Psychology Major Presents at National Conference

Anna smiles in front of the Chapel.

Our trips to Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts or Beyu Blue now have an additional charge: Pay it forward. Psychology major Anna Greenleaf, '23 was inspired by the small act of generosity that often takes place during the routine act of grabbing a daily pick-me-up. Greenleaf presented "Paying It Forward: How Unequal Access to Resources Reduces Generosity," a social experiment that examines circumstantial generosity. She and a few other Blue Devils traveled to the 2022 ACC Meeting of the Minds conference to present their research in groups that were centered around similar topics. 

While it’s never happened to me, I often hear about people having their coffee paid for; and it made me wonder what effects such an occurrence. Is it the location of the shop? the demographics of the coffee shops' patrons? etc."

The New York City native is no stranger to a setting that fosters varied schools of thought and perspectives. "I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary setting of the event! It emphasized the importance of knowing how to communicate my research in a way that can be relatable to anyone." The event hosted students from ACC institutions around the country and all majors were welcome.

It's probably no coincidence that Anna's journey to Duke exudes the concept of "paying it forward". While Anna always knew that she'd study at a small, liberal arts college, she did not think it would be anywhere in the South. "My parents had already scheduled a tour for Duke so that my twin brother could take a look. He wasn't able to attend, however; so I came and the rest is history." In addition to the atmosphere she desired for her undergraduate experience, she was inspired by the collaborative community and research opportunities that sets Duke apart.

Anna's interest in human behavior complements her skill of photography. Yet, she wasn't hard-set on majoring in psychology upon her arrival at Duke. She began her understanding of pro-social behavior and cooperation during her time in the Sociological Study of Cooperation Lab (SSOC), headed by Dr. Ashley Harrell, during her freshman year. This opportunity and a few other experiences increased her curiosity in the major.

These factors shined through when the time came for Anna to select a topic for her independent study. She and her mentor brainstormed and read through literature until she found a topic that resonated most with her: the impact of inequality and cooperation among the distribution of resources. This caused her to reflect about how common it is to pay it forward in society. "While there is research out there concerning generous behavior in pro-social settings, when it came to generalized reciprocity there was a lack of existing work; specifically when it came to the effect of inequality on generalized reciprocity there was a lack of existing work.

"This past summer I was unsure of what I wanted to do, but I knew what interested me so I conducted virtual research through the SSOC Lab about these topics."

Anna took up the task trailblaze the study of this area and has already reaped the benefits of doing so. This study is just the beginning, as she plans to expound upon her research on this topic. She shared that she feels every student should attend a research conference if the opportunity presents itself. "It helped me learn how to communicate research in the best way to other researchers and intellectually curious people. It also increased my perspective, caused me to explore flaws in my research and challenge myself for future research."