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humanity of groups when the focus is placed on the people within the group rather than the group as a unified whole,” Cooley explained. She coauthored the project with two Colgate researchers: Alyssa Berger ’16 and William Cipolli, assistant professor of mathematics. Other coauthors include Cooley’s former graduate advisers and peers. For Berger’s senior thesis project, she and Cooley discovered that, by affecting “mind” perception, linguistic shifts also affect whether people feel compassion for a suffering group. “For instance, ‘people in a company’ who suffered bankruptcy were not only perceived as having more mind than ‘a company of people,’ but they also elicited much more sympathy,” Cooley said. Beyond the lab, the findings have several real-world applications, including the perception of governing bodies in the media and an individual’s willingness to donate to charities that aid suffering groups. In future research, Cooley hopes to investigate

“One of the ways we can study a protein is by pulling it out and seeing what it’s bound to through immunoprecipitation.” — Priscilla Van Wynsberghe, biology professor

CRISPR at Colgate

iStock/Alot of People

Spot the difference: A group of people or people in a group? While these phrases might seem interchangeable at first glance, recent research by Erin Cooley, assistant professor of psychology, shows that humans interpret these similar statements in unexpected ways. Cooley’s research investigates the topic of mind perception — the idea that we can ascribe mental capacities to others. She sought to discover whether people perceive a “mind” differently in groups of people — a country, for example — than in individuals. Her paper, titled “The Paradox of Group Mind: ‘People in a Group’ Have More Mind Than ‘a Group of People,’” was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General this past spring. Intuitively, groups should be perceived as having lots of minds — after all, they comprise many individuals. The results of Cooley’s first study, however, support the opposite; overall, people perceive groups — such as

How do you perceive people in a group? What about a group of people? Psychology professor Erin Cooley’s research examines the nuances of these statements.

companies or sports teams — as having less “mind” than an individual. In a second study, Cooley found that slight shifts in the way a group is described can significantly affect how that group is perceived. The results show that shifting the statement from “a group of people” to “people in a group” led people to perceive groups as having as much “mind” as an individual. “Our interpretation of these findings is that people start seeing the

how individuals make moral decisions involving groups. “I’m interested in how people make decisions that harm groups,” Cooley said. “For instance, would people think it is more ethical to attack ‘North Korea’ or ‘the people of North Korea’? Our findings suggest that word choice is not arbitrary; instead, it can affect whether we sympathize with those who are suffering or ignore their plight altogether.” — Erin Burnett ’19

The technologies in science fiction films like Gattaca and Blade Runner may seem light-years away, but the development of a gene-editing technique called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is bringing our society closer to these futuristic worlds than ever before. During her talk titled “CRISPR: The Genome Editing Revolution” in June, Assistant Professor of Biology Priscilla Van Wynsberghe spoke to students and faculty about this scientific breakthrough as part of Colgate’s Summertime Lecture Series. “The science community has had methods to alter a genome directly in a cell, but [these methods] haven’t been as easy to use, as simple, or as fast acting as CRISPR,” Van Wynsberghe said. “It allows [scientists] to make a specific alteration to a nucleic acid in a human cell.” This past summer, Van Wynsberghe and her team of student researchers used the technology to study the effects of specific proteins on development of the nematode C. elegans. “One of the ways we can study a protein is by pulling it out and seeing what it’s bound to through immunoprecipitation,” Van Wynsberghe said. “To do that, you need a way to tag your protein to see where your protein is, how much is there, and what it’s binding to. What I’d like to do with CRISPR is engineer a short little ‘tag’ into my protein so that I can specifically, confidently identify it.” Although scientists first noticed CRISPR in the late 1980s, it wasn’t until 2012 that they announced its

potential as a gene-editing tool. Using Cas9, a protein that can create doublestranded breaks in DNA, CRISPR allows for the deletion or insertion of a gene at virtually any location in the genome. As research progresses, the technique could potentially be used to advance our understanding of biological systems; treat genetic diseases caused by a single, known mutation; grow organs for transplantations; and even edit human embryos. However, most traits, including intelligence and height, are impacted by multiple genes and environmental influences, and thus are too complex to be altered by CRISPR technology. Along with the power of CRISPR comes the need for ethical responsibility. Although the technology has the potential to save lives, it also can be used to genetically modify organisms for reasons other than solving lifethreatening problems. Throughout her talk, Van Wynsberghe posed situational questions to audience members to gauge their thoughts on the ethics of gene editing. When asked if they would be interested in having their genomes sequenced, most people said yes; but, when asked if that sequencing information should be used to “fix” errors in their genomes, many weren’t convinced. “There are going to be so many applications for CRISPR’s use, and we as a society need to have some discussions about if and how much editing is appropriate,” Van Wynsberghe said. “Talking, understanding, and breaking it down is really important.” — Erin Burnett ’19

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Frame of mind

Autumn Scene 2017  
Autumn Scene 2017  

The Scene is published by Colgate University four times a year — in autumn, winter, spring, and summer.