The idea of “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” as a way of better understanding other people is common in our culture, but does viewing incidents of gender-based discrimination from the viewpoint of the complainant make the claims more believable to others? Madeline Billeaud, a senior majoring in psychology with minors in Spanish and management, examines how perspective-taking may cause students to view claims of sexual harassment differently. Her Honors Thesis stems from previous research she has done with her thesis advisor, Dr. Laurie O’Brien, Associate Professor of Psychology. Her other committee members include Professors Carrie Wyland of the Psychology Department and Brittany Kennedy of the Spanish and Portuguese Department.
For her thesis, Madeline is asking fellow Tulane students to take a survey and gauging their reactions to a hypothetical Office of Student Conduct report detailing a fictitious case of sexual harassment. She aims to better understand if viewing the situation from the perspective of the complainant causes students to view the complainant positively or think that their claim is legitimate.
Madeline worked with Dr. O’Brien over the summer on a related project investigating perspective-taking and gender-based discrimination with the support of the Honors Summer Research Program. She enjoyed conducting research over the summer and was encouraged by how “welcoming” Dr. O’Brien was. She describes her work as “very collaborative,” with everyone “bouncing ideas off and learning from each other.” Conducting research over the summer also put her in a “good mindset” to work on the literature review for her thesis in the fall semester, as she had been thinking about central themes of her project all summer.
While she is passionate about her thesis, working on her own was initially a challenge for Madeline, who prefers collaboration with other investigators. She says that she is proud of how she has learned to create structure and work independently by writing her Honors Thesis. She also believes that her thesis helped her while applying to PhD programs in industrial organizational psychology, as it gave her experience doing a self-guided research project.
She says that if she could give any advice to students who are interested in writing a thesis, she would tell them that “it's not necessarily ever too late to start doing research,” even if they do not get a research position during their first or second years. She started working as a research assistant in her junior year, and still felt prepared to write an Honors Thesis. Madeline is excited to complete her thesis and share her findings with other researchers. She hopes that her research can contribute to the field of social psychology and help researchers better understand the impacts of perspective-taking.