Apply Now
Eastern Washington University
526 5th Street
Cheney, WA 99004
phone: 509.359.6200 (campus operator)

Ashley Nienhuis

Attending: Eastern Washington University, M.A. Psychology


Acknowledgement to Mentor: I would like to sincerely thank Dr. William Williams for introducing me to the wonders and frustrations of scientific research over the past three years. He has guided me at every stage of my work. There were many moments where he encouraged me and inspired confidence in me. I have enjoyed the time that I have spent as his research assistant and student. Given his very busy schedule, he gave so very generously of his time, knowledge, and patience. He is a gifted teacher and as a result of his expertise and guidance, I have a much deeper understanding of psychology. His involvement has helped me create several successful projects and presentations. Thank you for your commitment and assistance. My gratitude for your contribution to my future success as a graduate student is immeasurable. I look forward to another two years. 


Ashley Nienhuis is a psychology major and currently serves as an undergraduate research assistant to Dr.Williams, Dr.Stellwagen, and Dr. Watkins. Her future goal is to earn a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and return to an academic setting so that she can educate and inspire others as well as contribute research to the vast field of psychology. Primarily her research has focused on emotions and anti-social personality disorders, and the Dark Triad of personalities: Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and Narcissism. Her other interests include forensic psychology, the psychology of violence and aggression with an emphasis on gratuitous violence, and white collar crime.



Dr. William Williams, Professor, Department of Psychology


TRiO McNair Research Internship:___________________________________________________________

Contextual Priming of Emotion Rating Graphic Images, (2014)

The purpose of this project was to develop stimulus materials that could be used to investigate emotional reactions to graphic stimuli with attitudes or personality as subject variables. Participants were shown sixteen graphic images of violent or disturbing scenes. Each image was preceded by a caption that either reinforced or rationalized the affective content of the scene. For example, a scene portraying a knife at a young woman's throat is reinforced by describing the scene as a violent attack or is rationalized by describing the scene as a lesson in self-defense. Eight graphic images were preceded by a reinforcing caption and eight by a rationalizing caption. Participants were asked to rate their emotional reactions following each scene using a 7-point Likert scale. The participants rated scenes preceded by reinforcing captions as significantly more negative than scenes preceded by rationalizing captions, t(38) = 8.79, p < .0001.

Effectiveness and Credibility of Emotion Primes for Graphic Scenes (2014)

This research follows-up our prior study reporting that emotion ratings for graphic scenes are influenced by captions presenting alternative portrayals of what the scenes depict.  For example, an image of a knife at someone's throat can be portrayed as an attack, reinforcing the violence, or as a lesson in self-defense, rationalizing the violence.  The first objective of the present study was to assess the effectiveness of the scenes portrayed in the original study.  This involved a scene by scene re-analysis of the data.  Emotion ratings for reinforced scenes were significantly more negative than for rationalized scenes for 14 of 16 scenes. Effect sizes ranged from large to very large (d = .7 to 2.4).  The non-significant scenes were deleted. A second objective was to determine whether participants perceived the captions to be good fits for the scenes they purported to describe.  A new sample was collected using a measure of caption validity instead of emotion.  The outcome was that reinforced scenes were rated as more credible than rationalized scenes, t(24) = 2.94, p < .0068.

Moral Reasoning Distinguishes between Primary Psychopathy and Machiavellianism (2013)

Our research explored the distinction between Machiavellianism (MACH) and primary psychopathy in terms of moral reasoning. MACH refers to the tendency to manipulate others, while primary psychopathy refers to the tendency to callously pursue antisocial goals (e.g., crime). While many argue that both constructs are identical, Stellwagen (e.g., 2010) asserts that while primary psychopaths are callous there is no evidence that Machiavellians are likewise emotionally indifferent. The present study assessed the moral reasoning associated with both constructs via hypothetical dilemmas that involved the willingness to take emotionally aversive behaviors that require a utilitarian attitude towards people. We hypothesized that primary psychopathic personality traits would be associated a utilitarian response pattern while Machiavellian traits would not. While the results of a regression procedure (utilizing 220 EWU students who completed surveys) supported hypothesis, there was a non-significant trend for Machiavellianism to be associated with some aspects of a utilitarian approach.

Parental Warmth and Psychopathy (2013)

The present research explored whether levels of perceived parental warmth were associated with the tendency to show the characteristics of primary psychopathy (e.g., interpersonal callousness, irresponsibility, and a tendency to exploit others). While current etiological models of psychopathy strongly stress neurobiological risk factors (e.g., Hare, 1999), it may be that earlier (descriptive) models of psychopathy that stressed disrupted attachment (e.g., Bowlby, 1946) also describe an important risk factor. We hypothesized that the perception of parental coldness (i.e., high levels of perceived rejection and low levels of perceived affection) would predict the presence of psychopathic traits. Surveys of perceived parental coldness and self-reported psychopathic traits were completed by 221 EWU students. Results of a regression procedure (using year-of-study, gender, and ethnicity as control variables) confirmed our hypothesis. Moreover, results were significant for all four parenting variables assessed (i.e., mother warmth, mother rejection, father warmth, father rejection).

Senior Thesis: Gratuitous Justice Survey (2013-2014)

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by major affective deficits such as enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and bold self-promoting behaviors. The disorder can be separated into two subtypes, specifically, primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy. Primary psychopaths are prone to pathological lying, conning and manipulative behavior, lack empathy or remorse and have a grandiose sense of self-worth. Compared to primary psychopaths, secondary psychopaths have been characterized as having more fear, anxiety, and negative emotions; they are impulsive and prone to boredom, they lack the ability to do any long-term planning and also they have had early behavioral problems.

A large number of studies have shown that psychopathic traits are associated with a propensity for violent behavior (Porter & Woodworth, 2002), and yet the aggressive behavior of the two subtypes tends to reflect different underlying pathologies.  Primary psychopaths typically use aggression for instrumental gain - i.e., their violence is a ruthless means to an end, and the cruelty they inflict on others is a side-effect of their affective indifference to the consequences of their behavior.   In contrast, secondary psychopaths tend to engage in impulsive reactions to real or perceived threats from others. 

There is recent evidence that some psychopaths engage in violence because they enjoy hurting others.  Such violence is referred to as gratuitous. It is not clear whether gratuitous violence is a characteristic shared by all psychopaths, whether sadism is another personality type that might co-occur with psychopathy, or whether there is a separate sadistic subtype of psychopathy.  The hypothesis guiding the present research is that there is a subtype of psychopathy that we term sadistic psychopathy.

My approach to testing this hypothesis will be to develop three surveys, each consisting of a series of brief hypothetical scenarios describing situations in which the participants are expected to make decisions based on the circumstances described in the scenarios.  One survey will assess the participant's propensity for gratuitous violence (GV), the type of aggression expected of the proposed sadistic psychopath; another will assess a participant's tendency to engage in instrumental aggression (IA), the a type of aggression seen only in primary psychopaths; and the third will assess a participant's proclivity for reactive or impulsive aggression (RA), a type of aggression common to both primary and secondary psychopaths.

These vignettes will be delivered via the on-line survey administration software called Sona.  In addition, Sona will also administer a self-report questionnaire designed to assess antisocial traits. Sona will administer surveys anonymously. The participants will be introductory psychology students at EWU who will receive extra credit for their participation.  The data will be analyzed with Cluster Analysis and/or Factor analysis software. The objective will be to determine how many factors are needed to account for the variance in the pattern of responses to survey questions. 

In addition, we will administer the Comprehensive Assessment of Sadistic Tendencies (CAST) survey which consists of 18 items to assess Direct Verbal Sadism, Direct Physical Sadism, and Vicarious Sadism.We will also include a brief questionnaire called the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale (SSIS), which has proved to be a strong unidimensional measure of sadistic inclination. Participants will be asked to make a decision and also to indicate their levels of certainty and comfort with their decisions. 


Conference Presentations:_________________________________________________________________

Contextual Priming of Emotion Ratings to Graphic Images,

  • National Conference on Undergraduate Research, University of Kentucky (2014)

Parental Warmth and Psychopathy,

  • National Conference on Undergraduate Research, University of Kentucky (2014)

Moral Reasoning Distinguishes between Primary Psychopathy and Machiavellianism,

  • Western Psychological Association. Hosted by Western Oregon University, Portland, OR (2014)
  •  16th Annual Student Research and Creative Works Symposium, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA (2013)

Credibility of Contextual Primes as Graphic Image Descriptors,

  • Western Psychological Association Hosted by Western Oregon University, Portland, OR (2014)
  • 16th Annual Student Research and Creative Works Symposium, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA (2013)

Gratuitous Justice Survey,

  • McNair Summer Research Symposium, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA (2013)


Honors and Awards:______________________________________________________________________

  • University travel grant for NCUR, (2014)
  • Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Scholar, Selected based on assessment of motivation, academic work and potential to succeed in a PhD program. (2013)
  • Student Support TRiO Scholarship, Selected by staff to receive a $1,000 academic award for commitment to learning and the ability to make the most out of opportunities given. (2013)
  • Psi Chi Scholarship, Selected recipient of highly competitive scholarship for being an individual that has demonstrated excellence in the Psychology field. Benefit of Psi Chi Members. (2012)
  • Psi Chi Travel Grant, Undergraduate Achievement Scholar, Eastern Washington University (2013-2014)


Graduate School Acceptances:______________________________________________________________

 Eastern Washington University, M.A. Psychology


© 2015 Eastern Washington University
EWU expands opportunities for personal transformation through excellence in learning.