Written by Kendra Davis
Maria Tovar, a wildlife and fisheries major, left her mark on Texas A&M University by dedicating her last semesters to conducting eye-tracking research that was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.
Tovar completed the research study with a professor of animal behavior, Dr. Jessica Yorzinski, who said that it is rare for undergraduates to have their research published.
“It is typically more common for masters or Ph.D. students to do research and have it published rather than undergraduates,” said Yorzinski. “The fact that Maria will already have assisted with a research study as an undergraduate is remarkable.”
The Associate Dean for Academic Operations Dr. Kim Dooley, said that undergraduate researchers distinguish themselves, as well as make valuable contributions and discoveries.
“Undergraduates who participate in research set themselves apart through the honors and distinctions that they receive,” said Dooley. “Research done through field studies allows students to gain experiences and make observations, all while integrating their knowledge in a practical way.”
The purpose of the study was to test the idea that people focus their attention more quickly on predators, such as lions, than on animals that are less threatening like an impala.
Tovar and Yorzinski used advanced-eye tracking technology to test this hypothesis and discovered that participants fixated on the predator when the animal was facing towards them rather than when they were facing away.
After participating in this research, Tovar said she gained a different perspective of science as a whole and is thankful for the professional experience that she received.
“You don’t realize all of the aspects that go into conducting a research study from the outside looking in,” said Tovar. “I am grateful that I got to be a part of the experience and enjoyed seeing the results once it was finished.”
Tovar graduated from Texas A&M in May of 2018, and is currently employed as a veterinary technician at Parmer Lane Pet Hospital but has future career plans to branch out to zoos or animal sanctuaries within the next year or two.
To read more about the eye-tracking research, visit http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-33705-001?doi=1