At a friend's birthday dinner, high school senior Michelle Hackman noticed a lull in the conversation and realized that all her companions were texting one another rather than talking. It disturbed her and sparked a research question to tackle for her science research class: Do teenagers grow anxious when they are separated from their cell phones?
Hackman, a student at John L. Miller Great Neck North High School in Long Island, N.Y., was surprised and excited to learn that her hypothesis was wrong. "The kids in my study who were allowed to keep their phones actually had higher levels of anxiety — it's almost like the phone is a stimulant, " she says.
Her project won second place and a $75, 000 college scholarship in the national Intel Science Talent Search, an elite research competition for high school seniors. The competition also honed her public speaking skills and gave her experience with answering science questions off the cuff.The best part, she says, was meeting the seasoned scientists involved in the contest. "It's like a glimpse into my own future, " says Hackman, who hopes to pursue a career as a research psychologist.
Students have been entering psychology research projects in local, regional and national science fairs for years. But these days, high school psychology teachers throughout the country have started fairs and conventions exclusively for psychology research, in part because psychological science is so interesting to students and the public and also due to APA's support of such fairs. APA sees science fairs as a way for the field to earn psychology more recognition as a core science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discipline, says Robin Hailstorks, PhD, associate executive director of APA's Education Directorate.
"When students present scientifically sound psychology research projects at science fairs, it helps students, teachers and the public understand psychology as a science, " she says.
To boost the number of psychology projects in traditional science fairs and competitions, APA's Education Directorate published a manual for high school teachers to guide students who are conducting original psychological research to enter in science fairs.
APA also provides judges to participate in the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and awards prizes to recognize seven psychology projects. In addition, APA sends an award that the judges can give for the top psychology project at each of the 443 local and regional science fairs affiliated with the Intel ISEF.
"We have kids that are doing really great, rigorous psychological research, and we want to give them a venue to present their projects where that kind of work is the focus and the judges are experts in psychology, " says Allyson Weseley, EdD, who coordinates secondary research at Roslyn High School in Roslyn Heights, N.Y.