Psychology master’s candidate Kristen Judy uses her research skills to study social anxiety and the stresses associated with the pandemic.
Kristen Judy is knee-deep in experimental psychology. And the graduate student in TU’s psychology department wouldn’t have it any other way.
One year into her master’s program, Judy has already looked at the psycho-physiological responses to social anxiety and the mental and physical health impacts of living in a world with COVID-19.
Judy chose TU’s experimental psychology concentration because she says, “It focuses on developing research skills and independent studies.”
Her first project, “Social Anxiety and Vagal Tone’s Effect on Disengagement from Threat Cues,” examined the reactions of 55 participants exposed to threatening stimuli.
Working with her adviser, Jared McGinley, assistant professor of psychology and head of TU’s Emotion Science Lab, Judy measured vagal tone or resting heart rate variability, comparing baseline rates to those after participants were shown photos of angry people.
“They also completed a social anxiety questionnaire and a cognitive task related to their ability to disengage from threats,” she explains. She presented her findings at TU’s Student Research & Creative Inquiry Forum last spring.
The coronavirus locked down the lab, preventing subsequent physiological experiments. But Judy found an alternative method to continue her research. “It was a good opportunity for survey research,” she explains, “looking at how the virus affects lifestyle, mental health and emotional regulation.”
She’s just beginning to analyze over 350 responses to questions that included whether COVID-19 had negative impacts on finances and education, or whether respondents thought social distancing was important.
As she begins to develop a thesis topic, Judy is thankful for the guidance and academic rigor of the program.
“I really appreciate the university and the psychology department. They’ve given me the resources and support I need to do good research that will be valuable to the psychology field,” Judy says.