Finding Her Joy

Kayley Hall reviews data that she presented at the annual Student Research Symposium. 

Photo: College of Arts and Sciences

Tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder represent more than a hobby for Kayley Hall. A dual major in psychology and criminal justice, she investigated how these types of games impact visualization skill for her summer research project, “Theater of the Mind: Finding a Connection Between Tabletop Role-Playing Games and Quality of Visual Imagery.”

“Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge nerd,” admits Kayley. “I have been actively playing tabletop role-playing games for about a year but was introduced to these games at an early age. Visualizing is such a simple, everyday task that often goes unnoticed because it is such an ingrained habit. “

Connecting the data

Kayley presented her research project at this year’s Student Research Symposium which occurred during California Lutheran University’s Homecoming Weekend last month. During her four years at Cal Lutheran, her interest in the field of cognitive psychology has grown, leading her to explore the link between visualization and tabletop role-playing games.

Noting that visual imagery varies among people, Kayley surmised that a connection could exist between this skill and engaging in tabletop role-playing games. She received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship to support her research which yielded a “small significant positive correlation between player experience in years and movement imagery.” That is, those with more experience playing such games had higher scores in movement imagery.

Kayley calls herself a “creative person,” as shown through her artistic endeavors that highlight her affinity with imagery. “In my free time, I practice a lot of visual art—through sketching, painting, making digital art, or more recently, making ceramics,” she admits. However, she believes creativity can also manifest itself in research. 

“I love coming up with new ideas for my research and seeing how I can bridge the gap in current literature,” says Kayley. “I spend a lot of time in literature review canvassing for articles and figuring out how to get my hands on relevant resources, through the library’s collection of books, databases, and services like interlibrary loan. It’s very exciting to get that ‘aha!’ moment in literature review where the dots start to connect, and I realize how I can best research my topic.”

Changing interests 

Kayley’s fascination with criminal justice and psychology began as a teenager, and she cites one of her freshmen-level courses as cementing her enjoyment of the subject.

“CRIM-101 [Introduction to Criminal Justice] is a really great place to start out with learning about the American justice system and shows just how multifaceted the subject is.”

She initially enrolled in both majors to study behavioral analysis and criminal psychology but found her joy in “delving deeper into psychology and finding out what makes the human brain run as well as it does.” Nevertheless, Kayley believes she gained some valuable skillsets through studying criminal justice that will professionally benefit her.

“Both majors are social sciences,” she says. “I have learned different analytical skills through these courses that make me a better researcher, regardless of the topic.”


Her affinity with psychology and role-playing games led her to join Cal Lutheran’s Tabletop Gaming Club, where she has been a member for three years. She presently serves as the club’s president, which has allowed her to improve her communication skills. Through her involvement with the club, Kayley saw the value of collaboration and storytelling with other tabletop role-playing fans.

“It’s one thing to listen to the storytelling of someone else’s campaign; it’s another to actually be a part of it. TRPGs lead to amazing stories of epic adventure, where truly anything can happen. You build comradery with your fellow players and get invested in the outcomes of all our stories. Additionally, you can never predict what is going to happen. Any story can change with a reactionary spell or a botched dice roll. When things change at the tip of a hat, everyone at the table gets excited to work together to overcome new challenges.”


Grateful for the past; excited for the future


When reminiscing about her time at Cal Lutheran, Kayley notes the best part about her studies lies in the campus’s community. She has forged lasting ties with her peers and professors due to smaller class sizes. She also credits her interest in research to the university.


I don’t think I would have ever been introduced to research without being at CLU, and I’m grateful for being exposed to such a fun area of academia.”


Her faculty mentor, Andrea Sell, Ph.D., is one of the professors who shared with Kayley her knowledge about psychology. “It has been an absolute privilege to work with Dr. Sell,” she says. “Both in class and in research, she really showed how awesome cognitive psychology could be and how cool research is.”


After she graduates this spring, Kayley will continue her studies in cognitive psychology. She is in the process of applying to doctoral programs, and her main schools of interest are Florida State University in Tallahassee and the University of California San Diego. 


“I really enjoy research and am eager to learn more.”


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