Cristóbal Fernández

Major: Psychology
“Spiritual Music and its Relation to Personality”

Cristobal Fernandez

For some time, researchers have been interested in studying the relationship between spirituality and personality traits. Studies have shown that transcendental meditation, a type of spiritual meditation, has yielded positive results in reducing migraine-related problems in individuals who are classified as being “opened to experience,” by the “’Big Five” personality traits scale. The current study investigates whether spiritual music can help reduce anxiety for individuals who are “opened to experience.” Sixty participants are randomly assigned to one of three groups. An initial blood-pressure reading is taken for all three groups. Then all participants complete a simple task but are given falsified results, showing poor performance, in order to create anxiety. Next, a second blood-pressure measurement is taken, after which participants are asked to wait. Depending on their group assignment, they will hear in the background either Gregorian chants, Pop music, or no music at all. After five minutes, a final blood-pressure reading is obtained in order to be compared to the previous two readings. It is expected in this study that participants who listen to Gregorian chants show a faster return to their original blood pressure levels indicating that spiritual music may be helpful in reducing anxiety.

When did you start conducting research at UMBC? How did you find a mentor and project to work on?
In 2009, I took Experimental Methods (PSYC 331 / 332) and I learned to conduct my own research. I never thought that two years later I was going to apply that knowledge to my own project. Although it is a lot of work, I enjoy research very much and Dr. Alonso (my mentor) has been working with me throughout the entire process.

What did you know about your field/project when you started? How did you learn what you needed to know?
I knew very little, if anything at all. I just wanted my project to include the concept of spirituality somehow and I hoped to combine spirituality and Psychology. The topic of spirituality is very broad and my mentor asked me to narrow it down. In other words, I was asked to find a specific thing that could be measured. After much research, I focused on personality and how it was affected by spirituality. Then, I learned that spiritual music (e.g., Gregorian Chants) had not been tested on personality traits. For this reason, I decided to test Gregorian chants on individuals who are self-described as being “open to experience” according to personality scales.

Who do you work with on your project?
I was the only person conducting this particular study and my mentor/advisor was the person supervising my work.

How did you decide to present at URCAD?
When a student enrolls in the “Independent Study” course (PSYC 490), the student has two choices: if the student is only taking the course for one semester, then he is supposed to specify in his final paper what things would he have done, had he presented at URCAD. The second option is to take the course for a second semester and present at URCAD. I wanted to do the latter, and that is why I chose to continue and took the class for a second semester. I originally wanted to present a poster but my advisor/mentor encouraged me to give an oral presentation. I am not good at presenting orally because I am somewhat shy and it is hard for me to speak in front of an audience. Nevertheless, I wanted to overcome this fear and decided to present anyway. I also wanted to present a poster and fortunately, I was permitted to do both.

Was the URCAD application difficult?
No, the application was not difficult to fill out at all. What was difficult, though, was the completion of the IRB forms. It took me a while to have all the information entered in correctly. The second most difficult thing to do was the URCAD abstract. The abstract was to be written in 200 words or less, and including the major aspects of the study in one paragraph was very difficult. Fortunately, my mentor reviewed it several times and she helped me with the revising process before submitting it.

How did you know what to put on your poster?
I actually did not. I had some idea of what to include such as the “objective,” the “results” and the “discussion” sections, and I also had seen other posters but they all had different things in them. I also had to pick a background for my poster since I did not like the ones I had seen previously. Again, with the help of my mentor I was able to include the essential components of my poster, as well as taking into consideration the aesthetics. She guided me through the whole process.

Were you nervous about explaining your work to so many people? How did it go?
I was not nervous when I showed my poster to the people who kindly took the time to come and look at it. My dad also had a great idea and he made small pamphlets of my poster and pinned them to the cardboard for everyone to take if they were interested in learning more about my study. Now, I was nervous before I orally presented but it was gone once I was called up and went over the slides. I had made a script to myself of what I was going to say (and memorized it for several days) and that took away much of my nervousness. I acknowledge that I did not do a splendid job, but compared to my class presentations, I think I did very well.

What is next for you?
This is my last semester at USG/UMBC and I will be graduating this spring. I received academic credit for doing my own study (as well as to write a research paper) but I mainly did this for the sake of conducting research in general. Some people enjoy playing sports, going to the movies, etc. I enjoy doing research because it enables me to expand my knowledge and to apply what I have learned during my years as an undergraduate at USG/UMBC. I also like to explore other ways to benefit people through research.

I definitely plan to go to graduate school, but first I need to get a job that can pay for it. For the immediate future I plan to pace it down a bit because I have not stopped since my senior year in high school. I have taken summer courses ever since and I need a small break before I venture into the world of graduate school. I also plan to continue pursuing psychology as my major but I want to specialize, and get my Masters, in a more holistic discipline, such as “Transpersonal Psychology.”

Would you suggest to other undergraduates that they find a research project?
Yes, I would suggest other students get involved in their own research because it is a very gratifying experience. It is a lot work but in the end it pays off. Some people may not find research very interesting but the knowledge and experience that a student acquires is priceless.

What else are you involved in at UMBC?
Besides conducting my study at USG/UMBC, I am also involved in the “Psychology Student Association” (PSA) as the Senior Representative; as well as being involved in the “Writing Fellows Program,” which is a program that helps sophomores and juniors who are taking lower- and upper- level courses and who need assistance in improving their content/writing in their research papers.

Additional Information:
I was a transfer from Montgomery College to USG and this transition was a little difficult because I was not used to writing research papers using the APA format. For this reason I had to adapt myself to this new way but I easily picked it up. One of the reasons that I joined the “Writing Fellows Program” was to help those students who were still at Montgomery College and who were going to struggle if they were not used to the way things are done at the upper level.


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