Psychology Department

College of Arts & Sciences

Honors Theses


Ramsey Khader How Locus of Control and Perceived Mental Illness Impact Sympathy and Assignment of Culpability Regarding Crime

Thesis Overview

This study explored how different factors, such as participant’s locus of control and the presence/absence of mental illness in a defendant, impact the participant’s sympathy as well as how much culpability participants assign to a defendant. The study used two 2 ANOVAs, to test the main effects of the participant’s Locus of Control (LOC) and the presence or absence of mental illness in the defendant as well as interactions among the variables. The participants were randomly assigned to mental illness/ no mental illness conditions by the website Mechanical Turk. One group read a vignette about a criminal who suffered from a general mental disorder, the other group read the same scenario except the criminal had flu-like symptoms. Both participant groups completed Rotter’s Locus of Control Questionnaire and responded to questions regarding sympathy and assignment of culpability to the perpetrator. The study found more sympathy was evoked for defendants who also suffered from a mental illness as opposed to defendants who did not suffer from a mental illness. However, despite a mentally ill defendant garnering more sympathy, the assignment of culpability was similar. Finally, the study also found that Locus of Control does not significantly impact the assignment of sympathy or culpability in regards to crime. While participants’ LOC was not found to be a factor in either sympathy or assignment of culpability, a post hoc test using only participants at the extreme ends of the LOC scale did find a weak main effect. The results of this study can help understand how mental illness does and does not influence sympathy and perceptions of culpability in court. The results of this study could lead to a more defined structure as to how mental illness is treated in criminal proceedings.


Gabriella Sainz The Effect of Parasocial Relationship Status with Fictional Couples on Romantic Relationship Evaluations

Thesis Overview

The purpose of the proposed study is to examine the effect of exposure to the fictional
couples in romantic narratives on one's own relationship evaluations. Approximately 211
participants recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk were asked to write about a
favorite fictional couple vs. a non-favorite couple vs. a control condition. Following, they
indicated their current relationship evaluations (relationship satisfaction, closeness,
commitment, etc.). Consistent with previous correlational work, I predicted that
participants exposed to a non-favorite fictional couple would report lower relationship
evaluations than those in the control condition. However, consistent with previous work
demonstrating the benefits of parasocial relationships, I expected that participants who
were exposed to a favorite fictional couple would report higher relationship evaluations
than those in the control condition. This study is an important first step in better
understanding the overall impact that romantic narratives – and the parasocial
relationships that individuals experience with the fictional couples within those narratives
– have on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in their own relationships.

Allie Rubinowitz Posttraumatic Growth Following a Loss: How to Predict Positive Outcomes through Basic Need Satisfaction and Meaning-Making

Thesis Overview

The current study examined what factors predict and facilitate posttraumatic growth
(PTG; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995) following an individual’s experience of a loss; including
expected or unexpected natural death, homicide, intentional self-harm, and relationship breakup.
The introduction of self-determination theory’s (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2002) basic need
satisfaction and meaning-making provides a useful framework for better understanding how
individuals cope with a loss and whether there are ways to facilitate PTG. The objectives were to
investigate the relationship between self-determination theory and posttraumatic growth in
statistically predicting PTG, and to explore the mediating role of meaning-making in explaining
PTG. Data collection was conducted through Amazon Mechanical Turk from 504 individuals,
however 64 participants were excluded from the analyses (e.g., did not experience a loss;
completed less than 50% of the survey), so the final sample size was 440. Consistent with the
hypothesis, high basic need satisfaction was significantly and positively associated with higher
levels of PTG. Regression analyses indicated that basic need satisfaction is a predictor,
accounting for 20% of the variance in PTG. Also, a regression analyses indicated that the three
basic psychological needs are predictors, accounting for 25% of the variance in PTG. Also, the
presence of meaning-making served as a qualitative supplement to understanding the relationship
between basic need satisfaction and PTG. Individuals who experienced meaning-making and
focused on more positive elements of one’s experience, such as personal strengths or a deeper
sense of compassion for others, had higher levels of PTG as a qualitative supplement of growth.
These results show the importance of basic need satisfaction and meaning-making, which if
incorporated into clinical models may aid clinicians in recognizing and facilitating posttraumatic
growth following a loss.


Carranza, Itzel. Cell Phone Restriction and its Impact on Academic Performance. 

Thesis Overview

The use and presence of powered on cell phones, while studying, tends to be detrimental for students, as they take longer to study, take longer to achieve learning, and tend to make mistakes while processing information. Cell phone overuse may be associated with a form of psychological dependency, in which student’s anxiety levels increase when their cell phone is absent due to fear of being out of touch with technology. Attentional Control Theory assumes that anxiety increases attention to threat-related stimuli, whether internal or external, resulting in a reduction of attentional focus on a current task. In the context of Attentional Control Theory, we hypothesized that anxiety caused by having no cell phone access will increase attention to internal threat-related stimuli (e.g. fear of no access to technology) and reduce attention to the related task by either 1) inhibiting attentional control, or 2) shifting attention to the threat-related stimuli; thus, a powered off cell phone can have detrimental effects on attention, and therefore academic performance, similar to a powered on cell phone. To test our hypothesis, CLU students were randomly placed in one of four conditions: 1) cell phone present and powered on, 2) cell phone present and powered off, 3) cell phone absent and powered on, and 4) cell phone absent and powered off. In each condition, student’s task performance was measured through a reading comprehension test. Participants in each condition did not differ in reported anxiety levels and scored similarly in the reading comprehension test.

Palaad, Charisse. Self-Expansion Model: The Effect of Romantic Relationships on Academic Performance. 

Thesis Overview

Emerging adulthood is characterized as an unstable developmental stage. Romantic relationships can be a source of positive influence and support during this experimental time period. The current study investigates how romantic relationships influence academic performance in emerging adulthood. Using the self-expansion theory, which states that humans are motivated to better themselves, we hypothesize that individuals who have a partner with a high GPA will tend to increase their relationship closeness, which is enhanced by incorporating their partner’s characteristics in themselves thereby, increasing the individual’s GPA. To test our hypothesis, we asked university students, between 18-25 years, in committed romantic relationships (n =139) to complete an online survey. All participants were asked to report their GPA and their partner’s GPA. We also assessed their relationship closeness, which is the concept of how much of their partner’s characteristics have been incorporated in their own selves through feelings of closeness in a relationship. In addition, we assessed relationship satisfaction, the participant’s academic self-efficacy and how the participant perceives their partner’s academic self-efficacy for exploratory purposes. Results suggest that feeling close to a partner with a high GPA has no significant effect on the individual's GPA. Although additional research is needed to reevaluate if relationship closeness can account for the relationship of romantic relationships on academic performance, the current study aims to identify significant sources of support and positive influence for adults in this transitional developmental period. 


Randazzo, Kala. Attitudes Toward Puberty Blockers for Children Experiencing Gender Dysphoria.

Thesis Overview

Children who experience gender dysphoria (i. e., the feeling that one's biological sex is not aligned with their identity) have few options for affirming their identity. One current option is drug series called puberty blockers which can postpone puberty. These drugs are a relatively new treatment for gender dysphoria and opinions about their use in children wary. The current study explores individuals' reasoning behind their opinions about puberty blockers for treating gender dysphoria. Correlates of transphobia are also assessed. Participants (n = 114) read a story about Alex, an 8 year old who would like to begin puberty blockers for treating precocious puberty (control vignette) or gender dysphoria (experimental vignette). Participants also completed a transphobia scale, answered questions about their contact with transgender individuals, and indicated whether, as Alex's hypothetical parent, they would grant permission for Alex to recieve puberty blockers and how certain they were of their decision. Vignette was not found to significantly affect granting permission or how sure participants were about granting permission. Politically conservative views were found to be significantly correlated with transphobia. Further findings, including the influence of education and contact with the transgender community, are discussed. 


Fahmy, Patricia. Parental Acceptance and Rejection, Gender and Shame: Could the Acceptance of One Parent Act as a Buffer Against the Rejection of Another Parent?

Thesis Overview

Previous research has found an association between feeling rejected by one’s parents and feelings of shame. The current research was designed to investigate this relationship, while also addressing the question as to whether or not the acceptance of one parent acts as a moderator between the rejection of the other parent and feelings of shame. This study also aimed to add to the current literature by exploring how parental behavior impacts internalized versus externalized shame. In addition, gender differences regarding the experiences of both types of shame were examined. It was predicted that gender would moderate the relationship, with maternal rejection having a stronger relationship with daughter’s shame and paternal rejection having a stronger relationship with son’s shame. It was also hypothesized that females would show more internalized and externalized shame than males. Two hundred fifty-three undergraduate and graduate students at California Lutheran University completed online questionnaires to assess their perceptions of their parents as rejecting or accepting, as well as their feelings of shame (both internal and external). Participants ranged from 18 to 55 years of age and were primarily female (81%). Years in college were widely represented and included a variety of majors. Results partially supported the hypotheses. A significant positive correlation was found between internal and general shame and both mother and father rejection. Interestingly, a significant negative correlation was found between external shame and both mother and father rejection. Regression analyses revealed no significant moderation for other parent's acceptance; however, further analysis of the correlations revealed that the correlation between parent rejection and shame was substantially reduced when the other parent had a low level of rejection. In addition,  gender was found to be a moderator for mother rejection and both internal and general shame with a stronger correlation for females than males. No significant gender differences were found for general, internalized, or externalized shame. Limitations of the study and areas for future research are discussed.


Breda, Aili. The Use of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy Combined with Computer Technology in the Treatment of Selective Mutism: A Case Study

Thesis Overview

This study was designed to determine whether a child with Selective Mutism could be treated using an intervention consisting of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy and the use of computer technologies, within a school setting. A voice recording “app” on an iPod allowed the child to communicate in an indirect verbal manner, by playing voice recordings, thus exposing him to his voice and anxiety, while enhancing his self-efficacy. Parent/Teacher questionnaires given pre/post-treatment, showed improvement in the child’s non-verbal communication. Observations revealed high compliance rates to the CBT intervention, as well as an increase in non-verbal and indirect verbal communication. One-on-one interviews with his teachers and parents further confirmed these findings, and revealed improvements in the child’s overall academic and social performance, across a variety of settings.

Waters, Aaron F. Expressing Gratitude: A Refined Intervention to Increase Resilience and Thriving in Adults Recovering from Substance Abuse

Thesis Overview

The current study aimed to refine a successful intervention previously developed by Waters and Gerson (2012). Participants (n = 73) consisted of adults recovering from substance abuse who were currently involved in some type of recovery program. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three visualization/writing exercises: expressing gratitude, describing ways in which they had helped another person, or listing daily activities. Immediately following the exercise, participants completed resilience and thriving measurements. It was hypothesized that expressing gratitude would lead to significantly greater resilience and thriving than either of the other two conditions. MANOVAs revealed no significant differences; however, mean scores on the thriving measurements followed the hypothesized direction, with the expressing gratitude condition having the highest scores.

Before 2013

Mohr, Danielle. Personality and Behavioral Correlates of Body Dissatisfaction

Thesis Overview

This study sought to examine the relationship between body dissatisfaction, eating behaviors, and personality traits. Questionnaires were distributed to 95 randomly selected undergraduates, and students were asked to disclose their healthy and unhealthy eating behaviors, complete a personality inventory (CAQ; Block, 1961), and assess their current and ideal body using a pictorial scale (Frederick & Peplau, 2007). Comparisons between participant’s perceived current and ideal body shape revealed that both genders were dissatisfied with their bodies, desiring a skinnier or more muscular body, respectively. Correlations between body dissatisfaction and eating behaviors revealed that participants who were dissatisfied with their bodies engaged in both healthy and unhealthy eating behaviors more often, such as consuming fruits and vegetables and using appetite suppressants and diet pills. Higher levels of body dissatisfaction were associated with traits that were both well researched (e.g., body dissatisfaction is related to wanting to keep people at a distance), and novel (e.g., body dissatisfaction is related to feeling cheated and victimized by life). Results suggest possible problem areas to target for body image interventions (e.g., reducing the frequency of unhealthy eating behaviors), and possible protective factors (e.g., encouraging relaxation and finding personal meaning in life).

Nelson, Samuel O. Exploring the Relationship Between Coping Style and State of Mind Score

Thesis Overview

Maladaptive coping styles and excessive amounts of negative automatic thoughts are linked to depression. This study takes two well researched areas of psychology – coping style and automatic through content – and attempts to identify their relationship with one another. Participants filled out the “Ways of Coping Checklist” which was used to determine if they generally use a problem-focused or emotion-focused coping style. Participants also completed the “Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire” from which a ratio of positive to total automatic thoughts, known as a state of mind score, was obtained. Of the 74 participants, the majority were Caucasian and female ranging in age from 18 to 38 years old. Participants in the positive dialogue state of mind range engaged in significantly higher levels of problem focused coping. There was no significant relationship between gender and coping style or GPA and coping style.