Psychology - Theses, Dissertations, and other Required Graduate Degree Essays

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Predicting violence among individuals who engage in self-injury

Date created: 
2012-06-26
Abstract: 

The current study examined factors that may predict violent behaviour toward others among individuals who engage in non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Females engaging in NSSI (n = 133) were recruited from online forums dedicated to NSSI behaviours. Contextual (i.e., relationship, employment, academic, and economic) and individual (i.e., borderline and antisocial personality features, treatment engagement, trait anger, impulsivity, distress tolerance, alcohol and drug use) risk factors were examined to determine which factors were associated with physical violence toward others in retrospective and prospective analyses. Antisocial personality features were uniquely associated with a history of violent behaviour; however, trait anger uniquely predicted violence over one year. Contextual factors were not significantly associated with violence. These data suggest that stable traits are particularly important in predicting future violence in this sample, and that individuals who engage in NSSI are similar to other, non self-injuring samples in terms of risk factors for violence.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Alexander Chapman
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Understanding social competence in autism spectrum disorders: The development of a standardized measure.

Author: 
Date created: 
2012-06-25
Abstract: 

Autism and its related disorders are commonly described as lying along a continuum that ranges in severity and are collectively referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Despite the fact that all individuals with ASD meet the social impairment diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-IV-TR, they do not all present with the same social difficulties. The variability in the expression and severity of social competence is particularly evident among the group of individuals with “high functioning” ASD who appear to have difficulty applying their average to above average intelligence in a social context. There is a striking paucity of empirical research investigating individual differences in social functioning among individuals with high functioning ASD as well as the implications of these differences on long-term outcomes. It is possible that more detailed investigations of social competence within ASD have been impeded by the lack of standardized measures available to assess the nature and severity of social impairment. The current study aimed to develop and evaluate a parent rating scale capable of assessing individual differences in social competence (i.e., social strengths and weaknesses) among adolescents with ASD. Results from confirmatory factor analyses supported the hypothesized multidimensional factor structure of the scale. Seven relatively distinct domains of social competence were identified including social motivation, social inferencing, demonstrating empathic concern, social knowledge, verbal conversation skills, nonverbal sending skills, and emotion regulation. Psychometric evidence provided preliminary support for the reliability and validity of the scale and included indices of internal consistency, convergent validity, discriminant validity, criterion-related validity, and known groups validity. Possible applications of this newly developed parent rating scale in both research and clinical settings are discussed.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Grace Iarocci
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis/Dissertation) Ph.D.

An examination of the abilities, risks, and needs of adolescents and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the criminal justice system.

Date created: 
2012-01-25
Abstract: 

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) comprises the continuum of permanent deficits caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy, which may include brain injury, neurobehavioural impairment, growth restriction, and physical birth defects. Individuals with FASD experience numerous adverse outcomes, including high rates of involvement with the criminal justice system. This dissertation examined the psycholegal abilities, justice-system experiences, and risks associated with prospective offending in 50 youth with FASD. The reliability and predictive validity of three commonly used youth risk assessment tools were also examined. Results were contrasted with a second group of 50 justice-involved youth without prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). Participants included 100 justice-involved youth aged 12 to 23. Participants completed a battery of measures including Grisso’s Miranda Instruments, the Understanding Police Interrogation Questionnaire, the Fitness Interview Test-Revised, the Wechsler Abbreviated Scales of Intelligence, and the Wide Range Achievement Test-4th Ed. Rating scales including the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth, the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory, and the Psychopathy Checklist—Youth Version, were also completed. Youth with FASD demonstrated substantially more impairment in psycholegal abilities relevant to police interrogation and adjudication than participants in the comparison group. Intellectual ability and reading comprehension emerged as robust independent predictors of psycholegal abilities, though the FASD diagnosis also served as an independent predictor of youths’ understanding and communication skills on the FIT-R. The two groups showed many similarities in legal experiences, including high rates of self-reported false confessions. Overall, the two groups demonstrated lengthy and serious offense histories. Youth with FASD showed earlier contact with the justice system and a higher volume of past offending, while comparison youth tended to be charged with fewer, but more serious offences. Youth with FASD recidivated earlier in the 3-month follow-up period and accrued more charges. They earned significantly higher continuous scores across risk assessment tools, and substantially more youth in the FASD group were rated as high or very high risk to reoffend. The risk assessment tools performed reasonably well in predicting general recidivism in youth with FASD. These findings are discussed in the context of current legal policy, clinical practice, and future intervention planning.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Ronald Roesch
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

Within- versus cross-dimensional capture in fixed-feature visual search

Date created: 
2012-01-16
Abstract: 

Recent ERP findings indicate that colour singletons fail to capture attention when observers search for a less salient shape that remains fixed across trials. This is consistent with the dimensional weighting account, according to which signals on the relevant (shape) and irrelevant (colour) dimensions are enhanced and suppressed, respectively. The goal of the present experiments was to examine the influence of prior knowledge of a target for over-riding a more salient distractor in a compound search task, when the target and distractor exist within the same visual dimension (colour versus colour; Experiment 1) and across different visual dimensions (shape versus colour; Experiment 2). More interference was found in the within-dimensional condition than the cross-dimension condition (18 msec vs. 7 msec). Both the within- and cross-dimensional targets elicited an N2pc component (indexing selection) and the distractor elicited a PD component (indexing suppression). In the within-dimensional experiment, the amplitude of the N2pc varied as a function of the proximity of the distractor to the target. These results indicate that when dimensional weighting is not a viable selection strategy, the visual system suppresses the location of the distractor while selectively processing the target.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
John McDonald
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Parental scaffolding and children’s everyday helping

Date created: 
2011-12-09
Abstract: 

Children’s everyday helping, or their active involvement in parents’ routines and chores, seems relevant to children’s social and moral development, yet is poorly understood. To date, most research on children’s everyday help has focused on demonstrating that children readily help parents and experimenters with everyday tasks. The present study relates children’s everyday help to how parents guide, or scaffold, their children’s activities, and examines the active aspects of children’s everyday helping. A community sample of sixty-one parents and children, between 18 and 24 months of age, was assessed on a series of helping tasks, adapted from prior studies on children’s help in everyday contexts. These helping tasks were structured with a set of communicative cues, whereby children could help the experimenter when the former was engaged in an attempt to solve a problem, after the experimenter nonverbally requested help, or after the experimenter verbally requested help. Parent-child dyads were assessed on measures of parental scaffolding of chores and social understanding, and children were assessed on measures of children’s social approach to the experimenter, and on measures of empathy, and social cognition. Only parents’ scaffolding of chores was related to whether or not children offered help. In contrast, both the children’s social approach and parental scaffolding on chores were found to predict children helping earlier in the sequence of communicative cues. The relevance of these finding to social cognitive and moral development is discussed.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Jeremy Carpendale
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

Resilience and enculturation among adolescents and young adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the criminal justice system

Author: 
Date created: 
2011-12-09
Abstract: 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong disorder with no cure and is accompanied by neurological deficits. There are also secondary disabilities such as behavioural and psychosocial deficits that can often result in trouble with the law and substance problems. Literature has identified an association between delinquency and prenatal alcohol exposure. This study looked at resilience factors for justice-involved youth and addressed questions regarding the association between enculturation and resilience, and whether offence histories differ based on differing resilience factors and moderating factors. Ninety-four justice-involved youth between 12 and 23 years of age participated, 47 diagnosed with FASD and 47 with no diagnosis. The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM) and Child and Youth Resilience Measure (CYRM) measured enculturation and resilience respectively. Analyses included a correlation matrix, independent-sample t-tests, and ordinary least squares regression analyses. Results showed a positive relationship between the CYRM and the MEIM. Neither group differed in their rates on the CYRM or the MEIM. While the CYRM was not significantly associated with official conviction data it did demonstrate significant associations with self reported offending data. Finally, no significant results emerged to suggest that FASD had an influence on the relationship between the CYRM and offence history or the MEIM and offence history. Findings from this study suggest the importance of incorporating cultural components into services targeted to produce resilience and that different groups may have different service needs.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Ronald Roesch
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Maltreatment and psychopathy subtypes in high-risk adolescent females

Date created: 
2011-12-09
Abstract: 

Psychopathy is often viewed as a unitary construct, however, research with adults and adolescent males has revealed two heterogeneous subtypes. Primary psychopathy is presumed to have biological underpinnings and is associated with low levels of anxiety and psychological distress. In contrast, secondary psychopathy is believed to result from exposure to adversity, including childhood maltreatment, and is associated with emotional reactivity, impulsivity, and comorbid psychological problems. The current study tested for psychopathy subtypes in a sample of 141 forensic adolescent girls. Given that secondary psychopathy is thought to develop in response to adversity, the current study also explored the relationships between childhood maltreatment and psychopathy. Following procedures used in previous studies, a model-based cluster analysis of the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version factor scores and anxiety (as measured by the Youth Self-Report) was conducted. Three groups were found including a low psychopathy group, a moderate psychopathy group with low anxiety, and a high psychopathy group with high anxiety. These groups were then compared on relevant external correlates. The high psychopathy group had significantly higher rates of social problems, somatic complaints, and attention problems than both other groups. Maltreatment was significantly related to psychopathy regardless of group membership. Findings are discussed from a developmental perspective and theories of primary and secondary psychopathy are considered.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Marlene Moretti
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

The relationship between performance on a visual search task and autism symptomology

Date created: 
2011-11-23
Abstract: 

This study aimed to investigate whether certain symptoms of autism were associated with enhanced performance on a conjunctive visual search task. Thirty individuals with autism completed the AQ and a conjunctive-search task. Results indicated that autism symptoms were differentially related to performance outcome measures on the conjunctive-search task. Attention to detail was found to be significantly related to the slope in the target-present condition, suggesting that better attention to detail was related to less distraction with increasing set size. Parent ratings of social skills were found to be significantly related to performance measured by the intercept of the target-absent condition, suggesting that poorer social skills were related to faster performance. The results have implications for understanding the relations between the two core symptoms of social/communication deficits and restricted/repetitive behaviours and interests (DSM-V 2013) in the revised diagnosis of autism.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Grace Iarocci
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Comparative studies of sexual assaults in Canada and in Hong Kong

Author: 
Date created: 
2011-10-28
Abstract: 

Although criminal law involving sexual offence has undergone many legal reforms in both Canada and Hong Kong, there remain numerous socio-cultural factors that maintain the difficulty of achieving successful prosecutions for these offences. This dissertation includes two comparative studies that explore complainant-specific factors that may affect the perception of adult female complainants in real (Study 1) and simulated (Study 2) sexual assault cases. Study 1 reviewed 220 archival rape cases in Canada (n = 119) and Hong Kong (n = 101) to explore how the complainant’s relationship with the accused, her sexual history, her substance use before the incident, and her sexual initiation may be associated with the proposal of the “mistaken belief” defence and judicial outcomes. Because accused in Canada have to take “reasonable steps” to ascertain consent, it was expected that the defence would be proposed and accepted less often in Canada than in Hong Kong, and more acquittals would be rendered in Hong Kong than in Canada based on this defence. Univariate analyses revealed that cases that involved acquaintances or intoxicated parties, or a complainant who was sexually provocative or experienced, were associated with increased acceptance of this defence tactic by the court, and increased acquittal of the accused, particularly in Hong Kong. Because sexual assaults were found to be less successfully prosecuted when the complainant engaged in acts that may be perceived as violating gender norms, Study 2 explored how (mock) jurors’ gender and cultural beliefs, and the complainant’s drunken and/or sexually provocative behaviours, may affect legal outcomes. Using an online survey program, 467 participants (236 from Canada and 231 from Hong Kong) evaluated a simulated sexual assault case. Results suggest that Hong Kong and male participants were more likely to endorse rape myths and patriarchal beliefs than Canadian and female participants. The former groups were also more likely to perceive the complainant as having violated gender norms and to hold her more accountable for the assault. By comparing the results from Canada and Hong Kong within each study, this research aims to determine whether cultural influences shape the judicial outcomes of sexual assault cases, and to help inform legislators in policy-making.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
J. Don Read
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

A computational model of eye-movements in category learning

Author: 
Date created: 
2011-08-11
Abstract: 

Models of attention in category learning tasks have typically treated attention as a weighting of how influential a feature is to the correct classification of the overall stimulus. Attention shifting is frequently modelled as occurring after the trial is completed (Kruschke, 1992). Recent work has demonstrated in detail how learned attention develops during the course of a single trial. Currently, there is no model which can account for the dynamic attentional shifts that are identified by eye-tracking data. Additionally, research is many fields has identified the need to explore cognitive models that are based on a more naturalistic view of human behaviour. New mathematical techniques utilizing concepts from dynamical systems has greatly increased the tractability of developing such models. This thesis describes two category learning experiments and introduces a new computational model that produces a real-time simulation of eye-movements in these tasks. Human data is compared with the model output and the implications of this model to category learning and related fields is discussed.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Supervisor(s): 
Dr. Mark Blair
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.