Sell Us Your Major: Psychology

This column is devoted to sharing student and faculty input on the various majors offered at Lawrence. The goal is to highlight areas of study that are not well known and to provide undecided students an inside look at things they may want to study.

Psychology has emerged as one of the most popular majors for Lawrence students. While it would be difficult to imagine a liberal arts campus that did not feature Psychology among their list of majors, the unique qualities of the department and the students’ research at Lawrence are what make it particularly attractive to Lawrentians.

Psychology is defined as the study of the mind and behavior. At Lawrence, the psychology program is structured to balance seven sub-areas of the field: clinical, cognitive, developmental, health, neuroscience, personality and social. This is to offer students depth in their pursuit towards understanding what aspects of the field draw their attention.

In a liberal arts fashion, the psychology faculty can be found teaching across a wide variety of disciplines. “Psychology interfaces with a lot of other fields,” explained Associate Professor of Psychology Beth Haines. “In addition to the seven big sub-areas of psychology, it interfaces with business, medicine, sociology, economics, anthropology and so many other big career areas that psychology would be a relatively big absence if it wasn’t offered at a university like Lawrence.”

Henry Merritt Wriston Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Psychology, Peter Glick agreed with this sentiment and said, “At Lawrence, we consider it a social science, but some other universities would group it with the natural sciences because it has that depth and foothold in both areas. It goes from the brain and physiology to stuff that is closer to the social aspects of it. Psychology […] plays a major role in the interdisciplinary areas like cognitive science, gender studies, neuroscience and so many more.”

The department at Lawrence places heavy emphasis on the research aspect of psychology. “We’re a very research-active department,” Glick explained. “Students have to do an original empirical project in Research Methods. We spend two terms on those and they’re really quite good. Some of our research gets presented at major conferences like the American Psychological Association Conference, as well as in psychological publications. Over the years, at least I would very strongly guess, our department has had more peer-reviewed journal publications with students as co-authors than any other department on campus.”

One of the major projects being conducted by students currently is one that Glick is sponsoring in the realm of social psychology and prejudice. Seniors Juliana Earvolino and Rebecca Schachtman have been working on a research and experimental project to investigate the reactions people have to sexist comments directed towards both men and women.

“It all started with our Research Methods course we took our sophomore year,” Schachtman explained. “We settled on the topic of confronting sexism. Most research on the topic deals with sexism directed towards women, but we also wanted to know about sexism directed towards men, so that […] made it relatively unique. Another twist was that a lot of research was done on how people don’t confront sexism, so we wanted to look at what people do when they do confront it.”

Earvolino and Schachtman designed an experiment that would encourage people to confront sexist comments when they were made. They had participants partake in the “Desert Island Task,” where they went online and were paired with an online chat partner, or rather a series of generated chat responses. The participants had to discuss a list of people that they would like on a desert island with them, and had to justify their answers. At the end of the experiment, the computer would generate a sexist comment to justify its pick from the list.

“We allowed the people to respond to that justification,” Earvolino explained, “and that was where they were given the opportunity to confront. So, we looked at their responses and coded them to the degree of how strongly they confronted the comments. We found that men and women equally defend women, which is what we expected. In contrast, women were less likely to defend men, and were actually more likely to agree with the sexist comment.”

Inspired by these results, Earvolino and Schachtman decided to continue the study into the summer, gathering descriptive data about comments that people hear about men on a regular basis, and generating two surveys. The first investigated the general attitudes people had towards the question, ‘What are men like?’ while the second investigated this same idea with both men and women. Through these surveys, they found ways in which a diverse amount of people respond to sexism.

“We’re pretty much wrapping up on the results from that study,” Schachtman explained, “and now we’re thinking about how to combine all of our studies into an honors research project, and also, hopefully, some sort of publication. Another thing we noticed talking to some other student researchers over the summer is that this was truly our own project. Most other student researchers are working on some other project that is being conducted by the professor rather than their own project, and as a result of the freedom we had, we have a project that we’re very proud of.”

Earvolino explained, “This process allowed us to teach ourselves skills that we think are going to be valuable for us post-grad. Even though we’re both going into different fields of psychology, we have gotten the opportunity to get the skills we both will benefit from.”

Another way that students have engaged with the Psychology Department at Lawrence is with the Community Early Learning Center (CELC). With the help of Haines, students work to teach mindfulness skills to really young children. The work students have done with the CELC was presented at the American Psychological Association last summer and received an Award of Excellence for bringing that all together for the potential it has to make an impact.

Psychology, while an overall popular major, offers its unique aspects at Lawrence that may appeal to students looking for a research-oriented look at the human mind and behavior.