5 Psychology and Neuroscience undergraduates have received honorable mentions for the J. Steven Reznick Diversity and Psychological Research Grant. Congratulations to David Choi, Shelby Johnson, Saif Mehyar, Heather Ortega, and Ali Wiggins!

The J. Steven Reznick Diversity and Psychological Research Grant honors Dr. Reznick, a close friend and colleague in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from UNC Chapel Hill, M.A. from Wake Forest University, and Ph.D. from University of Colorado. He was a proud alumnus of UNC Chapel Hill and served on our faculty from 1998 until his death in 2016. Dr. Reznick made many contributions to enriching diversity in student experiences at Carolina and we thank him for his lifelong commitment to education, research, and Carolina. The Reznick Research Fund honors Dr. Reznick and encourages undergraduate students who conduct exemplary research on topics of concern to diverse populations as well as undergraduates from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in psychological research.


David Choi is a fourth year student working in Dr. Jon Abramowitz’s lab. His research interests focus on the mental health of several groups underrepresented in psychological research: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), people who identify as sexual minorities (LGBTQ), and individuals in both of these groups. David is interested in an array of mental health topics in these groups including: prevalence of psychological disorders, attitudes toward and access to care, the effects of stigma, the effects of racial/ethnic and sexual orientation stereotypes, regional differences, and the development of treatments imbued with cultural humility.


Shelby Johnson is a fourth year student working in Dr. Eric Youngstrom’s lab and Dr. Anna Bardone-Cone’s lab. Her research interests are in expanding knowledge of evidence-based assessments (EBA) of mental health disorders and clinical diagnoses to Spanish-speaking populations. In particular, Shelby is interested in extending work on the Helping Give Away Psychological Science (HGAPS) project that creates and edits Wikipedia pages on clinical assessments by translating pages on EBAs into Spanish and including research from cross-cultural studies as well as validity and reliability findings across cultures on these pages. Further, she would like to add to the assessment literature by comparing norms on EBAs using English, Spanish translations in the U.S., and Spanish translations in Spanish-speaking countries.


Saif Mehyar is a fourth year student working in Dr. Keely Muscatell’s lab. His research interests are in cognitive and neurocognitive mechanisms that are involved in risky decision-making. Saif is interested in following up on the finding that when participants are led to believe that earlier participants had highly varied levels of performance on a task, they made riskier decisions than participants led to think that prior participants varied minimally in their performance. In particular, Saif is interested in using fMRI to examine the neural processes examining decision-making in this experimental paradigm. He wonders if, in the context of being primed with great levels of inequality, riskier decisions are made due to factors such as heightened reward activity or loss of self-regulation.


Heather Ortega is a fourth year student working in Dr. Gina Carelli’s lab. Her research interests are in neurobiological mechanisms that underlie reward processing and learning, and how drugs of abuse can alter neural signaling, contributing to addiction. In particular, Heather is interested in examining in rodent models how prelimbic cortex activity changes during tasks that test behavioral flexibility after the devaluation of a prior rewarding outcome in both rats with cocaine exposure and those without such exposure. This line of research can shed light on how a history of cocaine use can dampen neural signaling in the prefrontal cortex, which in turn can provide insight into ways to bring back “online” neuronal circuitry to potentially decrease drug relapse.


Ali Wiggins is a third year transfer student working in Dr. David Penn’s lab under the research mentorship of doctoral student Arun Nagendra. Her research interests revolve around socioeconomic status (SES) and schizophrenia. In particular, Ali is interested in measuring and understanding how SES affects people with schizophrenia, including the consideration of locus of attribution and self-efficacy as mediators, with an eye toward eventually developing targeted interventions for individuals with psychosis and low SES.


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