May 25, 2019  

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Psychology Undergraduate, Faculty Mentor Earn Research Grant

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Dr. Alen Hajnal, faculty member in the USM School of Psychology, and Ashley Funkhouser, a junior pschology major and Honors College student from Gulfport, Mississippi, recently earned a research grant from Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology.

Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology and one of the largest honor societies in the U.S., has awarded a competitive grant to a University of Southern Mississippi (USM) undergraduate psychology student and her faculty mentor.

Ashley Funkhouser, a junior from Gulfport, Mississippi in USM’s School of Psychology and Honors College, was selected by the Psi Chi Grants Committee and board of directors for funding support, one of only 11 such awards, for her undergraduate thesis proposal and research project titled “The Role of Action in Affordance Judgements Using Virtual Reality.” Funkhouser and her faculty mentor, Dr. Alen Hajnal, each receive $1,500 to support the project. Funkhouser is a research assistant in Dr. Hajnal’s Perception Action Cognition Lab (

“The Psi Chi grant is a highly competitive national grant with a funding rate of 44 percent, and Ashley's proposal was one of 11 selected across the nation,” Dr. Hajnal said. “It means a lot to our School of Psychology to develop such local talent, especially at the intersection of behavioral science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, which is the future of science education. We are excited to hit the ground running with her project this summer and fall.”

Funkhouser said the study will observe if action in conjunction of an avatar with the user’s hand will improve reachability judgments in IVEs. “The grant will help in funding the laptop needed in order to build and run the virtual environment and Oculus Rift, as well as for a hand accelerometer, which will record data about hand movement," she said.

A recipient of the Eagle SPUR (Scholar Program for Undergraduate Research) award, Funkhouser is also a finalist for the prestigious Santa Fe Institute Summer School in Complexity Science, where she would like to work on machine learning and robotics.

Dr. Hajnal started using virtual reality technology in his research about two years ago and says students are very interested in the technology, making it is easy to get them involved both as researchers and participants in studies.

“Ashley has a unique combination of interests and skills that make her a perfect match for my lab, as she is majoring in psychology and minoring in computer science. It is great to see how enthusiastic she is about computer programming and cognitive science,” Dr. Hajnal said. “Once the VR (virtual reality) system is set up, the possibilities for creating scientific experiments is endless, because we can create any kind of space, environment, situation, or stimulus to test.”

For information about the USM School of Psychology, visit For information about the USM Honors College, visit