Each person’s experience in life is unique, and this experience unknowingly shapes the way that each person perceives and recognizes faces. Facial recognition is at the heart of the research of Dr. Lindsey Short, assistant professor of psychology at Redeemer. It’s also a topic now passionately pursued by Cassie Wilson ‘17, a recent grad who completed her honours psychology thesis on the influence of education setting on facial and identity recognition and perception. This past June, Wilson was honoured to be the only undergraduate in her session at the Canadian Psychological Association national convention in Toronto, where she presented her thesis research.
“You always hope to get a significant result,” says Wilson on writing and presenting her thesis. “I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out. I didn’t have any expectations because I didn’t want to be let down, but I ended up being surprised!” The key finding of Wilson’s research was that homeschoolers have poorer face recognition skills than students who attended public or Christian schools.
Wilson became curious about face perception skills in a cognitive psychology class taught by Dr. Short. In class, Wilson was introduced to the ideas of University of North Dakota professor Dr. Benjamin Balas, who has extensively studied facial recognition skills in adults — specifically those of adults from small towns versus adults from large towns. Wilson focussed her thesis topic loosely on Balas’s research, but rather than look at rural or urban upbringing, she examined a different environmental factor — each child’s school, or education setting, and their subsequent facial recognition skills.
The following September, Wilson began the testing for her thesis — a year-long project for all honours psychology students at Redeemer. With Dr. Short’s assistance, two tasks were chosen for the participants in order to determine their face recognition ability. The first task was created by Balas and had participants look at a series of faces shown on a screen. Once all of the faces were shown a final face would appear on the screen and the participant would say if they had or had not seen the face before. The second task involved sorting through face cards. Each card had a photo of a person’s face, and the participant sorted the photos into piles based on which photos they believed were of the same person.
“A project is successful if the student has learned about and gained an appreciation for the research process and the science behind the subject.”
The remainder of the fall semester consisted of Wilson recruiting students to participate in the experiment, administering tests and analyzing data. Matt Linzel, a third year psychology student, volunteered his time to assist Wilson in administering these tests. In total, 26 students who attended public or Christian schools and 22 students who were homeschooled participated in the experiment. The data and research was completed and collected at Redeemer.
Wilson attributes the success of her project to the assistance of Dr. Short. “She really helped me throughout the whole process,” says Wilson. “From offering literature review for the actual thesis write-up, initially setting up the labs to training me in how to conduct each session, she was always there if I had any questions.”
While it is a terrific accomplishment to be published as an undergraduate student, it is not the ultimate determinant of a successful project. “The honours project is a chance for students to show what they have learned, and professors to offer guidance and mentorship,” says Short. “A project is successful if the student has learned about and gained appreciation for the research process and the science behind the subject.”
Cassie is excited at the opportunity to be published. In the coming year, she is planning on taking some time away from school, but would love in the future to follow up with social psychology research — and blend social psychology with face perception.