You are here

2015 Heritage Dissertation Research Awardees

In 2015 the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology awarded six students grants of $1,000 each. Funds for these awards are provided by contributions to the Foundation's Heritage Initiative, which honors some of the field's great teachers and scientists by assisting the next generation of scholars. The Heritage Dissertation Awards are intended to provide assistance with the costs of conducting dissertation research in social and personality psychology.

Jeffrey Bowen, University of California, Santa Barbara

1. Tell us a bit about your research.
My research explores how romantic partners can "see the big picture" and protect their relationships when they encounter threats or conflicts of interest. In particular, I'm examining how mental representations of others and events (construal level) can promote the self-control necessary for sacrifice behavior, resisting tempting relationship alternatives, constructive communication, and benign attributions for partner misbehavior.

2. How do you plan on using the award?
Primarily, the award will support recruitment and compensation of subjects. In order to study relationship maintenance behavior, it's essential to observe couples as they navigate threats to their relationships. Doing so often requires in-person experiments in which both partners participate, making it particularly difficult to recruit solely from a university subject pool.

3. What tips do you have for you have for students beginning their dissertation?
As far as tips, I would say that putting in a lot of work and thought into developing your research questions could save you a lot of hassle down the road. Get feedback from as many sources as you can, both about your ideas and the scope of your proposed project. Take pride in and ownership over your project, since it will likely be one of the major bridges between your graduate career and your post-graduate life. Finally, use this project as a way to highlight your strengths. Showcase the depth of your thinking and the programmatic nature of your work. Make use of your methodological and analytical skills, and tell a story that you and the field can get excited about!

David Chester, University of Kentucky

1. Tell us a bit about your research.
My research seeks to understand the causes of human aggression. Decades of scientific investigation have shown us what types of people and situations reliably produce aggression, but we have yet to fully understand the psychological processes that come in between such inputs and their aggressive outcomes. I explore these mental mechanisms and the self-regulatory operations that exacerbate and constrain them.

2. How do you plan on using the award?
I plan to use the award to recruit participants for my dissertation project and to offset the financial costs of functional neuroimaging.

3. What tips do you have for you have for students beginning their dissertation?
Whether it's your prospectus, IRB materials, or the end product itself, the dissertation involves a lot of writing. Do. Not. Binge-write. Instead, set aside a (minimum) 2-hour 'writing time' for yourself every workday that you use solely for literature review, data analysis, and writing (no emails, social media, etc). Protect this time with your life.

Allison Farrell, University of Minnesota

1. Tell us a bit about your research.
My research centers around close relationships. I have three major overlapping areas of interest within relationships research: First, what determines who has power in a relationship and what are the consequences of having or lacking power? Second, how can relationships buffer individuals from stress or exacerbate stress responses? Finally, how do relationships and relationship functioning impact physical health? My dissertation combines all three interests to examine how relationship power impacts behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to stressful conflicts with romantic partners.

2. How do you plan on using the award?
I'll be using the award to help cover the costs of paying participants-- thanks to this money, I'll be able to run more couples, increasing my statistical power and allowing me to better estimate my effects.

3. What tips do you have for you have for students beginning their dissertation?
Don't make your dissertation overly complicated. I felt like my dissertation study should be very comprehensive, and the original draft of my prospectus included many complicated outcome measures that would require lots of coding and cleaning and were somewhat exploratory. My committee encouraged me to streamline, which I really appreciate now as I'm planning out my final year! 

Nicole Lawless DesJardins, University of Oregon

1. Tell us a bit about your research.
For my dissertation, I'm investigating whether different personality traits predict social status attainment in groups that have different goals. That is, do the same traits always predict status, or is the relationship between personality and status moderated by characteristics of the group's task? Participants will complete up to four different tasks (e.g., a competitive negotiation, a cooperative problem solving task) with different groups of their peers and will provide round-robin ratings of their group members' personalities and social status. I expect some traits - like extraversion - to predict status across all of the tasks, whereas other traits - like agreeableness or conscientiousness - to only predict status when they are necessary to complete the task (e.g., if the group is cooperating or needs to be especially organized).

2. How do you plan on using the award?
In addition to helping defray costs associated with data collection, funding from the award will be used to compensate informants, who will provide their impressions of the participants' personalities.

3. What tips do you have for you have for students beginning their dissertation?
Plan big: Don't shy away from intensive designs if they'll allow you to answer your questions - it may be a lot of work, but you'll have a wealth of data to show for it. Ask for help: You are likely surrounded by a lot of people with a lot of knowledge and experience - use that to your advantage! 

Chadly Stern, New York University

1. Tell us a bit about your research.
My research examines how belief systems, such as political ideology, shape social perception processes. For example, I've examined how the motivations of liberals and conservatives influence how they categorize people into social groups and estimate the attitudes of like-mined others. I also try to link these processes to important outcomes, such as group mobilization and political behavior.

2. How do you plan on using the award?
In my dissertation I am examining how the relational goals of liberals and conservatives influence the attitudes that they adopt. As such, I plan to use the funds to recruit an ideologically diverse sample of participants.

3. What tips do you have for you have for students beginning their dissertation?
Apply for dissertation funding, and search for what funding is available as early as possible. Even if you plan to use your school's subject pool for participants, having funds to recruit participants outside of the pool or purchase equipment can allow you to ask questions that you might not have been able to otherwise.

Konstantin Tskhay, University of Toronto

1. Tell us a bit about your research
At the broadest level, the primary goal of my research is to understand the underpinnings of the social perception process. I am interested in why and how people make snap judgments about each other. My current research aims to understand how perceptions of charisma affect individuals in their daily life.

2. How do you plan on using the award?
The funds from this award will be used to support my dissertation research examining how charisma affects people’s life outcomes, such as physical and mental well-being.

3. What tips do you have for students just starting their dissertation?
There are several things that I think might help my junior colleagues in beginning their dissertation research. First, and perhaps most important, identify the question that your research will attempt to answer. Clearly stating a research question not only allows one to see the big picture and the ultimate goal of research, but also allows one to plan specific details of an excellent research plan, including methodological design and study execution. Second, keep the work parsimonious: a few well-designed, elegant studies are more compelling than a dozen mediocre studies. Therefore, I would like to encourage my junior colleagues to focus on quality rather than quantity in their research. High quality work will withstand the test of time. Finally, remember that data are everywhere. Learn to listen to it—it will inform your research and enrich your world.