August 14, 2012

Psychology students Denny and Walters each win first place in research expo

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Shannon Denny and Melissa Walters, students in the Department of Psychology, each won first place honors at the UAB Summer Research Expo 2012. Both students are Ronald E. McNair Summer Scholars and conducted their work under the supervision of Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., director of the Translational Research for Injury Prevention Laboratory.

Left to right: Walters, Stavrinos, Denny

Denny, a senior from Birmingham, Ala., has competed in the expo every spring and summer since 2011; this is her fourth first-place finish. Her poster, “Distracted Driving Impacts Merging onto an Interstate for Teen and Young Adult Drivers,” won first place in Public Health and Social and Behavioral Sciences I. Her findings revealed the average start-merging speed and end-merging speed were significantly slower when texting or talking on cell phones.

Walters’ poster, “Self-Reported Risky Driving Behavior Predicts Greater Speed While Merging,” won first place in Public Health and Social and Behavioral Sciences II. The senior from Montgomery, Ala., found risky drivers approached merging at a faster speed than drivers reporting less risky behavior. However, based on other study findings that slower merging speeds cause collisions, she hypothesizes that it may not be detrimental for risky drivers to merge faster.

The students examined 75 simulator files; each file is hundreds of thousands of lines in an Excel document. Their mentor, Stavrinos, says their hard work will pay off.

“Graduate school in psychology is very competitive,” Stavrinos says. “They look for not only evidence of scientific contribution, like posters and presentation, but they also look for excellence in those areas so being a first-place winner is a resume booster.”

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