Thoughts on Theses: Sam Newby
Issue   |   Wed, 05/04/2016 - 00:53

Q: What is your thesis about?
A: My thesis is on concussion intervention reporting. Concussions are a growing phenomenon and they’re very dangerous. A lot of concussions can’t be identified by doctors or trainers. They rely on self-reportage. But a lot of athletes, for various reasons, don’t report concussions, whether it’s because they want to keep playing, it would make them appear weak or think that not reporting a concussion won’t have major consequences. What we wanted to do was see if we could create an intervention that would increase concussion reporting. We did a lot of background research and found that the concussion interventions that exist right now are really good at increasing concussion knowledge, but they aren’t good at changing or improving concussion reporting behaviors and attitudes. We looked at other health behavior interventions. We looked at smoking and alcohol consumption, and we found that short-term and long-term consequences intervention — which is basically priming participants with either short-term or the long-term consequences of a certain behavior — have been shown to improve not only knowledge but also attitudes and behaviors.

We did a brief intervention where we had student athletes at Amherst come in and do an initial questionnaire that assessed their overall concussion reporting attitudes and behaviors. Then, we gave them a brochure and they either got a brochure that explicitly gave them the short-term consequences of not reporting a concussion or the long term consequences, and there was a control that talked about general health behaviors like sleep and caffeine. We immediately had them take the survey again to assess if there was an immediate change in their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. We had them come back one month later and take the same survey. The two things we were mainly testing for in those surveys were whether they felt confident in their ability to recognize a concussion because that is important in determining if they actually know what a concussion is and if they would be able to identify it in themselves. We also tested their intention to report concussions. Since it was such a short month-long intervention, we couldn’t measure an actual behavior change, so we could only measure their intentions to report. We found that there wasn’t necessarily a short-term versus long-term difference, but we did find that women had increased concussion symptom recognition confidence and increased intentions after either reading the short-term or long-term [brochure]. After reading either brochure, women increased in both variables we were testing, but men actually didn’t change at all, and in some cases they decreased. Overall, these interventions did not work on men but significantly improved women.

We also looked at other variables that could influence someone’s responsiveness to these interventions. The one variable we looked at was athlete identity. Athlete identity is basically how much an athlete identifies with their athlete role versus a student role. If you were to ask someone to describe themselves, if they are high in an athlete identity, being an athlete makes up a large portion of their identity. What we found is that there is a correlation between athlete identity and concussion symptom recognition confidence and reporting intention. We found that as athlete identity increases, their intention to report decreases, and their perceived knowledge decreases.

The two main findings that would be important are the gender differences and the athlete identity findings.

Q: Were you working with anyone else?
A: Ben Pollack, who is also a senior psychology major who did a psychology thesis, and my adviser Professor Catherine Sanderson. Ben and I ran all the participants together and analyzed the data together, but we wrote our theses separately.

Q: How did you arrive at the thesis you decided to write today?
A: I’m a volleyball player at Amherst. It’s not that prevalent in volleyball, but in sports itself, concussions are a very big problem. I have read a lot about it. I see it in the news a lot. I knew I wanted to be a sports psychologist, so I’m going to grad school in a couple years to pursue a PhD. I wanted to do something within the realm of sports, and concussions are a hot topic at the moment, so I knew I wanted to focus my attention on concussions. I originally had the idea of looking at athlete identity because I’ve looked at a lot of previous studies on athlete identity, but Ben wanted to focus on interventions. We decided to combine that somehow and look at how athlete identity affects someone’s responsiveness to an intervention.

Q: What is an intervention?
A: There are various types of concussion interventions right now — they are all pretty similar. They are either video-based or lecture-based. They mostly focus on teaching the science, symptoms and return-to-play protocol, which is basically what one should do in order to get back in [the game] if one were to sustain a concussion, or if they should have to go to the hospital. What research has found is that that sort of intervention is very good at increasing an athlete’s knowledge of concussions and the protocols surrounding concussions, but it’s not good at increasing their actual reporting behaviors or increasing their attitudes about concussions. That may be because it focuses solely on being able to identify a concussion, but not necessarily the consequences of not reporting it. There was actually a thesis student last year, Jake Turrin, who also did an intervention on concussions. He looked at the social norms surrounding concussion intervention. In my thesis, I mentioned that, social norms also play a major role in concussion under-reporting. That may be a factor that influences whether or not athletes reports a concussion.
Looking at how ineffective past interventions were, we tried to figure out how we could increase the attitude and behaviors which the current interventions lack. As I mentioned, we looked at past health behavior interventions, like smoking, condom use, alcohol abuse, and we looked at those interventions to see if any other health-related behavior interventions showed an increase in attitudes or behaviors. The ones we did fine were the short-term and long-term consequences, which is what we adapted to fit into the concussion intervention.

Q: What was the thesis writing process like?
A: It was a lot of writing and rewriting. Of each section there are at least five drafts and a lot of that was kind of working on flow but also making sure that I understood what all of it meant, but also making sure that anyone who read it understood what I meant.
Having Catherine as my thesis adviser was really helpful. She was very open to reading drafts. So, it became just a process of writing one section multiple times until it was almost perfect then moving on to the next section rather than writing the whole thing and then editing it from there, which I actually found really helpful, because I was able to put one section to bed and move onto the next. I could focus my attention on each section rather than have my brain in a million places at once.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing your thesis?
A: The hardest part is knowing when enough is enough. I’m the kind of person who will work on it up until it’s due. It’s not because something needs to be fixed or changed—it’s just because I have the time to do it. Accepting and understanding that it’s good and okay to turn it in was hard. I felt the need to change things up until the time it was due. Having a deadline is almost harder, essentially when it’s one that is a lot farther off than all the other theses, because psychology theses are due a lot later than the other majors. Feeling like I had so much time kind of dragged out the process.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in writing a thesis in psychology?
A: Picking your thesis adviser is probably the most important step you can do, and making sure that your interests line up with theirs. If you have an adviser who is really invested in what you are doing, it makes the process a lot easier and more enjoyable overall.