August 13, 2019

The greater of two passions

Daria Mozheiko from Ukraine graduated from LCC International University this Spring with a BA in Psychology. Her path towards graduation has been filled with interest in neuroscience, teaching in China, and volunteering in South Africa. During her last year at LCC, Daria was working with Dr. Wayne Norman on her thesis project connected to neuroscience, which resulted in interesting discoveries that will serve as a good foundation for further research.

Daria, last month you were volunteering as an English teacher in the Summer Kids and Teens camps. Why did you decide to come to LCC as an English teacher during the summer?
Teaching English is special to me and I am passionate about it. At one point, I had to take an academic leave due to family reasons. During that time, I went to teach in China for two years. It was rewarding to see how much children can learn from you, especially if you stay with them for a longer time, as I did in China. Even though I would love to pursue a career in neuroscience, I hope teaching will stay a part of my life in some way or another.

Where does your interest in neuroscience come from?
I first got interested in neuroscience during the Biological Psychology class led by Dr. Jennifer Schneider. We talked about hormones, neuroscience, neuroplasticity and I was fascinated with all the cognitive processes and how the human brain works. The most valuable part of my journey at LCC was the extent to which professors were involved in my life. They walked me through everything and shared their knowledge with me. I am glad to have been a part of the community where professors are so invested in students.

During your studies at LCC, you have also managed to find time and volunteer in South Africa. Could you share more about this experience?
When I was in my second year at LCC, if I am not mistaken, Board members were visiting with some of their friends and stopped by a few classes. There was a lady who was experienced in working in Africa, and I contacted her to find out more about her experience. She helped me find the organization “The Love of Christ Ministry” in South Africa, and eventually, I became involved with them. They work with abandoned newborn babies as young as 4 hours, who are being transferred to them straight from the hospital. Hopefully they get placed into adoptive families before the age of 3. I stayed there for quite some time and this experience had a huge impact on my life. I am still in touch with some of the children. For example, there is a 5-year-old girl who is living in the Netherlands with her adoptive parents. I am interested in her journey and her growth, and I believe this experience is transformative for both of us.

Daria, you have successfully defended your thesis several months ago. Dr. Wayne Norman has been your advisor and it has been a lengthy research for the both of you. Could you share about your thesis project? 
My thesis focused on emotion recognition ability and heart rate variability. Simply, how well people can recognize emotions and how biology relates to our cognition. I first got interested in this specific topic at Gordon College, USA, when I was an exchange student there. I was working with one of the professors there and we were focusing on time perception and emotion recognition ability. When it was my final year at LCC, I already knew what my thesis was going to be about. Since heart rate variability was Dr. Norman’s area of interest we wanted to combine both these fields to ensure the project would work for both of us. We started research during the summer and slowly it became a larger project.

What was your experience working with the human data and conducting a research? 
The experiment took about an hour to complete. First, the participants would fill in some demographic data. I then measured their heart rate variability and they completed the emotion recognition test, which we obtained from Geneva University. Afterward, the participants went through a social stressor. I had a camera and a microphone set up in a psychology lab. After the participants finished an emotion recognition test they had to give a speech on marriage and complete a mental calculation task. Before the first task, I told participants that the speech should last for five minutes, but I would give them only three minutes. As for the second task they had to subtract 17 from 2023 out loud. The stressors worked 100%! Of course, none of the tasks represented the participant’s intelligence and they were never filmed. In the end, I had two sets of data, pre-stress, and post-stress. First, I looked at how emotion recognition relates to heart rate variability, and there was no relationship there. However, the most interesting discovery happened while researching positive emotions and heart rate variability. The data was not a linear relationship, but a curve. Meaning that people with very low heart rate variability do poorly on regulating positive emotions; people with medium heart rate variability do well, and people with high heart rate variability do poorly again. Actually, it was quite novel, because if we look at the literature, the relationship is always linear for both emotion recognition ability and working memory.

Daria, do you plan to continue with this research?
We are continually working on it. After I defended my thesis, I have collected more data from males because in the beginning I had 26 females and 14 males. Now, we have 48 participants in total. During the experiment stage, I was shocked by how many LCC students participated. Altogether 72 people participated, including the pilot study. These students dedicated an hour of their time in between classes to help me out with my experiment. It was quite impressive how invested they were and interested in what was happening afterward, so I felt their support. Another impressive thing was how much Dr. Norman and the whole Social Sciences Department was invested in our research. If I had any questions, I could consult Dr. Jennifer Schneider and other professors as well. The amount of time and effort Dr. Norman has invested in my project is inspiring. I think it is quite special that I got a chance to work closely with my supervisor.

Source – LCC International University.