Throngs of people filled the halls and breakout rooms of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans Feb. 27-29 during the 2020 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Convention. Among the several thousand researchers presenting poster sessions were two current University of Richmond students and three recent graduates.

Their common denominator? Their mentor, Crystal Hoyt, professor of leadership studies and psychology and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

“This is the foremost international conference for social and personality psychologists,” Hoyt said. “It is where the cutting-edge social and personality psychology research is presented and new ideas are developed.

“Our students do excellent research, and this conference is the ideal place for them to present and discuss their work. It is an excellent opportunity for those interested in grad school to explore a lot of the other work being done in the field. Also, they can network and meet potential future colleagues and research collaborators.”

Ayele d’Almeida (leadership studies and political science double major), ’20,  and Rachel Forsyth (psychology major), ’17, presented a poster session titled “Double-Edged Sword Effects of Conservatives’ Fixed Beliefs about Criminality” on research they conducted with Chloe Zaloom (leadership studies and psychology double major), ’19, and Hoyt.

“We investigated how beliefs about criminality as a fixed or malleable trait—for example, whether a person is a born criminal—relate to a person’s political ideology,” Forsyth said.

Their research showed that conservatives are more likely to believe in the fixedness of criminality and these beliefs have a double-edged sword effect on their support for punitive sentencing for criminal behavior.  

Other student-Hoyt collaborative research presented included: “Draw Some Awesome: The Effect of Art and Awe on Grief and Giving” by Jamie Katz (leadership studies and psychology double major), ’19; “Hostile Sexism and Perceptions of Competence and Warmth of Black Women” by Sara Messervey (leadership studies major), ’20; and “Leveraging Empathy to Reduce Social Dominance Orientation and Colorblind Ideology” by Jacob Roberson (psychology and sociology double major), ’19.

Messervey and d’Almeida, who numbered among the relatively few undergraduate research presenters, received funding from the Jepson School to attend the convention.

“Doing research has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career,” d’Almeida said. “Dr. Hoyt is an excellent mentor. Working with her has given me the tools to design and conduct better studies and made me more comfortable working with large data sets. I am strongly considering going to graduate school for psychology.”

Forsyth, now a social psychology doctoral student at the University of Florida, has been attending SPSP conventions with Hoyt since Forsyth was an undergraduate at Richmond.

“Dr. Hoyt has had an immeasurable influence on my research,” Forsyth said. “Thanks to her expertise in conducting research and stellar mentorship advice, I have been able to become a Ph.D. student at a competitive social psychology program, published multiple journal articles—including several co-authored with her, and received a nationally funded research grant to continue studying what I love.”

Photo: Rachel Forsyth, '17, and Ayele d'Almeida, '20, present their research at the 2020 Society of Personality and Social Psychology Convention. See additional photos in the slideshow below.