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

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Identity formation and well-being in youth with and without autism spectrum disorder

Author: 
Date created: 
2015-09-23
Abstract: 

Identity formation is a core developmental task during adolescence and young adulthood. Our understanding of how youth with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (HFASD) accomplish this task is scarce (Hobson, 2010). A sample of 71 participants (age 13-21 years) with HFASD and 71 typically developing (TD) peers, matched on gender and age, including their parents participated. Youth completed questionnaires on identity formation as well as their quality of life regarding their physical, emotional, social, and work/school functioning. In addition, interviews were conducted with a subsample of individuals with HFASD about their identity formation across several life domains (e.g., occupation, friendships). Parents filled out measures on core ASD difficulties, degree of social impairment, peer acceptance, and behavioral problems. Results indicated that the HFASD sample could be grouped into 4 identity clusters (i.e., achievement, foreclosure, moratorium, and carefree diffusion) similar to those found in the TD sample with the exception of an additional cluster in the TD sample (diffused diffusion). These identity clusters showed different associations to the outcome variables in the HFASD sample compared with the TD sample. In the TD sample, both achievement and foreclosure clusters were associated with better emotional, social, work/school functioning, as well as peer acceptance. In the HFASD sample, participants in the moratorium cluster were oldest and reported the lowest level of emotional functioning. Foreclosure cluster was associated with young age and the highest level of emotional functioning. Youth with HFASD were found to engage more in ruminative exploration, a known maladaptive identity process, and presented more frequently in the moratorium cluster compared to their TD peers. Exploratory analyses of the identity interviews suggested that individuals with HFASD may have most difficulty forming a sense of identity in the friendship and dating domains.

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

Evolutionary Explanation in Psychology and the Development of Joint Attentional Capacities

Date created: 
2015-05-19
Abstract: 

Many psychologists are interested in the development and evolution of psychological capacities. The neo-Darwinian evolutionary paradigm serves as a metatheory in psychology, structuring evolutionary and developmental claims. These claims are often adaptationist claims, meaning psychological capacities are seen as naturally-selected adaptations and their development in individuals is causally connected to these adaptations. After Lewontin and Gould’s (1979) well-known critique of adaptationism, the problematic “strong” adaptationist explanations in the biological sciences all but disappeared. In this dissertation, I argue that evolutionary explanations in psychology are still of this problematic “strong” variety. In the following I review the claims of psychologists who study the development of early social understanding and argue that a strong adaptationist stance misconstrues the nature of psychological capacities and their development. Few psychologists recognize that the Modern Synthesis lacks a model of development, hence, problems arise when a non-developmental evolutionary metatheory inappropriately informs developmental models in psychology. I argue developmental psychologists, in spite of the current non-developmental evolutionary metatheory, can improve upon their research by shedding adaptationist assumptions and adopting a pluralistic perspective on evolutionary explanation. Joint attention is an important capacity that is often thought to be an adaptation important for the development of uniquely human capacities. I argue adaptationist-oriented researchers have insufficiently accounted for its development. I thus present two studies that examine the development of pointing and point following, two important joint attentional capacities, in human infants. In Study 1, I use parental diary data to examine the development of pointing in infants and present an account of its development which contrasts greatly with the adaptationist accounts of other joint attention researchers. In Study 2, I examine the development of point following in 9- to 12-month-old infants. I found that infants improved in point following at a steady rate and that mothers’ verbally directing infants’ attention at 9 months was predictive of infants’ point following ability between 9 and 12 months and infant language production at 12 months.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Timothy Racine
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

Circadian food anticipation in dopamine-1 receptor knockout mice

Date created: 
2015-08-06
Abstract: 

Restricted daily feeding schedules induce circadian rhythms of food anticipatory activity (FAA) in mice and other species. The entrainment pathway(s) and location(s) of circadian oscillators driving these rhythms have not been definitively established. An important role for dopamine signaling and the dorsal striatum is suggested by a confluence of observations, including shifting of FAA rhythms by dopamine receptor agonists, and attenuation by antagonists and D1 receptor knockout (D1R KO). The dopamine reward system exhibits sexual dimorphisms in structure and function; if FAA rhythms are regulated by this system, then FAA may also be sexually dimorphic. To assess this prediction, disc running and general activity were recorded continuously in male and female C57BL/6J mice with food available ad libitum and then restricted to a 4 h daily meal in the middle of the light period. Compared to male mice, FAA in female mice was significantly reduced in duration, total counts, peak level and ratio relative to nocturnal activity. To determine if these differences were mediated by D1 receptors, male and female homozygous D1R KO mice were examined. Compared to wildtype and heterozygous mice, female and male D1R KO mice exhibited a marked attenuation of FAA parameters. The magnitude of the attenuation was greater in females. These results confirm an important role for dopamine D1 receptors in the circadian mechanism by which mice anticipate a daily meal, and reveal a previously unreported sexual dimorphism in the expression of food anticipatory rhythms that appears amplified by D1R KO.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Ralph Mistlberger
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Predicting risky sexual behaviour in adolescence and early adulthood: the unique and interactive roles of childhood conduct disorder symptoms and callous-unemotional traits

Date created: 
2015-08-11
Abstract: 

The relationship between conduct problems and risky sexual behaviour has been explored previously; however, how callous-unemotional (CU) traits and the interaction between conduct disorder (CD) symptoms and CU traits contribute to risky sexual behaviour has been explored infrequently. This study aimed to investigate the role that CD symptoms, CU traits, and their interaction play in predicting several risky sexual behaviour outcomes in adolescence and early adulthood. Results showed that CD symptoms and CU traits uniquely and interactively predicted a number of risky sexual behaviours during adolescence and early adulthood. This study provides meaningful information regarding the importance of both CD symptoms and CU traits in understanding health-risk behaviours. These findings may provide a foundation for developing and implementing interventions to address these behaviours among this population.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Dr. Robert McMahon
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

The Psychometric Confound: A Perennial Gremlin of the Psychopathology Literature

Date created: 
2015-07-24
Abstract: 

Chapman and Chapman (1973) identified an issue in psychopathology research that has since come to be known as the Psychometric Confound (MacDonald, 2008). They claimed, essentially, that various traditional inferential methods for drawing conclusions regarding ability deficits in a population with some particular pathology were flawed. The work of the Chapmans has since been cited frequently in the psychopathology field, with most citing authors echoing their concerns, and some applying their proposed solutions. However, the precise nature of the phenomenon remains in question. The goal of the current work is to elucidate, in mathematics, the issues raised by Chapman and Chapman, and their commentators, to a level which allows for an adjudication of the core claims of these authors. We begin by providing a clear and concise description of Chapman and Chapman’s account of the Psychometric Confound, including a description of the research context; an articulation of the general inferential problem; an itemization of claims, including claims regarding methodological solutions; and a description of problems inherent in Chapman and Chapman’s account. We then consider the influence of the Chapmans’ discussion regarding the Psychometric Confound on the psychopathology literature as a whole, including a summary of the alternative accounts of the problem that have emerged in response to the work of Chapman and Chapman. A full mathematization, and consequent adjudication, of the claims of Chapman and Chapman, is then provided. Fundamentally, this involves an elucidation and formalization of the test theory, both classical and modern, nascent in all work regarding the Psychometric Confound from Chapman and Chapman on. A mathematization and adjudication of the claims of the alternative accounts follows. Finally, we determine if valid methodological solutions for the quantities of interest are possible, given the technical, test-theory based framework established. We show that a structural equation model consistent with the proto-framework implied by Chapman and Chapman provides a basis for valid inference regarding the quantity of interest.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Michael Maraun
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

Investigating the role of boldness in the conceptualization of psychopathy

Date created: 
2015-07-02
Abstract: 

The Triarchic model of psychopathy (Patrick, Fowles, & Krueger, 2009) posits that psychopathic personality comprises three domains: boldness, meanness, and disinhibition. The present Master’s thesis aimed to clarify the role of boldness (i.e., social dominance, venturesomeness, emotional resiliency) in the definition of psychopathy—a topic of recent debate. Undergraduate students (N = 439) compared the lexical similarity of boldness, meanness, and disinhibition with two contemporary models of psychopathy: the Comprehensive Assessment of Psychopathic Personality (Cooke, Hart, Logan, & Michie, 2012) and the Five Factor Model of psychopathy (Widiger & Lynam, 1998). Participants also completed the Triarchic Psychopathy Measure (Patrick, 2010) and a variety of antisocial and prosocial outcomes. Boldness was generally rated as lexically unrelated to contemporary models of psychopathy. Boldness did not add incrementally to or interact with meanness and disinhibition in their associations with external criteria. These findings bear implications for our definition and assessment of psychopathy.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Kevin Douglas
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Mindfulness Skills Training for Elite Adolescent Athletes

Author: 
Date created: 
2015-06-24
Abstract: 

The present study explores psychological skills training (PST) and performance in a population of elite adolescent athletes. Clinical sport psychology research has recently begun to assess mindfulness as a psychological skill; mindfulness focuses on present moment non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of one’s internal state and affect. The present study was a novel mindfulness intervention focusing on teaching 38 elite adolescent soccer players mindfulness skills in six-one hour training sessions. It was expected that participation in the mindfulness training would yield increases in self-reported performance, self-efficacy and emotion regulation. Participants completed the dependent measures pre-intervention, post-intervention and three-months after the start of the intervention. Significant improvements in performance and self-efficacy were observed; however, no significant changes in emotion regulation were observed. The results were significant at the three-month measurement. This six-session developmentally modified mindfulness intervention is a promising advance in the field of sport psychology and performance enhancement with young athletes. The importance of adapting and targeting mindfulness interventions for working with adolescent athletes and specific methodological considerations are discussed.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
David Cox
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The rags-to-riches story of income mobility and its impact on emotional well-being

Date created: 
2015-06-16
Abstract: 

Recent research has demonstrated that people believe they are more likely to climb the income ladder than they actually are. However, no one has explored the downstream psychological consequences of these unrealistically optimistic perceptions, particularly their impact on emotional well-being. Across four studies I explored the correlational and causal relationship between perceptions of one’s own income mobility and emotional well-being. In Studies 1 and 2, I measure and assess the relationship between perceptions of income mobility and emotional well-being. I found that most participants see themselves as having high income mobility, and these perceptions of upward mobility are related to higher levels of happiness. In Study 3, I randomly assigned participants to read an article depicting income mobility as high, moderate, or low. Participants led to believe income mobility is high reported higher happiness relative to those led to believe income mobility is low. Lastly, in Study 4, utilizing a more diverse and generalizable sample from a National Panel Survey, I replicated the findings of Study 3. In sum, the present research demonstrates that people tend to be optimistic about their own chances of climbing the income ladder, and this sustained optimism translates into positive downstream emotional consequences.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Lara B. Aknin
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Age Differences in Theory of Mind: An Investigation of Neurocognitive, Health, and Demographic Predictors

Date created: 
2015-06-22
Abstract: 

Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to understand and reason about a variety of meta-cognitive and emotional mental states. Compared to young adults, older adults are more susceptible to reduced ToM, though the fundamental supporting processes are unclear. Earlier work demonstrates that neurocognitive performance, health status, and biological sex differences each contribute to ToM variability, yet no research has examined these predictors concurrently. In this dissertation we examined how these key predictors related to age differences in the cognitive and affective components of ToM. We tested 86 young (mean age = 19.8) and 85 older adults (mean age = 71.4) on standardized measures assessing neurocognitive performance and ToM. Predictor variables were derived from demographic information (sex), in-office blood pressure readings (pulse pressure or PP), and measures of three neurocognitive domains closely linked to ToM: executive functions, verbal comprehension, and episodic memory. We used path analysis to identify concurrent predictors of cognitive and affective ToM between age groups and partial invariance analyses to assess age differences in the strength of identified predictors. Our findings make several important contributions to this literature. We provide the first evidence that poor vascular health (high PP) directly predicts lower cognitive ToM across age groups, beyond other explanatory variables. Furthermore, in agreement with child development and cognitive neuroscience theory, we present the first neuropsychological evidence suggesting that cognitive ToM is a key predictor of affective ToM performance. Finally, while certain neurocognitive predictors of ToM are more salient in later life, we demonstrated that most predictors are shared between age groups and are equivalent in magnitude. Taken together, our study represents the most comprehensive investigation of predictors of ToM in aging to date, and suggests the value of continued investigation of ToM within a multidimensional framework.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Wendy Loken Thornton
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.

Explaining Individual Differences in the Cognitive Processes Underlying Hindsight Bias

Date created: 
2015-04-13
Abstract: 

Outcome knowledge influences recall of earlier predictions of an event. Compared to younger adults, older adults are more susceptible to the two underlying bias processes that contribute to this hindsight bias (HB) phenomenon, recollection bias and reconstruction bias. However, the role of cognitive abilities in these processes remains unclear. In Experiment 1, we extended the multinomial processing tree model for HB by incorporating individual variation in cognitive abilities into parameter estimation in a sample of 60 older (M = 72.50, range = 65 to 87) and 62 younger (M = 20.10, range = 18 to 25) adults. In older adults, our findings revealed that (1) higher episodic memory was associated with higher recollection ability in the absence of outcome knowledge, (2) higher episodic memory, inhibitory control, and working memory capacity were associated with higher recollection ability in the presence of outcome knowledge, and (3) higher inhibitory control was associated with less reconstruction bias. Although the pattern of effects was similar in younger adults, the cognitive covariates did not significantly predict the underlying processes in this age group. In Experiment 2, we collected memory judgment HB data on an additional 80 older adults (M = 71.40, range = 65 to 87) to assess whether a) experimentally increasing inhibition demands via outcome rehearsal during the HB task impacts the underlying HB processes, and b) the effects of this cognitive load manipulation on the underlying HB processes vary with an individuals’ inherent cognitive abilities. Our findings revealed that cognitive load increased recollection bias independently of individuals’ cognitive abilities. Conversely, cognitive load only increased reconstruction bias in individuals with high inhibitory control, resulting in these individuals performing similarly to individuals with low inhibitory control. Our findings support the role of inhibitory control in older adults’ recollection and reconstruction biases, and suggest that even high functioning individuals are susceptible to HB when available processing resources are limited.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Wendy Thornton
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.