Dr. Stephen Reysen is an assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University-Commerce.He teaches classes related to social psychology, intergroup relations, and multicultural diversity. His research interests include topics related to personal (e.g., fanship, threats to personal identity) and social identity (e.g., fandom, global citizenship).
Reysen has published several studies with Ammons Scientific. His most recent, “A preliminary examination of cell phone use and helping behavior”, was co-authored with Curtis Puryear and appeared in the December 2013 issue of Psychological Reports. (Read the article’s Summary here .)
Reysen recently discussed his latest manuscript and some of his other interesting and wide-ranging studies.
1. What prompted you to pursue this line of research?
I started conducting research on helping behavior as a graduate student at California State University at Fresno. At the time, my research advisor (Robert Levine) was planning to revisit cities around the United States to examine whether helping behavior and pace of life had changed since he first measured those variables. In the original study, four graduate students traveled to 36 cities in the U.S. In the follow-up study, I went back to 24 of those cities and measured helping behaviors (e.g., dropping a pen) and pace of life (i.e., walking speed).
2. Why did you do this in Boston and not closer to home in Dallas?
Ok, this is probably a boring answer. We did the study in Boston because a relative lived there and therefore we were in town a little longer than the other cities we assessed.
3. How did you decide on the method?
For the cell phone study we chose to use the ‘hurt leg’ measure of helping. The procedure consists of a confederate limping down the sidewalk with large leg brace on the outside of one pant leg. Then, in front of a participant (walking in the opposite direction) the confederate drops a couple magazines and feigns difficulty picking them up. If the participant helps the confederate pick up the magazines, then we code the behavior as helpful. We chose the hurt leg measure because the need for help is rather obvious, and the participant has to physically walk around the confederate to not help. To be unhelpful, you would have to see this person struggling to reach some dropped magazines and change the direction you are walking (to avoid tripping over the confederate). It is clear the person has chosen to help or not. Also, helping the confederate does not require any verbal communication. A participant on a cell phone could easily help while continuing the conversation on the phone.
4. A less-generous person might look at the results of the study and say that using cell phones turns otherwise decent people into jerks. On the other hand, one could argue that it would be rude to the person on the other end of the line for the caller to interrupt her call. What do you think?
As this is an initial study, it simply shows the phenomenon exists; we can’t say why people on cell phones are unlikely to help a person in need. However, based on prior research, a likely explanation is that talking on the phone increases one’s cognitive load and reduces one’s attention to the immediate surroundings. Personally, because the participants had to change their direction of walking to avoid helping the confederate, I suspect that there may also be new societal norms involving cell phones that contribute to the findings. Perhaps talking on a cell phone signals to others that one is busy and not to be bothered. For example, faking a conversation on the phone to avoid talking to another person. If this is indeed the case, the unhelpful participants may believe that not helping is justified because they are clearly busy. If that is the reason, then yes, not taking a few seconds to help someone that is physically disabled is a bit of a jerk move. But that is just me. Cell phones are ubiquitous and there is little research on how they influence our everyday lives.
5. When hearing that you research “global citizenship”, I imagine a lot of people ask if that “citizenship” is getting better or worse. What do you say?
We approach global citizenship as an abstract psychological social category (rather than citizenship in any legal sense). Together with Iva Katzarska-Miller (Transylvania University) and colleagues, we have consistently found that greater psychological connection with the identity is related to a variety of prosocial values and behaviors (e.g., willingness to help people outside one’s in group, feeling a responsibility to engage in behaviors that benefit the world). I would say that global citizenship is getting better. The implementation of global citizen related curriculum and programs are being introduced in more schools around the world (e.g., the internationalization of colleges and universities, expansion of study abroad programs), businesses are continuing to train employees for and seek employees who embody cultural competence, and awareness of the identity is expanding (e.g., there is now a global citizen music festival that is televised around the world).
6. Tell me more about your research into furries. Like, how and why did you start engaging in this work?
During high school, and throughout my undergraduate college career, I was a big fan of a couple of bands. I drove across the country (multiple times) to attend concerts. To my surprise, most of the research in psychology has focused on sport fans. To fill this hole in the literature, during my graduate career I began to examine similarities and differences of fandoms (e.g., sport, music, media). I was happy to join with Kathy Gerbasi (Niagara County Community College), and Sharon Roberts and Courtney Plante (University of Waterloo) after they contacted me regarding the measurement of fanship (connection to the object of interest) and fandom (connection with other fans of the same interest). Over the past four years we’ve explored a variety of phenomenon within the furry fandom (among other fan groups). Furries are people who self-identify with their interest in anthropomorphism (ascribing human traits to animals) and zoomorphism (ascribing animal traits to humans).
When asked to imagine a fan, most people would think of a sports fan. Being a fan of sport is normal. However, being a fan of pretty much any other interest is viewed as strange or deviant. Why would someone drive around the country to go to concerts? Although nearly everyone is a fan of something (e.g., Barbies, comics, anime, politics, My Little Pony), some fandoms have been stigmatized in the media. The furry fandom is a perfect example of an unfairly stereotyped fan group. Because of negative media portrayals many furries feel stigmatized and are careful in their disclosure of their fan identity to others. Many furries report that they were bullied growing up, often for having non-mainstream interests. For many, the fan community is the first place they’ve known where they feel a sense of belonging to a group of like-minded others. This group becomes like a second family to many furries, and provides a social support network for them when times are tough. This is more than just a simple “fan community,” since for many furries the fan community constitutes one of the most important social groups they belong to. Our research has examined topics such as the positive psychological well-being gained through participation in the furry fandom, why some furries hide their identity, and how engagement in the furry fandom is related to endorsement of prosocial values (e.g., empathy, valuing diversity, social justice, environmental sustainability). In general, being a furry is similar to being a fan of a sports team. Despite the marginalization of non-sport fandoms, like the furry fandom, fans are more similar than different. Examining the similarities and differences between fandoms aids understanding of how fanship and fandom influence our everyday lives.
For more details about Reysen and his work, see his web sites:
Do religious fundamentalists react differently than non-fundamentalists to taboo images and words? Larry W. Bates and colleagues tried to find out.Dr. Bates completed his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Auburn and his post-doctoral training at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He is currently an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Alabama. He has served two terms on the Alabama Board of Examiners in Psychology. His primary research interests include psychology of religion and hiking behaviors. Outside of the profession, Larry enjoys public speaking, hiking, and bluegrass fiddling.
The study, “Reactions of religious fundamentalists to taboo images and words”, was published this fall in Psychological Reports. You can read the Summary here: http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/17.07.PR0.113x15z2
Bates recently talked about the study and his other work.
1. What gave you the idea to question the settled notion that religious fundamentalism included a “fear factor”?
My colleague and I, Dr. Richard Hudiburg, recognized that the assumption of fear seemed to be more rhetoric than research. Several sources were stating that fear was central to fundamentalism but the research literature to support such a claim was limited. So my thought was that if those who were more fundamentally oriented actually had more fear, then we should be able to measure that with common methods of fear assessment. Fear can be channeled in a variety of ways: cognitively, physiologically, or behaviorally. Our lab has now examined the first two channels (cognitive and physiological) and is currently taking a look at behavioral avoidance. The jury is still out on whether fear is a part of fundamentalism. If it exists, it may not be of taboo but of other things. It’s not that we disagree with fear as a part of religious fundamentalism; we are actually neutral about that. Instead we think science should provide some empirical basis prior to proposed theories being assumed to be factual.
2. Since the arousal to taboo stimuli is similar for all groups, is it better explained in terms of culture or sociobiology–and why do you think so?
My bias is to lean toward viewing the primary ways that we learn fears as being through misinformation, conditioning, or modeling. All of those have an environmental component. We grow up learning from our experiences which stimuli in the world warrants a fear response from us and which are rather benign. Obviously, our culture plays a significant role in modeling fears and in providing either truthful information or misinformation about risks associated with environmental stimuli. I think most scientists are aware of the role of evolution in the selection of some stimuli to be more easily conditioned to fear.
3. How would you think now about using the term “XYZ-phobic” when referring to a belief system, religious or otherwise?
I’m uncomfortable using the term “-phobic” to refer to belief systems in general because the suffix implies a set of conditions that often do not exist for that particular case. The term is often used to turn up the rhetoric, it can hinder communication, and it certainly does not improve understanding of the phenomenon. Science is about increasing knowledge and such references may hinder knowledge acquisition. It is an oddity of fear research that non-scientists seem to use the term “XYZ-phobic” more often than scientists. For example, I and most other researchers, when referring to spider phobia, most commonly use the phrase “fear of spiders” in our papers, not “arachnophobia.”
4. In the Method section of this manuscript, you stated, “Recognizing the ongoing conflicts between science and religion throughout history and the potential for distrust of the scientific process among some, specific appeals to religious organizations were made in the form of visits to religious campus buildings and posting of flyers describing the study.” How was that appeal received, and did you learn anything interesting from it?
We didn’t actually check to see where participants heard about our study, but, in general, I think the appeals were well received. Our department and the various religious organizations here are part of our larger campus. Many of our students belong to these organizations. I’ve served on committees with people in those organizations, served on an advisory committee for one religious group, and am a member of our local interfaith council. I take great pains to build relationships with the religious in the area. I personally visit many of the area religious meetings and get to know the religious leaders in our area. To study the psychology of religion, we have to have religious participants and that requires some bridge building to accomplish it. One of the first areas psychologists ever studied was religion (e.g., William James). But it quickly devolved into trying to pit psychology against religion or merge psychology on the side of religion. These biases, for all practical purposes, destroyed the psychology of religion. It took decades before psychologists would dare to study these phenomena again. We learned from those mistakes and now take a more balanced approach.
5. The work you are doing now, a study about hiking, trail ethics, and religion, sounds pretty interesting. Can you explain it a bit more?
This is a collaborative effort between Dr. Richard Hudiburg, Mary-Katherine Osborn, and me where we are simply trying to find out what might contribute to behaviors while hiking that support or destroy part of the environment. Religion is just one possible contributor to such behavioral ethics. Our thinking was that some religious orientations might be anti-environmental (e.g., conquer the earth attitude) whereas others are quite pro-environmental (e.g., earth as sacred space) and so we are examining that aspect. Ms. Osborn and her team had fun climbing Springer Mountain in Georgia (the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail) and Mt. Katahdin in Maine (northern terminus) as a part of this study. You never know where science will lead you.
6. Generally, what led you to investigate this line of research?
I found that fear of death wasn’t enough of a motivator to get me to exercise consistently so I tried to think of something that was “more epic” to get me off the sofa. That was hiking. The beauty of the woods cemented my love for hiking and my greatest frustration was seeing trash in the woods. I found myself wondering what conditions would reduce or increase destruction of the environment on such a personal level. We began looking at the literature and we found some research regarding attitudes concerning hiking and environmental issues but little concerning actual behaviors. Ms. Osborn’s team received training in “Leave No Trace” ethics and subsequently started development of a measure of hiking behavioral ethics. We’ve really enjoyed this variation from our basic research. It’s gotten us out into the woods to get our data and, as a side effect, all of us are in better physical shape because of it. And I can’t even begin to describe the sheer beauty we have encountered as a result. Research can truly be exhilarating at times.
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