Madison Brousseau ’25 Sets Stage for a Cognitive Research Career with Eastern Psychological Association Presentation

Madison Brousseau ’25 Sets Stage for a Cognitive Research Career with Eastern Psychological Association Presentation

Academics, Research, Sciences, Testimonials

April 10, 2024

Madison Brousseau ’25 Sets Stage for a Cognitive Research Career with Eastern Psychological Association Presentation Madison Brousseau '25

During the first semester of her first year as an undergraduate, Madison Brousseau ’25 says she asserted herself in a way that students at many large public universities probably wouldn’t dream of – but students at Hollins are empowered to do.

“I was slightly familiar with psychology from high school, but taking an Introduction to Psychology course that fall really sparked my interest,” she recalls. Brousseau was further intrigued when she learned that Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Wooten was conducting research into eyewitness memory and why witnesses make memory errors, a field of research that was completely new to her. So, she did something that was quintessentially Hollins. “Even as a first-year student I was able to pop by the office of a professor whom I didn’t know and had never seen before, and say, ‘Hey, I heard about your research, can you send me some articles?’ Since that first contact, we have been working together.”

Brousseau and Wooten’s collaborative research over the past two and a half years culminated recently when they delivered their poster presentation, “The Effects of Cognitive Stress on False Memory Formation During Consolidation,” at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) in Philadelphia. A regional division of the American Psychological Association, the EPA was founded in 1896 and is the oldest of the regional psychological associations in the United States.

“False memory is essentially when we remember things incorrectly. Our memory isn’t as rigid as we’d like to believe, so false memory is a lot more common than we think,” Brousseau explains. When she initially approached Dr. Wooten about doing an independent research project with him, they noted that very few studies had looked at the intersection of memory with two other important factors: competition and stress. “We thought it made sense, especially in a college atmosphere where everyone encounters competition and stress. It’s also fairly easy to tackle because you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to study false memories.”

Madison Brousseau ’25 and Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Wooten presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Philadelphia.

Starting in the spring of her first year at Hollins, Brousseau and Wooten delved into the background of the literature on false memories and stress. The following year, they did a pilot version of the study where they looked at how they could improve upon the data they were using. By her junior year, Brousseau was able to run the study based on the data she and Wooten had collected and create the poster presentation for the EPA.

The study’s abstract states:

The effects of competitive stress on memory are not well understood (Liu et al, 2021). Twenty-eight undergraduate students completed a mathematical task (under low, moderate, and high competition) during the filler task part of the experiment (i.e. consolidation) of the DRM paradigm. We found that participants did not show a difference in false or true memory formation between competition levels. These findings indicate that a stronger competitive manipulation may be necessary to better understand how it affects false memory.

Brousseau emphasizes that because she and Wooten used a relatively small sample size, their study does not reach any hard conclusions but suggests a promising opportunity for further research. “The way we ran the project was creative in that we took the experience to experiment with new techniques of looking at false memory and competition. It’s definitely leading us to a direction of, ‘Okay, this didn’t show the results we were expecting, but if we do this, if we change this, if we grab a larger sample size, will there be different results?’”

The EPA poster presentation was Brousseau’s first at an academic conference. “It’s very exciting and satisfying to not only present the research you’ve been working on for so long, but also to have the opportunity to learn how to present it. These are skills that I know can be hard to get as an undergraduate, and I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve managed to get them as a junior. It was a great experience to meet other researchers and other people who are interested in false memory. This is something I know I can explore going forward in graduate school.”

She adds, “Dr. Wooten encouraged me to look at questions that maybe had been under-explored. He gave me feedback and advice, but I was able to be fairly independent in my project. I had responsibility for how it was planned, how it worked, and how we were going to run the data. I felt like I was working with someone who valued my zeal and what I brought to the table. Having him as a mentor both inside and outside the classroom has been a wonderful experience.”

With the potential to build upon this research study, Brousseau says she may use it as the basis for a psychology honors thesis next year. But with the love she’s developed for all facets of cognition and memory research, she isn’t ruling out pursuing other topics. In any event, “I now can run my own research project, and the skills and knowledge I’ve gained are going to be great assets going forth into an honors thesis if I decide to do one.”

Creative writing was a big interest for Brousseau in high school, “something I’ve always been drawn toward in my life,” so she’s double majoring in psychology and creative writing at Hollins. “I feel like if I had gone to a larger public school, maybe it wouldn’t have been possible to do psychology and creative writing and take tons of other classes. That’s definitely one of the strong suits of being here, you can do so much exploration.”

Brousseau hopes to begin graduate school the fall after her graduation from Hollins next year and work toward a research career in cognitive science or cognitive neuroscience. She is thankful for the support she’s received from the psychology department as she brings that goal to fruition. “The psychology department is small, but there is so much going on and it’s so easy to connect, build relationships, and do research projects. It’s very ‘Hollins’ that those things are really prioritized here.”