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.

Dr. David Njus

Why do conservatives and liberals differ in the policies they endorse and the views they hold? In a politically-charged society like ours, it is common practice to assume that those who differ from you politically are somehow bad people, or less intelligent people—or both. Dr. Njus’ research examines a different reason for conservative-liberal differences: conservatives and liberals emphasize different moral foundations and different social and political values. 

In research presented at the 2014 Midwestern Psychological Association Conference, Dr. Njus and Luther psychology major Katrina Okerstrom presented research comparing liberals and conservatives in their choice of values. For example, liberty and equality are both values we prize in our culture, but sometimes they conflict—total liberty would lead to less equality, and total equality would lead to less liberty. Dr. Njus and Okerstrom found that, when these two prized values conflict, conservative chose to emphasize liberty, while liberals emphasized equality. Liberals and conservatives also differed on other values and on 5 different moral foundation.

Dr. Stephanie Travers

Dr. 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.