Student-Faculty Psychology Research Selected for National Conference

A look at the campus of Lebanon Valley College

Elizabeth Barto ’20 was working on an assignment when her email dinged with exciting news: The psychology research poster she spent the summer working on was accepted to the national Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference.

To be presented in February in Portland, Ore., the poster focuses on  whether beliefs about God are central (maybe a better word, like “key” or “important”) to the self. Barto and Jessica Kline ’18 conducted the research with Dr. Michael Kitchens, associate professor of psychology. The poster builds on Dr. Kitchens’ published paper that showed that the clearer people are about what they believe about God—regardless of what they believe—the more clear they are about their own identity.

The study measured how important people’s beliefs about God were to other kinds of beliefs, such as political beliefs or beliefs in human progress and other important aspects of people’s self-concept, such as their childhood memories.

Prior to this research, Barto completed a research methods course with Kitchens as a sophomore, an experience that introduced her to psychological research and created the connection that led to the research opportunity.

“Before this, I was mainly interested in just the clinical aspect of psychology and never actually considered research,” said Barto, who took her first psychology course in high school. “However, a few weeks into the class, I found myself really interested in the material and wanted to take a more active role.” 

The research helped her to improve her ability to find scholarly journals and articles and better understand the reasoning and findings behind the research.

“Reading research compared to reading a textbook tends to be much more difficult because of the technical language used and the complexity of conducting a study,” she said. “Working with Dr. Kitchens in his lab provided me with much more practice reading and applying journal articles, thus increasing my confidence in my own ability to comprehend scholarly work.”

That confidence will serve Barto well as she contemplates her future in the psychology field. While she is still deciding between the clinical route with an active practice or experimental psychology and research, she does know graduate school is the next step.

“I feel more certain in my ability to pursue graduate school than I ever thought was possible because of the courses and guidance from the psychology department—something I never would have had the confidence to say at the beginning of my freshman year,” she said. “The professors want you to succeed and they create an environment optimal for learning.”