JMU alumna assists with groundbreaking human behavior database


By: Brittany Bell
Creative Services Student Writer

Evolution graphic

When most students sit in a classroom listening to a lecture, they don’t expect one statement out of all the material to completely captivate them and lead them on a path toward a successful career. For JMU alumna Olivia Jewell (’16),  this is exactly what happened while in her first biopsychology class listening to professor Melanie Shoup-Knox explain the encephalization quotient, a measure of brain size relative to the size of the body.  This starting point encouraged her to delve deeper into evolutionary psychology, where years later she became project manager for PsychTable  —an online tool that allows researchers to find scholarly articles on human adaptations that reveal human behavior through evolution.

Shoup-Knox’s class introduced Jewell to the realm of evolutionary psychology, and her eagerness to learn more led to a student-mentor relationship with Shoup-Knox. Beyond just asking questions, Jewell became a teacher’s assistant for Shoup-Knox and even worked on a research project with her.

 “If I hadn’t taken the class with Melanie, I wouldn’t be even remotely close to where I am now,” said Jewell. “She is the reason for all of the stuff I am interested in now; getting involved in evolutionary psychology and the biopsychology behind it was just so fascinating to me, and I have her to thank for a lot of it.”

After graduating from JMU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, Jewell went to State University of New York at New Paltz where she obtained a master’s degree in evolutionary psychology. Her first year at SUNY, Jewell completed classwork in the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab. During her time in the lab, Dan Glass, former lab student at SUNY and one of the original creators of PsychTable, decided to contact her about becoming involved in the project as an intern.

PsychTable will be an online research database of articles on adaptations in evolutionary psychology. The design of the website will allow users to not only find the information, but also contribute to the database by rating articles or adding their own research. “Our favorite part is that we’re hoping it will be interdisciplinary,” said Jewell. “It will allow people from different fields to come in instead of there just being psychology articles.”

When Jewell first started working on PsychTable, she focused on contacting members to keep them on task. Her role in the project grew along with the project, leading to her being named associate project manager. Now they are in the crowd funding phase; once they obtain enough donations the website will be created.

Jewell is continuing her research in evolutionary psychology while working toward obtaining a Ph.D. in experimental psychology at Brunel University in London. Jewell credits her studies at JMU for her success in her profession. “I never thought that I would be able to build an entire career and passion out of that first day in class when Shoup-Knox talked about the encephalization quotient,” said Jewell.

While at JMU Jewell had the freedom to explore evolutionary psychology and realize that was the field that interested her the most.  Instead of sticking to psychology classes that primarily concern counseling, she decided to branch out and follow that interest to see where it led.

“If there’s even one tiny thing that interests you then go after it, because you would be surprised what’s behind it,” said Jewell. “If you do what you love then you’ll want to do it well, and if you do it well people will want you to do it for them.”

Published: Monday, November 5, 2018

Last Updated: Monday, November 12, 2018

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