Psychology prof's research produces sweet results

 Psychology profs research produces sweet results

Psychology Prof. Brian Meier’s latest research on whether or not people with a sweet tooth have a sweeter personality garnered tons of media attention last fall. Meier and co-researchers found that volunteers who opted for sweet food (a piece of Dove's chocolate) compared with non-sweet food (a cracker) or no food were more likely to volunteer and help another person in need.

"Taste is something we experience every day. Our research examined whether metaphors for taste preferences and experiences can be used to shed light on personality traits and behavior," Meier said.

The study also revealed that people's general conception is that people who like sweet food like candy or chocolate cake are also more agreeable or helpful.

It’s all in a semester’s work for Meier, a social psychologist who examines how perception affects emotions and behaviors. He has published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles that cover a wide range of topics including embodiment, personality, aggression, pro-social behavior, and mindfulness.

The sweeter-than-pie Meier himself agreed to answer a few questions about what interested him in psychology as an undergraduate student and exposes an affinity for the animated show “Family Guy.”

What interested you in psychology as student in college?

People are fascinating. I fell in love with psychology after I took an introduction to psychology course as an undergraduate student. I was always curious about the impact of emotions and motivations like anger, excitement, and desire and behaviors like aggression and discrimination. The course fueled my curiosity and made me realize that behavior can be examined and modified using science. Very cool. My future in psychology was sealed when I later learned about Stanley Milgram’s obedience research in a social psychology course.

What is your favorite part of being a professor?

I really thought I would hate teaching and would only want a career as a research psychologist. I was very apprehensive about teaching my first course as a graduate student. However, after the first few weeks, I found myself eagerly anticipating each class. It turned out that I really enjoyed teaching! One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is observing the growth in students from their first year to their senior year.

Your research topics are quite diverse. What influences your research?

My research generally focuses on social behavior and emotions. Most of my ideas come from reading and discussions with collaborators, colleagues, and students. My position at Gettysburg allows me to examine riskier topics that are outside my main area of expertise because I do not have to be especially concerned about grant funding. I take pleasure in being able to observe behavior in the real world and bring it into the lab for study.

If you hadn't studied psychology, is there something else that you could see yourself doing?

I like news, technology, coffee, and the animated show “Family Guy.” Does a career path exist in which these interests can be combined?

How involved are students in your research?

Students are quite involved in my work. They contribute to every part of the research process including idea generation, study design, data collection, and manuscript writing. I have published papers with six different Gettysburg College students since I became a faculty member in 2005.

If you could only research one topic or area, what would it be?

If I had unlimited resources, time, and patience, I would study consciousness. A fundamental question concerns the existence of consciousness in humans. In other words, how does subjective experience or consciousness arise from neural activity? I think this is the most fascinating and daunting question that currently faces psychology.

What's next for you?

My research interests are evolving as I become more focused on societal concerns. I am really struck by problems in our society that arise from issues such as food consumption, religious beliefs, or impulsive judgments. Some of my recent work on mindfulness has focused on such topics.

Meier is an associate professor of psychology at Gettysburg College. He received a Ph.D. in social psychology from North Dakota State University in 2005 and has published 51 peer-reviewed journal articles that cover a wide range of topics including embodiment, personality, aggression, pro-social behavior, and mindfulness. Meier has received multiple grants for his research and he and his co-authors recently received the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s theoretical innovation prize for the most theoretically innovative paper of 2011. At Gettysburg, he teaches an introduction and advanced lab course in social psychology as well as an introduction to statistics course.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Kendra Martin, director of media relations & news content, 717-337-6801

Posted: Tue, 21 Feb 2012

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