Barry McNamara  |   Published February 02, 2016

Singapore bound

Larson, students secure funding to continue psychology research abroad
  • In back, from left, sophomores Stephanie Saey, Kelci Foss and Liz Hippen will travel to Singapore at the end of the semester with psychology professor Kristin Larson (seated) to continue research on “third place” well-being.
What began as a summer research project two years ago has led to a scheduled trip to Singapore for three Monmouth College students, funded by the ASIANetwork/Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows Program.

Accompanied by their faculty adviser, psychology professor Kristin Larson, the students will leave Monmouth shortly after commencement in May and spend three weeks in Singapore, studying “third place” well-being among Singapore residents, which continues well-being research they’ve conducted in Galesburg and in the Chicago suburb of Irving Park.

Larson explained that she first began working with one of the students – current sophomore Kelci Foss of Mount Morris – at Monmouth’s innovative SOFIA (Summer Opportunity for Intellectual Activity) initiative in 2014. Joined by Stephanie Saey, a sophomore transfer from Galesburg, Larson and Foss worked together again at last summer’s SOFIA, where the first seeds of the current research project were sown.

“The research began as an investigation of issues related to well-being and how people spend their free time,” said Larson. Soon, she said, the biopsychology majors found an “anchor” for their research – the idea of a “third place,” which was investigated in Ray Oldenburg’s influential book, “The Great Good Place.”

“We have our home, and our work, and the third place is the place you hang out,” explained Larson. “Oldenburg was interested in the sociological aspect of third place, but we were more interested in the psychology aspect. The students anchored their research in that and then expanded upon it with (Northern Illinois University marketing professor) Mark Scott Rosenbaum’s three different kinds of third places – the place as practical or work-related, the place as social, which deals with relationships, and the place as emotional, such as someplace you’ve been going to since you were a child, or a place that’s a pillar of the community.”

If an image of six “Friends” hanging out at Central Perk in New York City comes to mind, that’s a prime example of the type of place the students wanted to research – so much so, in fact, that they specifically looked into the difference between urban and rural coffee shops. They hypothesized that urban settings would be favored mostly because of their practical elements, while patrons at rural shops would be more drawn by the social and emotional aspects.

The students spent two days at Innkeepers coffee shop in Galesburg, and another two days at Dollop Coffee Co. in Irving Park, conducting surveys of customers. Their hypothesis was essentially proven, and they also learned that the customers in both shops were evenly ranked in terms of well-being, which the students were able to assess through SPANE, a positive/negative experience scale.

Foss and Saey presented their findings at the close of SOFIA and, with Larson’s assistance, wrote a detailed grant proposal to take their research abroad to Singapore, which they recently learned was accepted.

“We’ve since added a student, Liz Hippen (a sophomore from Toulon), and Kelci and Stephanie have caught her up to speed,” said Larson. “When we go to Singapore, we’ll not only look at coffee shops, but also food courts and outdoor recreation spaces, asking the same questions we did here so we can do some comparisons of the levels of well-being there.”

As part of the grant, the students will attend and present their research at the professional ASIANetwork conference in March 2017. Prior to that, they’ll present their pre-Singapore research at this April’s ILLOWA Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference, hosted by Western Illinois University.
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