Psych Student Research Earns Top Honors

Published: March 09, 2009 | Read Time: 3 minutes

An SUU student has won one of six research awards from the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association for her work on psychopathic tendencies. 

Sharon Sternberg, a Forensic Science Master student from Monrovia, California, will now take her award-winning project on psychopathy and incorporate it into her continuing thesis work at SUU. 

According to Sternberg, psychopathy is generally characterized by three main attributes: narcissism, shallow emotional affect, and antisocial behaviors. Sternberg’s work deals with what she describes as the "faking abilities" of those people with high psychopathic traits. 

She explains, "In literature surrounding the disorder it has become an understanding, and in my view, unsupported by empirical research, that psychopathic individuals are good at faking personality assessments, and making themselves appear normal or flying 'under the radar.' However, the project I conducted found the opposite, that those high in psychopathic traits were worse at manipulating their scores when I asked them to fake a normal or psychopathic presentation.” 

On winning the award, Sternberg said, "I was shocked my proposal was selected. It is truly a great honor to have been chosen, and winning secured my confidence regarding my thesis and research topic.” 

In addition to eventually using this research to advance her field, Sternberg hopes her work will speak to the high level of undergraduate and graduate level research being done at SUU. Says Sternberg, “This is proof that a relatively small school – with great student and teacher collaboration – can still earn recognition for its research.” 

Dr. Steve Barney, chair of SUU's psychology department, said of the award by Sternberg and other recent student wins in the department, "I think our students’ success I credited to a few important factors. First, we really have great students here – some of the brightest and most motivated in the country. Additionally, the faculty within our psychology program pour their hearts and souls into helping students with their projects. We have implemented research requirements into many of our courses and offer students ample opportunity to engage in research projects. We have a very dynamic pedagogical approach to education." 

Sternberg's advisor, Dr. Jeff Elison, who first introduced Sternberg to the concepts behind her work in an undergraduate assessment class, said, "Only six of these awards are presented each year. Sharon's outstanding research project was indicative in her win. If her thesis works out as well as her original study, I believe it will be worthy of publication in a peer-reviewed psychology journal.” 

Elsion credits SUU’s emphasis on undergraduate research for much of the psychology department’s student successes. Indeed, the University’s recently established Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Program (UGRASP) provides support to students across colleges and disciplines. 

Says Elison, “There is no substitute for individualized research projects when it comes to learning the principles and application of assessment, statistics and research design.” 

Sternberg has big plans for her thesis work on the project, saying "I am now trying to replicate these findings and explore why those high in psychopathic traits are worse at faking personality assessments, through a number of different hypotheses. I am currently in the process of collecting data. I plan on submitting my thesis for defense here at SUU and then publication by a peer reviewed journal." 

She added about her experiences on and off-campus, "My journey throughout SUU has fostered my interest in research, and I am confident that it will continue to do so for other students.”

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