• A psychologist.
  • Working side-by-side with students.
  • A noted researcher.
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Professor Melissa Witkow has recruited numerous undergraduates to collaborate on research.

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Researching Human Behavior

Melissa Witkow collaborates with students to study the adolescent social network.

Many people are happy to move beyond the adolescent social network, but Assistant Professor Melissa Witkow and her students are digging deep into the complex interactions of teenagers.

As psychology researchers, they realize that examining these relationships can reveal important information about how teens’ friendships impact their mood, their actions and even their academic achievement.

“We all remember how important our friends were during adolescence,” Witkow says. “Studying that social network can teach us how adolescents are learning from these relationships, and it can help us understand more about the individual and the paths that individual is likely to follow.”

Witkow has cultivated a growing network of students to assist with her research and create their own scientific questions to answer — everything from the influence of teens’ romantic relationships to how the school day differs for students with attention deficit disorder.

Collecting Data

Before Witkow and her students could start tackling these questions, they had to go through a lengthy process faced by every scientist: gathering data.

They spent several weeks collecting daily surveys from about 200 ninth-graders at a local high school, asking the students a litany of questions about what they did each day, what their friends did and how they felt about their experiences.

“This project definitely taught me more about the statistics of psychology, which is based a lot on math,” psychology major Melissa Wurster says. “Our research is not about opinions — it’s about numbers showing what we found.”

Learning to Analyze

“If my students choose to go on to graduate school, this project will give them important skills in critical thinking and understanding psychology that will help them be successful,” Witkow says.

“But even if they don’t continue in research, this experience will help them evaluate research in their daily lives. We evaluate research all the time — anytime we read a news story or discuss politics, for instance. This project enables them to be better consumers of the information around them.”

ABOUT MELISSA WITKOW

  • MA and PhD from University of California, Los Angeles
  • Teaches courses in developmental psychology
  • Research interests include adolescent development and how peer relationships impact behavior
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