Continuing Insightful Research

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2021 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Maddy Fair, COL ’22

This summer, I was able to continue working on research projects in the Emotion, Development, Environment, and Neurogenetics (EDEN) Laboratory in the Department of Psychology here at Penn. I joined the lab in the spring of my junior year after learning that the primary research foci of the lab aligned with my research interests. These research interests currently concern youth antisocial behavior and the mechanisms contributing to the development, persistence, and consequences of such traits. As a research assistant in the EDEN lab, I have been assisting a post-doctoral student on a meta-analysis assessing treatment options for children with CU traits. I also help run the Socio-Affiliative Mechanisms of Empathy (SAME) Study. This entails hosting virtual meetings with 4-to 6-year-old children during which they play computer games that assess their emotional reactions, willingness to help others, and cooperation with their parents. This same meeting is run twice with each participant, about 6 to 8 weeks apart, with half of the children and their parents playing a social skills board game in the meantime.

As a part of my degree, I am writing an honors thesis analyzing the effectiveness of the social skills board game. More specifically, I am evaluating whether this social skills board game improves empathy and parental interaction demonstrated during one of the tasks in SAME virtual visits, the picturebook task. In this task, children and their parents work together to “read” or tell the story of a book that doesn’t have any words. By rating and comparing empathetic and interactional behaviors exhibited in the two virtual visits between children who did and did not play the board game, I will be able to conclude whether or not the social skills board game has a positive effect on empathy.

The potential impact of this study cannot be trivialized. If the results support my hypothesis in finding that the social skills board game does, in fact, increase empathy and parental interaction, a new avenue for interventions for youth antisocial behavior could be revealed. The social skills board game is a cost-effective, at-home activity, and it may be able to produce similar results as in-person interventions or therapies. This is proving to be more and more necessary given the predominantly virtual world that we are living in today, and I hope to be able to show that a simple, easily-distributed intervention for antisocial behavior does exist.

The EDEN Lab is the place at Penn where my academic and professional growth have been most vividly visualized. It is where I have learned and will continue to learn how to make a positive impact on youth with antisocial behavior or CU traits. I intend to earn a PsyD in Clinical Psychology, through which I will continue to research similar topics while also working clinically with troubled youth. This is a career path that I am dedicated to and excited to pursue, and this research experience has accelerated my trajectory. My summer in the EDEN lab was stimulating and fulfilling, and I am extremely grateful to have been able to continue to research with generous funding.

By Career Services
Career Services