Tag Archives: research

Reprinted from the College of Human Ecology, NewsHub

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

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Brian LaGrant ‘17; Photo by Mark Vorreuter

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Brian LaGrant ’17, a human development major from New Hartford, N.Y., discusses his research on factors surrounding imitation among children and adults:

What are you working on this summer?

I’m working on social learning in children and adults. I’m in the Affect and Cognition Lab. We work primarily on neuroscience research, but we’re also doing another project on social learning.

We have this apparatus like a puzzle box, and it’s supposed to simulate something that you haven’t seen before. People can watch somebody else see how to open it and then they can have their turn trying to open it. So that’s what we’re using to measure imitation.

When you copy somebody, they can have different characteristics, like they might be smart or they’re not sure how to open the box. They might be a very prestigious individual or a very well-respected individual or not so much. We want to see how those two factors—knowledge and prestige—can affect how much that model is imitated by children and adults.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

I’ve done a lot of neuroscience research, and this is a little different from what I’m used to, but I really like it because it ties into human culture and how we have evolved over many generations. Social learning is a very important aspect of development, especially a concept called the “ratchet effect,” which is how we innovate new technology over time. I haven’t really focused on social learning throughout my undergraduate years, but it’s a nice complement to the other kind of education I’ve been focusing on.

Who are your Human Ecology mentors?

I’ve formed a few close relationships within the College of Human Ecology as a whole, and specifically human development. Professor Marianella Casasola has been there with me since day one. When I lived in Donlon Hall, she was a faculty-in-residence and from there we formed a close relationship, and I was able to do some research with her, and she’s taught some of my classes over time. Professor Eve De Rosa, one of the principal investigators in my lab, has been a great help, and she’s so nice and so welcoming to any ideas that I have. They’ve both been very important to my development at Cornell.

What excites you about your research?

What excites me the most is that this is my first time having more of an independent role in the research where I can design the experiments and start running them on my own. Having that authority and independence is really, really exciting, and it makes me want to perform research in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

One thing I’ve been looking at recently is how autistic children might act differently at these tasks, and that’s something I could study in the future. For the area of research I’m focusing on, social learning, this kind of research hasn’t been done before. I think it’s important because looking at two or three different conflicting factors like I am is a better simulation of what the real world is like. Previous research has only looked at one factor, but there are so many different factors at play—whether a person is knowledgeable, prestigious, and things like that. I think my research is delving more into that area.

Brian’s summer project, The Influences of Model Social Status and Knowledge State on Imitation in Children and Adults, is funded by a College of Human Ecology summer research stipend, which provides undergraduate students will funding for full-time research with a faculty member.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17; photo by Mark Vorreuter.

Republished from Human Ecology Magazine, Spring 2016

Annie Erickson & Eve De Rosa

Human Ecology Faculty-Led Undergraduate Research. Eve DeRosa / Annie Erickson

Human Ecology Faculty-Led Undergraduate Research. Eve DeRosa / Annie Erickson

What does your lab study?

Annie Erickson ’16: Our lab is interested in studying the neural basis of cognitive processes such as attention, learning, and memory. To investigate these complex neural mechanisms, we use a cross-species approach studying both human and animals. We are interested in the neurochemicals that modulate cognition— specifically, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. My project focuses on the effect of acute and chronic caffeine intake on cognition in rats, testing whether caffeine can rescue cognitive deficits that have been induced by blocking acetylcholine.

Why study caffeine?

Eve De Rosa, Associate Professor of Human Development and Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Fellow: We all drink coffee, but we don’t always give deep thought to how it affects attention, learning, and memory. That’s why I love the real-world importance of Annie’s honors thesis question. She’s finding cognitive tasks that both rats and humans can perform so that we can translate the basic science experiments in the lab to our understanding of human cognition.

What do you like about this work?

Erickson: After following this project from conception to experimental setup to final execution, it’ll be incredibly exciting to see the results. It’s been inspiring to work with Eve, and to see the way she’s able to balance research, teaching, and family. She’s so enthusiastic and positive, and I really enjoy discussing my ideas with her, because she’s always so encouraging.

De Rosa: I love mentoring students like Annie! After participating in the lab as an undergrad research assistant, she approached me with this wonderful question about looking at caffeine’s ability to boost cognition, and whether it was caffeine’s interaction with acetylcholine that underlies this ability.

The fact that caffeine is a cognitive enhancer is something I was already aware of, but not that it might be important in slowing the decline of pathological cognitive aging, like in Alzheimer’s disease. When Annie brought that idea to me, I could see why it might be worth taking a chance to pursue the question.

What’s the risk?

De Rosa: Rat neuroscience is expensive, and it’s not my primary research focus. I’m very interested in acetylcholine, which declines during normal aging, and in using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to assess brain activity. But Annie’s research is something I would never have pursued on my own. And now I’m having so much fun reading the literature, thinking about how it relates to my larger research vision.

Erickson: Through the process of developing my independent project, Eve has provided crucial advice while also being incredibly flexible in letting me explore different ideas. She’s shown how important collaboration is for successful research and I’ve learned so much about thinking and writing scientifically—skills that are fundamental to a future in research.

In 2015, Annie Erickson received the Human Ecology Undergraduate Summer Research Stipend, and is currently working toward an honors thesis funded by the Human Ecology Alumni Association

Fourteen Cornell scholars (11 faculty members and one faculty member-graduate student team) received 2015 awards from the Jeffrey S. Lehman Fund for Scholarly Exchange with China. The fund provides grants to initiate research projects, sponsor research-related conferences or workshops, host visitors from China or support faculty travel to China to work on collaborative research projects.

Projects and winners are:

  • Integrating Eastern and Western Medicine to Address Iron Deficiency In Rural Chinese Women. Project director: Laura Pompano, doctoral candidate in the field of nutritional sciences, and Jere D. Haas, the Nancy Schlegel Meinig Professor of Maternal and Child Nutrition, Division of Nutritional Sciences;
  • Manufacturing Revolutions: The Socialist Development of a Chinese Auto-Industrial Base. Project director: Victor Seow, assistant professor, Department of History;
  • Chinese Medicine and Healing: Translating Practice. Project director: TJ Hinrichs, associate professor, Department of History;
  • China/Cornell Media Arts Exchange Program. Project director: J.P. Sniadecki, assistant professor, Department of Performing and Media Arts;
  • Constructing the Autobiographical Self in Cyberspace. Project director: Qi Wang, professor, Department of Human Development;
  • Inflation, String Theory, and Cosmic Strings. Project directors: David Chernoff, professor, Department of Astronomy, and Liam McAllister, professor, Department of Physics;
  • Conference and Publication on Feminist Jurisprudence in Shanghai. Project director: Cynthia Grant Bowman, the Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Feminist Jurisprudence, Law School;
  • Ricci Flow on 4manifolds and Applications. Project director: Xiaodong Cao, associate professor, Department of Mathematics;
  • Beijing Film and Digital Media Initiative. Project directors: Tim Murray, director, Society for the Humanities, and Amy Villarejo, chair, Department of Performing and Media Arts;
  • Creating China? Transnational Public Intellectuals and the Making of Contemporary Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. Project director: Allen Carlson, associate professor, Department of Government.

For more information, contact the East Asia Program in the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at cueap@cornell.edu.