Archa Dileep ’24 and Hannah Lak ’23 Research Scams, Fraud, and Catfishing

By Katie Hanson ’25

Archa Dileep ’24 presents research as the 2022 Western Psychological Association Conference

Most college students can’t say they contributed to a Psychology Today article while working in a research lab that centered their own ideas and opinions. But most college students aren’t working in Molly Mason Jones Chair in Psychology and Professor of Psychology Stacey Wood’s undergraduate research lab at Scripps.

Archa Dileep ’24 and Hannah Lak ’23 have been working in Professor Wood’s lab since fall 2021 as part of a collaborative, passionate group studying psychological issues around scams and fraud. They each spend approximately four hours every week contributing to the lab, organizing data, analyzing trends, and participating in lab meetings, where their input is valued.

“I feel like it’s a great place to be where new research is happening,” Dileep says. “Professor Wood is amazing at centering our opinions, while also talking about all her knowledge. I’ve been in labs before, and I had no say in what was going on. She was even telling us that for the next project she would love to hear our ideas.”

Dileep, a neuroscience major, and Lak, a psychology major, both met Wood while taking her introductory neuroscience course. While Dileep had done research before and wanted to continue, Lak was hoping to gain experience before pursuing a research-heavy PhD.

Although Lak studied abroad in Argentina last spring, she was still involved with the research the team presented at the 2022 Western Psychological Association conference. The lab originally focused their study on the intersection of emotional distress and fraud, analyzing whether people had become more susceptible to fraud with the added turmoil of the pandemic. However, midway through the longitudinal study, during which they surveyed people ages 18–79, the team discovered that there was no correlation between fraud and emotional distress.

The unexpected results didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for research. “It’s one thing to be reading about experiments and learning good technique, but it’s a whole other thing to actually be able to shape a study and get the thrill of receiving the results,” Lak says. “This lab experience really gave me a chance to put what I’ve learned in the classroom to practice. It’s really cool being able to see everything that I’ve learned in my Scripps classes being translated into what we’re talking about in the meetings and what I’m doing for the lab.”

Aside from their extensive research, Dileep and Lak wrote the first drafts and contributed to the research for Wood’s Psychology Today article about catfishing, an online dating scam phenomenon. The pair wanted to focus on a topic that related to the themes of Wood’s research and had noticed a trend of catfishing in the media, with popular movies and shows like The Tinder Swindler and The Circle. After conducting a broad literature review, examining other studies, and drawing their own conclusions, the two began drafting their ideas. Later on, Professor Wood reviewed the article, added her own expertise, and published the piece. For both Dileep and Lak, their contributions to the article are a major accomplishment.

“I knew that I was going to have the chance to write a Psychology Today article when I joined the lab, which was very, very exciting,” Lak says. “The process of writing the article reflected the way that our lab meetings normally go, which is pretty collaborative.”

Working in the lab has not only been a source of fulfillment but also an inspiration for the students’ future plans. Dileep wants to continue taking classes in neuropsychology in preparation for a career in the health sector. Lak hopes to learn more about statistics and later apply to PhD programs in counseling psychology.

In the short term, Dileep and Lak are looking forward to continuing their research with Professor Wood and honing their interests within her lab.

“I want to do more work with people, and I feel like that interest stems from seeing how much can be done while actually interacting with different people,” Dileep says. “I’m even more excited for this semester.”