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Travaglini Studies Competitive Gender Differences

Feb. 1, 2007

EASTON, Pa. ( - Does a man compete differently when racing another man as opposed to when he's racing against a woman? How does competitive spirit manifest itself from a psychological standpoint? These are some of the questions Lafayette senior Letitia Travaglini of Downingtown is trying to answer through her honors thesis research.

"I am looking at the effect of opponent gender on how people compete in a racing game," explains Travaglini, a psychology major. "I am interested in seeing how people differ in how they rate their performance in the game based on whether they are competing against an opponent of their same gender or opposite gender."

During her research, Travaglini is using performance ratings of the competitors. Based on their answers to a set of questions, the ratings will determine if participants are "high competitive" or "low competitive." Overall performance rating is based on the participants' opinions on how well they thought they performed, how they performed compared to their potential, how satisfied they are with their performance, and how hard they tried at the game.

Travaglini has worked on the project, entitled "Gender Differences in College Students' Competitiveness in Sports-Related Computer Games," for two semesters. During that time, the research has taken several turns.

"I knew I wanted to do something related to sports and gender differences in a sports setting; I was just unsure as to which variables I wanted to focus on," she says. "I realized that having participants play a sports-related video or computer game would be an interesting twist, since the majority of people looking at sports and competitiveness tend to have participants play an actual sports-like game."

Travaglini decided that a computer game, particularly one that was easy to operate and gender neutral, would be able to test participants on a more even playing field.

"After a lot of discussion and practical thinking, I decided to focus on gender and level of competitiveness, and look at participants' performance ratings based on a gender neutral, simple racing game," she explains. "My project has not built upon previous research projects; it is just something that I have always been interested in doing."

Travaglini is working under the supervision of John Shaw, associate professor and assistant head of psychology, whom she considers an incredible source of support and guidance.

"He has done more than I could ever imagine any adviser would do to help me create an amazing study," Travaglini says. "He has spent countless hours with me deciding on variables and basic research designs, reviewing background research, and editing my papers. I think he is an extremely qualified and caring mentor. He constantly goes above and beyond everything I have expected of him, and he is so involved in the entire process."

Shaw says he has been impressed with the skill and commitment Travaglini has brought to the research. In fact, he admits that she surpassed his expectations right from the start.

"When Tisha was first designing her study, I warned her that she was being too ambitious and that she would never be able to collect data from enough participants," says Shaw. "To my delight, she proved me wrong, and she has recently completed her data collection and data analyses. Throughout her honors project, Tisha consistently demonstrated the persistence and tenacity that is so important for completing and publishing empirical research."

Travaglini plans to pursue an advanced degree in child psychology as preparation for a career as a child psychologist. Shaw believes Travaglini will be able to apply many of the skills she has learned during her honors thesis experience to her graduate studies.

"I have really enjoyed being a psychology major at Lafayette," Travaglini says. "I think the range of classes and topics has helped me decide where I would like to focus as I further my education in graduate school. All of the faculty members I have had are highly qualified and excellent at what they teach. In addition, Lafayette is a great place to major in psychology. I have [learned about] a wide range of fields in psychology, and have learned a lot about psychology in general as I've advanced in the department."

She is working with Jennifer Talarico, assistant professor of psychology, on an EXCEL Scholars project that examines the emotional valence of personally experienced events.

Travaglini is a resident adviser and a tour guide for the admissions office. She also is a captain of the cheerleading squad and member of Pi Beta Phi sorority.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 40 students were accepted to present their research at this year's conference.