My doctorate is in social psychology. Social psychology is the scientific study of how people think about, interact with, and relate to others. Topics include what errors we make in our social thinking, how we determine the causes of our own and others' behavior, whether attitudes predict behaviors or (and!) vice versa, how norms influence our behavior, whether obedience to authority really can influence us to perform awful acts, how groups impact performance and decisions, how social psychology can inform us about the causes and consequences of prejudice and discrimination, whether science can give us insight into fuzzy topics like love and altruism, and what predicts aggression.
I love this field because of its breadth of topics and its applicability. Findings in social psychology have been formally applied in the clinic, to conflict situations, in court, and to environmental sustainability. Personally, I believe that applying insights from social psychology can make one a kinder, gentler, and happier human being. For example, when people engage in bad behaviors, we tend to make internal attributions-they acted like that because they are bad, lazy, or stupid people. Social psychological findings highlight the importance of looking at the situation as a contributor to behavior, bad and good. With regard to happiness, social psychologists have found that many factors contribute, such as giving priority to friends and family; having meaningful work; engaging in absorbing leisurely activities; acting happy (often the mood will follow); having a religious faith; mastering time; reflecting on the positives in your life; and of course sleeping, exercising, and eating right. Add a dash of believing people view you very positively (and they probably do, just not as positively as you think) and you have a recipe for happiness.
I can talk about two academic programs in which I am heavily involved. I'm Associate Professor of Psychology, and I'm also the Director of the Honors Program. The Psychology/Sociology Department has as its mission to "advance the understanding of human behavior and the scientific method used to study it." Driving this mission is the belief that psychological methods and findings can produce research-based principles valuable for understanding behavior and thinking as well as solving individual and social problems. While St. Scholastica is a small college, we are fortunate to have a faculty that represents the major areas of psychology: developmental, biological, social, clinical, and counseling. We offer courses in these areas and more. Especially unique is our Directed Applied Project in Psychology, a field experience that involves students working at area agencies and applying what they have learned in the classroom. Too, students in our department meet often with their advisors, not only to schedule classes, but also to discuss professional goals and what is needed to achieve them. Finally, we offer numerous co-curricular activities through our student club.
The Honors Program is designed to enrich the learning experiences of high-achieving, motivated students. Students in the Honors Program replace half of their General Education classes with Honors classes. Honors classes are capped at 15 students; involve lively discussions about often-controversial topics; and draw from multiple disciplines. A community of peers and faculty similarly devoted to the love of learning is the final outcome.