Communication Neuroscience Lab Visiting Undergraduate Students Present Research at Major Academic Conference

Two undergrads who spent the summer at the Communication Neuroscience Lab were invited to present their research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Annual Convention.

By Hailey Reissman

For ten weeks, Denise Cortés-Cortés from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez and Arden Spehar from Vassar College were immersed in life at the Communication Neuroscience Lab at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

The pair traveled to Philadelphia during their summer break as part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program through MindCORE, Penn’s interdisciplinary center for the integrative study of the mind, which introduces college students to graduate-level research through mentored, collaborative projects, professional development, and technical training.

Annenberg Vice Dean Emily Falk  — Professor of Communication, Psychology, and Marketing and Director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab — has been a huge fan of what REU students have brought to the lab throughout the program and says the entire lab was impressed by Cortés-Cortés's and Spehar’s work.  Many members of the lab, led by graduate students Taurean Butler and Ben Muzakari, and research staff including Steven Mesquitti, Anthony Resnick, Dani Cosme, and José Carreras-Tartak worked hard to create a structured and tailored experience that showcases what graduate level research looks like.

“Denise and Arden are curious, talented scholars who were eager to build on their prior experiences and ask new questions,” says Falk. “Their research tackles important questions in the fields of psychology and communication and I’m thrilled that the Society for Personality and Social Psychology invited them to showcase their work following a rigorous and competitive review process.”

Denise Cortés-Cortés

Denise Cortés-Cortés stands in front of a poster presenting her research
Denise Cortés-Cortés

Project: “The Role of Subjective Social Status and Mindfulness in College Student Drinking”

About the research: “The project examines specific dimensions of Subjective Social Status (SSS) like community and academic status, its relation with alcohol consumption and mindfulness in college students,”Cortés-Cortés says. “The results indicate that academic SSS was positively associated with alcohol consumption, and that mindfulness buffered this positive relationship. Results explain the importance of localized factors of SSS and suggest that higher mindfulness may moderate alcohol use.”

Cortés-Cortés, a double major in Psychology and Philosophy, says that her time at the lab was one of the most fulfilling experiences she’s had as an undergraduate student. 

“The collaborative and supportive environment in the lab allowed me to solidify my interest in research and learn from very talented researchers from different backgrounds and professional settings,” she says.

Arden Spehar

Project: “Exploring the Relationships between Linguistic Arousal, Emotional Tone, and Sharing Behaviors”

Arden Spehar stands in front of a poster presenting her research
Arden Spehar

About the research: “My project explored how emotional tone and arousal levels in people's responses to health and climate news articles relate to their sharing intentions,” Spehar says. “We also looked at the ability of GPT to predict this behavior via text analysis. Consistent with our hypothesis, when individuals engage with health and climate news in a highly arousing manner, they are more motivated to share; contrary to our hypothesis, however, more negative arousal was associated with higher sharing intentions.”

Spehar, a double major in Cognitive Science and Art History, came to the lab without a background in research, but an eagerness to learn. 

“By the end of my program, I felt confident and empowered by the knowledge and skills I acquired in addition to the meaningful connections I formed,” she says. “The experience was invaluable; it not only elucidated the process of research but also demonstrated how these skills can be applied in a professional setting. Throughout, I became aware of the different areas where scientific research proves to be a valuable tool for understanding how people form community and identity.”

Cortés-Cortés and Spehar will be presenting at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Annual Convention in San Diego in February 2024.


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