APA honored 10 talented high school students for their science projects at the 2002 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, held in Louisville, Ky., May 12-18.

The science fair, known as ISEF, is the world's largest science project competition for students in the ninth through 12th grades. The fair is highly competitive: 3 million to 5 million students submit projects at local and regional fairs each year, and roughly 1,200 of those students make it to ISEF in one of 15 categories, such as behavioral science, biochemistry, computer science, earth and space sciences, engineering, gerontology, mathematics, medicine and health, and microbiology.

APA is one of several scientific organizations that recognize students competing in the behavioral and social sciences category. The effort is funded and organized through the Education Directorate.

During two days of intense judging, a panel of volunteer psychologist judges selected the top four finishers from 133 science projects related to psychology. Lead judge Alice Chang, PhD, was assisted by Louisville-area psychologists Joseph F. Aponte, PhD, Paul J. DeMarco, PhD, Ken Linfield, PhD, Kathleen M. Kirby, PhD, John A. Robinson, PhD, and Tracy D. Eells, PhD. In making their decisions, they quizzed competitors on their research design, statistical methods and conclusions. "These kids know more than I did in graduate school," exclaims Chang, who has been an ISEF judge since 1995. "This was the best year ever."

First Award:

Natalie Rose Mergler, 17, of Chaminade-Julienne High School in Dayton, Ohio, took home $1,000 for her project titled "Media mayhem: effects of television violence on children," in which she compared the cortisol levels of students who read with those who watched a mildly violent cartoon. Students who watched the cartoon had significantly higher cortisol levels than the reading group, and girls had a higher level of response to the cartoon than boys. Mergler also found that the more television students reported watching in the previous week, the higher their initial cortisol levels. Based on this, Mergler theorized that boys had higher initial cortisol levels because they generally reported watching more television during the previous week than girls.

Second Award:

Rachel Nicole Denison, 17, of Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo., received a $500 prize for her project "Retrieval blocking using orthographically related primes." Denison compared the word-retrieval skills of older and younger adults. She studied how they perform a task in which they were asked to complete a word fragment after seeing a similarly spelled word designed to block their performance. Among her findings: blocking effects decreased as the number of letters in the word fragment got closer to the number in the target word, and as the ratio of consonants to the total number of letters in the fragment increased.

Third Award:

Emma Essock-Burns, 17, of duPont Manual Magnet High School in Louisville, Ky., and Matthew Alexander Fitzpatrick, 18, of Ossining High School in Ossining, N.Y., tied for third place, splitting a $250 prize. Fitzpatrick examined "Effects of specific motivational strategies in conjunction with locus of control on performance improvement." Using a vertical jumping task, he measured whether such factors as verbal encouragement from the researcher affected students' performance.

Essock-Burns conducted a project titled "Understanding gender differences in achievement motivation in sixth through 12th grade students," by administering questionnaires to students and teachers on the ideas of fixed and malleable intelligence. Among her findings: girls reported less intellectual self-confidence in 10th grade than boys.

Honorable Mentions

The APA judges also awarded several projects with honorable mentions:

  • "Catching liars: an innovative study in infrared lie detection," John Scott Newman, 16, Yorktown High School, Arlington, Va.

  • "A new view of negative priming with novel shapes: the role of time," Deborah Elise Birnbaum, 18, John L. Miller-Great Neck North High School, Great Neck, N.Y.

  • "Loss of antipredatorial behaviors in the snail Caracollus marginella from illegal wastelands as an indicator of heavy metal pollution," Noelys M. Feliciano-Flores, 14, Manuel Pimentel y Castro, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

  • "Linguistic performance of 5-year-old children from Rio Grande, Puerto Rico: on the implications of the socialeconomic paradigm," Yasaira Santiago-Rivera, 14, SU Rafael Rexach Dueno, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

  • "Brain function and lying through pre-frontal cortex imaging," An Thien Vo, 17, and Alice Tang, 17, Central High School, Philadelphia.

  • "Paranoid genes," Ashleigh Corrine Morris, 15, Unami Middle School, Chalfont, Pa.

  • "Remembered and forgotten: autobiographical memory, reminiscence and cultural influences on memory," Michelle Elizabeth Keck, 18, Monte Vista Senior High School, Monte Vista, Colo.

  • "Generation Y: attitudes and perceptions towards the aging process," Camille Beatriz Alvarez, 15, and Gabriela Andrea Gata, 15, Academia Del Perpetuo Socorro, Miramar, Puerto Rico.

  • "Macular degeneration and short wavelength macular thresholds," Victoria Elizabeth Clark, 16, Ware County Senior High School, Waycross, Ga.

"If we're going to enhance the knowledge and visibility of psychology, we need to support these kinds of projects," says Chang, noting that hearing about the students' projects is one way the general public learns about psychology.

Currently, APA is working with ISEF on the possibility of a psychology-only category, says Barney Beins, PhD, APA's director of precollege and undergraduate programs. "Psychological research dominates the current group we sponsor--Social and Behavioral Sciences," he says. "A specific designation for psychology would reflect the growth of scientific psychology in secondary schools and the vitality of psychology as an area of high school research."

Further Reading

For more information on ISEF or next year's fair, May 11-17, in Cleveland, visit www.sciserv.org/isef.