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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Welcome to the UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal, a fully Open Access publication of research conducted by undergraduates at the University of California, Merced.

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Introduction to Volume 10, Issue 1


Introduction to Volume 10, Issue 1: 10th Anniversary Issue

The Undergraduate Research Journal offers a wide-variety of research that interests our undergraduate student population. In this issue, readers can find research papers, literature reviews, and personal studies all of which demonstrate areas of interest undergraduates pursue in their given fields. In the Fall 2017 issue, the work published ranges from a study on folklore, a paper on the differences between men and women with Antisocial Personality Disorder, and a piece that demonstrates the importance of agriculture. There are a wide range of studies conducted in all majors, each with its unique twist. These pieces selected for publication broadcast the widespread interests and significance that research holds for the UC Merced undergraduate community.

Briley Brothers: The Influence of Birth Order, Sibling Relationship Quality and the Normalization of Violence on Adolescent Delinquency

This literature review examines different factors that influence adolescent delinquency such as sibling relationship quality, birth order, and normalization of violence. The review uses a psychosocial approach to observe how these factors can affect an adolescent’s behavior. This research will contribute to the field of Psychology by emphasizing that outcomes associated with adolescent delinquency can be traced to specific points. The main points of this research are further supported by the Briley brothers’ case study, siblings involved in violence: homicide. A strength of this research is that, although the studies do not specifically focus on the Briley brothers’ case, the main point of each article can be connected back to the case. An array of research has been conducted indicating the negative impacts birth order and sibling relationship can have in development and the Briley brothers illustrate the outcomes that can occur. The Briley brothers case demonstrated how parental influence may not have been a contributing factor to the murders; instead, the psychosocial issues within the brother’s stem from the manipulation of the eldest-Briley brother. Adolescent delinquency is an important topic and must be researched further in order to reduce delinquent behavior among adolescents. Further research may be used to create preventive plans to reduce adolescent delinquency.

Factors Affecting Stigma Toward People with Schizophrenia and Video - Based Interventions for Stigma Reduction

Having a mental illness can be a stigmatizing feature in the eyes of the general public, which can negatively impact the lives of people who already suffer from a mental illness.  The purpose of the current study was to determine what factors may contribute to mental illness stigma; specifically, stigma toward people who have schizophrenia.  Several factors were examined as being potentially related with mental illness stigma: racial background, gender, college major, GPA, previous contact with someone with schizophrenia, and knowledge about mental illness.  Based on past research findings, it was hypothesized that Caucasian female students who are psychology majors with a GPA above 3.0 would hold the lowest level of stigma, compared to other groups.  It was further hypothesized that those who had previous contact with people with schizophrenia and a relatively high level of knowledge about mental illness would also display lower levels of mental illness stigma.  The study also assessed whether exposure to video interviews of people with schizophrenia or educational videos about schizophrenia could decrease mental illness stigma toward this group.  Participants consisted of 264 college students from the University of California, Merced.  Results indicated that Caucasian participants displayed lower levels of stigma, compared to Asian and Hispanic participants, and that psychology majors displayed marginally less stigma than non-psychology majors.  Additionally, participants who had prior contact with schizophrenic individuals displayed lower levels of mental illness stigma than those who had no prior contact. Furthermore, participants who displayed a higher level of knowledge about mental illness exhibited less stigma as well.  Contrary to past findings, there were no significant effects of gender or GPA on mental illness stigma.  Lastly, it was found that showing participants a video featuring an interview of someone with schizophrenia was successful in subsequent levels of mental illness stigma.  However, a video interview of a family who had relatives with schizophrenia and an educational video about schizophrenia did not significantly affect mental illness stigma.

These results and their implications were discussed as they pertained to demographic factors that impact mental illness stigma, as well as video-based interventions aimed at lessening stigma. Negative stigma towards mental illness can result in higher risks of misinformation about mental health, higher rates of social isolation for those with mental disorders, as well as higher chances of comorbid illnesses such as depression and anxiety in people with mental illnesses. Because of the negative outcomes that can result from high levels of negative mental illness stigma it is important to examine the underlying factors mentioned in this study.

Embodied Cognition: A Literature Review on the Extended Mind Thesis

This literature review is focused on the External Mind Thesis, which lies in the field of Cognitive Science, more specifically under Embodiment Theory. The purpose is to encourage future research on the Extended Mind Theory and elaborate on a few research methods.

Literature focusing on the different types of memory processes are essential to successfully approach extended mind research or any other cognitive process. An overview about the behavioral observation method and coding mechanisms are included. Lastly, this review is wrapped up through an example of how this information could come into play in a real life External Mind research scenario. Results could potentially change the way people think about and use mechanisms such as pen and paper.

Why Animal Agriculture is Unsustainable

Animal agriculture causes many unsustainable, destructive problems to individuals, the environment, and the economy. The amount of destruction that animal agriculture does to the planet, to environments and to species is devastating as animal agriculture is the root problem for the worlds increasing temperatures, species extinction, deforestation, and water quality. These issues should come to light when the University of California, Merced talks about its 2020 Project; however, these problems have been neglected and thus, by supporting a plant-based diet, the University can model a sustainable environment, healthy faculty and students –– free from high levels of stress, anxiety, and disease, caused by unhealthy food options –– and the ultimate “triple zero”. In addition to supplying more food options, the University could advocate for vegan clubs and demonstrate the unsustainability of animal agriculture. As the University shifts to offering more plant-based food, the overall health, wellbeing, and productivity of students and faculty will increase.

How Does Mythical Folklore Create a Framework for Mental Health?

Our research found that the perception of cannibalism varied across cultures; it has been shown that in some cultures cannibalism can be interpreted as a mental health disorder. We reviewed a total of eight articles that explored cannibalism, antisocial personality disorder, family dysfunction, anger, population density, and cult members. The studies examined the association between mental health disorder and behavioral problems. For the purposes of this review, only one study on Christi Cleek fit the criteria, which were (a) cannibalism amongst individuals, (b) dynamics among cult members, and (c) possible mental health disorders such as antisocial personality disorder. The study was then synthesized with the Sawney Bean Clan case study, a semi-mythical folklore story that was based off an earlier tale on Christi Cleek. The results showed that anger in community members, family dysfunction, and cult behavior could have a possible correlation that is associated with a mental health disorder such as antisocial personality disorder

GDP and Underground Economy (UE): A Literature Review on the Mistaken Significance of Underground Economies

The significance of undergroundeconomies relative to a country’s calculationof GDP was further examined under theassumption of the inclusion of them whenperforming this computation. Challengingthe current methodology of GDP and howit’s calculated, as done traditionally throughassessing and measuring the followingsectors of a country’s economy: privateconsumption, gross investment, governmentinvestment, government spending, and netexports, the underground economy proves tobe a worthy cause of further analysis, as it’sassignment to any one sector may not beappropriate. Though illicit activitiesconstituting the underground economy provehard to examine with any level of certainty,the substantial benefits of inclusion delivergreat advantages to a country. It is fromthese findings that have surfaced a greaterissue with what is standard practice whencalculating GDP. Though the undergroundeconomy is filled with a great level ofuncertainty, findings suggest including it inthe measure of GDP, but done so withcaution, as there are risks of jumping toconclusions.

Mandatory Ethnic and Gender Studies in High School

In 1947, five Mexican-American families challenged the ‘separate but equal’ education that their children were getting in non-caucasian schools in the Supreme Court case Mendez vs. Westminster1 . In Orange County, California, these five families refused to accept this education system that discriminated against their children by considering them “special needs” because they spoke Spanish. Although the Westminster Elementary School allowed the Mendez children to attend their school, they did not allow any other child with Mexican-American descent. The Mendez family denied their offer and continued to sue where Governor Earl Warren would sign a law to end all segregation statutes in the state of California. Although schools were physically desegregated, the academic curriculum is still widely one-sided especially through the readings and history that is taught2 . Today, people of color are still forced to endure these segregated teachings that are focused on white culture, while never going in depth about their own culture. Instituting an ethnic and gender studies course would end the mainly white prominent course material and would improve high school graduation rates among People of Color (POC), promote embracing oneself, inform others about different cultures, and provide a positive impact on racial attitudes.

Analysis of Addiction and Habits in Relation to Goal-Directed Behavior

Habits and addiction have various commonalities, but there are differences; not just in terms of intensity, but also in how they affect individuals and interact with our motivational processes. While motivation is often a driving force behind the development of habits and addiction there are other factors such as psychological and biological influencers, which have been shown to be deeply tied to the development of addiction and habitual responses. This literature review aims to determine how and in what ways addiction relates to and compare to habits in terms of motivation and goal specific behavior, which also entails looking at factors such as desire and goals.

The Wrong Turn to Learning: An Analysis of Research on Modern Online Courses to Determine the Negative and Positive Effects on Student Performance in Universities

According to the children’s rights activist organization, Humanium, “More than 72 million children are not in school and 759 million adults are illiterate and do not have the awareness to find an education” (“Right to Education”). In order to fight this world issue, online courses have been created to bridge the gap of education between the world and the classroom. Through these Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC’s for short, those seeking knowledge are able to become students at a university of their choice by the simple click of a button. With the so-called, “MOOC Mania” explained by David Kirp, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, lawmakers and school administrators all around the world, especially in California, have been trying to implement online courses into the daily curriculum of prestigious universities. As a cheaper alternative, MOOC’s are able to cut costs through the enrollment of hundreds of students with no need of a physical classroom, which is very attractive to people such as Khadijah Niazi, an eleven-year-old student from Pakistan, who had been deprived of an education because of her country’s political struggles explained in an article of the Times Magazine. Although MOOC’s have gained much popularity, a study conducted by Tatiana Semenova and Lyudmila Rudakova, students at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, showed that “the odds of successful completion will differ for participants with differing educational experiences” (230). Although this truth has been proven to not be efficient for certain students, “venture capitalists are on the hunt for the next Facebook, the next Google, the next eBay— particularly the opportunity in MOOCs” and it is not long until that sweet spot of traditional education and online education is found (Kirp 16). As online education becomes a practice in universities, education has become somewhat more accessible. However, many studies have found that MOOC’s are not capable of serving the vast spectrum of the different types of students, which is why, in order to fix the issue of traditional curriculum being ousted by online education, university administrators must challenge their implementation for the benefit of student achievement and determine what the institution values educationally.

Voter Unsophistication: A Review

The number of citizens who cast their votes during presidential and primary elections continues to decrease. Many Americans claim that their lack of trust in the government is the reason. Yet, there is also an issue with the individuals that do cast their votes. The problem is that many citizens cast their votes without having enough knowledge to make well thought out decisions. The lack of knowledge has made several political scientists label American voters as unsophisticated for not having basic knowledge regarding the US government. The following review will provide an insight at some of the explanations that political scientists have concluded regarding controversial voter political behavior.

Modern Implications of a 1970s Military Regime: The Case of Greece

Polity IV is a score-based analysis by the Center for Systemic Peace that rates individual countries by regime type going back to the 1940s and changes based on political events (e.g. Coup d’états) (“Polity IV Individual” 2014). According to the latest report, Greece is considered a full democracy although the country has gone through several regime changes (“Polity IV Regime” 2014). From the end of World War II to 1967, Greece was considered a partial democracy by Polity IV (“Polity IV Regime” 2014), possibly due to the repression of left-wing political parties and their supporters within Greek politics and society (Diamandouros 59). In 1967, the Greek military took power in a coup d’état, joining Spain and Portugal as authoritarian states in Southern Europe (Prindham 6). The junta ruled for seven years and would only fall due to the dispute with Turkey over Cyprus and a subsequent military invasion that failed (4). Following the end of the military junta, Greece underwent a regime transition in which democratic institutions were introduced and the existing system significantly reformed to reduce tensions within Greece (Diamandouros 52-53). At the same time, Spain and Portugal were also shedding their autocratic regimes and moving towards democracy, which has led scholars to combine the three cases as a unique wave of democracy among several in the last fifty years (Prindham 1). This paper will explore the Greek transition to democracy in the 1970s and test theories regarding the role of nationalism in helping or hurting democracy and to what extent it is still a problem for Greece to this day. I will exclude Greece from the cases of Portugal and Spain due to Greek nationalism and the role it has had in the Greek political system through disputes with Greece’s neighbor Turkey. In addition, the relative timespan of Greece’s authoritarian regime compared to its counterparts in the region will be examined as a key distinction between Greece and other Mediterranean military regimes.

PAM Nucleotide Deviation with CRISPR-Cas9 and sgRNA

CRISPR-Cas9 is a system that it is not only revolutionary in expeditious sequencing of deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) but also serves to induce genomic alterations within the sequence as well. The methodology that allows CRISPR to behave in such a manner is its ability to function in conjunction with ribonucleic acids (RNA). A facet of this RNA is its ability to scale from micro to macro organisms and by doing so, represents an observable deviation in its sequence. These sequential changes in RNA are observable in the form of protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) nucleotides which directly associate with the single guiding RNA (sgRNA) systems that direct DNA to the Cas9 enzyme. These PAM nucleotides are segments on RNA that are changed when DNA is altered and can be monitored. Cas9 is the protein component of CRISPR that is responsible for genome editing. However, the problem is that there hasn’t been conclusive evidence that demonstrates sgRNA will scale in complex genomes such as mice or humans. My objective is to observe how the PAM nucleotides behave in a multicellular Mammalia organism such as Mice to determine if RNA is directing DNA to the Cas9 enzyme and inducing genetic alterations. To observe these PAM nucleotides, the Mice genome will be subject to the introduction of Cas9 systems to be observed with PCR, gel electrophoresis, and Illumina sequencing. These are techniques that will yield data that signify if CRISPR is effective in altering mice genomes. With significant observable deviations in the PAM nucleotide sequences, the conclusion will be that CRISPR-Cas9 is able to induce alterations in complex genomes such as Mice and eventually humans.

Biological and Behavioral Differences between Men and Women with Antisocial Personality

This literature review highlights research completed to investigate the biological and behavioral abnormalities found with men and women with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), antisocial behaviors, and psychopathic traits. Evidence that suggests imbalances of the neurotransmitter serotonin and imbalances between the hormones cortisol and testosterone have been linked to aggressive and antisocial behaviors. There are also studies that suggests that abnormalities in the autonomic nervous system and in the corpus callosum may be linked to ASPD. However, most findings do not apply to women in particular, therefore emphasizes the need for gender-specific research in order to find potential causalities in both males and females with these mental disorders.

Ambient Intelligence A Review of the Literature

Ambient intelligence stems from artificial intelligence and it can be defined as technology interacting and responding to humans. For an ambient intelligent environment to exist, it must contain three types of system: sensing, reasoning and acting. The primary sensors used in ambient intelligence are audiovisual, passive infrared, and radio frequency identification technology. To simulate a more natural living environment, a fuzzy computing system is used. Using a fuzzy computing system can also make it possible for machines to understand culture by analyzing people’s points of interests based on certain factors. Machines are also capable of generating and displaying creativity. Gaps in research and progression of ambient intelligence are still present due to the lack of trust and reliability these machines will possibly display.

Importance of Circadian Clocks: How the Circadian Clock affects a student's sleep schedule

This report provides an overview of the effects of sleep deprivation on college students. The purpose is to gain new information, which would inform the students at the University of California, Merced about the importance of routinely obtaining the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep.

The Fallouts and Downsides of the use of Dopaminergic Drugs to treat Motor Symptoms in Parkinson’s Disease and Non-Dopaminergic Treatments Being Developed to treat Both Motor and Non-Motor Symptoms: A Literature Review

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and yet has no effective treatments that treat all symptoms to date. The most common form of treatment is levodopa, a dopaminergic medication designed to compensate for the lack of dopamine in the brain. However, L-dopa has proven to cause more side-effects than it does provide solutions. These side effects are in the form of both motor and non-motor symptoms.

L-dopa commonly causes dyskinesia, a symptom that increases difficulty for voluntary movement, and sleep problems in patients who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease. Moves to research in non-motor symptoms and treatment through non-dopaminergic means have begun due to the ineffectiveness of L-dopa. Unfortunately, no promising results have been brought to the forefront, suggesting the need for even more research in the field and in the non-dopaminergic route of treating patients.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Regenerative Therapy of the Nervous System

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a form of stem cell found in bone marrow and can help aid with neurological damages. Not much is known about it in terms of risks but it has been found to renew damaged cells by replacing them with new ones in both central and peripheral nervous systems. Studies have been conducted on rats that have suffered cerebral ischemia which is lack of blood flow to the brain. Only those that contained a high rating of cerebral ischemia such as being brain dead were excluded in the experiment to ensure proper results. It was found that rats with the disease that suffered minor damages were able to repair their neurons with MSCs therapy. Rats that were not brain dead but suffered extreme brain damage unfortunately were not able to properly regenerate neurological damage done. MSCs contain potential in becoming a beneficial and new form of regenerative medicine to help aid with neurological damage caused by diseases.