Sophomore’s psychology project gives insight on designing research studies

A room full of small children bustles with activity: Some stack blocks, some manufacture colorful creations with crayons, while others roll their toy cars across the floor.

Allyson Lucht, second from left, stands next to her poster presentation from the research methods/statistics course spring 2014. Pictured from left are Alex Fodness, Lucht, Amber Wodzinski and Miranda Wagner.

Allyson Lucht, second from left, stands next to her poster presentation from the research methods/statistics course spring 2014. Pictured from left are Alex Fodness, Lucht, Amber Wodzinski and Miranda Wagner.

It’s at this moment, when at play, the opportunity presents itself for therapists to develop a positive relationship with the child and connect with them on a deeper level.

First implemented more than a century ago, play therapy involves using play as the medium to therapeutically communicate with young children. To Allyson Lucht, a sophomore psychology major from Las Cruces, New Mexico, the combination of counseling and psychotherapy involved in play therapy sounds like the makings of a rewarding career.

And while Lucht has her sights set on the future, it is the groundwork that she is building now that will help her achieve her goals.

This opportunity for Lucht—and all other psychology majors—to explore program-related research projects is part of SDSU’s push for more hands-on learning. In the case of psychology, it comes in the form of a two-course research methods and statistics sequence.

Psychology research methods and statistics are taught during the fall and spring semester of student’s sophomore (or junior) year. Using a split lecture and lab format, the courses provide both instruction and an opportunity to implement new knowledge.

Lucht’s study involved the help of three of her classmates and examined the romantic attachment styles of young adults. She and her peers designed the study and developed a research question and hypothesis. Lucht also worked in the lab with the students who participated in the study.

Lucht and her colleagues found that the lower the level of conflict with their parents, the higher the level of reported intimacy in adolescent’s romantic relationships.

“The ultimate program goal for the research methods/statistics course sequence is to teach the skills and behaviors of scientists,” said professor Bradley Woldt, head of the psychology department. “The ultimate student goal is (for the students) to understand and apply basic research methods in psychology, including research design, data collection and analysis, interpretation and dissemination of results.”

For Lucht, the goals established by SDSU administrators translated into a valuable experience.

“These two semesters require you to conduct several independent research projects and allow you to have one-on-one guidance from the course instructor,” she said. “In addition to the course lecture, you are also enrolled in a lab, which consists of fewer students and more hands-on experience. This lab also teaches you to use statistical analysis software to interpret your collected research data.”

The benefits of requiring research courses at the sophomore level are many and reach beyond the limits of the classroom. And this experience directly supports a student’s final two years of study.

“When academically advanced sophomores complete (the research courses), they have learned and applied basic psychological research skills,” Woldt said. “The students are then ready in their junior year to join a faculty member’s research team and participate in various aspects of that faculty member’s research projects, or in some cases, develop their own research projects for a senior thesis.”

Lucht said she enjoys the fact that the research course challenged her early in her college career, and she thinks it gives her a competitive edge.

“The best part about taking the research methods course as a sophomore was the opportunity to get ahead in your major and research experience,” Lucht said. “When I was a freshman, most psychology majors didn’t begin conducting any research until their junior or senior year. Being ahead will help students plan their undergraduate experience and allow more flexibility to conduct additional studies as a junior or senior.”

The next step toward Lucht’s goal will be graduate study in human development and family studies at Colorado State University, then ultimately the pursuit of a doctorate.

Matt Richardson

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