Research Motivates Psychology Major

Mary Kate Moore holding a rat cageSenior Mary Kate Moore has a passion for research. And her major in experimental psychology, with a minor in neuroscience, allows her to follow her passion.

The Army brat, who has lived all over the world, said her fascination with psychology began in her freshman year.

“I took a psych class that I had no interest in,” she said. “But Professor Joshua Williams taught it as a science and that was something I did not anticipate. It was not at all what I expected. I loved it and from then on, I took every psychology class that I could find.”

Professor Williams described Moore as a top student in his courses who even served as a supplemental instructor for a sensation and perception course.

“She is a diligent worker, possesses a high degree of curiosity about the subject matter, asks pointed questions to gain a deeper understanding of the material, and is always trying to find ways to apply what she learns to real-world situations,” said Williams. “Like many other students who enroll in Introduction to Psychology, Mary Kate quickly realized that the problems of psychology may be approached scientifically. For Mary Kate, this was so attractive of an idea that she has spent the years since that class engaging in undergraduate research. Ultimately, I am very proud of Mary Kate.”

Moore has made the President’s List twice, and said she has been “lucky enough to work with two labs on the Armstrong campus.”

Most of her research focuses on animal cognition and on human learning. In one of her lab projects, she worked on a “paradigm called the midsession reversal,” which involved rats hitting a lever.

“The midsession reversal tests how long it takes a subject to change behavior where the behavior required to earn the reward is switched in the middle of a test session,” Moore explained. “For instance, if we showed you two cups turned upside down 20 times and told you there was a dollar bill underneath one of the cups each time, for the first 10 trials the dollar bill would be under the left cup and for the reversal, the dollar bill would be under the right cup in the last 10 trials. We used levers and wheat pellets in operant chambers to test this same concept in rats. Programming the operant chambers we placed the rats in for this experiment proved to be surprisingly difficult, but I loved the challenge.”

Another one of her research projects links the philosophy of the Irish thinker George Berkeley to modern neuroscientific theory.

“The more I read about Berkeley, the more I realize just how ahead of his time he was,” Moore said. “It makes me wonder just how many other philosophers we should be looking at more closely for inspiration in our modern-day theories.”

The undergraduate said the guidance of faculty members Rebecca Rayburn-Reeves, Ph.D.; Joshua Williams, Ph.D.; and Nancy McCarley, Ph.D.; was invaluable in her research endeavors.

“Each mentor has meant something special to me and I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything,” she noted.

The honors student has co-authored an entry in the Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior — a rare accomplishment for any undergraduate. She has had her research presented at several conferences and at the Armstrong Campus Student Scholars Symposium. In addition to her research and academic accomplishments, Moore is active in student government, and is a member of the Student Conduct Board. She will graduate next May and would like to attend graduate school or find a career opportunity that involves research.

“I want to do some kind of research for the rest of my life,” she said. “Research is hard. Really hard. No one can prepare you for how hard it is once you’re in the middle of it. But it’s worth it. To me, research is objectively looking for answers that make life better. I want data to analyze, something I can examine so I can try, in some small way, to make things better for people.”

When she is not busy with school, Moore hangs out with her husband, Joe, or has time for yoga, skating, video games and playing with their two cats, Shadow and Harley Quinn.

— Sandra Bennett