Psychology Faculty Research

The psychology faculty have active research programs with institutional support and facilities to conduct peer-reviewed publication quality studies. Students may participate in faculty research projects through Introduction to Research courses (NEUS251/252, PSY255/256), Advanced Research courses (PSY460/461), Senior Thesis courses (NEUS447 or PSY451/452), and summer research opportunities. Contact the faculty member directly if you are interested in working with one of them.

Dr. Kara Bopp’s research focus is on normal age-related changes in memory. The primary area of research examines working memory, a process that allows for simultaneous storage and processing of information. Working memory is considered a basic cognitive function necessary for many everyday tasks, such as reading, calculating a tip or driving a car. Dr. Bopp is interested in measuring the capacity and flexibility of working memory in younger and older adults. Her other line of research examines programs intended to improve social, emotional and cognitive well-being in older adults. This applied research examines her intergenerational “Living Words Program”.

Dr. Dane Hilton is a clinical psychologist who studies Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) across the lifespan. His current research interests focus primarily on understanding the relationship between executive function (EF) skills and social information processing in children, adolescents, and adults, with the goal of understanding the cognitive processes that impact our ability to successfully make and maintain friendships, navigate social interactions, and sustain meaningful social connections. His current research uses computerized laboratory tasks to manipulate facets of EF and measure resulting impact on the processing of social cues.

Dr. John Lefebvre’s research interests focus on worry about pain, memory for pain, and resilience. His research with students has led to the development of the Worry About Pain Questionnaire (WAPQ) which assesses individual tendencies to focus on negative aspects of anticipated pain. Dr. Lefebvre is also interested in the relationship of working memory and the ability to recall acute pain. Finally, his research interests are also focused on resilience and how to improve resilience among college students.

Dr. Dawn McQuiston is an experimental psychologist with an expertise in the intersection of psychology and the law. Her research interests include courtroom decision making, the reliability of eyewitness testimony, and secondary traumatic stress in the legal process. Current studies focus on how jurors react to vulnerable witnesses during trial when they are accompanied by a facility dog, and the prevalence of secondary traumatic stress experienced by jurors, judges, and capital defense lawyers. Dr. McQuiston is also currently working on a project exploring jurors’ exposure to traumatic stress during particularly inflammatory trials in the context of 8th Amendment rights violations.

Dr. Cecile Nowatka’s current research concerns depression and suicide. In the spring of 2016, her senior thesis students surveyed 203 Wofford students. Many respondents indicated experience with depression (e.g., own depression, depression in family member or friend, knowledge from class). However, those with no experience were significantly more likely to endorse stigmatizing attitudes and misconceptions about depression. Sadly, 19 of the 203 participants reported having attempted suicide. Dr. Nowatka and her students have completed additional research on this topic, leading to conference presentations with the students. Another research topic that Dr. Nowatka is examining is the anxiety and resilience students have experienced as a result of COVID-19.

Dr. Dave Pittman’s laboratory examines how taste neural signals are sent from the mouth to the brain and how the sense of taste then affects feeding behavior in both humans and rat animal models. Three different research questions are being explored in the laboratory. Dr. Pittman is interested in understanding how dietary fats produce taste sensations and motivate the consumption of high-fat foods. Additionally, research is also exploring how anti-anxiety drugs, such as Valium, may alter taste sensations to increase the palatability of food and thus increase our food consumption. Most recently, research is exploring a new glucose sensing mechanism in the taste buds of the tongue using neural recordings from the mouse hindbrain.

Dr. Katherine Steinmetz’s laboratory connects affective and cognitive neuroscience through the study of emotion and memory. Dr. Steinmetz is interested in understanding the neural mechanisms that make our memory for emotional items vivid. Specifically, how does the brain support memories for different types of emotions? How does stress and changes in stress hormones influence what is remembered? And, what information is lost when an emotional stimulus is encountered? Dr. Steinmetz's lab employs a student mentorship model in which students who become leaders in the lab have opportunities to attend and present at research conferences, publish, and mentor and train junior lab members.