BLISS 2015 Project Descriptions
Email Jennifer Shephard ( with questions.

Click arrows to learn more about each project (19 total).

Conceptual development in children (psychology, cognitive development)
Susan Carey, FAS Psychology

Carey website

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 each 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 2015 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 decide yes; some decide no. Both outcomes are consistent with the goals of the internship. 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 20 year period, and the internship program applications from all over the world. Last summer included an intern from Korea and one from Hungary. Five BLISS students worked in the lab over the past four summers, and all gave the program a thumbs-up review.

Skills needed
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 the skills needed for the projects, and guide their reading of the relevant background literature.

Limits to arbitrage: Evidence from event studies on Siamese twin stocks (finance)
Holger Spamann, Harvard Law School

Spamann website

Siamese twin stocks are separate equities with identical cash flow and control rights, such as the stocks of Unilever plc (UK) and Unilever NV (Netherlands). As they offer the same rights, Siamese twin stocks should always trade at identical prices under the Efficient Capital Markets Hypothesis (ECMH). That their prices often diverge by up to 15% for months or years has been one of the foremost pieces of evidence against the ECMH.

In this project, I examine changes in Siamese twin prices rather than levels. Concretely, I examine the reaction of prices and price differentials to earnings surprises, the fruit fly of market efficiency research. If the levels diverge, then it would not be surprising if the changes differed as well. For example, the price of one stock might go up while the other, higher one stays flat. This would undermine the use of stock price reactions to infer the value of legal and other governance changes (so-called event studies), a very popular method in finance and law. My preliminary results indicate, however, that Siamese twin stocks do indeed move in tandem. This is puzzling. We usually think that rapid stock price movements such as these are driven by “smart money.” The smart money, however, surely understands that the cash flow and control rights and hence the “fundamental value” of the two stocks are identical. If the levels of the prices are different, however, then one is overpriced relative to the other, and vice versa. So why should they move in parallel rather than converge? I want to examine if a well-known mathematical model of stock trading with limited capital and hence limited arbitrage can make sense of this finding.

You can help with the following two steps of the process:

  1. Check the code that downloads, cleans, merges, and prepares the various data sources (mostly Compustat and IBES). Data cleaning is the most labor-intensive part of most empirical projects. Fortunately, another RA has already done this. You would only need to check his code. In the process, you could familiarize yourself with the data.
  2. Analyze and visualize the data. We want to see reactions of price and price differentials in various subgroups. In particular, we need to know if the parallel movement on average (my preliminary finding) masks divergences in individual cases (e.g., stocks A and B could always move in opposite directions but both have zero movement on average). I welcome your suggestions for any additional tests, graphs, etc.

If you can, and want to, think through the trading model with me you can work on an extension, if appropriate. The more responsibility you want to take, the better. If your contribution warrants it, I would be happy to make you a co-author.

Skills needed
Some background and interest in finance and some programming skills are essential, the more the better. Mathematical modeling abilities would be helpful.

Army STARRS: Army study to assess risk and resilience in servicemembers (empirical clinical psychology)
Matthew K. Nock, FAS Psychology

Laboratory for Clinical and Developmental Research website

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US and around the world; yet, we do not yet understand who is most at-risk, and what factors cause suicidal behavior. In addition, the suicide rate among Army soldiers has increased dramatically in recent years. To address these concerns, researchers at Harvard University are working with investigators from several other universities and government agencies to conduct the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). We are examining both factors that increase the risk of suicide and related mental health problems (depression, PTSD, substance use) and those that help protect a Soldier’s mental health.

The Army STARRS project was launched in 2009 and includes several years’ worth of data collected from soldiers and their supervisors and family members. We are getting ready to launch a new round of data collection and are looking for students to work with us over the summer to help with this effort. In this placement, students would work with the Army STARRS investigators and gain firsthand experience: helping to develop the survey instruments, learning how to conduct interviews with soldiers, and assisting in pilot testing the data collection instruments. This placement is especially relevant for students interested in careers in clinical psychology, psychiatry, or related disciplines.

As a BLISS student, you will participate in various aspects of the clinical research process through your active involvement in the research of our psychology laboratory. All students will first complete comprehensive human subjects training to learn about the history of research ethics as well as appropriate ways to interact with human subjects and the protection and careful use of research data. Then, through participating in our research study and attending weekly lab meetings, you will learn how: research ideas are generated and specific hypotheses formed, research studies are designed to test these hypotheses, various research methods are used depending on the question addressed, data are collected and analyzed, and results are presented at meetings and in scientific publications.

The work that you would do on the Army STARRS project will involve:

Skills needed
Ideally, students should have classroom-based course experience that has provided an introduction to the theories and methods that guide research in clinical psychology, such as Introduction to Psychology and Abnormal Psychology. We expect to build on the foundation students received in those courses by applying what was learned to the conduct of research on psychopathology and other behavior problems.

How infants use language to understand other people’s goals (psychology, psycholinguistics, language acquisition)
Jesse Snedeker, FAS Psychology

Snedeker website

Language is not one representation but many. A spoken utterance can be characterized as a string of phonemes, a nested set of prosodic phrases, a series of lexical items, a hierarchically-organized syntactic tree, a configuration of semantic relations, or the impetus for inferences about the speaker’s intentions. A fundamental challenge for the psychology of language is to understand the relations between these representations: the degree to which they are distinct, the ways in which they constrain one another, and the role that these connections play in language acquisition. My lab explores these questions with a primary focus on semantic representations and their relation to syntax and pragmatics. Semantic representations are central to cognitive science because they provide a window into our generative conceptual capacity. Language allows us to combine concepts from diverse cognitive domains. Understanding how meaning is encoded in language is central to understanding conceptual combination.

Our approach to these questions is experimental and developmental. The study of semantics has been based largely on the judgments of trained linguists. Where these judgments are unclear, controversial or uninformative, theories diverge. By using a broader range of methods with diverse populations, we can gain additional insight into the processes that give rise to meaning and the representations they create. Developmental work is critical for two reasons: 1) Adult language processing is complex and interactive, by observing language at an earlier state we may gain a deeper understanding of its architecture; 2) Developmental studies allow us to explore the relation between language and conceptual development. If the semantics of external languages build on a prior language of thought, then we would expect many aspects of semantic structure to develop early and constrain language acquisition. In contrast, if external language is the sole mechanism of domain-general conceptual combination, then we might expect conceptual and linguistic development to be closely yoked.

Professor Snedeker’s research examines on how children learn their native language. Projects in the lab explore 1) How children learn new words and grammatical structures; 2) How children (and adults) construct the meanings of utterances as they are hearing them spoken; 3) The circumstances under which language is used to encode internal thoughts; 4) The connections between linguistic meaning (semantics), linguistic form (syntax), and the pragmatic inferences that we draw on the basis of language. Snedeker's group studies these questions using the methods of cognitive psychology (eyetracking, concept learning & priming) and linguistics (judgment tasks & cross-linguistic comparisons). While they test a wide range of populations (children with autism, adults, and children who have been internationally adopted), most of the projects that are planned for this summer will be with typically-developing infants, preschoolers and school-aged children.

Since 2001, Snedeker (with Susan Carey) has run a summer internship program for college students focusing on developmental psychology. The BLISS interns would be incorporated into this program. Each student is jointly supervised by Prof Snedeker and by an advanced graduate student or postdoctoral fellow (their mentor). Before the program begins, the mentor and professor have agreed on a project that is suitable as a summer project (one that is likely to yield informative results over the course of the summer). This arrangement allows graduate students to gain valuable experience serving as a research mentor and ensures that the student interns have a good experience as well. Typically 8 to 12 students choose to mentor interns each summer (half in the Carey lab and half in the Snedeker lab).

The BLISS fellow will work with a postdoctoral mentor on a project about how infants who are just learning to talk incorporate their knowledge of the world with their knowledge of language. Specifically, this research concerns what very young children (and adults) know about verbs that describe the ‘manner’ of an action or its ‘result’ (i.e. goal or outcome.) We know that children at this age know a great deal about how people tend to act (for instance, they move in ways that help them achieve their goals quickly, they tend to maintain the same preferences over time, etc.) However, we don’t know when or whether children incorporate this knowledge about actions into language learning. This question is tested with an imitation paradigm, in which infants are invited to copy an experimenter’s action after hearing a verbal description of it. By coding which parts of the action the children include or leave out, we can draw conclusions about a child’s theory of the sentence’s meaning.

The mentor will provide readings and explains the rationale behind the study, and provide guidance for the intern’s activities. The interns are involved in all aspects of the research (recruitment, making stimuli, testing children and adults, coding data, entering data, and assisting with data analysis). They also attend 3 weekly meetings: 1) an intern reading group in which they discuss papers and engage in debates on theoretical issues in developmental psychology; 2) the regular lab meeting in which they hear presentations by postdocs, research associates, and graduate students on on-going projects; 3) individual project meetings between Professor Snedeker and each intern-mentor pair.

In the second or third week of the internship program, each intern gives a short presentation on his or her project at the lab meeting. In the last week of the program, each intern presents a poster on the results of the study they carried out during the summer to an audience consisting of the other interns, the graduate student mentors, the faculty sponsors, and other researchers in the developmental group.

Skills needed
An active interest in working with children, some background in linguistics and psychology, a high degree of
independence, problem-solving skills and the ability and interest to quickly acquire new skills.

Computational tool development for experimental political science (political science, computer programming)
Ryan Enos and Dustin Tingley, FAS Government

Enos website; Tingley website

Professors Enos and Tingley are experimental political scientists. A single BLISS Fellow will split her or his time between two different projects, thus gaining exposure to a wide variety of research methods.

Professor Tingley is interested in ways that text data can be visualized and analyzed. In politics, as well as economics and the humanities, there are increasing amounts of this type of data. But analyzing it can be difficult. His hope is to help to overcome these barriers through the use of machine learning tools and data visualization.

Professor Tingley seeks support in programming in the R and D3.js (javascript) languages. This will be on a project that will make visualizations of results from the Structural Topic Model ( which has been used to analyze text data from a variety of sources. Additional work on some web-scraping projects will also be likely. 

Professor Enos is interested in experimental tests of the geography of intergroup relations. He seeks assistance designing and building computer-based experiments and data collection techniques. 

Professor Enos seeks a student with web-based programming skills and an interest social science.  Daily activities will include consulting with Enos and his graduate students on project designs, building tools, and analyzing data.  Econometric training is a bonus, but not required.  

While separate projects, they 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. (Some of their previous BLISS Fellows have gone on to work for companies like Microsoft and Facebook.)

Skills needed
Some experience with computer programming is a prerequisite, including knowledge of programs R and D3.js, though knowledge of Python also a plus. We also expect that the student will develop more of these skills over the summer.

The economic and political impacts of the Vietnam war (economics, data science, political science)
Melissa Dell, FAS Economics

Dell website

My research examines long-run economic development, seeking to better understand the massive divergence in global incomes that has occurred over the past two centuries. While average incomes in some regions have grown by more than 20-fold, other areas have stagnated, with poverty and insecurity remaining pervasive. In particular, I focus on the role of political and institutional variables in generating persistent economic disparities. Methodologically, my work relies on econometric and statistical modeling, the collection of detailed archival data, and in depth knowledge about the local and historical context.

The BLISS fellow will work on a project examining the effects of the Vietnam War on economic and institutional outcomes in Vietnam. This question is of central importance for understanding the economic trajectory of Vietnam more specifically and for providing insight into the potential long-run consequences of U.S. involvement in foreign insurgencies more generally.  During the war, the U.S. government used a Bayesian statistical model and detailed economic, political, and security measures at the neighborhood and village level to group over 10,000 neighborhoods and 2,000 villages in South Vietnam into five security classes (A, B, C, D, and E). Military interventions and economic development aid were then allocated based on the security grade that each neighborhood and village received. We exploit the discontinuity between being assigned to a higher or lower security grade to identify the short and long-run causal effects of military intervention and economic development aid during the Vietnam War.

The logic for the identification of causal effects is as follows. Neighborhoods that just barely receive an A security grade are observationally equivalent to neighborhoods that just barely receive a B grade, because whether a neighborhood falls just on one side or the other of the threshold between an A and a B grade depends on arbitrary aspects of the scoring (i.e. precise weights used) and not on characteristics of the neighborhood that could themselves affect long-run outcomes. The same is true for the thresholds between a B and a C, a C and a D, and a D and an E. This makes it feasible to identify the causal impacts of receiving more military and development interventions by comparing neighborhoods that just barely received a lower security grade – and hence also experienced more interventions - to observationally equivalent neighborhoods that just barely received a higher security grade.

The analysis will examine both short and long-run outcomes of U.S. military and development interventions in Vietnam. The immediate security, institutional, and economic aftermaths of these interventions will be examined using data collected from the U.S. National Archives and the South Vietnamese Secret Police Database. Medium term outcomes will be measured using data about agricultural output and collectivization that we obtained from previously classified Vietnamese Communist Party documents from the 1980s and 90s. Long-run economic outcomes including income per capita, poverty, inequality, industrialization, productivity, investment, access to financial markets, and market participation are drawn from recent household living standard surveys, enterprise surveys, population and agricultural censuses, and provincial yearbooks. Data on long-run political outcomes such as corruption, security of property rights, and responsiveness of local government officials to the needs of households and businesses are taken from detailed surveys of households and firms about their interactions with government officials. The BLISS fellow will also check that pre-period outcomes such as agricultural output and land inequality are balanced using 1950s data from archives at Michigan State, Cornell and Stanford, as well as information from the French colonial period.

The above data have already been collected, digitized, checked for transcription errors, and - when necessary - translated from Vietnamese to English. Thus, the project is at a stage where the BLISS fellow will be able to focus primarily on data analysis, as opposed to the lengthy process of locating historical data and converting it into a machine-readable format.  Nevertheless, the BLISS fellow will spend the first two weeks of the fellowship searching for additional information about the allocation of U.S. military forces and U.S. economic aid in the digitized collections of the U.S. National Archives and the Texas Tech Vietnam War Digital Archive, in order to gain some exposure to this part of the research process.

For the remainder of the summer, the BLISS fellow will focus on data analysis and modeling. Depending on the skills and interests of the student, analyses may including data plotting and regression in R or Stata, programming of Bayesian statistical models and simulation exercises in R, geospatial modeling and mapping using Python and ArcGIS, data parsing using Python, or batch optical character recognition using Python and ABBYY.  

At the end of each day, the BLISS fellow will be expected to send the PI a summary of the work completed that day. At the beginning of each day, the BLISS fellow will discuss the work for that day and any difficulties met during the previous day with someone from the project team. The PI or an experienced research assistant will be available at all times to answer questions.

During the summer, my team of research assistants works together in a collaborative environment that includes weekly group meetings for all team members, in which insights are shared across projects. There are also project-specific meetings between research assistants, graduate students, and myself on a near-daily basis. Last year, we had 14 full and part-time research assistants and interns from top universities in the U.S., Asia, and Latin America who regularly attended these meetings. Overall, this fosters a highly collaborative environment where students learn both from each other and from interactions with myself and other faculty collaborators.

Skills needed
Some experience with programming – in a language such as Python, R, or C – is required. This could be acquired by successful completion of CS50, or through past work experience. Completion of an introductory statistics or econometrics course is preferred but not required. Vietnamese language skills are not required.

The cognitive and neural underpinnings of punishment (moral psychology, moral cognition, cognitive neuroscience)
Justin Martin and Fiery Cushman, FAS Psychology

Moral Psychology Research Lab website

The Moral Psychology Research Lab aims to organize the astonishing complexity of moral judgment around basic functional principles. Much of it is motivated by a simple idea: Because we use punishments and rewards to modify others' behavior, one function of morality is to teach others how to behave, while another complementary function is to learn appropriate patterns of behavior. In general, our research asks questions like: Why do we sometimes punish accidents? And, when do we think it is OK to sacrifice one person for the good of many? We are interested in understanding the cognitive processes that give rise to moral judgment, their development, and their evolutionary history. In answering these questions, we employ behavioral experiments—both in the lab and online—as well as functional neuroimaging (fMRI) and psychophysiology.

Students will have the opportunity to participate in the Moral Psychology Research Lab’s summer internship program. This program is focused on giving students a rewarding, full-time research experience. Principally, students will have an opportunity to be involved in all aspects of research: Conceptualizing relevant research questions, designing experiments targeted toward specific research questions, conducting behavioral and neuroimaging experiments, analyzing data (both behavioral and neuroimaging) and/or data write-up. Because projects are at various stages of development, students can participate in both beginning and ending stages of research projects simultaneously. In addition to conducting research, students will participate in weekly discussions with mentors and other interns motivated by current papers on moral psychology designed toward developing a sophisticated and critical eye for evaluating research.

Specific projects that students may be involved with include:

Pedagogy and punishment. From an evolutionary standpoint, why do we punish others? What causes me to want to harm a stranger who pushes into me on the street, even though I’ll never meet them again? One reason why evolution might have favored a psychology of punishment is to teach others: That is, we punish others so they treat us better. This project will focus on whether or not pedagogy plays a role in punishment. Using both in-lab and online methods, we will construct situations in which participants either have an opportunity to learn or teach through punishment.

The effortful nature of moral judgments. Moral decisions largely depend on two sources of information: Intentions (e.g. What an agent is trying to do?) and outcomes (e.g. The good or bad consequences that an agent brings about). A large, on-going project within the lab is to understand the cognitive and neural processes that operate over representations of these two factors. That is, we seek to understand how people process information about intentions and outcomes and incorporate that information into a moral judgment. One aspect of this large project focuses on the degree to which processing information about intentions versus outcomes requires different levels of deliberative, effortful processing. Understanding this will potentially shed light on the different functional goals that these processes are targeted towards.

The neural representation of causality. When deciding whether someone who causes harm is worthy of punishment, one factor that influences our decision is how causally responsible they are for harm. Is there a clear connection between them and a bad outcome? This study will investigate how people process sequences of causal events. That is, we are interested in understanding how the brain makes sense of the ways in which people cause events to occur. We will use fMRI to investigate what areas of the brain process causality, how this is accomplished and how these regions interact with regions responsible for making punishment decisions.

Punitive encouragement of cooperation. At the broadest level, punishment has the potential to motivate cooperation among unrelated and anonymous strangers. Specifically, one reason why evolution might have favored a psychology that supports punishment is because punishment can encourage others to be helpful and cooperative, benefitting our entire species. Here, using behavioral economics and game theory, we investigate the extent to which punishment can lead to increased cooperation and what factors influence whether punishment will be a successful strategy or not.

Across all of these projects, daily activities may involve:

Getting involved in research as an undergrad is an invaluable experience, one that all members of the Moral Psychology Research Lab had. Understanding the scientific process and seeing one’s own ideas tested and brought to life is exciting and important, both for those interested in science as a career and those who do not envision such a path. Our goal with the summer internship program is to instill an appreciation for how science is conducted, the benefits of a scientific mindset and the joys of research. The entire lab has benefited from exceptional experiences getting deeply involved in science early on in our careers and we seek to give that opportunity to others.

Skills needed
The only requirement is an interest in psychology and/or cognitive neuroscience. Many interns have a background in cognitive science, psychology or cognitive neuroscience, though this is not necessary. Experience with data analysis and/or computer programming is a plus, though not required. Interns will be taught all skills needed to be successful in this opportunity.

Social cognitive neuroscience (social cognition, cognitive neuroscience, moral psychology)
Jorie Koster-Hale and Fiery Cushman, FAS Psychology

Moral Psychology Research Lab website

For humans, success and even survival depend upon our ability to guess what others will do before they do it. Social prospection, the ability to reason about the possible future actions of others, relies on ability to make inferences about an internal, unobservable causal structure: goals and beliefs, preferences and personality traits. In the Moral Psychology Research Lab we are interested in understanding the cognitive and neural processes that give rise to this kind of complex social decision making, including moral judgment and theory of mind.

Over the last fifteen years, an impressive body of evidence has demonstrated that both mental state inference and prospection recruit a specific and reliable group of brain regions. Yet, while we have a sophisticated understanding of which parts of the brain support social inference, we have remarkably little insight into how these neural substrates function at a computational level. This research project aims to fill that gap.

Using theories drawn from other areas of cognitive neuroscience, we will design, pilot, run, and analyze a series of experiments designed to probe the neural basis of our ability to think about the minds of other people. Specifically, we will adapt the predictive coding framework, a computational approach that has proven transformative in other cognitive domains from reward learning to vision. Predictive coding models posit that the brain generates continuous predictions of upcoming events, and then adjusts these predictions by computing an error signal that tracks deviations between predicted and observed events. This project will rigorously test a predictive coding model of social decision-making, by testing (a) whether there are distinct populations of neurons supporting future predictions and update errors within regions supporting social inference, (b) if these populations track information about multiple possible future events, and (c) how information flows between regions during online social inference.

Your work would include learning background about the field (reading and discussing papers), designing experimental stimuli (writing stories, finding pictures, possibly coding presentation scripts), recruiting and scheduling participants, getting certified to run the fMRI machine, helping to run experiments (including collecting fMRI data), doing data analysis and presentation, and potentially taking the lead on future experiments. Additionally, you will attend the lab’s meetings, talks of interest, and an undergraduate research seminar hosted by the lab. Most students contribute substantially enough to become an author on the paper.

Skills needed
Excitement about psychology and neuroscience, and an interest in doing hands-on work. Priority will be given to students who have completed Science of Living Systems 20 or Psychology 1. A background in re-enforcement learning, computational modeling, Matlab, or R is welcome but not required.

Dynamics of national attachment in the United States (sociology)
Bart Bonikowski, FAS Sociology

Bonikowski website

My work examines the role of meaning-making in politics. Among my primary research interests is the question of how different segments of a given national population vary in their understanding of the nation and how these competing perceptions affect political attitudes and behaviors. I have previously explored this question using cross-national survey data, but am now pursuing three new projects on the topic: a study of the affective dimensions of nationalist beliefs using online survey experiments and physiological data collected in the laboratory setting; a project tracing the daily fluctuations in levels of U.S. national identification using all public tweets posted since 2010; and a mixed-methods study comparing national sentiments across ethnic minority groups in the U.S.

The BLISS participant will have the opportunity to join the project on the dynamics of national attachment. The project uses Twitter data to systematically track daily fluctuations in American collective identification over the period of four years, from 2010 to 2014. The primary descriptive task is to understand what kinds of social, political, and economic events produce spikes in national consciousness over time. Such spikes, however, are likely to vary in their durability and symmetry: some periods of increased national attachment may be more fleeting than others and some may come on more suddenly than others. Understanding this variation and explaining it with reference to different types of nation-relevant events is the second objective of the project. Finally, the degree to which any event produces a surge in national self-consciousness depends in part on how people understand their nation, which in turn is likely to differ across different regions of the United States. Our third objective, then, is to understand the geographic variation in the dynamics of American national attachment.

The internship opportunity is designed to give the BLISS fellow a comprehensive overview of social scientific research. The fellow will have the opportunity to participate in all stages of the research process, including preparing literature reviews, developing a research design, collecting social media data, cleaning and analyzing data, and producing conference presentations and scholarly manuscripts. The fellow will also be given access to past grant proposals and IRB applications used in the development of the project. Extensive mentorship will be provided by me and other students working on the project; at the same time, however, the BLISS fellow will be granted considerable autonomy in his or her work. The research team will meet weekly to discuss the progress of the study. Upon the completion of the BLISS program, the fellow will have the option of applying for a paid research position.

Skills needed
Ideally, the BLISS fellow would have experience with data cleaning and basic statistical analyses in Stata or R (running descriptive statistics and OLS regressions would be a good baseline skill set). Knowledge of more advanced statistical methods and Python programming skills would be an asset. Finally, familiarity with conducting literature searches and producing annotated bibliographies and literature reviews would be helpful.

Studies of politics, policy, and public opinion (political science, public policy, race, genomics)
Jennifer Hochschild, FAS Government & African and African American Studies

Hochschild website

Politics and ideology of genomic science. Based on a national survey, elite interviews, coded media reports, and other evidence, my co-author (Maya Sen, of HKS) and I are writing a book about the ways in which Americans are coming to understand, evaluate, and use genomic science in the public arena.  We focus on three arenas: (a) use of genomics to explore the meaning of “race,” group categories, and individual ancestry;  (b) use of genomics in the criminal justice system through forensic biobanks, familial searching, and DNA tests aimed at exoneration; and (3) use of genomics in the medical and science arena to understand hereditary traits and diseases, and to diagnose or prescribe treatments where relevant. The medical arena includes pre-natal and post-natal testing, biobanks, and research on genetic contributors to everything from aggression to mental illness.

We are studying the views and preferences of the American public, governmental actors, the media, and scientific experts. The book is organized around the political and policy implications of the intersection of two dimensions: technology optimism vs. pessimism, and genetic determinism vs. environmental causes or free will. There are three projects to complete over the summer:

  1. The BLISS student will help us with elite interviews. We have identified most of the subjects; the tasks are to help me set up, do background research on, and participate in the interviews themselves, at least those (the majority) in the Boston area. The RA will also transcribe the interviews, and help me develop a coding scheme for evaluating the 75 or so completed or new interviews. This may involve use of qualitative coding software.
  2. The BLISS student will do one of two literature reviews (we have not decided which—it could depend on the student’s preference). One is to organize and make sense of various disciplines’ use of the concept of “technology optimism/pessimism,” a.k.a. “risk tolerance/aversion.” A variant of this concept appears in psychology, sociology, economics, cultural studies, even political science – but each set of scholars understands something slightly different and uses a different evidence base.  We need a clear map of the various uses and empirical studies.  Alternatively, the second literature search would be on various disciplines and media treatment of the issue of heritability of traits and behaviors.  Without going too far into the details of the science itself, we need a clear mapping of research on whether such phenomena as aggression, violence, sexual orientation, intelligence, musical ability, athletic ability, obesity, drug addiction, and alcoholism are inherited, or responses to social conditions, or in some sense freely chosen.  In this lit review, we also are interested in the ideological valence of various authors or positions on these sensitive questions.
  3. The BLISS student will help to develop a new survey focused around the topic of genetic determinism/social construction/free will. We will apply for funding to do the survey once we have a basic design – so the student will search iPoll and other sources for extant questions, help us to write new questions, test question wording using Qualtrics software and MTurk samples, and do basic analyses of the resulting pretest.

Political and policy disputes within racial or ethnic groups.  This will involve a survey of ten metropolitan areas in the United States (if funded – application is pending), and case studies in four large metro areas.  It is co-authored with Vesla Weaver (Yale University). The issue is how intra-group differences, especially but not only involving class-based inequality, are playing out in specific policy and political contexts.  We are studying policing in New York City, pension reform in Chicago, gentrification in Atlanta, and treatment of undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles.  The survey will examine perceptions of discrimination, views about social and tax policies, views on local political disputes, and perceptions of other groups and classes; it will be evenly divided among non-Hispanic whites, blacks, and Hispanics of all races (English and Spanish speaking).  The case studies will involve several weeks in each metro area after preliminary research, with interviews, attendance at meetings and other events, and examination of pertinent documents.

The goal of this project is to understand and explain when, how, and why disputes within  racial or ethnic groups become important in the context of traditional patterns of inter-group conflict.  We will also seek to explain electoral outcomes, policy patterns, and institutional developments as affected by class and other conflicts within racial or ethnic groups.

The central task will be to help us prepare for, and to participate in (if desired), site visits to the four metro areas of study. That is, the BLISS student will evaluate media reports, academic studies, and organizational data on the four policy arenas described above (policing, pension reform, gentrification, treatment of undocumented immigrants) in the four relevant locations. The student will help to identify appropriate subjects for interviews, and do background research on those subjects. The student will also try to identify events that we should attend while in the case study metro areas, and other forms of documentation or evidence that we should examine. If it is feasible and desirable, the student will accompany Prof. Weaver or myself on some or all of one or more site visits – to help with interviews, make detailed observations and field notes, and otherwise share in the research task.

If the student has quantitative analytic skills, as we hope, he or she can help to analyze several surveys that we have already conducted on this topic, and/or help us finish setting up and beginning to analyze the new survey for which we are now requesting funding.

Skills needed
Ability to identify, summarize, and evaluate academic literatures (after guidance on how to find relevant materials). The mental discipline to develop a coding scheme (with guidance) and use it to develop systematic analyses of media and other reports. Ideally, quantitative and software skills to develop a Qualtric survey, implement it on MTurk, do basic analyses of the results, and write up the findings.

Application of mindfulness and cognitive style theories to research problems in clinical psychology (psychology)
Ellen Langer, FAS Psychology

Langer website

The major aim of this particular research program is to assess the interrelations between mindfulness (generally defined as the intentional, accepting, and non-judgmental focus of attention on one’s thoughts and feelings) and cognitive style (defined as a characteristic self-consistent mode of functioning throughout an individual’s perceptual, cognitive, and intellectual activities that impacts additional aspects of his or her physical, emotional, and social functioning). The first construct is examined through Langer’s socio-cognitive mindfulness, which is conceptualized as a heightened state of living in the moment characterized by novelty seeking, engagement, novelty producing, and flexibility. Prior research has indicated that those high on mindfulness exhibit greater physical, psychological, social, and occupational wellbeing. The second construct is studied through the field dependence-independence (FDI) cognitive style, which describes individual differences in whether, in space perception, people use cues from the visual field (field dependence, FD) or from their own bodies (field independence, FI). Previous research has indicated that FD individuals typically exhibit a global body concept, a limited sense of separate identity, and an unusual sensitivity to the social surround whereas FI individuals characteristically show an articulated body concept, a sense of separate identity, and a greater ability in analytic tasks. While these constructs have been applied to all subfields of psychology, the studies proposed here (with bearing on the general issue of whether mindfulness represents a state or trait) have specific relevance to the subfield of clinical psychology.

Students are invited to participate in any of the following studies or, in light of our belief in the synergistic nature of teaching and research, in a study of their own choosing on a problem of particular interest to them. The following studies (that utilize a variety of methods including laboratory experiments, field studies, and survey methods) are in different stages of development so that a student can opt to obtain experience in a particular method and/or in more general study design, data collection, data analysis, and the writing up of a final manuscript. Students will be assigned weekly research-oriented tasks (e.g., data collection on x number of subjects, coding and entering data into a computerized statistical program, writing up of a section of an empirical article) that they will discuss in weekly meetings with their mentor. In cases where students make a substantive contribution to a study, we will include them as a co-author, which is extremely helpful when pursuing graduate education.

Relevant studies for consideration include the following.

Are Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders Responsive to Adult Mindfulness? Research has indicated that most children are highly sensitive to adult mindfulness. For example, parents’ mindful interactions (e.g., active seeking of new, subtle distinctions about their children) improve parent-child relationships and the quality of life for both. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) may be even more sensitized to adults’ mindfulness. For example, pilot data have indicated that increasing parental mindfulness with intensive meditation training reduces the aggressive behavior of children with ASDs. Thus, children (half male, half female) from a local clinical center servicing those with ASDs will participate in this study. Half will experience and interact around an electronic game with a mindful adult (instructed to focus on the variability and the emergence of novel elements in the child’s behavior and emotional expression) during a 15-minute session around and the other half will experience and interact with a less mindful adult (instructed to pretend to be interested in what the child is doing and to be positive in all they say to the child). Using physical and psychological measures as well as coding behaviors from videotaped interactions, it is hypothesized that children with ASDs will become engaged (e.g., exhibit more interactive and less stereotypic behaviors) with more mindful adults than with less mindful ones.

“I Love It When We’re Cruisin’ Together:” Counterclockwise Mindfulness as a Predictor of Adaptive Automobile Driving in Older Adults. Chronological age and age-related deficits in later life, a significant problem area for clinical psychology, are associated with an increase in multiple types of automobile driving errors in later life. Based on a pilot study in our laboratory demonstrating that a counterclockwise mindfulness intervention improves the performance of older adults on a simulated automobile driving video game, this field study assesses whether such effects generalize to the ecologically valid context of automobile driving. Drawn from a local primary care health center, community dwelling individuals from the population of the “young old” (65-74 years) and the “old old” (75+ years) with an equal number of males and females in each group will be randomly assigned to a mindfulness intervention group (whereby they will be asked to act as if they were 20 years younger) or to the control group (whereby they will be asked to act characteristically as their current age). Following tasks of mindfulness (Langer Mindfulness Scale) and FDI cognitive style (Rod-and-Frame Test, GEFT), participants will drive their own automobile through a constructed driving course in the center’s large parking lot (where overall driving scores and secondary measures such as reaction to road signs will be obtained). It is predicted that the mindfulness manipulation will be the best predictor of positive driving behavior followed by FDI cognitive style followed by age and other demographic variables.

14-21-46 Hike: Mindfulness and Cognitive Style Interventions to Improve Performance and Reduce Injuries in Collegiate and Professional Football Players. Sports psychology, the study of how psychological factors affect sport performance and how sport participation affects physical and psychological functioning, is a growing area within clinical psychology. The fast paced and full contact nature of football makes spatial and proprioceptive awareness (cognitive style) and moment-to-moment present awareness (mindfulness) crucial for successfully navigating the football field and avoiding injury. Cognitive style and mindfulness theories have suggested that increasing football players’ attention toward both their own internal cues and the surrounding visual field can significantly improve performance and accelerate physical and psychological recovery from injury. Thus, this project aims to develop a multi-session intervention program to increase both mindfulness and cognitive style flexibility and to pilot this program on local collegiate (e.g., Harvard University) and professional (e.g., New England Patriots) football teams.
I’m Not Crazy, Am I? Primary and Secondary School Teachers’ Perceptions of Psychopathology in Their Students. Given the national trend toward inclusion of special education students in mainstream classrooms, regular classroom teachers are now increasingly faced with dealing with students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Early research has demonstrated that, when the lay public reads a series of vignettes about the behavior of six fictitious individuals with varying forms of mental illness (paranoia, schizophrenia, alcoholism, anxiety, obsessive-compulsivity, conduct disorder), the majority rate only the individual with schizophrenia as exhibiting a mental illness. Thus, the present study presents comparable vignettes of children to all primary and secondary public school classroom teachers in a local urban community, who are asked to rate the extent of and underlying reasons for psychopathology in each. Half of the teachers will receive descriptions of same-race children as themselves while half will receive descriptions of opposite-race children. It is hypothesized that teachers high on mindfulness and field-independence (FI) cognitive style will be better able to identify psychopathology and its underlying causes than those low on mindfulness and FI cognitive style. Further, those in the latter group will rate more psychopathology in opposite- (vs. same-) race students.

Am I Always the Same? Development of a Cross-Situational Personality Inventory. Psychologists have long argued whether personality exhibits cross-situational consistency or situational specificity. The present study will address this issue by asking participants, using a survey format, to rate their personality (on the “Big Five” personality dimensions, namely, openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) in four different contexts (home, school/work, peer relationships, leisure activities). Half of the participants will be asked to rate their personalities in the different contexts with identical adjectives for each context while half will rate their personalities in the different contexts using different adjectives (synonyms) for each context. It is predicted that those high on mindfulness will exhibit situational specificity of personality while those low on mindfulness will exhibit cross-situational consistency. The study has both theoretical and methodological implications. 

Mindfulness and Cognitive Style Flexibility as Psychotherapy Outcome Measures. Psychologists have long considered the most appropriate measures to assess the efficacy of outpatient psychotherapy. Drawing on psychiatric outpatients with a variety of diagnoses (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depression) from a local outpatient clinic, participants are asked to complete measures of mindfulness, of cognitive style, and of cognitive style flexibility. Preliminary analyses have indicated no differences related to patient age, sex, socioeconomic status, or diagnosis in mindfulness or cognitive style. However, those in regular psychotherapy for 6 months or more exhibited more mindfulness and more cognitive style flexibility than those in therapy for less than 6 months. The study will consider the usefulness of these two constructs, relative to those previously documented in the literature, as process measures of psychotherapy as well as assess the time frame in which changes in mindfulness and cognitive style flexibility occur.

Validating New Measures of Mindfulness and Cognitive Style. In a true experiment, participants of all ages are brought into the laboratory and asked to complete a battery of experimental and paper-and-pencil tasks aimed at assessing the reliability and validity of two new state-of-the-art measures of mindfulness and of FDI cognitive style. The Langer Mindfulness Scale (LMS-21) is a 21-item paper-and-pencil task that provides an overall mindfulness score and four subscale scores, namely, novelty seeking, engagement, novelty producing, and flexibility. The Online Group Embedded Figures Test (OGEFT) is a newly created online version of the GEFT, one of two main tasks for the assessment of the FDI cognitive style. This task asks subjects to locate and trace, on 19 items, a simpler geometric figure embedded with a larger, more complex geometric figure. To assess the validity of these new tasks (LMS-21, OGEFT), subjects also complete additional tasks that include assessments of physical functioning (e.g., Duke University Physical Health Functioning Scale), cognitive functioning (e.g., Tolerance of Ambiguity Scale, Learning Style Inventory), affective functioning (e.g., Empathy Quotient, Personality Disorder Inventory), valuative functioning (Values Scale, O*NET Interest Profiler), and social functioning (e.g., Attachment Style Questionnaire). The majority of these tasks are employed not only in research but also in standard psychological evaluations conducted by clinical psychologists.

Skills needed
We are seeking bright, motivated, self-starting reliable students at any level who are willing to learn and who share our enthusiasm for attempting to understand the complexity of human behavior and experience.

Using behavioral science to improve educational outcomes (psychology, education, behavioral science, behavioral economics)
Todd Rogers, Harvard Kennedy School

Rogers website

My research uses behavioral science methods and insights to develop and prove scalable, high return-on-investment interventions that mobilize and empower students’ social support systems to improve achievement, and to generate fundamental insights regarding decision making, social influence and the barriers to student achievement. My research lab ( is currently conducting a dozen or so experiments in over 300 schools and universities around the US and UK.  Each project examines a different research question relating to the influence of student social support systems on student success.

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).  As an example, we have learned that simply asking voters to make a voting plan specifying when they will vote, where they will be coming from, and how they will get to the polls more than doubles the effectiveness of standard get-out-the-vote contacts (Nickerson and Rogers, 2010).  Other research suggests that people can be motivated to vote by emphasizing high expected turnout rather than low expected turnout (Gerber and Rogers, 2009).  I have also conducted research that investigates the power of leveraging the threat of personal accountability. For example, sending citizens a message stating “we may call you after the election to ask about your voting experience” causes a significant increase in voter turnout (Rogers and Ternovski, 2012).  Another method of encouraging voting is emphasizing the identity that “you are a voter” rather than the idea that “you can vote” (Bryan, Walton, Rogers, and Dweck, 2011).

The BLISS fellow will work on randomized field experiments that test educational interventions focused on mobilizing and empowering social systems (e.g., friends and family) to support student achievement.  These interventions will be based on behavioral science insights, and will be designed to “nudge” students toward better educational outcomes. The lab will be conducting some of these during the summer at online colleges, community colleges, and in advance of school-year projects in large K-12 schools. The BLISS undergraduate fellow will likely support and be involved in several projects and may continue to work on these after the summer, if interested.  In addition, highly motivated students may have the opportunity to develop these projects into a senior thesis.

There are several possible research projects that the BLISS undergraduate student may help with.  One is described below.

Transition to school attendance. Students in Pre-K through 3rd grade have unusually high attendance.  We are developing an intervention program that will focus on parents' beliefs about their role in reducing absences and the value of attendance during these years. This is an on-going 18-month program.

Turning Pre-Existing Relationships into Academic Support (College). College students often have strong outside-of-college relationships, and these friends and family often report feeling explicitly uninvited by colleges to be a part of helping students succeed in college.   In this intervention we develop an automated system that enlists and coaches outside-of-college friends and family to turn their pre-existing social interactions with college students into opportunities to actively support and encourage the students.   These “study supporters” receive weekly SMS messages, Facebook updates, and/or emails (cc’ing the students) that reflect course content and discussion tips.  This work will help us understand what information most influences the behavior of supporters and which supporters within students’ networks are the most influential.

Inviting the Village (K-12). Students often have several adult figures in their communities whom they admire and who exert influence on them.  These may be grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, ministers or pastors, mentors, family friends, or even work supervisors.  These “positive community members” care about the students and actively take an interest in and encourage the students, yet are often shut out of communications from students’ schools.  Schools are not permitted to send them progress reports, absence notifications, or other relevant school information.  This project involves guardians authorizing schools to communicate directly with these adults (in addition to with guardians) to support students academic success.

The BLISS undergraduate fellow may work on-site with an actual school or educational organization with whom we are collaborating, may collect and analyze data, may develop survey experiments, may manage mail and phone vendors for implementing fall 2014 experiments, and may 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. 

Skills needed
The student should be interested in psychology, education, decision-making, influence, and/or behavioral economics.  The student should also be motivated, punctual, hardworking, and flexible.

Ecological approaches to social emotional learning (applied developmental science, prevention science, school- and community-based research)
Stephanie Jones, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Jones website

The Ecological Approaches to Social Emotional Learning (EASEL) laboratory, led by Dr. Stephanie Jones in the Prevention Science and Practice department at Harvard Graduate School of Education, explores the effects of high-quality interventions on the development and achievement of children, youth, teachers, parents, and communities. In particular, we are interested in “non-cognitive” development, including social-emotional skills, executive function, and self-regulation. 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 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 are described below. BLISS fellows will have the opportunity to work on one or more projects, based on background and interest.

Early Childhood: Executive Function Mapping Project. Recent literature highlights the importance of executive function and regulation-related skills for the positive development of children and youth. EF and related skills have been linked to outcomes such as school readiness, academic achievement, and mental health (Blair & Razza, 2007; Eisenberg et al, 2004; McClelland et al, 2007). In particular, the ability to use self-control strategies during early childhood predicts long-term outcomes including SAT scores, high school graduation and retention, juvenile delinquency, and adult income and savings-related behavior (Mischel, et al, 1988; Moffit et al, 2011). These findings have generated many new efforts to design programs and policies that build EF and related skills in the early childhood years, especially among low-income children. However, there is little consensus on how to define or measure EF, and researchers and practitioners use a variety of terms interchangeably (e.g., cognitive control, grit, self-discipline). With funding from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) at the Administration for Children and Families, this project aims to create a visual map and a report describing the multiple terms, measures, and findings in the EF and regulation-related literatures, and to generate a set of translational tools to support accurate interpretation and use of EF-related research in applied contexts.

In summer 2015, BLISS fellows may have the opportunity to contribute to research and/or translational phases of the project, including one or more of the following example activities: (a) conducting and analyzing focus groups with key stake-holders in the field of early childhood education, (b) extending our existing literature review to address specific questions from stakeholders, (c) contributing to the writing and editing of reports for federal ACF staff, and (d) helping to design translation tools for early childhood practitioners and policy-makers.

Pre-K to Grade 5: National Governors Association (NGA) Policy Academy. Working with the NGA Center for Best Practices, Education Division, Dr. Jones and research staff serve as consultants for a multi-year Policy Academy, in which a small group of states are involved in developing or adapting standards, assessments, and teaching guidelines to enhance alignment across state-wide early learning and K-5 education systems. Our team provides expertise on the development of key social-emotional and self-regulation skills in young children and the translation of research into age-based standards, assessments, benchmarks, and supportive teaching practices.

In summer 2015, BLISS fellows may have the opportunity to contribute to the review of existing frameworks and the development of new frameworks that help to guide states’ early learning and K-5 alignment activities, and/or assist in writing policy briefs that describe the process and findings of our collaboration with NGA and state leaders.

SECURe: Classroom- and Family-Based Programs. A number of efficacy trials have demonstrated that children’s academic and social-emotional outcomes can be improved by building executive functioning and emotional and behavioral regulation skills in preschool and elementary school curricula (Blair & Raver, 2014; Bierman et al, 2008; Diamond et al, 2007; Raver et al, 2009). Building upon this body of evidence, over the past 5 years the SECURe Research Team at Harvard has partnered with schools in low-income urban settings to develop, pilot, and evaluate an intervention that embeds executive functioning and social, emotional, and cognitive regulation skills into a high-quality literacy program, along with training and professional development support for classroom teachers, social workers, and other school staff.

To further extend this work, we are currently developing and piloting the SECURe Families program with funding from the Aspen Institute Ascend Fund and the Children’s Aid Society of New York. SECURe Families is designed to enhance child, parent, and family outcomes by increasing school-family relationships and building specific executive function and stress management skills among parents and care-givers in high-poverty contexts.

In summer 2015, BLISS fellows may have the opportunity to contribute to the following project activities: (a) collect and analyze data about the impact and feasibility of the program, (b) conduct focus groups with participating family members and program facilitators, (c) revise program materials based on pilot-year feedback, and (d) support the SECURe Research Team in preparing journal articles, conference submissions, and written reports for the Ascend Network to summarize our findings and to support Network partners in program evaluation and evidence- building related to dual-generation approaches that address poverty.

Undergraduate Research Assistant Roles
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 throughout the US.

BLISS fellows with background knowledge, experience and interest in the following areas are encouraged to apply:

Skills needed

Getting respect: responses to stigmatization and discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel (sociology, racial identification and stigmatization)
Michèle Lamont, FAS Sociology and African and African American Studies

Lamont website

Together with a group of international collaborators, I am studying responses to stigmatization among African-American middle class and working class men and women living in the New York area, as well as their counterparts among Black Brazilians residing in Rio de Janiero, and three groups in Tel Aviv: Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopian Jews and Palestinian Israelis.  We also analyze variations between experiences, contexts, and responses.  We analyze how national ideologies and other cultural repertoires, collective identities, segregation, racial identification, and other factors affect everyday experiences and responses to stigmatization and how responses contribute to the transformation of racial hierarchies across national contexts. This summer we will be revising the book manuscript (titled Getting Respect: Dealing with Stigmatization and Discrimination in Brazil, Israel and the United States). 

I am also preparing for publication the Adorno lectures on Worlds of Worth: Cultural Processes of Inequality, which I delivered in Germany last June. This involved expanding a 75 pages manuscript into a 150 pages manuscript. Revising these lectures will require substantive analysis of the impact on neo-liberalism in three realms of life: definitions of worth across class and racial groups, academic evaluation, and racism and anti-racism. 

Task will vary from week to week, but will 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 positive and productive team spirit and would welcome the opportunity to incorporate new undergraduates in our group. We are confident that this can be achieved easily. Indeed, two undergrads have been involved in the project for the past year (as WCFIA fellows) and they have greatly benefited from the experience.

RAs will share an office, located across the hall from my own office in William James Hall. This will facilitate training and collaboration during the summer months

Skills needed
Strong capacity to synthesize literature necessary. Familiarity with Atlas.ti and Excel is a plus, as are basic statistical skills.

Development of cooperative behavior in children (developmental and comparative psychology)
Felix Warneken, FAS Psychology

Warneken website

We are interested in the origins of human social behaviors, especially the origins of cooperation. What motivates children to share? When do children develop a sense of fairness? How do they judge other people’s actions as nice or mean? Most of our studies focus on children from early childhood into school age to elucidate the interplay of biological predispositions and cultural norms across development. In addition, we take an evolutionary perspective and compare the findings from child studies with that of other animals, especially chimpanzees.

Our main expertise is in developing child studies that target the most important questions about human social life, often drawing on insights from various disciplines, including economics, primatology, and anthropology. By studying children in this way, we can gain important insights into the origins of human nature.

In the summer of 2015, we will conduct several studies on children’s cooperative behavior. Some of our studies focus on children’s sense of fairness, and how this develops over time. Previous work has shown that while young children tend to be more selfish and keep valuable resources to themselves, older children value fairness more and are willing to share with others. Do children learn that when they share with someone now, this person might reciprocate the favor in the future? Do children share because others are watching and they want to appear fair? Or do children develop a general sense of fairness and apply equality norms to guide their behavior? We investigate these questions by developing child-appropriate experimental paradigms that can be used across different age groups. In some cases, we even use these tasks cross-culturally.

We investigate children’s sharing and reciprocity behaviors using various paradigms. Are children more willing to give up a valued resource in order to gain a future reward? We also pair children with different partners, one cooperative and one uncooperative, and ask whether children of different ages will differentiate their sharing behavior based on the behavior of their partner. In all cases, children have a lot of fun participating in these studies – and so do our experimenters!

Studies will be conducted in the testing rooms of the Social Cognitive Development Group at the Department of Psychology, as well as in public parks and museums in the Greater Boston area. We conduct studies typically in teams of three researchers, one graduate student or senior lab member together with two undergraduate research assistants. 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 data analysis. BLISS fellows will gain experience in designing and conducting experimental studies with children ranging in age from toddlers to young teenagers. We video-record all studies, and undergraduate students will be trained in video coding as well as basic statistical analyses. In addition to experimental data, some studies will include questionnaires and short interviews to learn more about the children’s behavior outside of the testing situation.

Students will be supervised by the PI, as well as a postdoc and graduate students. We hold weekly lab meetings, where undergraduate students will discuss background papers from psychology, behavioral economics, and anthropology, and summarize their research project. At the end of the program, BLISS fellows give presentations about their research project. It is not unusual for summer research projects to lead to longer-term collaboration and published papers (e.g., McAuliffe, Jordan, and Warneken, 2015).

Skills needed
An interest in psychology and working with children is essential. Previous experience in either area (or both) is a plus.

Harvard Decision Science Laboratory internship (behavioral and decision sciences)
Nina Cohodes and affiliated researchers, Harvard Kennedy School

HSDL website and list of affiliated researchers

The Harvard Decision Science Laboratory is a world-class, university-wide biobehavioral research facility. Our lab supports faculty investigators from across Harvard. Our researchers have come to us from the departments of Psychology, Economics, Government, and Linguistics; the Business School, the Kennedy School, the Law School, the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Design School, and the Radcliffe Institute. We are an emerging hub for the conduct of experimental research in the behavioral and decision sciences.

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 our facility to investigate how emotion, neuroscience, and cognitive processes combine to shape human judgment and decision-making. Researchers who do work here include such folks as Amy Cuddy and Francesca Gino 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.

Our 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 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.

HDSL also maintains a large subject pool as a resource to experimenters conducting work here. Participants in the pool can take part in both in-lab and online studies conducted through HDSL. We are constantly seeking ways of improving both the size of, and variety within, our subject pool.

What you’ll do
BLISS Fellows at HDSL will be assigned to work alongside investigators undertaking research in the lab during the summer. The months of the summer can be busy in the lab, as they offer researchers an opportunity to conduct experiments free of the obligations and distractions of the academic year.

BLISS Fellows will have an opportunity to work with experimenters in the conceptualization and design of their experiments; in programming these designs using standard tools for subject interaction (for example, MediaLab, z-Tree, E-Prime, MatLab, Qualtrics); in conducting the experiments and interacting with subjects in the lab; and in compiling and analyzing experimental data.

In addition, as part of their 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 online and in-person trainings and work experience in the laboratory, the HDSL training program for BLISS Fellows is designed to help develop some or all of the following core competencies:

Skills needed
Undergraduates from all disciplines are welcome to apply as we support a diverse pool of investigators. We do recommend that students have taken an introductory course in economics and/or psychology. Interest in decision science in general as well as willingness to jump into the variety of different projects that are likely to be running in the summer is important. The great opportunity of working for the Decision Science Laboratory is that students here can learn skills they want to acquire. We provide structured training in the development of experimental methods and experience in conducting experiments.

Brainwashing and coercive interrogation: past and present (history of psychology; science, technology, and society)
Rebecca Lemov, FAS History of Science

Lemov website

My research concerns topics in the history of the 20th- and 21st-century social sciences such as the origins and development of big data and experimental data-gathering techniques, the study of dreams, the role of brainwashing in American Cold War culture, and the history of behaviorism and behavioral engineering methods. Trained as an anthropologist, I became interested in the history of my field and the way the social sciences reflect social life, and also impact it. My first book was about the history of behavioral engineering, and I have just finished a new book called Database of Dreams, about a forgotten archive of dreams and other ‘subjective materials’ collected in the 1940s and 1950s, stored in the then-futuristic format of Microcard, and circulated around the world. The main themes concern the nature of innovation in data-gathering and the way technology and subjectivity influence each other.

I teach courses such as “Critical Experiments in the Human Sciences” that examine influential and controversial experiments using human subjects, such as the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments, Mass Observation, Pavlovian conditioning experiments, and many more. I also teach an undergraduate course on brainwashing and techniques of mind control, which is relevant to the BLISS program I would like to offer.

This project will contribute to research I am conducting for a new book about the history of coercive interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror. The origins of coercive interrogation policies adopted during the Bush Administration’s War on Terror and continued in the Obama Administration’s struggle lie in the Cold War. Although the history of torture is of course much longer than half a century, this span encompasses the history of what is known as scientific torture (McCoy 2006).

In response to the apparent ability of Communists to bring about vast changes in personality and ideological orientation in captives (labeled “brainwashing”), the U.S. military engaged its own experts on the problem, especially those with expertise in the realm of psychiatry or what have been called “the psy-sciences” (Rose 1989, 2008). Operation Little Switch and Operation Big Switch, which orchestrated the exchange of first a small and later a large group of POWs, became de facto research sites for investigating the failures of U.S. servicemen to resist communist interrogation. As a result of both clandestine and openly publicized research programs, the C.I.A. and U.S. military developed an arsenal of “coercive interrogation” techniques based on what they had learned of Communist tactics. These techniques, in turn, were used in counterinsurgency conflicts during the 1970s and 1980s. In addition a lead U.S. psychiatrist developed SERE camps (standing for “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape”) to train American personnel to resist what was originally seen as mind control.

These projects formed the roots of the coercive interrogation program in which U.S. forces engaged during the War on Terror after the events of 9/11. This may seem like an unlikely genealogy: current-day policies can be traced directly back to a set of fifty-year-old methods, outmoded and based deliberately on techniques originally intended to bring about vast changes in personality structure. From this point of view, it appears strange that the very same techniques, issuing from Cold-War-era reports such as the CIA’s Kubark manual, found new life in the 21st century. There was one radical difference, however; even though the particular ‘forceful’ techniques remained the same, the goal altered after 2002. Instead of targeting personality changes, consistent with mind control aims, the new program sought simply to extract actionable intelligence.

The goal of my historical and contemporary research, then, is to explore both the continuity of techniques and the discontinuity of aims in the U.S. program of coercive interrogation. It is also to explore the moral attitudes of Americans (and other groups) toward torture and related activities that have been labeled “C.I.D.,” “D.D.D.,” and “enhanced interrogation.”

Students who work on this project will be asked to conduct research in the history of social science (particularly psychology) as well as a range of present policies, including the legal aspects of torture. There will be archival materials as well as government documents (such as the recent Senate report) to read and analyze. In addition, a student researcher would be encouraged to come up with his or her own approach: for example, you might explore the data available via social media about public attitudes toward torture. In addition, I would expect to have regular meetings to discuss your findings, to come up with new directions. You would be asked to summarize readings, compile bibliographies, and write your own “think pieces” or op-ed-style articles.

Skills needed
To be an effective contributor, a student should most importantly have an interest in the topic of the history of coercive interrogation techniques and their bearing on current public debates over the use of torture by U.S. personnel. Second most important is to have analytical skills in working with archival documents, legal documents, and a wide range of scholarship. The goal is to work on synthesizing different sources and identifying key themes and ideas. I envision having a good deal of discussion about these topics.

Experimental social psychology (psychology, social cognition)
Daniel Gilbert and Bethany Burum, FAS Psychology

Gilbert website

I am an experimental social psychologist whose methods run from large-scale survey research (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010) to brain imaging (Mitchell, Schirmer, Ames, & Gilbert, 2010), but that generally focus on laboratory-based studies of human behavior. My primary research focus over the last 20 years has been on the errors people make when attempting to predict their emotional reactions to future events. The project described here involves three lines of research developed in collaboration with post-doctoral researcher Bethany Burum.

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, et al., 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.

I have had undergraduate research assistants working with me in my laboratory every year for 30 years, and many are now distinguished scientists. I believe that their experiences in my lab—much more than their experiences 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).

• Gilbert, D. T., Killingsworth, M. A., Eyre, R. N., & Wilson, T. D. (2009). The surprising power of neighborly advice. Science, 323, 1617-1619.
• Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(932).
• Mitchell, J. P., Schirmer, J., Ames, D. L., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). Medial prefrontal cortex predicts intertemporal choice. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 1-10.

Skills needed
Previous research experience in the social or biological sciences is helpful but not necessary.

Petitioning in American history (political science, sociology, history)
Daniel Carpenter, FAS Government

Carpenter website

A research team headed by Daniel Carpenter, Freed Professor of Government, is examining the diffusion of petitioning in American history.  Our focus is both “micro” (how individual petitions were put together) and “macro” (how petitions in greater numbers were sent to Congress and state legislatures).  We will collaborate with undergraduate researchers to examine both of these processes, focusing on slavery-related petitions at first and broadening our scope to include petitions on a range of subjects and petitions up to the present day. 
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; 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.

We have three organizing aims for the coming year:

1. Create General Databases of Petitions and Spatial Data on Their Origins and Diffusion. A first goal of the Petitions Project Archive is to create a publicly accessible database of thousands of anti-slavery, finance-related and Native American petitions from the 18th and 19th centuries, so that citizens, teachers and students can access digital images with the click of a mouse.  We will create searchable text files of each petition (including its signatory list), so that citizens and scholars can query our database about individual signers of a petition as well as the particular language to which they affixed their names.  At least one access interface for the petitions will appear in the form of a map (both of the United States and including state-specific maps for states from which petitions were sent).  Within these maps, the petitions will be linked to towns and countries (and statistically geo-coded) so that public users and researchers can examine petitions by the point of their origin.

2. Create Signatory Lists and Map – in Network and Geographical Data – Sequences of Signatures. One of the biggest tasks that we face is transcribing the signatory lists from these hundreds of images of petitions. Once these signatory lists are transcribed the names will then be looked up in This task will enable us to examine the exact location of the signatories and hopefully gain an understanding of the issues that specific families deemed relevant. Once the background is obtained on the signatory the data will be geocoded and a map will be created.

We will also, in the course of the coming year, be analyzing many petitions with geocoded signatory data.  These include some particular antislavery petitions sent to Congress from New York City and Rochester, New York, as well as some Iraq-War petitions from Wisconsin in 2006, where each signatory was identified with her or his address.  This petition and others like it will allow us to map the spatial creation of the petition, going from ‘top” to “bottom” of the signatory list (or where papers were pasted together, multiple signatory lists).  Using other biographical and city historical data, we can examine which persons signed (and which did not) and consider the role played by networks and civic space in petition canvassing. 

3. Examine Contemporary Petitions, including Electronic Petitions. 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 also gaining access to electronic petitions.  Modern petitions – whether paper or electronic – also have a significant role to play in politics. In the past few years we have witnessed business policy reversals by Bank of America and Verizon because young people have started online petitions contesting their practices.

Work with petitions like these provides a unique opportunity to work closely with a highly skilled and thoughtful research team. The BLISS fellow-collaborator will be able to see instant results, and Professor Carpenter is known for his outstanding teaching and undergraduate mentorship. For example: The first step is the transcription of the signatory lists of specified petitions. Once completed, the BLISS fellow-collaborator will move onto the phase of conducting genealogical research utilizing the cutting edge tools that are becoming widely available through Once completed, the BLISS fellow-collaborator will develop the knowledge to geocode the data so that it will accurately reflect the location of the said movement on the specified petition. The BLISS fellow-collaborator 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.

Skills needed
Use of spreadsheets and willingness to learn new software will be both essential. Knowledge of U.S. and/or North American politics and history will be helpful. Although it is not necessary, knowledge of either French and/or Spanish may also be helpful.

[Social Science Division BLISS page] [Undergraduate Research and Fellowships page (application)]