You are here

Sharon Borine Award Winners

May 8, 2017

Photo of Shelby Wilcox in a lab

Photo of Shelby Wilcox in a lab
Shelby Wilcox worked in postgraduate student Marc Pisansky's lab where she studied empathy in mice. Photos by Matthew Weber, CLAgency

Meet the three psychology undergraduate students who received the Sharon Borine Award in fall 2016. These awards are given each semester and acknowledge undergraduate seniors whose final submissions for their major project course are of the highest quality.

Feng Gooi

Portrait: Feng Gooi

Feng Gooi came to the US as an international student from Penang, Malaysia. He knew he wanted to study psychology when he came to the U as a freshman, because it was important for him to work towards a career where he could help others. Gooi realized his goals and graduated in December with his bachelor’s degree in psychology. He also received a third place Sharon Borine Award for his senior paper, “Cognitive remediation therapy and schizophrenia: A review of the literature.”

During his senior year, Gooi worked as a research assistant at the Minneapolis Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Medical Center, where he helped treat patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression using cognitive remediation therapy (CRT). His work focused especially on schizophrenia. “A schizophrenic episode is not just what people might commonly understand—episodes of hallucinations and recurrences,” Gooi explained. “After taking medicine the symptoms may quiet down, but many patients still have cognitive deficits such as memory issues, learning issues, and sometimes even social issues because of the disease.”

Researchers at the VA are trying to help patients with schizophrenia to rebuild these abilities. For example, patients are taught to practice their memory through CRT memory trainings, which is currently the main treatment for schizophrenia. Gooi’s paper outlines the research that has been conducted on this new therapy and the outcomes of the therapy in real world use, backed up with his own research and experience with schizophrenia.

“One of the main points discussed in the research is that CRT needs to be paired with another treatment method or program. At the VA, they pair CRT with social cognition intervention training, a class that teaches patients how to recognize social cues and how to achieve better social skills,” Gooi said. “The skills they learn through the paired program have a longer-lasting effect.”

Gooi currently works as a mental health rehabilitation worker at the People Incorporated, a nonprofit organization that serves people with mental illness in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul metro area.

Abigail Barthel

Portrait: Abigail Barhel

A senior graduating this May, Abigail Barthel is a psychology major who is double minoring in neuroscience and Spanish. When Barthel first came into the U, she wanted to be a clinical therapist. Her interests spread from therapy to research as she became more involved in the department’s research-focused psychology program.

“I grew to appreciate the cognitive aspect of clinical psychology after working in Dr. Marsolek’s cognitive neuroscience lab since the spring of 2015, where I worked on a lot of projects in the lab,” she said. Last fall, Barthel received a second place Sharon Borine Award for her research paper, “Differential processing of emotional and neutral stimuli: Trait anxiety as a modulator in studies of anti-priming.”  

Her paper proposes that emotional stimuli will dampen the effects of priming and antipriming in people with high trait anxiety (HTA) compared to healthy controls or people with low trait anxiety, and that neutral stimuli will only dampen antipriming in HTA individuals. “There is a lot of research that still has to be done on people with anxiety or depression, or really any type of mental illness, on how they process fearful and neutral stimuli,” she says. The paper also addresses questions about the cognitive and attentional processes that are affected by HTA in priming tasks.

Another highlight of Barthel’s undergraduate experience was a six-week trip to Madrid, Spain through the psychology and research in Madrid program. “It was amazing,” she said, “I got to use my Spanish in a real-world therapeutic setting.” She hopes that one day she could counsel or even work with patients or research subjects that speak Spanish.

This fall, Barthel will be attending a PhD program in clinical psychology at Boston State University.

Shelby Wilcox

Portrait: Shelby Wilcox

“If empathy is not reciprocal, how do we truly understand one another and how do we increase the way we communicate effectively?” Shelby Wilcox seeks to answer this question and other important questions by conducting research in social psychology.

Wilcox became interested in psychology in high school during an AP class that sparked her curiosity about the field. Following that curiosity in college, neuropsychology and social psychology became two of her strongest passions. Wilcox won the first place Sharon Borine Award for her paper titled “Investigating sex specific difference in empathy: The interaction between oxytocin and estrogen.”

The paper is based on Wilcox’s experience working in lab with postgraduate student Marc Pisansky where she studied empathy in mice. “Empathy is an innate feeling that allows us to understand the emotional state of others,” Wilcox described. “It is the emotional component involved with social cognitive processes such as social recognition and emotional state matching, and is greatly affected by oxytocin.”

Both the research and her paper seek to answer: Does oxytocin have a role in female hormones in female mice that might make them more empathetic? Do female hormones, such as estrogen, also make us more empathetic? They found that the interaction between sexually dimorphic hormones and oxytocin are the most likely cause for differences in sex specific empathetic behavior.
Wilcox graduated last fall and has been accepted as a graduate student at Ohio State University to study communication and the brain.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.