During the 2011-2012 academic year, John Servinskas '12 (center) and Riccardo Purita ’13 (left), had the opportunity to conduct research with Dr. Nina Tarner (right), Visiting Assistant Professor at Gettysburg College and Dr. Judith Platania, Associate Professor at Roger Williams University. Their research topic, “Understanding the Role of Specific Personality Traits In Assessing Death Qualification,” focused on examining the relation between death penalty attitudes and specific personality traits. Previous research had shown that people who gain death-qualification status for jury cases involving the death penalty had certain common characteristics and fit a demographic. However, there had not been previous research done to examine whether death penalty attitudes could be conceptualized as a personality trait. We found that specific traits, including neuroticism does exist for those who are death qualified, while those who are non-death qualified displayed openness and consciousnesses. This research built on previous studies to show that the jurors being selected for cases involving the death penalty are more likely to sentence the defendant to death.
They presented their research as a poster at the 2012 Association for Psychological Science Convention in Chicago, Illinois. There were many well-known psychology figures at the convention including David Barlow and James Jackson. Riccardo reports what he enjoyed the most about the convention was to hear about all the current research that was being done and get a closer feel to the field of psychology as a whole. In his own words:
"John and I went to talks that focused on applying to graduate schools, which I found to be very informative. When we presented our research at the poster session, it was on the last day of the convention, so there were not too many people there, but we had a lot of interested people come see our poster. It made us feel like we had contributed something to the psychology field. As a psychology major in college, often you can feel like you are simply studying the disciple for academic purposes. You learn about what famous psychologists have done in the past and what we know because of it. The convention was an opportunity to see a fresh new perspective on psychology where everything was current. Seeing actual psychologists discussing current research they were doing made me realize how alive the field still was. The convention ended with a talk that highlighted the importance of psychology today in all walks of life. After the convention, I realized what a small person I was in this field of big names and advanced research. But at least afterwards, I now officially felt part of the field and I am thankful to have been given that chance."