Our inaugural issue of the Psi Beta Research Journal covers a range of topics. As you will see, one member researched the physiology of smiling. Others examined how personality constructs (such as the Big Five or other traits) relate to personality and behavioral variables such as stress coping, gaming, humor style, justice sensitivity, pornography use, happiness, and friendship closeness. Congratulations to our Journal’s first group of authors, and the dedicated teachers who mentored these outstanding students.

(Links to individual manuscripts are provided below. Click titles to download individual article PDF's)

Isabella Polito

Irvine Valley College (CA)

What role does empathy play in moral decision-making? The present study examined the relationship between several empathy measures and empathy’s role in a person’s justice sensitivity. Prior research shows that empathy is a construct having several components. Research also suggests that an individual’s empathy can influence their thinking when serving social justice. In this study, I asked participants to complete several scales designed to measure empathy and justice sensitivity. Next, participants judged a defendant’s guilt. Participants read a description of Juan Rodriguez’s case, a man currently facing twenty years in jail for accidentally leaving his twins in his car, resulting in their deaths. Participants’ scores on several empathy scales were compared to their judgment of the defendant’s guilt. I hypothesized that subscales of empathy would be positively related to several perspectives of justice sensitivity. Next, I hypothesized that as participant empathy for the defendant, rather than the victims, increased, participants would favor less severe charges. One hundred and twenty-two (39 males, 83 females) participants enrolled in a psychology course at a southern California community college volunteered to complete a 20-minute questionnaire for course credit.  A majority of the hypotheses were supported. Results found significant correlations among components of empathy and between the perspectives of justice sensitivity. Participants’ differential empathy for the father and the twins influenced the severity of the punishment they chose for the defendant. The results suggest that empathy can impact specific sensitivities of justice and perceptions in real-life situations. Further research is needed to understand further how empathy affects moral decision-making.

Keywords: empathy, perspective-taking, empathic concern, justice

Craig J. Tomlin, Rivkah B. Estrin, and Jodi Thall

Palm Beach State College (FL)

The psychological phenomenon of mindfulness–a nonjudgmental attention to and awareness of one’s present experience–has been linked to effective coping with a range of situational stressors such as they transition to college, romantic relationships, and cancer. However, the potential mediating role of problem-focused coping strategies in predicting these outcomes has not been sufficiently addressed. In the current study, we rectified this void in the literature by testing several problem-focused mechanisms for mindfulness’s relationship with situational stress coping in college undergraduates affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Using a correlational design, we tested whether: (1) dispositional mindfulness would predict less stress, less negative affect, and greater positive affect in the face of stressors manifested by the COVID-19 pandemic and (2) several problem-focused coping strategies would mediate the zero-order relationships between mindfulness and these criterion variables. We collected self-reports of all study variables from college students enrolled in the principal investigator’s undergraduate psychology courses via an online questionnaire. Results supported the expected associations between mindfulness and each of the well-being variables and partially supported the mediational hypotheses, with two out of the proposed five problem-focused strategies serving as statistically significant mediators. These results suggest that in addition to the primarily cognition-based mechanisms examined in previous research, mindfulness may also confer resistance to negative emotional states through adaptive behavior-based coping strategies.

Keywords: mindfulness, coping strategies, stress reduction, COVID-19, stress coping

Laura M. Warren

Irvine Valley College (CA)

While it is widely accepted that affective states precede facial expressions, the facial feedback hypothesis (FFH) proposes the inverse. The FFH postulates that facial muscle region activity (e.g., smiling or frowning) directly influences the experience of emotion. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the validity of the FFH—specifically whether smiling independently enhances positive mood. A methodological error in previous similar studies was inadequate control of variability between participants in the activity of the zygomaticus major (i.e., muscle region producing smiles). This methodological error was addressed here with the introduction of a novel procedure. Intermittent electrical stimulation to the zygomaticus was administered to 56 participants while they viewed a randomized sequence of affectively positive and neutral images. Half of the images were presented along with electric zygomatic stimulation while the remaining half were displayed without stimulation. Throughout the procedure, participants’ zygomatic activity was measured with facial electromyography in order to precisely monitor variability. Overall, participants rated all images as more positive when displayed synchronously with zygomatic stimulation than without. Positive images were rated more positively while viewed concurrently with electrical stimulation, but no significant effect was seen with neutral images. These findings suggest that induced zygomatic activity enhances positive affect when experiencing positive stimuli, thereby supporting the FFH and offering an innovative methodology that can be used to further investigate the relationship between zygomatic activation and positive affect and other dimensions of the FFH.


Keywords: facial electromyography, electric stimulation, facial muscle, facial feedback hypothesis, emotion

Casey Boyd, Melanie Johnson, Abel Pichardo, Ariana Khayamian, Nicola Schmelzer, Tzu-Chien Lin, and Jose Olivas

San Diego Mesa College (CA)

This study sought to explore the relationship between positive and negative affect and the effects of an intervention on gratitude. We used data from the Psi Beta National Research Project to explore positive and negative affect in relation to gratitude and to evaluate the effects of an intervention on gratitude. Using affect to understand gratitude may serve to further our understanding of positive emotions. Perhaps gratitude interventions can have sustainable positive effects. Participants (N = 1,176) attending community colleges from across the United States completed the study. Participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure positive affect, negative affect, and gratitude to determine their current level of gratitude. Participants then completed an eight-minute intervention, followed by responding to several more scales and additional items measuring gratitude. Results supported hypotheses that gratitude would positively correlate with positive affect and negatively correlate with negative affect. Researchers hypothesized that, after an appreciation intervention, those scoring high on positive affect would have a larger increase in gratitude than those scoring low on positive affect and that after a frustration intervention, those scoring high on negative affect would have a larger decrease in gratitude than those scoring low on negative affect. These hypotheses were not supported by the findings; on average, gratitude decreased for participants regardless of the intervention type. The intervention was not a significant moderator. Due to the limitations of this study, further research is needed to explore the way that affect may impact gratitude and to consider different types of interventions that may increase gratitude.


Keywords: :  positive affect, negative affect, gratitude, interventions

Brittany Michelle Kester

Irvine Valley College (CA)

The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between the self-defeating humor style and features of negative emotionality. Self-defeating humor is defined as humor that enhances one’s relationships at the expense of the self and is described as a negative humor style, while negative emotionality is described as an overall negativity toward one’s world views, outlook, self, and disposition. Four hypotheses were posed. First, it was expected that there would be a positive relationship between self-defeating humor and neuroticism. Second, it was expected that there would be a positive relationship between self-defeating humor and depression. Third, it was expected that those who prefer a self-defeating humor style would be more likely to be high in negative affectivity. Fourth, it was expected that there would be a positive relationship between self-defeating humor and an external locus of control. After acquiring Institutional Review Board approval, the study was conducted at a southern California community college. Participants read and signed an informed consent agreement at the beginning of the study and were debriefed following the study. Eighty-Nine (21 males, 68 females) volunteered to participate. Participants answered questions via an online questionnaire relating to humor styles and preferences, personality, affectivity, depression, and locus of control. Results showed support for all four hypotheses. The findings suggest that individuals who enjoy a self-defeating humor style may be more likely to experience an overall negative emotionality.


Keywords: humor, neuroticism, affect, depression, locus of control

Madison Calvert, Madison Linden, Katie Kyser, Kassi Zeinert, and Michelle Singer Foust

Lorain County Community College (OH)

Internet use has become a prominent part of everyday life, with some individuals using the internet as a tool and others for entertainment. Excessive involvement with the internet, however, can lead to disruptions in daily living and may affect general functioning (Crosby & Twohig, 2016; Kuss et al., 2017). The purpose of this study was to investigate whether individuals with certain personality traits are more likely to engage in excessive internet use behaviors. Using a correlational design and an online research questionnaire, gaming and pornography use were examined in relation to anxiety, impulsivity, narcissism, sexual narcissism, and Type D personality using a correlation and regression model. Consistent with previous research, the current study found that gaming use had a significant positive correlation with anxiety and impulsivity. Additionally, significant positive relationships were found between pornography use and impulsivity, narcissism, and sexual narcissism. A new contribution to the literature is the finding that Type D personality was associated with higher gaming use. Despite falling under the umbrella of problematic internet use behaviors, gaming and pornography use appear to be quite distinct; only impulsivity was correlated with both gaming and pornography. Moreover, regression analysis found that impulsivity significantly predicted gaming use while sexual narcissism significantly predicted pornography use. Further research is needed to determine the extent to which gaming and pornography use are coping mechanisms for people with certain personality characteristics. Nonetheless, the current study suggests that understanding personality variables associated with gaming and pornography use may be helpful in mitigating the risk of developing problematic internet use behaviors.


Keywords: gaming, pornography, problematic internet use, personality characteristics

Nicholas J. Wolf

Irvine Valley College (CA)

The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationships among appreciation, gratitude, and happiness—particularly the emotional components of positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction. Several hypotheses were posed. It was expected that there would be positive relationships among appreciation and gratitude in relation to happiness, positive affect, and life satisfaction. It was also expected that appreciation and gratitude would be negatively related to negative affect. Seventy-seven participants (22 males and 55 females) in various psychology courses at a community college participated in an online survey for course credit. The results replicated findings from previous research and showed support for all the hypotheses in the present study. Specifically, appreciation and gratitude were positively related to an individual’s overall happiness, positive affect, and life satisfaction. Results also showed that appreciation and gratitude were inversely related to negative affect. These results suggest the impact being appreciative and grateful has on one’s emotional health and quality of life. As such, these results have the potential to help individuals cope with lower emotional functioning by helping them focus on the positive aspects of their life experiences.

Keywords: appreciation, gratitude, happiness, life satisfaction

Natalie L. Tucker

Irvine Valley College (CA)

The purpose of the present study was to examine the accuracy of a close friend’s rating compared each participant’s own self-reported scores on the Big Five Inventory (extraversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness). It was expected that there would be high self-other agreement on all Big Five personality dimensions. Also, it was expected that there would be significant relationships between perceived closeness between two people, as rated by a close friend of each participant and their accuracy in judging their friend’s more salient personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness), easily noticed traits (neuroticism), and inwardly experienced traits (openness to experience and agreeableness). One hundred and forty-eight community college students who were enrolled in psychology courses completed an online questionnaire consisting of the Big Five Inventory and questions measuring closeness felt to a friend. A correlational analysis was used to compare participants’ self-reported Big Five scores to their chosen friend’s reports of the participant. Results showed high self-other agreement for all dimensions (extraversionr(146) = .57, p < .01; agreeableness, r(146) = .43, p < .01; conscientiousness, r(146) = .40, p < .01; neuroticism, r(146) = .50, p < .01) except openness (r(146) = .17, p = ns). Results further revealed that perceived closeness was related to self-other personality scores for all but one personality trait. The age range (18-24 years) among participants limits the study’s generalizability. Further research could investigate whether family members or close friends are more accurate assessors of an individual’s personality traits.

Keywords: Big Five traits, personality judgements, friendship, friendship closeness