The Social Psychology Ph.D. Program is a research-intensive training program in which students develop skills in research methodology, statistics, and the substantive major content areas in the field. Social psychologists are interested in how individuals are affected by social situations; the faculty at KU have expertise in areas such as stereotyping, prejudice, intergroup relations, prosocial motivation, helping behavior, emotions, cross-cultural perspectives on the self and interpersonal relations, the development of social competence, social dominance, and applications of psychology to law. Most students train toward careers in academe, and some toward industry jobs that tap their research skills. The Ph.D. program includes 3-4 students in each entering class and operates under an apprentice-ship model. Continuous involvement in research is expected, and students develop their own contracts outlining work toward the Ph.D.
Rather than work in a laboratory as a research apprentice to a single faculty supervisor, the KU Social Psychology Program encourages students to collaborate jointly or separately with multiple faculty researchers. One feature of the program that facilitates such collaboration is a concentration of expertise around four core themes. This concentration of expertise means that interested students not only find multiple course offerings associated with the core themes, but also find it easy to collaborate on research projects with multiple faculty members, sometimes bringing two or more faculty researchers together to work on a single project. In addition, this concentration of expertise means that research presentations in our weekly program meeting usually touch on one or more of these core themes, so that everyone in the social psychology program gains some basic familiarity with them.
Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Intergroup Relations
Probably the most visible theme that connects current members of the KU social psychology program is a concentration on topics related to prejudice, stereotyping, and intergroup relations. The KU Social Psychology program has achieved a national reputation for excellence in this area, and various aspects of this theme are central to work of Glenn Adams (Liberation Psychology perspectives), Monica Biernat (stereotyping processes) model), Nyla Branscombe (Social Identity approaches to intergroup relations), Chris Crandall (prejudice) and Ludwin Molina (power and intergroup relations). One tangible manifestation of this theme is the 2004 conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, which we organized and hosted at KU with funding from the American Psychological Association (Scientific Conference Grant), National Science Foundation, and American Psychology and Law Society. In the aftermath of this conference, several members of the KU Social Psychology Program collaborated to edit a book, Commemorating Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination, and co-authored the book's conclusion chapter*, which won honorable mention for the Gordon Allport Prize for work on Intergroup Relations from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
Another concentration of expertise that is emerging as a core theme of the KU Social Psychology Program is the area of personal relationships. This theme is central to the work of Glenn Adams, who studies personal relationship processes as a window into the sociocultural foundations of mind, and Omri Gillath, who uses techniques of cognitive psychology and social neuroscience to study brain mechanisms associated with sex, love, attachment, and prosociality (not necessarily in that order). This theme is also evident in work of Chris Crandall on friendship, attraction and social influence. One tangible manifestation of this theme is the KU Close Relationships Interest Group, an interdisciplinary forum for relationship research in which members of the KU Social Psychology Program play a foundational role. Another tangible manifestation of this theme is the conference, New directions in research on close relationships: Integrating across disciplines and theoretical approaches, that was organized and hosted at KU as the 2009 mini-conference of the International Association for Relationship Research with funding (Scientific Conference Grant) from the American Psychological Association. Fourteen members of the KU Social Psychology Program (10 students and 4 faculty members) presented their research at this conference alongside leading scholars in the area of close relationship from the US and 14 other countries spreading across five continents. The organizers of the conference (Gillath, Adams, and Adrianne Kunkel from the KU Department of Communication Studies) are in the process of editing a book to disseminate ideas inspired by presentations at the conference. These activities have given KU a reputation as an emerging international center of excellence in the interdisciplinary study of personal relationships.
Motivation and Emotion
One of the most enduring core themes of the KU social psychology program has been the study of motivation and emotion. Early manifestations of this theme include classic work by the late Jack Brehm (on cognitive dissonance, reactance motivation, and intensity of emotions) and Professor Emeritus Dan Batson (on the empathy altruism hypothesis). Among currently resident faculty members, this theme is a central to work by Omri Gillath on the attachment motivational system and Mark Landau on existential motivations (using terror management theory and other perspectives in existential psychology). The theme is also evident in work by Nyla Branscombe (on collective and intergroup emotions) and Chris Crandall (on justification motivations).
Cultural Psychology, Political Psychology, Social Identity Theory, and Evolutionary Psychology A final core theme of the KU Social Psychology Program is not a particular topic area, but rather an intellectual orientation toward various collective-level perspectives that link social psychology to other social sciences. This core theme is central to the work of Glenn Adams, who considers sociocultural foundations of mind via the theoretical perspective of cultural psychology; Nyla Branscombe, who examines individual experience of collective identity through the lens of various Social Identity Theory approaches; Omri Gillath who uses the framework of evolutionary psychology to inform his research on close relationships; and Ludwin Molina, who is a local KU expert in the increasingly influential field of political psychology. As tangible evidence of this core theme, faculty and students in the KU Social Psychology Program have recently collaborated on research projects, team-taught graduate seminars, and/or jointly organized conferences and symposia with faculty from African Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Communication Studies, Economics, Geography, History, International Studies, Political Science, and Sociology (for example, the Culture and Psychology Research Group).
*Adams, G., Biernat, M., Branscombe, N. R., Crandall, C. S., & Wrightsman, L. S. (2008). Beyond prejudice: Toward a sociocultural psychology of racism and oppression. In G. Adams, M. Biernat, N. R. Branscombe, C. S. Crandall, & L. S. Wrightsman (Eds.), Commemorating Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination (pp. 215-246). Washington, DC: APA Books.