August 16, 2022

Miriam Liss: Research Persistent

After her first interview for an academic position – at Mary Washington – Miriam Liss knew right away she wanted the job.

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

“It was so much fun. I loved everything about it,” said Liss, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Connecticut. “The people were wonderful. The students were wonderful. The town was charming.”

That was 20 years ago. Since then, she has risen in rank from assistant to full professor in the Department of Psychological Science. This fall, she’ll take on the role of chair.

Along the way, her life has woven itself into her work, which always focuses on students. With them, and with many fellow faculty members, she’s explored and published on myriad topics, from feminist identity and body image to sensory processing and self-injury. When Liss became a mother herself – to Emily, 12, and Daniel, 14 – her research turned toward the subject of parenting.

More recently, she’s embraced the concept of mindfulness. The results of a three-year study – with UMW professors Mindy Erchull, Dan Hirshberg, Angela Pitts and David Ambuel – appear in the current issue of The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry. Their research, a collaboration between the departments of Classics, Philosophy and Religious Studies, along with Psychological Science, found decreased levels of depression and anxiety in students who take UMW’s Contemplative Practice course.

Miriam Liss has pursued a wide range of research at UMW, involving students every step of the way. Results of a recent study conducted with felllow faculty members were published in the current edition of 'The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry.'

Miriam Liss has pursued a wide range of research at UMW, involving students every step of the way. Results of a recent study conducted with felllow faculty members were published in the current edition of ‘The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry.’

Liss hopes to instill the idea of mindfulness, and its effects on mental wellness, at an even earlier age, by collaborating with Mary Washington students and a social worker at Spotsylvania’s Riverview Elementary School to implement a first-grade curriculum. She’s guiding her research team to get the program off the ground and evaluate its effects, and to explore how mindfulness might protect against a variety of mental health outcomes in college students.

From the first course she taught, after that “fun” and fortuitous interview, to the classes she’s teaching, virtually, this semester – Psychology of Women, using the textbook she wrote with Erchull, and Abnormal Psychology – students have remained front and center.

“That’s one of the things I like so much about Mary Washington,” Liss said. “We’re allowed to develop our research agenda in any way we want as long as we’re involving students.”

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Working with students, especially my research students, and allowing their interests, along with my own, to shape what I do. Over the years I’ve worked with so many amazing students.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Balancing everything. Sometimes I feel like I have so many balls in the air I’m afraid I’m going to drop one.

Q: Any big plans as department chair?
A: My colleagues and I have been working to develop a course through the Department of Psychological Science to prepare students for careers after college.

Q: What’s the one thing people would be most surprised to learn about you?
A: They might be surprised to know how involved I’ve been with theater. I made my Fredericksburg début in 2015 as the mother in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I love singing. I can do a mean show tune. My true fantasy is to retire and get on the stage.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: Don’t get so tangled up in your thoughts. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Also, I have a general motto of self-acceptance. We’re all going to mess up. It’s OK. We can still love all the parts of ourselves, not just the great parts.

Rettinger Comments in New York Times

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger, who is also Director of Academic Integrity Programs at UMW, offered comments for a New York Times article entitled, “Backlash Over Leniency at West Point After 73 Cadets Are Accused of Cheating.”

“It’s a complex tug of war,” he said. “You have emerging adults who genuinely want to serve their country at the highest levels. It’s heartfelt and honorable. Some may say to themselves, ‘Am I going to allow calculus to be the thing that keeps me from being the patriot I am?’ or, ‘Am I going to let the fellow cadet fall behind?’ From that point of view, they don’t necessarily see cheating as an unalloyed bad thing.” Read more.

Rettinger Discusses Cheating on Enrollment Growth University Podcast

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger, who is director of Academic Integrity Programs at UMW, was a guest on the Enrollment Growth University podcast. According to the podcast’s website, he discussed “changing the incentives altogether and prevent the very need for online cheating in the first place.” Listen here.

Erchull, Liss Win Award for ‘Psychology of Women and Gender’ Textbook

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Professor of Psychological Science Mindy Erchull

Professor of Psychological Science Mindy Erchull

Professors of Psychological Science Mindy Erchull and Miriam Liss, along with co-author Kate Richmond, won the 2020 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology for their textbook published last year by Norton: Psychology of Women and Gender.

The Distinguished Publication Award is given in recognition of significant and substantial contributions of research and theory that advance our understanding of the psychology of women and promote achievement of the goals of the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP). Every year since 1977, AWP has given one or more awards for books and/or articles published the prior year that make a significant contribution to feminist psychology. The book by Erchull, Liss and Richmond is the most recent in a body of distinguished publications to merit such an honor. The authors have also been invited to present an award address at the 2021 virtual AWP conference. Learn more about the award here:  https://www.awpsych.org/distinguished_publication.php.

Rettinger Comments on Cheating in Online Courses

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger

Professor of Psychological Science David Rettinger, who is also Director of Academic Integrity Programs at UMW, commented in an Inside Higher Ed article entitled, “Best Way to Stop Cheating in Online Courses? ‘Teach Better’.”

“Ever since the first monks were saying, ‘Oh, those new styluses are allowing them to illuminate those manuscripts much more easily, that’s clearly dishonest,’ there’s been somebody who thought the new technology makes [cheating] so much easier,” David Rettinger, a professor of psychological science and director of academic programs at the University of Mary Washington, said during the Wiley webcast. “The reality is that there has always been people using technology for good and for ill. I don’t think the internet is an epochal technological change — it’s just another in a series of the wheel turning.” Read more.

Wilson Discusses Trauma, Virginia Beach Shooting Anniversary

Laura Wilson, associate professor of psychology

Laura Wilson, associate professor of psychology

Associate Professor of Psychology Laura Wilson spoke with WHRO Public Media, an NPR affiliate in Norfolk, about the anniversary of the Virginia Beach mass shooting on May 31 and the process of recovery for survivors.

People work through trauma in different ways, said Laura Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. Some may have channel their grief into political activism, some people organize events, some retreat into themselves, while others seek solace in people who can relate to their experience.

“Anything a person can do to create meaning around a loss can be vital to getting their life back on track,” she said.

But any of those things is likely more difficult in a pandemic.

“As you start to put additional stressors on people who are already struggling, that’s only going to further impact their mental health issues,” Wilson said. Read more.

Liss’ Intensive Parenting Study Featured in Refinery29.com Series

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Psychology Professor Miriam Liss’ study on intensive parenting was featured in an article on Refinery29.com as part of a series entitled “No Bad Moms.” The article states that modern mothers are chastised whenever they speak openly about being the “center of their own world”

Not only is this narrow definition of motherhood stifling, it’s also harmful. In a study on the effects of intensive parenting — a style of over-involved parenting where moms and dads heavily involve themselves in all the decisions and aspects of a child’s life, leaving little space for the parent to exist outside the child — University of Mary Washington psychologist Miriam Liss found that women who believed parenting should be child-centered had reduced life satisfaction. Read more.

Liss, Erchull Study on Selfies and Self-Objectification Featured on WVTF

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Professors of Psychological Science Miriam Liss and Mindy Erchull’s recent study into selfies and self-objectification among young women was recently featured on WVTF 88.3 Radio IQ.

YouTube is loaded with videos advising young women on how to take a good selfie.

“You just have to find your good side. Like this is my good side, but this side is a no!” says one.

Professor of Psychological Science Mindy Erchull

Professor of Psychological Science Mindy Erchull

Which is why psychology professor Miriam Liss chose to take a closer look. She and her colleague Mindy Erchull studied 165 female students at their school – the University of Mary Washington. They found some girls took as many as 30 selfies before posting one.

“They’re thinking ‘How does my body look? Is my tummy looking big, are my arms flabby, does my nose look too big?’” she explains. “We’re often putting ourselves in a state of self-objectification.”

And that could lead to serious psychological problems: eating disorders, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, a loss of a sense of flow, which is the ability to be in the moment and enjoy what you’re doing. Read more.

Liss Discusses Social Media Addiction in Gizmodo Article

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss was recently interviewed by a reporter for Gizmodo in an article entitled, “Why is Social Media So Addictive?”

Social media is so addictive because it plays on one of the most fundamental aspects of what it means to be human—our need for social connection with others. We post and wait for other people to like or comment on our posts. We like and comment on other people’s posts as an act of social reciprocity, and it feels as though we are connecting to others.

The rewards are intermittent and unpredictable—we never know when we log on whether we have gotten more likes, comments, or followers. It is well known that intermittent and unpredictable rewards are the most addictive—think about slot machines. The anticipation while the app loads heightens the excitement and addictive nature. Features like streaks in Snapchat play on our desire not to let other people down (and break a streak) as well as the idea that the more time and investment we have put into something (known as sunk costs) the more investment we have in keeping it going.

Interestingly, our desire for social rewards can make us act in ways that undermine the value of those rewards. We often present only the partial truth about ourselves and manipulate our stories or photos in order to make ourselves look better to increase our likes and positive comments. When we do that, however, the likes and positive feedback can seem hollow and make us feel bad. I recently published a study with my colleague and students that linked photo manipulation on Instagram to feelings of depression through a sense that one was being disingenuous about what was posted. 

Read more.

Wilson Discusses How Rape Survivors Process Trauma with Huffington Post

Laura Wilson, associate professor of psychology

Laura Wilson, associate professor of psychology

Associate Professor of Psychological Science and Safe Zone Director Laura Wilson discussed how rape survivors process trauma with The Huffington Post, in an article entitled, “Rape is Still Rape, Even When Consensual Sex Happens Later.” The article highlights the testimony of rape survivor Jessica Mann, an actress who testified that she was raped by disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and later had a consensual relationship with him.

“I certainly understand that it seems bizarre,” Dr. Laura Wilson, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Mary Washington told HuffPost by phone on Thursday. “But in actuality, when you think about how people respond to victimization it makes a lot of sense.” Wilson, whose research focuses on post-trauma functioning in sexual assault survivors, explained that most survivors don’t initially use the terms “assault” or “rape” to describe what they’ve experienced. Instead, they might conceptualize the assault as “bad sex” or “a miscommunication.” 

Often times, the survivor in this scenario is in an ongoing relationship with an abusive partner, Wilson said. People tend to believe rape is perpetrated by a stranger ― not someone known to the victim like a partner, classmate or colleague. So when sexual violence is perpetrated by someone the survivor knows (which is 80% of the time, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), they often don’t have the correct language to describe the encounter. 

“What we know through research is that people have, what we call, a ‘stereotyped rape script,’” Wilson explained. “What most people assume rape looks like is a strange man raping a woman in a dark alley, there’s typically a weapon involved, and she normally fights back. Anything that doesn’t fit that script, we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know how to conceptualize it.” Read more.