Classic meets contemporary in Beaver psychology students’ study presentations

Two of Marissa Mendoza's Psych 439 students pose in front of a screen.

Psychology Assistant Professor Marissa Mendoza charged her students with taking classic psychological studies and applying them to contemporary trends. They will present their findings to the campus on Thursday.

Credit: Penn State

MONACA, Pa. — If you’re a student of psychology, or even a student of pop culture history, you already know about many of these: The Stanford Prison Experiment. The Milgram Shock Experiment. The Marshmallow Test.

But, as Assistant Professor of Psychology Marissa Mendoza’s Psych 439 students at Penn State Beaver learned this semester, those classic experiments still resonate, and reverberate, today.

In fact, she made it the business of her students choose a well-known psychological study and link it to a current event or trend. So that Stanford Prison Experiment, which considered what happens when you put good people in an evil place, has contemporary ties to the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. And our culture’s tortured relationship with delayed gratification? A college professor studied that long ago when he asked children to choose between a small reward now or a larger reward later.

After weeks of researching the studies and their contemporary counterparts, Mendoza’s students were tasked with presenting their findings to the campus community. The first two rounds of presentations were March 16 and 21.

The last round happens at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 23, in SUB 16, and students, faculty and staff are invited to attend.

“The students are demonstrating their mastery of identifying, interpreting and translating the science of psychology to help others understand human behavior, all very relevant to things happening today,” said Mendoza.

The presentations will be:

Of Love and Monkeys: A Critical Look at Harry Harlow’s 1958 Seminal Research, presented by Chelsea Zagorski

In the 1950s, psychologist Harry Harlow conducted an experiment on baby rhesus monkeys in a study on love, attachment and loss. Though sometimes called the “science of common sense,” this study proved that touch and affection are essential for bonding between parent and child, even overriding the physical need of hunger. Although it provided information critical for emotional bonding, Harlow’s study was considered highly unethical and immoral. The monkeys in his study were socially and emotionally damaged for the rest of their lives. This study was never replicated on human children due to ethical reasons; however, Harlow generalized the implications of his study to humans.

The Marshmallow Test and Difficulty in Delayed Gratification in Contemporary Times, presented by Kaitlyn Humberston

The Marshmallow test, by design, was very simple. It involved placing a child between the ages of three years and six months (the youngest subject in the study) and five years and six months (the eldest subject in the study) in a room with an experimenter. This talk will examine current trends in American culture that demonstrate applications of self-control and delayed gratification.