Social psychology celebrates 40 years

12/19/2007 8:00:00 AM

Since 1967, the University's interdisciplinary social psychology doctoral program has helped students understand how people respond to each other in a global context. Its students and faculty have been participants in an eventful four decades of instruction and research at the program housed on the third floor of the Mack Social Sciences Building.

Recognized as one of the senior venues for social psychology study in the country, the campus program integrates sociological and psychological perspectives of the field, allowing graduate students to understand the various behaviors of human beings in different contexts and settings.

The interdisciplinary social psychology program is the only program of its kind on the West Coast and one of three nationally with Duke and Vanderbilt. Its faculty comes from a broad range of academic disciplines on campus, including the departments of psychology, sociology, managerial science, human development and family studies, criminal justice, women's studies, the School of Journalism and the School of Public Health.

The program is also affiliated with both the National Judicial College and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and shares research ties with the University-based Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies, the Sanford Center for Aging, the Center for Partnership Evaluation and the Center for Research Design and Analysis.

The curriculum includes a core component with four concentrations, allowing students the choice between a specialization and an academic focus combining interrelated areas.

Social psychology and law concentrates on issues of justice, such as decision-making processes in the courtroom or the impact of media on potential jurors. Social psychology and health examines attitudes and behavior related to physical and mental health. Organizational behavior researches individuals and groups in business, school and religious settings while the social and personal relationships specialization looks at interactions among committed couples, families, co-workers or peers.  

The issues of culture and gender are interwoven within all the program's courses and the four concentrations. They are factors that influence all human interaction regardless of setting, said program director Colleen Murray.

"The program as a whole looks at how society and groups impact and are impacted by the feelings, thoughts and actions of the individual," Murray said.

The social psychology doctoral program prepares students for careers in research with a variety of organizations and establishments. Its 40 full-time students receive training in a range of research methodologies and statistical approaches.
 
"Half of these students will go into academic positions and others typically enter research positions with government, survey research firms or trial consulting firms," Murray said.
 
The program has 16 faculty members and five adjunct faculty, all of whom are trained in either psychology or sociology.

In keeping with the strong emphasis on research, students are encouraged as they enter the program to publish and present their findings at conferences. In their second year, students are required to participate in a project that results in research products. They begin developing a dissertation immediately following the project's completion.
 
The program began with University of Nevada sociology professor Carl Backman and psychology professor Paul Secord. The two professors brought in Gerald Ginsberg, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan's interdisciplinary social psychology doctorate program, to initiate a similar venture in the West. In 1967 the University of Nevada System Board of Regents approved the program and the first four students graduated.

Through the four decades hence, there have been 87 graduates from the program. Its students have received many National Science Foundation research grants, fellowships and other research awards. Graduates have gone on to postdoctoral positions at institutions such as Cornell, Vanderbilt, the University of Pennsylvania's Solomon Ashe Center, and several European universities.

"To really understand and address what's taking place around the world as well as locally, we need to understand the context in which individuals and groups interact," Murray said. "Social psychology is the core discipline for unraveling, understanding, and problem solving in today's global community."


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