Students Present Research Findings

On March 20, students in the psychology department presented their research findings on religious conformity, behavioral modification, and obesity in the evangelical community.

Sarah Rykwalder, a psychology junior, along with three other students conducted an observational study during Midwestern university church services to track the factors associated with conformity. The raising of hands in a service is one example of behaviors they tracked. They witnessed individuals conformed when they received reinforcements.

“The students were reinforced to conform by receiving something desired: a sense of affiliation, social approval, and feeling closer to God. The students wanted to avoid certain aversive stimuli,” Rykwalder said.

They also found an association with the number of hands raised and the music crescendos. Rykwalder plans further research regarding the implications of conformity in musical worship by testing different decibels to find out if certain volumes are related to behavioral responses.

Lennon Mueller, a psychology senior, discussed the results of his six week study on articulation disorder and overcorrection procedures. He worked with two elementary aged students: a boy that struggled with initial L sound words and a girl with overall slurred speech. 

Mueller used overcorrection and positive reinforcement to change their speech patterns. At the end of the study, the boy’s L sounds improved by 50 percent and the girl’s slurred speech decreased from 100 percent to 50 percent. He found the biggest impact in their therapy was through overcorrection: when he would stop them upon error and make them repeat the appropriate sound five times.

“Before going into this work, I would not have considered myself a behaviorist. After this project, I’m not only sold as a behaviorist, but I have also decided to pursue applied behavior analysis as a career, “Mueller said.

Under the advisement of Professor Decker, Assistant Professor of Psychology, both Rykwalder and Mueller will be presenting at the Butler Undergraduate Research Conference next month.

Matthew Merringer, a Christian ministries sophomore, is developing an obesity treatment process tailored for an evangelical faith community. After doing research, he felt obesity was an issue the church could not continue to ignore.

“Church people are the most overweight group of people in the States and being overweight has spiritual implications whether it is in self-discipline or the sin of gluttony,” Merringer said.

He has created a 16 week plan that incorporates Biblical values into the fitness and diet regime. Merringer is arranging to train research assistants in the fall 2013 and begin pilot studies in the spring 2014, with full training for local churches on the method in fall 2014.

“The church has separated itself from science because it does not understand how to balance science with theology. I want to change this,” Merringer said. “Psychology and religion can combine and work hand in hand for the glory of God.”