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Research Highlights

Dr. Loren Toussaint

Is forgiveness related to living longer?  This is one of the questions Dr. Toussaint has been addressing in his research at Luther.  In a longitudinal study of 1500 adults age 66 and over, Dr. Toussaint and his research team found that those who rated high in “conditional forgiveness”—that is, they could only forgive others who said they were sorry—were more likely to have died over the course of the study than those who were low in conditional forgiveness.  Dr. Toussaint and his colleagues have published this research in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, and this promising area of research has been written up in Psychology Today.  See Dr. Toussaint’s web page for more on his research.

Dr. Stephanie Travers

Dr. Stephanie Travers has initiated a translational research program directed at applying the basic cognitive science of memory to healthy functioning and attention, memory, and cognitive aging in the elderly.  Translational science takes the best of what a field knows from laboratory studies and “translates” that information into useful interventions and approaches in patient care. Dr. Travers has developed a unique translational approach that uses gardening and other activities, sometimes referred to as horticulture therapy, to help elderly persons in nursing homes retain functional ability and improve cognitive performance.

Over the summer of 2010, Dr. Travers developed a horticulture therapy program and implemented it at Aase Haugen nursing home in Decorah, Iowa. This program consisted of several gardening sessions with the residents over the course of the good growing months, mainly June and July. Residents also participated in a pilot assessment program where Dr. Travers was able to collect initial data examining the relevance of horticulture therapy to cognitive functioning.

The results of this initial pilot horticulture intervention will be presented at the National Wellness Conference in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Dr. Travers will lead a 1-hour symposium explaining the planning, logistics, intervention, assessment, and relationship-building aspects of this project. As one of the first students to participate in this program, Mitchell Demers (11) will present a summary of this work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Dr. Travers continues to build relationships in the community in hopes of growing this program and offering it more widely in other nursing homes in Decorah and throughout the region.

Dr. David Njus

One of Dr. Njus’ areas of research involves the “motivated” nature of political belief.

Political attitudes vary widely, from the extremely liberal to the extremely conservative. Most people who have deeply-held political beliefs likely believe that they have arrived at those beliefs after careful, thoughtful analysis—after all, who would adopt deeply-held beliefs without rational consideration?

Some research suggests, however, that there is a motivated desire to arrive at answers to political questions—that is, there is a bias to help some people arrive at political conclusions they want to arrive at.  Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003), for example, maintain that political conservatism—but not political liberalism—stems from such motivated social cognition.

Dr. Njus’ research explores whether different political orientations are in fact motivated in similar or different ways. In research presented at the 2012 Midwestern Psychological Association Conference, Dr. Njus and Luther psychology major Rachel Hodapp had liberal and conservative subjects read stories about people who had arguably done something inappropriate, such as:
     1) a babysitter whose two-year-old charge fell and sprained her arm;
     2) a CIA agent who used coercive interrogation techniques on a suspected
          terrorist;
     3) an environmentalist accused of complicity in a “tree spiking” activity which
          resulted in injury to a logger.

Dr. Njus and Hodapp found that liberals and conservatives were actually quite similar in motivated cognition:  conservatives attributed less wrong-doing to the CIA agent, liberals less wrong-doing to the environmentalist, and they found no differences between liberals and conservatives in how they viewed the politically neutral babysitter (see Dr. Njus’ web page for the write-up of this study). Dr. Njus is continuing to do research exploring the similarities and differences between the cognitive and motivational underpinnings of political ideology.