Senior Spotlight: Ashley Vann

Before Graduation, Vann Designed an Experiment to Test Self Esteem's Influence on Bystander Intervention

On May 15, 2018, psychology students presented their senior research. This presentation concluded the Psychology Senior Seminar led by Dr. Greta Valenti. Ashley Vann, who graduated from Birmingham-Southern with a bachelor's degree in psychology on May 25th, says that at the beginning of the semester, Valenti divided the class into four groups and then instructed each group to “design an experiment that covered something one of the previous studies that we read missed.” After searching academic journals and reflecting on past coursework, Vann and her teammates designed a study to measure the influence that self-esteem has on bystander intervention.

The group hypothesized that bystanders would be more likely to intervene in a dangerous situation if their abilities were affirmed beforehand, thus raising self-esteem levels. To test their hypothesis, Vann and her teammates designed an observational experiment that would involve Birmingham-Southern freshmen and sophomores.

If the proposed experiment were conducted, the experimenters would randomly select freshmen and sophomores from Psychology 101 and divide them into two groups of equally distributed genders. In one group, the researcher would ask each of the participants to write an essay about a time or times that he or she felt most successful. Following the essay, the participants would be taken to a room with snacks where they would witness a fellow student feigning (unbeknownst to them) an allergic reaction to peanuts. The observers would then compare the group of participants who wrote essays to the group of participants who did not to see if self-esteem via self-affirmation would connect with bystander response.

Vann says that her group used several databases for their scientific research, including those databases available through Birmingham-Southern’s library. They outlined their project in a detailed five-page summary that included an extensive bibliography. In their study, the group referenced researchers L. Van Boven, G. Lowenstein et al’s article on the allusion of self-courage in embarrassing conditions which was published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. The group also referenced articles about stress responses and unaware resilience in dangerous situations in the journals Psychological Science and The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Self-esteem studies will likely play a role in Vann’s future career. Now that she has graduated, Vann says that she plans “to take a year off of school to start working as a counselor or something similar at a preschool or elementary school.” After the gap year, Vann hopes to return to school to obtain her master’s degree. Presently, Vann considers receiving her master’s in the field of behavioral science so that she can work with kids--possibly children with autism.

Although Vann planned to major in English when she began her journey at Birmingham-Southern, she fell in love with psychology when she took a class in the field to meet a social science requirement. While she took as many English classes as she could during her time at BSC, Vann says that she enjoys studying psychology because she feels that it is a career path where she can help people directly.