Elon senior chosen to participate in Posters on the Hill

Kimberly Duggins, a senior Honors Fellow and psychology major mentored by Amy Overman, psychology, has been selected to present her undergraduate research, "Behavioral and electrophysiological effects of schema activation on memory for crime information in older and younger adults, " to members of Congress in Washington, D.C., in April.

The annual Undergraduate Research Posters on the Hill was created and is hosted by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). Selection is very competitive, with approximately 60 students chosen to participate. This program highlights some of the highest quality research taking place nationally at the undergraduate level. Students and their mentors are invited to take part in a general poster session, then are scheduled to meet with congressional representatives to discuss the value of and to help voice calls for support for research at the undergraduate level. Since the initiation of the program, only four other students have been selected from the state of North Carolina to participate, two of whom were Elon students: Melissa Apperson ’07, mentored by Brooke Barnett, communications; and Larissa Ferretti ’09, mentored by Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, psychology.

“I’m so proud of Kimberly’s dedication to her project and that she is receiving this honor. She has done quality work and it is wonderful for her to be recognized in this way,” Overman said.

The goal of Duggins’ project was to investigate 1) how expectations influence memory for crime details, 2) how aging affects reliance on our expectations and how this affects memory accuracy and 3) how brain activity differs between young and older adults during the act of remembering crime details. Preliminary results show that older adults are more likely to accept incriminating evidence when they are uncertain, that cognitive decline results in paying more attention to incriminating information than exonerating information, perhaps due to dependence on schemas about criminal suspects, and that the neural activity associated with processing incriminating evidence is different than that for processing exonerating evidence.

The research has practical applications to the justice system, where its results may help inform new witness procedures for older adults and increase awareness of how jurors, both young and old, remember crime information presented in court. It will be presented at several venues, including the national  Cognitive Aging Conference in Atlanta and Elon’s Spring Undergraduate Research Fair in April. Duggins and Overman will also prepare a manuscript detailing the results of their studies for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Duggins is a fourth-year Honors Fellow, vice president of Psi Chi and the Crime Studies Club, and involved with numerous volunteer initiatives, including serving as director of Safe Rides, a campus organization. Overman and Duggins chose to study older adult memory for crime details to combine Overman’s expertise in age-related memory impairment with Duggins’ passion for legal psychology. The student-mentor team worked on this project through Elon’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE) in 2009, when Duggins was selected as the Joseph Powell SURE Fellow, and during the academic year via the Honors independent study course. She was also honored as a J.E. Rawls Undergraduate Research Scholar for the 2009-10 academic year. Duggins will pursue a Ph.D. in legal psychology upon graduation.

“I would like to continue to conduct psychological research on legal issues in an attempt to increase knowledge which can improve our criminal justice systems,” says Duggins, a native of Winston-Salem, N.C.

She adds that she would like to become a consultant to various government agencies such as police departments and the courts so that she can share the knowledge gained in the laboratory with professionals who can put it to use in the real world.

Overman is assistant professor of psychology and co-creator of the Neuroscience minor. In the three years she has been on the faculty at Elon, she has developed an active research program and has worked with undergraduate students on several projects relating to memory, aging and cognitive (brain) training. Her work with students has been presented at national and regional conferences and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.