The latest

APA's Science Student Council (SSC) has presented two psychology graduate students with its second annual Early Research Awards-one each in applied and basic psychological research. The $1,000 prizes reward student research completed before the dissertation.

Adam Grant, a third-year organizational psychology doctoral student at the University of Michigan, won the applied award for his research on employee motivation. Grant began with the premise that many employees do work that makes a positive difference in other people's lives, but have little contact with the people who benefit from their work. For example, engineers rarely interact with the customers who use their products, and police officers have little exposure to the citizens who are protected by their work. To determine whether employee motivation can be increased if employees have more contact with their beneficiaries, he arranged for employees of a university fund-raising call center to meet a scholarship student aided by their work. He found that employees who met with students spent more than twice as much time on the phone and raised nearly three times as much money as they had before the intervention.

"My research focuses on designing work contexts to motivate employees to care about making a positive difference in other people's lives," says Grant. Grant plans to teach management and organizational behavior and to continue his research on work design, motivation and satisfaction.

Kyle Smith, a fourth-year affective neuroscience and biopsychology graduate student at the University of Michigan, won the basic research award for his study on how the brain generates sensations of pleasure and desire. He identified specific receptors in the ventral pallidum of rat's brains involved in generating taste liking, the mu opioids, and identified those that are involved in wanting but not liking, the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA-A) receptors. Smith measured how much the rat liked a sucrose taste by measuring it's facial responses, which are homologous to human and primate taste responses. When he increased mu opioid receptors' sensitivity, he saw an increase in liking reactions. Smith measured the motivation to eat, or wanting, by how much the rat ate after drug infusions. The mu opioid agonist increased eating as well, but the GABA-A drug increased eating without changing liking at all, suggesting that transmitter is involved in wanting but not liking.

According to Smith, his work has implications for a number of social problems in humans, including eating disorders and drug addiction. With the SSC award, Smith plans to expand his prize-winning research by examining how the ventral pallidum interacts with other brain reward centers, such as the nucleus accumbens.

SSC also granted three honorable mention awards of $100 each. The winners are:

  • Ryan Bogdan, a third-year clinical psychology and experimental psychopathology graduate student at Harvard University, who won a basic science honorable mention for his research on the relationship between stress and hedonic capacity, or the ability to experience pleasure.

  • E.J.R. David, a fourth-year clinical and community psychology graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who won a basic science honorable mention for his research on the psychological consequences of colonization, with a focus on Filipino Americans.

  • Jenessa Shapiro, a fourth-year social psychology graduate student at Arizona State University, who won an applied science honorable mention for her research on stereotyping among employee trainers who work with obese trainees. The deadline for the 2006 SSC Early Researcher Awards has not yet been announced. Check the award's Web site later this spring for more information.

-E. Packard