2022-23 Independent student research projects

Colby Smith ‘23 Raptor Cognition via the String-Pulling Task

One group of animals whose cognition remains understudied are the birds of prey. Due to the difficulties of finding enough subjects to test, few studies have examined these animals performances on cognitive tasks. The string-pulling task is a common cognitive task used to judge factors of cognition such as learning over time, means-end analysis, and insight problem solving. Previous research has examined string-pulling in only a few species of raptor such as the Harris’s Hawk, Great Grey Owl, and Turkey Vulture. We tested seven raptor species (Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), Barn Owl (Tyto alba), Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii), Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni), and Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)) on the same experimental set up. Two strings were tied around a perch, with one baited with a 20 gram mouse and the other serving as a control with a 15 gram rock tied to it. A food protection stand prevented birds from accessing the mouse from below the perch. Birds were given 60 minutes to attempt to solve the task and underwent several trials. We found three species of raptors that solved the task, including the first recorded solving of the task by a Western Screech Owl. Additionally, we observed new solve methods in Turkey Vultures. Our study illustrated how natural history can affect performance on a cognitive task as different species used different solving methods based upon their biomechanical abilities and hunting patterns.


Hayden Smith ‘23 Perceived Familial Social Support After Coming Out Predicts Mental Health in Gender-Diverse Adolescents

This study aimed to explore the social experiences of Gender-Diverse (GD) youth and how they influence mental health using longitudinal data collected by the developmental social neuroscience (DSN) lab at the University of Oregon. The data included survey responses from 157 cis-gender, and 17 GD adolescents (age 9-18) from four time points that were approximately 18 months apart. Coarsened Exact Matching based on demographic variables was used to create a cis-gender matched pairs sample (n = 13) for participants who had indicated a GD identity by the third time point. We found a significant decrease in perceived familial social support between wave 1 (W1) and wave 3 (W3) and waves 2 (W2) and W3 for the GD group only. Additionally, we found significant predictive relationships between depression and perceived familial social support at W3 and at the first point an individual indicated their GD identity, suggesting that the negative impacts of perceived familial social support (either after coming out or by W3) in GD adolescents contributes to depressive symptomatology.


Skyler Dela Cruz ‘23 The Influence of Oxytocin on Social Learning by Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris)

Domesticated dogs have the ability to be highly responsive to human-delivered cues, making them suitable social partners with humans. In dogs, humans, and other mammals, the brain releases oxytocin (OT) during positive social interactions. Previous research found that oxytocin improves dogs’ performance on tasks involving social engagement from a human. Dogs were pseudo-randomly assigned into four experimental conditions (OT/Placebo, and Demo/No Demo). Participants were given the opportunity to solve a puzzle apparatus containing dog treats while an human experimenter engaged with the dog. Dogs in the social learning (“Demo”) condition interacted with the puzzle longer and solved it more often than dogs not in this condition. The results showed no influence of OT on any solving behaviors with the puzzle. Dogs with the OT gazed at their owner more often than dogs in the Placebo condition and interestingly, these dogs gazed more at the experimenter than their owners on average. These findings reveal that the dogs’ social behaviors of referencing their owners reflected the desire of obtaining cues from a familiar social partner rather than an unfamiliar one. The findings suggest the dogs’ search for having joint attention depends on how active and knowledgeable a social partner may seem related to a particular task. While there were no differences seen between OT and the placebo, the extensive demographic information obtained through surveys may offer additional insights of oxytocin’s influence in future work.


Laura Arcia ‘23 Child development and Covid-19: How different modes of interpersonal communication impact social skills in early elementary school students.

Due to Covid-19, many American schools ceased in-person instruction during the 2020/21 school year. These closures have severely impacted young children’s academic and social development. This study focuses on the influence of school closures on social development, specifically the difference in the effect of online and in-person interactions. Thirty-nine parents of first and second graders responded to a survey about their family’s experience during the 2020/21 school year. Questions focused on how 4 factors (mode of instruction, social interactions, support systems, and time for activities) impacted a child’s 3 primary social skills (play, emotion regulation, and communication). Results concluded that the mode of instruction had no impact on social skills scores. In-person interactions were associated with higher play scores. Implications of differences in social interactions are discussed.