The Author’s Reception at Eastern Mennonite University’s Academic and Creative (ACE) Festival had an impressive lineup of faculty authors—with one exception. Junior Joshua Wenger was the only student among faculty authors with recent published work. His research manuscript, “Motivation and Memory: An analysis of performance-dependent reward-based motivational effects on encoding and retrieval,” appeared in the April 2022 edition of Modern Psychological Studies.
Wenger’s paper earned him the Frederick B. Rowe Award for Best Undergraduate Paper at the Virginia Association for Psychological Science conference in early April. He attended with three other EMU psychology students, presenting this research as well as another oral and a poster presentation.
Read about Wenger’s process and experience.
Describe your research.
This is basic research on motivation and memory. Past literature shows that external reward can boost an individual’s memory performance. This research attempts to understand the mechanism for improvement of memory—whether reward boosts a person’s ability to get information into their memory, if it improves one’s ability to retrieve information from their memory, or both? If both, which is stronger?
How did you select this topic?
I’ve always enjoyed the neuroscience and cognitive sides of psychology. I had been exposed to a classic rats-in-the-maze experiment by Edward C. Tolman that established the presence of cognitive maps as a mechanism. And when I read the paper, I had an additional interpretation of it supporting reward-based effects on memory. I started looking deeper into the topic of motivation and memory and found some robust research, but I felt there was a gap and had ideas for how to fill it.
When did the research start and what was the process like?
The project began fall of 2020 for my senior research in psychology. That was when I established the experimental design and conducted a literature review. In spring 2021, I got IRB approval and ran participants.
I conducted the research in Roselawn’s psychology research lab. I created a computerized memory test in which participants were shown words, completed a filler task, and then were asked to identify words flashed on the screen as from the previous list or not. Undergraduate psychology students participated in the research.
After writing everything up, I submitted the paper in the summer of 2021 and was notified at the beginning of 2022 that it was accepted.
What was the revision process like?
Scientific journals usually accept manuscripts contingent on certain revisions. I made a few edits so that it followed the journal’s formatting and terminology guidelines, then submitted the revisions within 30 days and it was published in April 2022.
How did it feel to get your paper accepted?
I was surprised and energized—this was the first research win of that kind that I’d had. I conducted this research during COVID, so all presentations at the time were virtual. The conference at which I was originally going to present was canceled. This just excites me about the prospect of continuing to research and dive further into academia.
Describe Dr. Moore’s role in the process.
This was my first (of now several) independent research projects, so along the way my professor, Dr. Susannah Moore, would proofread my methodology, ensuring that the experimental design was sound and walking me through the process of IRB approval. She also did a mock peer review process, which I was grateful for once I needed to do that with the publication.
How do you feel that being at EMU has impacted these opportunities?
The strength of EMU comes from the strength of the professors. Dr. Moore has been extremely supportive of the initiatives I have taken in pursuing research. As research is my primary interest, it has been invaluable to have a mentor who supports my learning both in her lab and in my own endeavors. It has allowed me to focus on what I’m passionate about and intend to pursue as a career. Additionally, professors from every department are willing to collaborate, which is particularly helpful as a researcher with interdisciplinary interests.
What are you hoping to work on moving forward?
This past year I have been working with a lot of health psychology data focused on maltreatment, psychopathology, and physical health with Susannah in her lab. Independently, I have been researching how cognitive ability plays into these various health factors.
All of my research up to this point has been focused on cognition, which is an overarching interest of mine. I have always been interested in how cognition affects our way of being in the world. This past semester that way of being in the world has mostly been biopsychosocial health outcomes. But, an emerging interest has been how philosophy fits into the neuropsychological equation in terms of moral decision-making. This is the direction in which I plan to drive my research into grad school.
I will apply to doctoral programs next fall, and will graduate in December. I am currently looking into programs either in the cognitive or neuroscientific sides of psychology, or the behavioral psychological side of neuroscience.