Written By: Nicholas Ashenfelter
In the interest of educating the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) student body, the psychology department has announced a series of psychology lectures themed around intervention science. Dr. Gili Freedman, Assistant Professor of Psychology, was able to elaborate on the decision-making process as well as the goal of this series.
The full title of the theme is “Intervention Science: Harnessing Psychology to Address Oppressive Systems.” The lectures are meant to discuss, as Freedman put it, “long-standing structural inequities in this country” that have been brought into the spotlight by both “racism and COVID-19.” Freedman hopes this series will help students understand such topics with a psychological perspective and consider how to address them.
Each speaker was selected by the Psychology Lecture Series Committee. In particular, Freedman said, they searched for individuals “doing important, rigorous research” on “oppressive systems.” In order to best provide different perspectives, the speakers were chosen from different psychological subfields, such as social psychology and clinical psychology. These subfields will serve as more specific lenses through which the public can explore the same issue. Each of the speakers chose their own topic within the general theme.
Freedman reported that the lecture themes vary greatly from year to year, but the point is always how “psychological science can be leveraged to foster social change” or to help the community “understand real world problems.” These have historically done very well in terms of attendance, and Freedman is optimistic “that the Zoom platform will allow more community members than usual to attend” because of the increased flexibility of a digital medium.
The first lecture was given by Dr. Dorainne Green of Indiana University at Bloomington on Sept. 30. Green presented to a crowd of 61. In her talk, she discussed the different negative emotional and physiological responses to discrimination. The latter includes heightened blood pressure and lessened sleep quantity and quality.
Green expressed that “emotion regulation strategies can either attenuate or exacerbate these adverse negative outcomes”— in other words, that how individuals respond to discrimination can impact the severity of their symptoms. To this end, Green conducted a series of experiments to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages associated with different response tactics. For example, some people respond to stigma with “self-immersion,” where subjects relive an experience, and some with “self-distancing,” where an experience is viewed as though it happened to someone else.
To measure the difference, Green conducted a variety of tests. To measure the difference between the two tactics, she assigned her subjects to either self-immerse or self-distance when discussing their negative experiences. She also administered a Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM), before and after the discussion, so subjects could measure their happiness. To measure physiological changes, she monitored blood pressure. Finally, she also asked subjects to self-report their drive for activism before and after the discussion.
Based on the data, Green concluded that self-immersion led to greater negative feelings and physiological outcomes but a higher drive to enact social change, while self-distancing led to the opposite. Green also expressed that many people didn’t want to try self-distancing. She remarked that “experiences are tied to social identity,” which may have led to reluctance in the subjects to separate themselves from these interactions.
Green’s lecture was only the first in a series of four. Each talk is expected to run for 45 minutes with an additional 15 minutes for questions from the audience. The schedule and Zoom links for these lectures are on InsideSMCM, with the next one taking place on Oct. 23.