A Conversation with David G. Myers and Jean M. Twenge: Authors of Social Psychology

Published Thu Aug 13 00:00:00 EDT 2015

  1. How is the field of social psychology evolving?
  2. Dave Myers: One exciting new development is "big data" studies. Data harvested from millions of people via Google and social media sites enable social psychologists to study culture and gender differences in, for example, emotional expressiveness and self-presentation. Massive survey archives, such as the Gallup World Poll, enable us to explore predictors of well-being and helping behavior worldwide.

    In one of my favorite, big data studies, Jean explored America's growing individualism by analyzing the distinctiveness of baby names. From Social Security archives, she collected the first names of 325 million American babies born between 1880 and 2007. Over that time, the percentage of boys and girls given one of the 10 most common names for their birth year plunged dramatically—from about 1 in 3 to less than 1 in 10.

    Jean Twenge: Another big data example is the study of the language use of more than 70,000 Facebook users. In the new edition, we highlight some of the results from this study -- for example, a word cloud showing the words with the biggest gender differences. I'm sure we'll see more and more of these types of studies in the years to come.

  3. What distinguishes the new edition of Social Psychology from other social psychology titles?
  4. DM: My new co-author, Jean Twenge! Jean is an accomplished and widely cited researcher who is also a gifted communicator of psychological science. Aided by her undergraduate training in journalism, she has, in addition to her scientific articles, published magazine articles and widely read general audience trade books, including Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic.

    JT: Social Psychology has always been known for its readable style, and we've continued that tradition in our collaboration. Students want a book that engages them from the first pages, and that introduces them to the latest research in the field. In this edition, we've paid special attention to including social psychology studies involving technology (such as gaming and Facebook), to meet students where they live.

  5. In what research areas are you currently involved?
  6. DM: My interests include:

    • the scientific pursuit of happiness
    • exploring associations between religiosity and altruism and well-being (see here on my website for The Religious Engagement Paradox, for one puzzling finding)
    • making a case for same-sex marriage to people of faith
    • advocating a transformation in American "assistive listening" for people with hearing loss

    JT: My research interests include:

    • generational and time period differences—how cultural change affects people (particularly their happiness, attitudes, self-views, religiosity, and sexuality)
    • changes in teens' time use (How much time do they spend with technology? Doing homework and reading? Working for pay?)
    • shifting attitudes toward work
    • cultural changes in language use and names

  7. How has your teaching background impacted your experience as social psychology authors?
  8. DM: Teaching dozens of social psychology sections has helped me see the world through students' eyes and to focus our writing on students' interests and needs. When sifting through myriad research findings, I imagine our student readers looking over our shoulders. Thus I'm continually asking: Is this something that our students can understand? Will remember? Would benefit them? What are the big ideas and findings that, as educated people, they should know?

    JT: In teaching social psychology for many years, I've tried to notice what students find interesting (and what they don't) and what they understand right away (and what they don't). I'm always thinking about relevance: How will this information help them in their daily lives? How can I help them remember it when they are working, when they are parents, and when they are relationship partners?

  9. Do you have advice for instructors looking to incorporate technology into their courses?
  10. DM: Students benefit from technologies that efficiently engage their interests, demonstrate principles, and enable them to experience psychological phenomena. These include compelling and brief video clips, simulations, tutorials, and even Gutenberg's great technology—the printed narrative! Research on the "testing effect" shows that repeated self-testing, such as with online quizzes, enhances memory.

    JT: Brief videos are fantastic for emphasizing concepts, though don't be afraid to use a few longer ones (such as Milgram and the Stanford Prison Experiment – I show these in full when I teach the course). Use lots of images in your lecture slides to keep this online generation interested. Also: Students love taking questionnaires, and technology can really aid with that – students can take the questionnaire online and instantly get their scores. Students are fascinated by how their attitudes and characteristics compare to others, and at the same time they are learning about the measures actually used in social psychology research. That's why we're incorporating the technology in this edition of Social Psychology.