Research turns undergrads into teachers


Penn men think they're hot - or at least hotter than their fellow Penn men.

An undergraduate study, "Sex at Penn: Realities and Misconceptions," reported this news at a poster session - at the Undergraduate Psychology Research Fair, April 15 in Logan Hall.

The first-floor hallways were crowded with inquiring faculty (Why did you want to know this?), classmates of presenters, the presenters themselves visiting one another's posters, and some incoming Ben Franklin Scholars, like Jennifer Nguyen of Rockville, Md., who had finished a day-long program and was exploring the campus.

More than 65 psychology majors participated in the event, organized by the Department of Psychology and the Undergraduate Research Center, said Psychology Department Chairman Michael Kelly.

The students reported on attitudes to food and fat, on whether training could improve self-esteem and outlook among school children and gang members, and on Schwann cell differentiation.

Mary Harris (C'99) found that students take only a day or two after their arrival at Penn to segregate themselves into racial and gender groups. The mostly freshman residents at Hill House on day one in the dining hall sat in well-integrated groups. But by days two and three, the mix was gone.

The presenters expressed admiration and gratitude toward the faculty under whom they conducted the research.

Nicole Kurzer thanked Professor of Psychology Paul Rozin, who's known for his studies on culture and food.

Kurzer found that young American women were more likely to say a fat-related word when free-associating with food than young American men - as expected. She also found that fat words never came up for French respondents, and that only one Indian respondent - a woman - mentioned a fat-related word.

Heather Rouse (C'99) thanked UPS Foundation Professor of Psychology Martin Seligman, Ph.D., for his "learned optimism" approach to mental health.

Rouse, Timothy Hirsch (C'99) and Donnica Felician (C'99) found Seligman's approach did have some effect on the well-being of Hispanic students in Philadelphia public schools.

"Ideally, I'd love to be implementing programs like this," said Rouse, who plans to attend the Graduate School of Education next year.

The opportunity to do research as undergraduates was also important to the students. "That is what graduate students do," said Kristin A. La Mont (C'01), whose study showed emotion, whether positive or negative, significantly increased physical strength. "This is what a research university should bring to the undergraduates."

At the reception following the afternoon session, Kelly addressed the students.

"Today, I saw you as teachers," he said. "You are contributing to the body of knowledge."

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Originally published on April 29, 1999