March 18, 2022

Hampden-Sydney Psychology students made a big splash at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference in San Francisco held February 16-20.

Coleman Meadows ’22 and Jackson Eisele ’23 were two of just a handful of undergraduate students invited to present at the conference, and their advisor, Assistant Professor of Psychology Ivo Gyurovski ’09—who was also invited to present at the conference—says, “Their work was on par with what the first- and second-year graduate students were presenting.”

Coleman Meadows at a table presenting his researchDr. Gyurovski personally worked with both Coleman and Jackson over the past year as they developed their research topics, designed their experiments, refined their methodologies, and composed their presentations. “Both of them were interested in how identity information can shape moral judgments of other people,” Gyurovski says. “Using experimental vignette methodology, they developed hypothetical cases that were very carefully controlled with respect to a number of variables. The vignettes were presented to the study participants who in turn responded to various questions about the vignettes.”

Working with Professor of Psychology Jennifer Vitale as well as Dr. Gyurovski, Coleman—who has ambitions of becoming a school psychologist—studied how perception and approval of a marginalized group, in this case, gay men, was affected by age. Using experimental vignette methodology across four studies, he developed scenarios that aimed to gauge study participants’ level of approval of the subject—either a younger or an older man—engaging in stereotypically gay behaviors: wearing non-gender conforming clothing, showing affection, and participating in a Pride event. At the conference, Coleman presented two of the four studies he conducted. He notes that through the process of each study building upon the last, he was able to refine his approach, focus, and methodology. This programmatic approach enables Hampden-Sydney students to experience R1 institution-level work that prepares them for serious, professional research.

Jackson Eisele at a table presenting his research

Jackson was interested in third party judgments of morally questionable behaviors that are likely to occur in a workplace environment. In his experiments, Jackson examined how participants would judge the same morally questionable behavior differently based on the race and sex of the people that were involved in the situations. Study participants were given vignettes that depicted a morally questionable behavior—such as taking credit for someone else’s work or continuously interrupting a boss or coworker—where the race and sex of both the person committing the offense and the person against whom the offense was committed was changed from scenario to scenario.

The conference took a slightly different format than in years past. Presenters uploaded their presentations to a virtual platform beforehand, and conference participants could view their posters and abstracts on the platform and then seek the authors out in person when at the conference to ask questions and further discuss findings. “They always had someone at their tables,” Gyurovski says, beaming. “They never had a moment where they were sitting alone. They each had over a dozen attendees, and to see them so at ease talking about their findings with people from around the world was incredibly rewarding. I enjoyed seeing them do well and take ownership of their work.”

To see them so at ease talking about their findings with people from around the world was incredibly rewarding. I enjoyed seeing them do well and take ownership of their work.

Ivo Gyurovski ’09, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Students standing on the Golden Gate bridge

While the students had presented previously at Hampden-Sydney’s Student Research Symposium, Gyurovski points out that the discussion regarding their research at this conference was on a much higher level, as the more than 4,000 attendees had all taken advanced courses or conducted research in social psychology. Yet despite the intimidating experience differential, Coleman notes that he felt well prepared to handle the conversations because of the opportunities he’s had during his time at Hampden-Sydney. “I look at my experience at Hampden-Sydney as extremely holistic,” he explains. “From day one of freshman year in Western Culture with Dr. Pontuso and having to do presentations from the get-go, to continuing through the Rhetoric Program where I was expected to be able to articulate my ideas and express myself with fluidity, I’ve been preparing for this moment and felt well-equipped to handle the challenge.”

Coleman’s retrospection points to a unique advantage that Hampden-Sydney research students have over their peers at larger research-focused institutions. Gyurovski explains that this advantage is two pronged: “Number one is the focus on liberal arts. This allows students to develop the skills to make connections between fields that may appear very different. Number two is our size. Hampden-Sydney students get to work one-on-one with their research advisors. So when they go to conferences, our students are a lot more at ease because they haven’t just recited their talking points to their peers, they’ve talked it through with me so they’re much more comfortable speaking extemporaneously with anyone who might ask them anything about their research.”

Both Jackson’s and Coleman’s experience is a testament to the power of a Hampden-Sydney education and what can be gleaned from truly digging in to the opportunities that abound at H-SC. “I think of Hampden-Sydney as a gold mine,” says Coleman. “I knew I was going to take advantage of them as much as I could, and I’ve reaped a lot of benefits from that approach.”

Jackson says participating in undergraduate research specifically has been game changing for him. “It opened up doors I didn’t know were there,” he admits. “I was set on pursuing a career in counseling, but after the conference, I’m interested in the possibility of research. I hadn’t really considered that option before.”

Gyurovski notes, “Our model at Hampden-Sydney really lends itself to crafting young scientists starting at the undergrad level and helping them to maximize the benefits of their experience here for long after they leave us.” It’s safe to say that H-SC forms good men, good citizens, and good scientists.

Meadows Research Poster   
Eisele Research Poster

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