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For her EXCEL work this summer, Marquis Scholar Yahna Maurer ’02 (Shoemakersville, Pa.) is studying the effect of visual stimuli on the behavior of pigeons pecking. Maurer is assisting Robert Allan, associate professor of psychology.

Maurer and Allan are conducting experiments using a computer-generated moving-dot stimulus. The visual stimulus moves from left-to-right across a computer monitor with food delivered to the birds when they reach the end of the left-to-right sequence.

“These experiments are contributing to what is called the ‘Matching Law,’ which makes predictions about how animals make choices,” says Allan. “We’re using touch screen technology to check where the pigeons are pecking on what’s called an autoshape paradigm. We record all the x and y locations of the pecks and then analyze the data.”

Maurer, a psychology major and English minor, is responsible for running most of the experiments. She is also taking care of the birds.

“This is my second year working with Dr. Allan. He has been both an invaluable mentor and close friend throughout our time working together,” she says. “We work collectively on experiments and always find new answers and new questions in their results.”

This project has direct repercussions on her future career, as Maurer hopes to earn a Ph.D. in educational psychology.

“I chose to work on this EXCEL project because I knew that I could learn a great deal about the methodology of psychology research,” she says. “Though often labeled as a dead field, I feel that behaviorism still has a great deal to offer psychology. Although cognitive psychology and neuroscience have significantly contributed to our understanding of learning, environmental contingencies are too often overlooked. To gain a more holistic understanding of the mind and the brain, it is important to take behaviorism into consideration. In the lab we do just that. We carefully monitor the effects of environmental contingencies and reinforcement schedules on the behavior of pigeons.”

The project is not without its challenges. “The work is often tedious and time consuming,” she says, “but the results can be very rewarding.”

Allan concurs: “We’re analyzing and synthesizing an enormous amount of data. This is really a wonderful opportunity for students to be exposed to professional level experiments.”

This EXCEL project is one of many positive experiences Maurer has had at Lafayette.

“I think that Lafayette is excellent at fostering creative research,” she says. “I chose Lafayette over other colleges and universities, because I really liked the personalized approach that professors here take in their teaching. I have found it easy to get to know professors and talk to them about my career goals and my research interests. Everyone here has been so helpful and supportive. I have had so many opportunities here that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else.”

Maurer is a member of the Equestrian Club and Questioning Established Sexual Taboos, and is a Writing Associate.

Categorized in: Academic News