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Moravian College

Suzanne Yeager

2010-2011 Honors Student

Name: Suzanne Yeager 
Honors in: Psychology 
Hometown: Northampton, PA 
Major: Psychology

Suzanne Yeager

Title of project: Voluntary Task Switching in an Emotional Multitask Environment

Abstract or brief description: The ability to multitask is equally lauded and condemned. As colleagues are envied for their ability to handle multiple tasks at once, bans on the use of cellular phones while driving are becoming increasingly commonplace. In psychology, the cognitive processes involved in multitasking are generally examined in two task-switching environments: voluntary and involuntary. In a voluntary task-switching environment, subjects are repeatedly given the choice between two tasks and asked to choose to attend to one at random. This study adapts the voluntary task-switching paradigm to include emotional stimuli in order to investigate the influence of emotional processing on attentional control. Participants completed gaze, gender, and emotion identification tasks on emotional faces. RSIs were manipulated to allow long and short preparation times before stimulus onset. Significant switch costs were found; subjects were slower during switch trials than repeat trials, but performed faster during longer RSIs. Subjects were less likely to choose the emotion task when other tasks were available. These results reveal that emotional processing affects attentional control. Markov modeling was used to model task choice in multitasking environments both with and without emotional stimuli. Further modeling was used to perform analysis of cognitive processes involved in multitasking environments.

How did you get interested in your topic? I became inspired by the topic while working on a Psi Chi Summer Research Grant at Lehigh University with Dr.Catherine Arrington investigating voluntary task switching. This project left me with many questions about how multitasking behavior could be studied in the future. For my project I wanted to attempt to capture the real-life aspect of multitasking in the laboratory by incorporating emotional stimuli. I was intrigued to discover the effect emotion would have on task choice behavior during the paradigm. I decided to use Markov modeling to allow for a more fine-grained analysis of task decisions during the paradigm.

Do you intend to research your topic further? If so, how? I hope to study this topic in the future during my graduate education. I am very interested in studying cognitive control in the future and I would like to conduct more analyses on my data, including a gender analysis and a fit analysis of the Markov models I constructed. In addition, I would like to construct a connectionist model to study reaction time data I have collected.

How did you benefit academically by conducting research/participating in honors? This project allowed me the unique opportunity to pursue my own interests and design my own experiment. I was able to integrate my past research experience and educational background to enhance my knowledge of human cognitive processes. I became more inspired to conduct research in the future, and I have gained a new sense of confidence in a research environment.

How has the department (or faculty advisor) prepared you for the future? I feel that the research experience I gained from my honors advisors has prepared me for graduate school and a future career in scholarly research. The courses I have taken in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and computer science have been inspiring and have provided me with a strong interdisciplinary education.

What advice do you have for other students interested in honors? Completing an honors project requires an abundance of time and dedication, but pursuing such a challenging endeavor will leave you with the most valuable experience of your undergraduate career. This is an opportunity that only a select few have, and if you are considering doing an honors project you should definitely push yourself to do it!