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Wofford Students Co-Author Article in Prestigious Journal

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

SPARTANBURG, SC—The senior thesis research of 10 Wofford College psychology majors recently was published by the prestigious international Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.

Three of the students were co-authors with their professor, Dr. Alliston K. Reid, chairman of Wofford’s psychology department.

The research was conducted over the course of two years, from February 1997 through spring 1999, so the students involved already have graduated from Wofford. Co-authoring the article were Cynthia Chadwick (Class of 1998), Myila Dunham Young (Class of 1997) and Angela Miller (Class of 1999). Other students involved in the research were Ellen Burriss Smith (’97), Elizabeth Hubbard Jeffords (’97), Harriet Willimon (’99), Kevin Morton (’99), Amanda Schaekel (’99), Jill Warren (’99) and Stephen Gray (’99).

The article, titled “The Development of Functional Response Units: The Role of Demarcating Stimuli,” was included in the November 2001 issue of the journal, published by the Society for Experimental Analysis of Behavior. It is the only international journal published for research dealing with individual subjects and is one of the two most highly regarded journals dealing with experimental analysis of behavior, according to Reid.

The students’ research involved working with rats in experiments that tested sequences of behavior that become an automatic response that acts as a single movement. To explain, Reid uses the example of learning to drive a car. At first, all of the necessary movements—from adjusting seats and mirrors to turning the steering wheel and applying the brakes—require nearly uninterrupted concentration. As one becomes more and more familiar with the individual tasks, done in an identical sequence day after day, the sequence becomes an automatic response so that driving a car, from getting into the vehicle to the necessary movements throughout the drive, act as a single movement. “It just becomes automatic and we just don’t think about the individual tasks of driving a car anymore,” Reid explains. “We can carry on a conversation with our passengers or change the radio station while performing a sequence of tasks necessary for driving the car that feels and acts like a single, automatic sequence.”

The research demonstrated that all existing explanations and models of the way in which we learn sequences of responses are incomplete, at the least, and wrong in some cases, Reid says. “The students showed that more research needs to be done on the pattern of movement as an integral unit in the learning process and showing how that integration occurs,” he adds.

“Changes in functional response units produce critical challenges to theories of sequence learning, . . .,” the article concludes. “Theories of learning must include some principled way of predicting changes in the functional response units.”

The research was supported by grants from Wofford College to Reid and from the S.C. Independent Colleges and Universities to Chadwick. The research was conducted for the students’ required senior theses, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the bachelor of science degree in psychology at Wofford.

Portions of the article were presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis in Orlando, Fla., in May 1998.

Data collection on the experiments occurred daily from February 1997 through the spring of 1999, seven days a week, every week during that period, Reid says. Writing and responding to peer review of the research occurred during the summer, springs and Christmas breaks of 1999, 2000 and briefly in 2001.

“This is the first time in the history of the Wofford psychology program that our students have published a major article in the top empirical international journal in the field,” Reid says, “and it is very rare for undergraduates to be published as co-authors at any of the small, selective private institutions that are our peers.”

Many other groups of students have conducted research at Wofford for their theses, and some of those experiments have been submitted for publication with student co-authors. Two other papers based on research by Wofford psychology students are under review by international journals. “Wofford’s psychology laboratories are highly productive, even at a national level, and have provided excellent experiences for many students interested in graduate school and entering the workforce,” Reid says.

Since working on the project and graduating from Wofford College, these students have gone in various directions. Here’s where they are and what they’re doing today:

Cynthia Chadwick is married to Seth Chadwick (’97) and is a homemaker and mother living in Duluth, Ga.

Myila Dunham is married to Otis Young and works at the Christian Supply Store and Carolina Counseling in Spartanburg. She plans to attend Gardener-Webb University to study pastoral counseling.

Angela Miller lives in Drayton, S.C., and works in the pharmacy at Wal-Mart. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of South Carolina Spartanburg and plans to be a nurse practitioner.

Ellen Burriss married Thomas Wesley Smith (’97) and completed her master’s degree in human resource development at Clemson University.

Elizabeth Hubbard married James Carter Jeffords and is carrying out her residency at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she earned her M.D.

Harriett Willimon works in the inpatient psychiatric unit at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill. She received her master’s degree in social work from USC. She lives in Charlotte, N.C.

Kevin Morton is a computer database administrator for MSI-Viking Gauge in Duncan, S.C. He and his wife, Dana, and stepdaughter live in Inman, S.C.

Amanda Schaekel lives in Columbia, S.C., where she works for the Department of Health and Human Services in a program called Advocates for Better Care, which funds preschooling for low-income families who are working or in school. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in school psychology.

Jill Warren is executive assistant to S.C. First Lady Rachel Hodges in Columbia, S.C. She plans to attend law school beginning in the fall.

Stephen Gray lives in Greenville, S.C.