences their decisions. This line of research is aimed at informing how trajectories of brain development, and the influence of hormones during the second decade of life, might give rise to unique emotional behavior during adolescence. Ultimately, this developmental research is hoped to elucidate why adolescence is a period of the lifespan where mood and anxiety disorders tend to initially emerge.
The ANDL is planning to conduct several research studies during the summer months that focus on adolescent behavior and brain maturation. One project, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, aims to determine how emotional brain circuitry develops from late childhood to early adulthood. This project uses a combination of behavioral, physiological, and brain measures to link common changes in everyday emotional experience with experimental reactivity to emotional cues. Further, because brain function will be measured along with these emotional measures, the project is poised to determine how the activity, connections, and structural changes of the brain that take place between late childhood and adulthood relate to changes in emotional sensitivity. The data will be analyzed in a way that combines behavioral and brain measures to relate changes in the brain to changes in emotional sensitivity.
The study's hypotheses are based on a theoretical perspective developed in the laboratory that predicts that emotional processing and regulatory brain circuitry interact differently in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood due to properties of brain maturation that might sensitize emotion generation circuitry during the adolescent years. We will test this hypothesis in the present study with a large sample of healthy volunteer participants ranging in age from 8 to 22 years. Further, we will also assess how these trajectories of brain maturation relate to common everyday emotional experiences in hopes of uncovering relationships between brain function and everyday emotional behavior.
BLISS students will contribute to this study by working with other researchers in the lab to plan, carry out, and analyze data from this project. This project is being supervised by Professor Somerville, who will oversee the BLISS student and meet one-on-one with the student at least once per week to discuss goals and progress, and to address any issues that might arise in the research project. Daily mentorship will be provided by Professor Somerville and other members of the research team.
Students working on this projects can expect to contribute to the following aspects of the research: experimental testing of child, adolescent, and young adult research volunteers, assisting in operating an MRI brain scanner, organizing, compiling and cleaning data, helping to recruit research volunteers both at Harvard and other sites around the greater Boston area, working with parents and families by phone and email to facilitate their children's participation in the study, analyzing the data in teams to determine whether the study's hypotheses are supported, and discussing the study and future research directions with the lab.
This research opportunity will provide an intensive exposure to the everyday inner-workings of a psychology research lab. Academically, this experience is very valuable to students who are considering pursuing advanced study in Psychology or any field that uses experimental methods. Students who work on this project will gain exposure to each step of the research process, from brainstorming research ideas to gathering data to processing it to thinking about what it means. Therefore, this experience will build the student's credentials and insight into the field of Psychology and what it is like to have ownership over a research project.
Professionally, students will work toward mastering skills that are relevant for many careers. Students will hone their communication skills through their interactions with the research team, research collaborators and with study volunteers. Students will gain expertise in quantitative tasks that require maintaining a high-level understanding of the research project's objectives while also paying sharp attention to detail. Finally, students will engage in daily interaction with Professor Somerville and members of the research team, who can serve as valuable contacts and sources of guidance as the student considers the next stage of his or her career.
Students who are well-suited for this project will have a strong interest in psychology and/or neuroscience. Interpersonally, students must be comfortable with and, hopefully, enjoy working with children and teens. Students must be able to maintain a level of professionalism that is needed when interacting with children, teens, and parents in research settings. Computationally, it is desirable for students to have background in Excel, SPSS or other data management and analysis tools. Finally, it is important that the student who works on this project is able to complete tasks independently, have strong attention to detail, and work well as a member of a team.
Sommer website (FAS Romance Languages, AAAS)
As a humanist dedicated to expanding literacy and critical capacities, I have developed Pre-Texts, an arts-based literacy program for higher-order thinking and civic capacity building. The program, which uses a classic text as a prompt to create original works of art, is an approach to close reading and interpretation that is used both in Harvard College and in area public schools, through the Boston public school system. Pre-Texts' mission is to integrate the arts into academic learning in order to promote passionate engagement for teachers and students. It is appropriate for all levels and socio-economic environments because Pre-Texts takes advantage of local human resources and recycled materials.
The approach of Pre-Texts is quite simple but has profound results: It turns the conventional order of learning upside-down. Instead of beginning with elements of vocabulary and grammar, which can bore students and risk their dropping out, we begin with a creative challenge: Transform this text into your own work of art (painting, choreography, photo shoot, play, music, etc.). Students stay engaged and master the elements of reading in order to produce an original interpretation, which requires higher order thinking.
Our research opportunity now is to develop both short and long-term approaches to tracking and evaluating three inter-related dimensions of development that we have built into Pre-Texts:
There are several steps to the evaluation process, and the Fellow's role will depend on his/her experience and the stage the project has reached at the start of the BLISS program.
Undergraduate interns will have support from two talented and committed young scholars: Naseemah Mohamed, an expert in Pre-Texts who wrote her Social Studies/AAAS undergraduate thesis on her project in Zimbabwe, and who will be working at Oxford University, UK, to develop evaluation tools thanks to a Rhodes Fellowship; and Jeronimo Duarte Riascos, a third year Grad Student in RLL who has been working closely with colleagues at the HGSE to develop appropriate evaluation strategies for Pre-Texts. This is an interdisciplinary project that gives an opportunity for students to develop skills in statistical and qualitative analysis to produce far-reaching effects in public education. The corollary skills of collaboration with the target group to customize the evaluation tool will make the technical skills grounded for better effectiveness. While Pre-Texts is successfully used at Harvard, its user-friendly approach to high-order operations makes it especially attractive in developing areas of the world. Pre-Texts is now implemented throughout Latin America, with new sites developing in Africa and Asia. A solid and nuanced analysis of the appropriate conditions and effects of the program can help to support its development, and therefore to build broad-based capacities among under-privileged populations.
Warikoo website (GSE)
Each of Professor Natasha Kumar Warikoo's projects lies at the intersection of race, immigration, culture, inequality, and education. Her book, Balancing Acts: Youth Culture in the Global City (University of California Press 2011), analyzes how youth cultures among children of immigrants are related to their orientations toward schooling, through ethnographic, interview, and survey data in diverse New York and London high schools. One current project is a study of undergraduates attending elite British and American universities and their understandings of diversity, multiculturalism, and inequality in society. This project compares how national contexts, university practices, and race shape students' meaning-making related to diversity and excellence. Also, Warikoo is in the planning stages of a project on return migration to India. Given India's growing economy and the decline of opportunities in the United States, migrants and their children are increasingly seeing greater opportunities in India. This phenomenon cuts across class lines. This project has two aims. First, it will develop an ethnographic account of the increasing return of Indian immigrants to India. Second, it will develop theory on how and when immigrants make decisions about going home—either temporarily or permanently. Lastly, Warikoo's study of school-related decision-making among immigrant parents seeks to understand the process by which immigrant parents across class lines make decisions about schools when more than one school option is available, through charter schools, private schools, religious schools, or school choice policies in urban school districts.
BLISS participants will work on the project on immigrant parents and school choice. The study will analyze sources of information that parents access, including social networks, technology, achievement data, and more, as well as access to those sources, and how the use of those sources varies by national origin and by class. The study necessarily includes an inquiry into how immigrant families choose or otherwise end up in the neighborhoods in which they live. During BLISS participating students will work with Professor Warikoo to develop a research strategy for the project. This includes: (1) conducting a review of related research and of school choice programs across the country; (2) developing an interview protocol in collaboration with Professor Warikoo; (3) recruiting interview participants, setting up interviews, and conducting pilot interviews in Greater Boston; and (4) transcribing (and translating, as appropriate) and analyzing the interviews.
Professor Warikoo will train students to set up, conduct, and analyze qualitative research, especially interviews. In addition, students will learn about the research process, as they will be starting on the project at a relatively early stage. Finally, students will gain first-hand knowledge of immigrant communities in Greater Boston. Interested students are likely to have the option to continue with the project in the fall after the BLISS program ends.
Given that students will be interviewing immigrant parents in Greater Boston, ability to converse fluently in a language commonly spoken in the area is extremely helpful. This includes Amharic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish, or Vietnamese. Students should be careful listeners and feel comfortable and excited to interview strangers. A background in the social sciences is useful, to facilitate a deeper understanding of the overall research questions of the project.
Warneken website (FAS Psychology)
One of the most striking features of humans is our ability to learn from others through imitation and teaching. This has been called the “cultural intelligence hypothesis”: learning how to use artifacts, how to speak the local language, what food to eat, etc., heavily depends on the ability to acquire knowledge from the cultural group into which a child is born. To achieve this, humans have sophisticated social-cognitive skills that allow young children to learn effectively from others. Therefore, an important line of research is to investigate the social-cognitive skills that enable children to learn from others and investigate what motivates children to learn from others.
In one project, we look at children’s imitative learning. This study is designed to examine how children learn from others in an area that is relevant to our evolutionary history: learning about food items. In this study, we present children with novel foods and examine how children's observations of a demonstrator eating the food items might influence their choices. We have already collected data from a similar study with chimpanzees, and aim to conduct a comparative study with children at 3 to 5 years of age to look at species-similarities and differences. BLISS Fellows will help conduct the child study as well as analyze the data. Moreover, they will have the opportunity to compare this data set to the one collected with chimpanzees. This will give the fellows opportunities to work with children, to understand how psychological data is collected and analyzed, and to learn more about theory in developmental psychology and human evolution.
In a complementary project, we will investigate children’s desire to be taught. Specifically, children do not just passively watch others and imitate them, but often actively request to be taught. Therefore, we are interested in finding out how selective they are in their search of potential teachers. What do children look for in a potential teacher, and which factors contribute to successful learning? This study explores how young children think about and appreciate teaching, particularly when they are presented with a novel problem-solving task. In this study 3- to 5-year-old children are shown a puzzle box containing a hidden reward and are offered assistance to open it by two experimenters. One experimenter merely retrieves the reward for the child, whereas the other teaches the child how to open the box. After both experimenters’ performances, the child is presented with a new puzzle box, similarly hiding a reward, and prompted to seek assistance from one of the experimenters. With this study, we assess whether children prefer to be taught a skill (how to open boxes) or simply helped to achieve a concrete goal (obtaining the reward).
In a third project, we investigate whether we can teach children to be altruistic. Our previous research shows a striking developmental increase in children’s willingness to share resources such as candy with others. Specifically, when they are asked to divide pieces of candy between themselves and an anonymous other child, young children at 3 to 5 years of age keep most for themselves, whereas slightly older children give away about half of their resource. This raises the question as to whether young children are more selfish or are simply unable to take the perspective of the recipient child. This summer we are planning to conduct a study in which we assess whether providing information about the other child induces children to share more. For example, we will test whether showing a picture of the other child will induce empathy in the younger children and result in greater sharing.
Our studies will be conducted in the testing rooms of the Social Cognitive Development Group at the Department of Psychology in William James Hall, as well as in public parks in Cambridge and Boston. We conduct studies typically in teams of three researchers, one graduate student or senior lab member together with two undergraduate research assistants. We have run annual lab-internal summer internship programs since the summer of 2010, and were able to attract about 10 students from within Harvard or interns from abroad. The summer is the most productive time for data collection, and it is thus the most rewarding time for everyone involved, enabling students to participate in research projects from the planning phase all the way to the analysis of data.
Undergraduate students will gain experience in designing and conducting experimental studies with children ranging from 3 to 10 years of age. All testing sessions are videotaped for further data analysis, and undergraduate students will thus be trained on video coding using the software INTERACT, as well as on basic descriptive statistics and analyses to establish interrater reliability.
The PI, as well as a postdoc or a graduate student, will supervise students. Our lab has a full-time lab manager to help with administrative tasks and organize the summer internship program. In addition to working on the child studies, students participate in bi-weekly lab meetings to discuss publications in psychology, primatology, and anthropology and to present ongoing studies; they have the option to write a literature review or study proposal at the end of the summer.
An interest in psychology and working with children is essential. Previous experience in either area (or both) is a plus.