Research Highlights

Dr. David Bishop

Dr. Bishop conducts research in the areas of developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology and psychometric science.  Work in his laboratory has recently focused on the role of attachment processes in the adjustment to college.  Specifically, the laboratory has been exploring potential mediators of this important relationship.  In addition, the laboratory has been developing a new measure of materialism based on attachment constructs.  Finally, Dr. Bishop has continued his work in the area of discriminative grandparental solicitude.  This research explores how parents and grandparents calibrate their investment in children and grandchildren using an adaptive calculus.  Dr. Bishop and his laboratory students have recently presented their findings at conferences in New York City, Chicago, and Brazil.


Dr. Joe Breitenstein

Dr. Breitentstein is interested in how mass media affect the stigmatization of mental illness.  More specifically, the use of stigmatizing language in typical discourse and how some shows highlighting mental illness (e.g., Dr. Phil) may actually increase stigmatization.  His primary method is to employ a paper and pencil measure of stigmatization before and after viewing various media from public service announcements about mental illness to shows like Dr. Phil.  He and his student colleagues have found significant differences in stigmatization depending upon how mental illness is presented.  For example, public service announcements tend to decrease stigmatization and dramatic presentations like those on Dr. Phil actually increase stigmatization.


Dr. Kristy Gould

Professor Gould has recently been conducting cognition research on dogs with Luther students and a colleague at Knox College.  They are investigating how dogs behave when they are faced with an unsolvable task that they are motivated to solve.  After dogs learn to open a box to receive a food reward, the box is screwed shut so that it cannot be opened.  Professor Gould was interested in two things:  1) how persistent dogs are at trying to open the box and 2) how much time they spend looking at the humans in the room, presumably for assistance.  Professor Gould and her students found that dogs were significantly more persistent if they were females, younger, or had more formal training.  Pet dogs that were obtained from breeders also looked at their owners significantly longer than dogs obtained from a shelter/rescue.  Professor Gould is currently working with a Luther student to compare shelter-housed dogs to pet and foster dogs. 


Dr. David Njus

Our attachment relationships to parents and to romantic partners are psychologically important to us—they can provide a safe haven in times of distress, and a secure base from which we can explore the world.  Recent research has suggested that for people who are theists, God can serve as an attachment figure.  Dr. Njus and Lexi Scharmer (’16) explored whether the psychological benefits of having a secure attachment relationship with God are similar to the benefits of secure attachment relationships to adults in our lives.

In a sample of American adults who believe in God, Dr. Njus and Scharmer found that secure attachment to God is associated with lower levels of depression and higher levels of self-esteem.  Interestingly, these relationships held even after statistically controlling for levels of attachment to parents and romantic partners and for levels of self-control subjects perceived themselves as having.  This research provides further evidence that God can serve as an attachment figure, and that a secure attachment relationship with God is associated with psychological well-being.


Dr. Justin Sprung

How do student employees balance the competing demands of work, school, and leisure activities, and what resources can students’ draw upon when dealing with role conflict?  Dr. Sprung and his research team have found that the experience of work-school conflict has negative implications for student’s psychological well-being, and some students fare better than others. Specifically, students' standing on personality characteristics – such as core self-evaluations and recovery self-efficacy – may buffer students from the negative outcomes associated with work-school conflict.  Similarly, supportive supervisor behavior is a crucial situational factor that plays a large role in assisting students who are struggling with competing work and school demands. Dr. Sprung and his colleagues have published this research in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology and the Journal of Organizational Behavior and continue to examine the topic of work-life balance among student and adult workers.


Dr. Loren Toussaint

Dr. Loren Toussaint is a professor of psychology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He is a consultant to Mayo Clinic, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Boise State University, and the associate director of the Sierra Leone Forgiveness Project. Dr. Toussaint’s research examines religious and spiritual virtues, especially forgiveness, and how they are related to health and well-being. He and colleagues recently published a compendium of research titled: Forgiveness and Health: Scientific Evidence and Theories Relating Forgiveness to Better Health (Springer). Dr. Toussaint directs the Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body, and Spirit at Luther College (


Dr. Stephanie Travers

Dr. Travers is a cognitive psychologist who is particularly interested in processes that operate outside our level of awareness and control.  In one line of work she uses direct (e.g., surveys) and indirect measures (e.g., Implicit Association Test) to examine whether individuals apply gender labels to mental illnesses.  A related question investigates the impact of sexist stereotypes on task performance in general and on basic cognition in particular.  A second line of work explores the benefits of nontraditional therapeutic activities such as gardening or music on attention and memory processes in the elderly.