Psychology unit makes its Picnic Day comeback

Betsy Flynn has managed the psychology department's offices for less than four months. But already, in that short time, she's taken on a project that no one in the department has attempted for more than 30 years: launching a psychology Picnic Day show.

But, thanks to work from staff and faculty members and students in the department, psychology will sponsor a host of activities Saturday, as UC Davis celebrates its 88th Picnic Day. The wildly popular student-run event - expected to draw about 50,000 visitors - serves as the campus's open house to the community. Dozens of departments and student organizations on campus use the day as an opportunity to showcase their work.

For years, however, the psychology department shied away from Picnic Day activities, feeling that their work had nothing to offer the public. But Flynn says she believes the department's research is pretty significant.

"We've gone from being a fairly typical social psychology department to one that has integration in the campus community," said Flynn, who noted the department's collaborative efforts in the "mind sciences."

"I feel like the department is one of the best kept secrets on campus."

On Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the public will be able to view - and even participate in - several faculty and graduate student research projects. Among the offerings is a survey, based on the research of department chair Phil Shaver, that identifies people's attachment tendencies in a relationship.

Doctoral student Jessica Tracy will use Picnic Day visitors as diverse research subjects for her work on the link between facial expressions and emotions. Participants will sit before a computer and assign emotions to the expression shown on screen.

"It's a great opportunity for us," she said. "We've only done this research on undergrads before."

The work of professors Richard Coss and Donald Owings will be highlighted through a BBC-produced documentary shown each hour. The 30-minute program, which has been shown on the Discovery Channel, describes the professors' study of the defense strategies prey such as small snakes and squirrels use to keep away from a variety of predators. The film, narrated by David Attenborough, shows the animals in the wild and in simulated conditions in the researchers' lab.

Eric Charles, a second-year Ph.D student helping coordinate Picnic Day activities, said he hopes the displays will attract a good crowd.

"We are hoping to get a lot of walk-through traffic and hope to be able to promote the department," he said. "We want to convince the public that psychology is a really interesting thing to learn about and research."

The psychology display is just one of about 70 different department and student organization exhibitions on view at Picnic Day this year. Visitors can also choose from 40 animal events, 20 athletic competitions and exhibitions, six entertainment venues, food courts, a children's fair and more.

"I think there really is something here for everyone," said Andrea Schnitz, a fifth-year student and Picnic Day chair. "People can pick and choose what they are interested in, or try something new."

Some of the day's highlights include:

  • The annual parade, featuring 65 floats, bands and other special entries, will wind its way through campus and parts of downtown from 9:50 a.m. to noon. Winemaker Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margrit, who donated $35 million to the university last fall, will serve as marshals.
  • The Chemistry Magic Show will run at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. in Chemistry 194. The popular event features demonstrations of several chemical reactions as well as activity centers for attendees. Tickets for morning shows are distributed at 9:15 a.m., for afternoon shows 11:45 a.m.
  • The 32nd Annual Irving L. Neumiller Moot Court Competition at the UC Davis Law School will run from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Two top law school moot court teams will face before a panel of distinguished judges.
  • Watch dachshunds race around the Rec Hall at the traditional Doxie Derby from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sheepdog trials will run from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Hutchison Field. Jack Russell terriers will race from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Tercero Field.
  • Teams of mini robots, or MicroMouse teams, built by students in an electrical engineering class will race through an obstacle course in 2205 Haring Hall from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The UC Davis Mouse team contest will pit Aggie-built robots against robots from other California universities.
  • From 2 p.m. to dark, visitors can sit on the lawn by Lake Spafford and listen to the Aggie Band-Uh go head to head with other college bands in the Battle of the Bands.

For more information, and a complete schedule of Picnic Day events, go to

Media Resources

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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