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Trustee Scholar Kristin Pontoski ’03 (Willow Grove, Pa.) researched the topic of eyewitness confidence last semester as an EXCEL Scholar with John Shaw, assistant professor of psychology.

“Kristin conducted a series of experiments concerning whether a criminal eyewitness’ confidence differs in public and private settings,” explains Shaw. “For example, an eyewitness may exhibit a certain level of confidence when questioned in private by detectives or police officers or when identifying suspects in a line-up. This confidence level may change when an eyewitness is called on to testify in court.”

According to Shaw, research has shown that jurors put credence in witness confidence. If witnesses appear to be more confident than they really are, a jury may be swayed.

Pontoski, a double major in psychology and English, enjoyed the project, “This is an interesting and important topic in social psychology and, therefore, is helpful practice for any area that I eventually want to investigate,” she says.

As part of the collaborative work, Shaw encourages his student to help design experiments and review problems and issues that might arise.

“My mentor, Professor Shaw, believes strongly in the value of having EXCEL students assist with his research and plays an active role in my learning experience. Most importantly, he encourages me to ask questions and develop my own research and analytical skills on a deeper level than I would be able to do in the general classroom,” says Pontoski.

Although she is uncertain about her future career, Pontoski is pleased to tackle the challenges of advanced research.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the trial and error process that is necessary for successful publication in social psychology, a goal that I hope to achieve on my own someday, if I decide to go to graduate school for psychology,” she says. “This experience has taught me invaluable skills in organization, independence, critical thinking, and problem solving that I can carry with me throughout my life.”

She adds, “Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program is a unique and rewarding experience. Most undergraduates do not get the opportunity to work one-on-one with a professor in an area of their choice because graduate students are filling such positions. However, Lafayette stimulates students to get involved on an intense level early in their educational careers, thus preparing them for a future in independent research. This learning environment is one of the biggest advantages of Lafayette, and I am grateful to have taken advantage of it.”

A graduate of Upper Moreland High School, Pontoski is an orientation leader, a Writing Associate, and a psychology tutor. She participates in Landis Community Outreach Center’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Now, in which Lafayette students provide a variety of educational programs for teenagers from the Easton community. She serves as a volunteer at a local child care center and is a member of the wind ensemble.

Categorized in: Academic News