From left to right are psychology student researchers Katherine Yakes, Emma Kane and Brynn Anderson, and faculty mentor and researcher Dr. Benjamin Meagher, assistant professor of psychology.

A collaborative faculty-student research project studying the impact that college students’ residence-hall rooms have on their mental health has won Hope College’s annual Social Sciences Young Investigators Award.

The research team consists of Dr. Benjamin Meagher, assistant professor of psychology; graduating senior psychology majors Brynn Anderson and Emma Kane; and junior Katherine Yakes, who is majoring in both psychology and sociology.

Building on a pair of studies they conducted last year that found an initial correlation between students’ impressions of their rooms and their mental health, the team’s research this year is investigating the experiences of freshmen across the 2022-23 school year at three different colleges, Hope among them.  At four points spanning the academic year, the researchers asked participants — pairs of roommates — to describe the ambiances they would most want in an ideal residence-hall room, based on 23 characteristics (such as “community,” “self-expression” and “privacy”).  Participants then repeated this task to describe the ambiance of their actual room on campus, as well as completing measures designed to assess depressive symptoms, anxiety and perceived stress.

The team has one more round of surveys to collect and will be analyzing the data this summer, but the results thus far indicate that room ambiance and stress mutually influence one another. Students whose actual rooms are similar to their ideal room tend to report lower stress throughout the semester. However, students who had higher levels of stress earlier in the semester tended to report greater satisfaction with their room the subsequent month, suggesting that one way students may be coping with stress is by making their room a more ideal space.

Meagher joined the Hope faculty in 2017.  He teaches courses in introductory, social and cognitive psychology, and as a researcher specializes in environmental, social and personality psychology.  He has had several research articles published in refereed professional journals, and has received support through external grants from organizations including The John Templeton Foundation, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and Religious Research Association, among others.

As reflected by the project that won this year’s Social Sciences Young Investigators Award, his current research interests focus on people’s use of places to regulate their emotions, how individual differences in personality influence impressions of the physical environment and whether certain types of physical settings can help people function more effectively.

Prior to coming to Hope, Meagher was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University, and taught in the psychology departments of Franklin & Marshall College and Kenyon College.  He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Gordon College in 2007, and his master’s and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Connecticut, Storrs, in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

The Social Sciences Young Investigators Award is designed to recognize and encourage pre-tenured faculty to partner with students in research collaborations that further the scholarship goals of the faculty member while developing the skills of critical inquiry and analysis in students.  The competition is open to pre-tenured social science faculty who worked with students on a significant research project. The selection is made from among the eligible social science projects highlighted during the college’s annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, which was held on Friday, April 14, this year.