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Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Sciences Student Research Conference Highlights Diverse Fields of Study at YU

On May 10, Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School for Psychology and Center for Public Health Sciences hosted their 10th annual Behavioral and Social Sciences Student Research Conference Program. Known as YU Research Day, the interdisciplinary event highlights the work of students at Stern College for Women, Yeshiva College and the Sy Syms School of Business alongside presentations from students at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Wurzweiler School of Social Work and Ferkauf.

Research Day 1-2“I am constantly reminded that people go into the field of psychology because they want to build civilization, they want to explore ideas and they’re wise enough to know that they don’t want to live in an enclosed bubble,” said YU President Richard M. Joel in his opening remarks to students. “They want to break down silos, bring their disciplines to play with other disciplines and inspire young people to explore their dreams and make those dreams come true.”

The program featured a keynote address by Dr. Norman Anderson, chief executive officer and executive vice president of the American Psychological Association, titled “Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in the United States and South Africa: A Multilevel Perspective.” Anderson has had a wide-ranging career as a leader in the field of health and behavior, first as a scientist and tenured professor, and later as an executive in both governmental and nonprofit sectors. He has also provided extensive volunteer service to a number of foundations, government agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations.

In tribute to the interdisciplinary nature of the conference, Anderson’s talk focused on the wide range of factors that interact to create health disparities. “There are economic factors driving biology in ways we didn’t realize even 10 years ago,” he said. “We need more psychologists looking at these dynamic interactions.”

Following the address, conference participants attended a poster session showcasing the work of more than 90 graduate and undergraduate students in collaboration with faculty mentors. Topics ranged from cognitive and behavioral coping strategies in weight loss intervention programs to the role of psychotherapy in treating patients with multiple sclerosis to the cognitive traits of terrorists.

“It is amazing how each year we are able to bring together the broad spectrum of social science research under one roof and to acknowledge the diversity of research activity that is taking place throughout the University at all of our schools,” said Ferkauf Assistant Dean Michael Gill.

“My mentor, Dr. Carl Auerbach, has helped me shape my ideas for this project as well as my goals for the future as a researcher and Research Day 2-1clinician aspiring to work in the field of trauma and global health,” said Navya Singh, whose doctoral research at Ferkauf examines the way Rwandan genocide survivors who immigrated to the United States are impacted by both the massacre and moving to a new country.

“The research attempts to provide survivors with a voice to tell their stories,” said Singh. “In the future, I hope our study helps guide policy decisions, help clinicians in the field, and also facilitates future research about survivors of mass violence and the potential negative as well as positive effects of migration.”

Singh will accompany Auerbach on his annual trip to Rwanda to learn more about his work there and develop her own experience in the field.

Sarah Rendell’s presentation highlighted a few surprising findings from her four years of study in associate professor Dr. Charles Swencionis’s Obesity Lab in the Clinical Psychology Health Emphasis Program at Ferkauf. Her study examined the way restaurant patrons used calorie information in menus to make meal decisions.

“We found that participants didn’t utilize salient calorie information to make healthier choices, at least not at the time of purchase,” she said. “Given that legislation will require food service establishments to post calorie labels on their menus within the next couple of years, it’s surprising that there’s not more research supporting this method as an effective means of helping Americans maintain healthier eating habits.” Rendell believes further explanation, like adding a frame of reference to menus about the suggested calorie intake for the average person, might have more of an impact.

Gen Nakao worked closely with Dr. Sonia Suchday, director of the Clinical Psychology Health Emphasis Program, to develop his research on the cognitive processes behind the terrorist mindset. “Dr. Suchday always cautions us not to jump to conclusions,” he said. “In her lab, we’re trained to have a conceptual framework and suspend our own assumptions when dealing with any research topic.” By studying how terrorists come to possess radical beliefs or extreme worldviews, Nakao hopes to ultimately develop a hypothesis about what instigates the transformation of otherwise normal people into terrorists.

“If we deconstruct these kinds of extreme mindsets, I believe we can prevent terrorism,” he said.