Mitch Brown ’12 makes his mark in psychological research

Alumni,

In academia, having one’s work published in a peer-reviewed journal is a tremendous accomplishment. Just five years out from his LEC graduation, alumnus Mitch Brown ’12 has achieved that feat not just once, but fourteen times and counting. Impressive? We’d say so.

Most recently, Brown had a paper published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin titled “Put a (limbal) ring on it: Women perceive men’s limbal rings as a health cue in short-term mating domains.” As explained in the paper’s abstract, Brown studied what effect limbal rings, or the dark annuli encircling the iris, have as veridical health cues, specifically to the extent to which this cue enhances a person’s value as a short-term mating partner. Brown found that limbal rings indeed serve as veridical cues to health, particularly in relevant mating domains.

Research like this is part of Brown’s daily life as a third-year doctoral student in the brain and behavior program at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM). There, he studies experimental psychology under advisor Dr. Don Sacco. Brown is training to become a social psychologist, having expanded upon his foundational interests in evolution and mate attraction to include adaptive face perception and the behavioral immune system.

Also at USM, Brown manages a laboratory focused on research in evolutionary social psychology. With topics ranging from the perceptions of real and fake laughter to sex differences in perceptions of women’s locomotor movement in heels (versus flats), his lab is on the constant quest for knowledge.

Prior to moving south, Brown attended the University of Dayton where he earned a Master of Arts degree in psychology in 2014. He then spent a year teaching as an adjunct instructor in community colleges while conducting psychological research at a homeless shelter, but doctoral studies were calling his name.

While Brown’s academic pursuits have reached new heights in recent years, his initial interest in psychology took root as an undergraduate student at LEC. Here, Brown felt engaged through the College’s academic rigor, choosing to double major in German and psychology and becoming the vice president of the psychology club.

 A native of Mentor, Brown initially chose to attend LEC as a commuter for the financial aid he and his twin received through the College’s twins scholarship, but the faculty from whom he learned far surpassed the financial benefits in terms of reasons to stay.

Three LEC faculty members in particular helped equip Brown with the analytical skills he now uses on a daily basis: Dr. Stephen Yachanin, professor of psychology, Dr. Susan Culotta, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Mark Bell, former assistant professor of German.

 “Having classes devoted entirely to conducting my own research and being able to collect my own data was an irreplaceable experience that is absent in many larger schools,” he said. “Dr. Yachanin’s research methods and senior seminar courses are some of the best-kept secrets at LEC.”

Brown credits Dr. Yachanin for helping him refine his ideas on research in a way that he now employs himself when mentoring undergraduate students. He also notes his appreciation of Dr. Culotta for introducing him to social psychology, which he views as his “calling as a researcher,” and for helping him find his intellectual voice.

Though not an obvious choice for a second major, Brown notes his studies in German have proved useful throughout his academic pursuits. “My German major afforded me newfound meta-cognitive skills, which assisted in understanding complex topics,” he said. “This became my foundation for developing some of my earlier language-based experiments.”

 To current LEC students interested in psychology, Brown advises to embrace persistence and skepticism.

 “Data are seldom ever clear and we are constrained by the available evidence,” he said, pointing to the need to continuously ask questions and try new approaches. He encourages students to understand the mechanisms and theory behind their results, noting, “It takes hard work and dedication (and a couple grey hairs), but it’s worth it knowing you discovered something interesting.”

 All of us at LEC look forward to seeing what Brown will discover next.

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