The primary mission of the USC Upstate psychology program
The primary mission of the USC Upstate psychology program is to provide a quality baccalaureate education in the basic areas of psychology to the Upstate of South Carolina. The psychology curriculum is designed to meet the educational needs of students who are diverse in background, race, ethnicity, age, educational experience and career goals. Psychology is one of the largest majors on campus. Since 1976, 1,742 students have graduated from USC Upstate with a degree in psychology.
The Psychology Department at USC Upstate occupies part of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences building. We offer a BS and a BA in psychology, a minor in psychology, a minor in Child Advocacy Studies and a post-baccalaureate certificate in Child Advocacy Studies. The psychology faculty conduct research on a wide range of topics within psychology, publish in top journals and present at national and international conferences.
Our program is very student oriented. Each student is assigned their own advisor to help guide them through their college career and for life beyond USC Upstate. Small classes, independent study, internships and the distinction program provide opportunities for students to work closely with faculty, preparing them to move into the work force or to on to graduate study. The Psychology Club and Psi Chi, the national honor society of psychology, offer two other means for students to engage with faculty and with each other.
The mission of the Psychology Club is to promote interest in Psychology, inform others of the science of Psychology, provide service to the local community and help students network among themselves and in the community. For more information contact Dr. Kenneth Barideaux.
Intentionally or unintentionally, we frequently make judgments about the stable characteristics of people in our social world. In natural settings, these judgments are informal and if conscious, take the form of simple summative phrases about people in our environment (e.g., Tom’s a friendly guy and George is an unfriendly guy). In laboratory settings, personality psychologists attempt to measure individual differences more formally, through the use of validated personality tests of various sorts (e.g., self- or peer-report inventories).
The Personality Assessment Laboratory’s general mission is to investigate both formal and informal measurements of personality. Our projects range from more formal scale constructions to broad-based examinations of the naturalistic process of judging personality in others. Recently, the laboratory has focused on a few primary areas within the general topic, as described below.
Snap Judgments of Personality
Despite social proscriptions against “judging a book by its cover,” we frequently come to very quick conclusions about the general tendencies of people we encounter. In some domains, coming to such conclusions is fairly automatic, and in a precious few instances, we can make reasonably accurate estimates of personality based on very limited information or contact with the subject. We have been conducting a series of studies examining the conditions under which we can make accurate judgments at what is often termed “zero acquaintance.”
The Acquaintanceship Process
In contrast to our general difficulty in evaluating the personalities of strangers, we are actually fairly adept at assessing personality traits of those closest to us, such as friends, family, and romantic partners. This difference is commonly referred to as “the acquaintanceship effect,” and while it may seem perfectly concordant with what common sense would indicate, the specific mechanisms by which we come to know others are not entirely clear. Thus, we are also frequently engaged in studies (largely experimental in nature) aimed at elucidating the basic process of getting to know someone.
One concern across all areas in psychology lies in the idea that some of our contrived laboratory situations do not reflect the natural processes about which we seek knowledge. Thus, another common theme of late in the laboratory has been moving things out of the laboratory. We have an ongoing study using naturalistic observation methodology as well as a series of in-lab experiments in which we attempt to more closely approximate the natural personality judgment process.
Want to Get Involved?
If you are interested in answering any of the following questions, you might be interested in working with us:
- What can we tell about someone upon first meeting them?
- How do we come to more completely understand those around us?
- How do people behave and make inferences about others’ behavior in the real world?
We are always looking for interested, motivated students to join our efforts in the PAL. To apply for a research assistantship with us, please contact Dr. Andrew Beer.
If you want more information about the laboratory or opportunities to participate, please contact us.
RIGHT NOW IN THE LAB
Continuous Personality Judgment
A fair amount of extant research devoted to determining the origin of personality perceptions has established relations between various instances of verbal and nonverbal behavior and judgments made by perceivers. However, it remains unclear whether the perception of the related cues actually precedes the formation of the personality judgments. To do so, one must employ a methodology that allows for the examination of temporal relations between judgments and cues. In service to this venture, we created (with special help from Dr. Evan Krauter, Psychophysiologist Extraordinnaire) a machine that can assess momentary changes in estimates of a given variable (currently referred to as TraitBot 3000). Using this device, we hope to isolate cues that precede changes in personality judgments within and across perceivers and targets.
Digital Personality Assessment
Canisha Cantey, Jessica Hill, and Kayla Glover are working on a project that builds on previous work in choice task methodology (outlined below, in Personality Judgments from a Lineup). We plan to examine the efficiency of personality judgments at zero acquaintance through the use of a binary decision task. In addition, we plan to evaluate how individual differences in chronicity of trait concepts—the extent to which a trait concept is central or highly important to a perceiver—might relate to speed and accuracy of decision making in that domain versus others. We have collected data from 103 participants to date and plan to wrap data collection on Phase 1 by December 2011.
Jonathan Marr and Dr. Andrew Beer have developed the next phase in a series of studies investigating the early mechanisms of acquaintanceship. In this study, we present personality-relevant information in different forms (e.g., personal statements, videotaped behavior) at escalating levels in within-subject design. The primary value of examining the effects of increasing quantity and/or quality of information in a within-subjects scenario lies in ecological validity: this laboratory simulation more closely approximates how the judgment process occurs in natural settings (one person assimilating information over time and across situations). We have collected data from 134 participants to date and plan to wrap data collection at some point in Spring 2012.
Dreams and Personality
We have an ongoing study of dream content and personality with Dr. Zlatan Krizan (Iowa State University), which began in 2007. We finished the first wave of data collection in 2008, gathering personality descriptions and two-week dream diaries from 114 participants. Just recently, we completed work on the second phase of the project, which involves a new set of participants reading through the dream diaries and trying to make personality judgments of the dreamers. To date, we have 11 independent dream raters. We are in the final phase of data analysis now, which involves coding the content of the dream diaries so that we can relate dream content to perceptions of the dreamer generated by our raters. We are about midway through this last process, and we hope to finish analysis by Spring 2012, with an eye toward completing a manuscript in Spring or Summer 2013.
Drs. Jennifer Parker and Andrew Beer received a grant to study depression and interpersonal perception in marital dyads, beginning in the summer of 2008. This is an exciting project because of its engagement with the local community and its diverse population. The work examines novel questions in an understudied population, a good combination for psychological research. So far, we have collected data from 137 couples (274 participants) and expect to finish with a sample of 150 couples overall. The plan is to complete data collection by December 2011 and produce a manuscript shortly thereafter.
Personality and Leadership
The Personality Assessment Laboratory enjoys taking projects into the field as often as is possible, so the director’s involvement with a leadership camp offers a unique opportunity to see personality and perceptions of personality in natural interactions. Drs. Jennifer Parker and Andrew Beer developed a compact study that examined impressions of personality and leadership among the high school students participating in the camp. In doing so, we drew upon information provided by the campers themselves, as well as the perceptions of their parents, fellow campers, and camp counselors. We used this work as an instructional tool in the camp as well as an informative piece of research on the validity of personality perception. We have completed an initial draft of a manuscript from data collected in Summer 2009 and have just recently submitted it to the Journal of Research in Personality. We continue to collect data through the camp, investigating slightly different issues each year.
Personality and Everyday Life
In keeping with our desire to work outside the lab, we have a significant project underway that examines the manifestations of personality in daily behavior. Thanks to the psychology department, in Summer 2009 we were able to secure some devices that allow us to sample experiences in a novel way: recording the daily activities of research participants. The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) is a device that can be worn over a period of a few days that is set to record at specified time intervals, providing a sampling of auditory records of behavior. Too many studies of personality rely on self or informant reports exclusively, and this methodology will allow us to examine actual real-world behavior and match it up with other sources of personality information. We have collected EAR data (along with several other types of data, ranging from self-and informant-reports of personality to videotaped laboratory behavior) from 114 participants over the past two years. Currently, lab members are coding the data so that we can conduct formal analyses relating daily behavior to other sources of personality information. In doing so, we may be able to answer some key questions about the validity of different types of personality measurements. In addition, the unique constitution of the participant pool—specifically the significant representation of minority populations—will allow us to explore some research questions that have heretofore gone unaddressed. Our goal is to finish coding the data by the close of 2011.
Weird Fact Study
An investigation into the trait relevance of personal disclosures became affectionately known in the lab as “The Weird Fact Study”. Recent research in social perception had demonstrated that there exists an asymmetry in terms of how we value personal information depending upon whether we are the discloser or the recipient of such information. In particular, disclosers tend to believe that the provision of value-related information (e.g., “I put family first”) is more personally revealing about them than do recipients of that information. In addition, disclosers believe that more mundane individuating facts (e.g., “I can juggle”) are less personally revealing about them than do recipients of that information. We replicated this general finding and then examined whether data support this lay theory. We found that there is no general advantage for one broad type of information versus another, but that each information type has differential effects on judgments across trait domains. In short, to learn about someone’s general level of responsibility, it is instructive to inquire about individuating facts, but if one wishes to learn about the emotional stability of another individual, he or she would be wise to discuss that individual’s core personal values. Cody Brooks presented these findings at the Upstate Research Symposium in 2010, and he and Dr. Andrew Beer published these findings in the Journal of Research in Personality.
Group Personality Judgments
Data support the idea that aggregating independent judgments increases accuracy in personality perception. However, our sense in the lab is that in the case of personality judgments, we often choose to come to a consensus through conversation. In other words, our group judgments are not necessarily independent of one another. To examine the effect of group discussion on personality judgment, we had groups of two, three, and four people make personality judgments about individuals with whom they had never been acquainted. We compared these to aggregated judgments made by two, three, or four independent raters. In total, 264 people participated in this work, which revealed a general upward trend for independent aggregation: as independent raters are added, accuracy increases (though with diminishing returns). When groups came to a consensus via discussion, we observed an increase in accuracy from 2-member to 3-member groups, followed by a decrease in accuracy in the 4-member groups. We will present these findings at the 2012 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and use the feedback from the event to determine the next phase of the project.
Personality Judgments from a Lineup
Typical research methods in personality perception involve using rating scales to judge others on a series of personality dimensions. Dr. Andrew Beer decided that a choice task might open up new avenues of inquiry in this area, so he set out in the summer of 2008 to create a lineup-style decision task for personality judgments involving choosing, say, the most extroverted person from a group of three photos. Choice tasks that do not rely on numerical options or rating scales can allow researchers to more easily examine things like mood effects and cognitive load on the process of personality perception. In addition, he would argue that decisions between individuals are more ecologically valid than exhaustive rating scales centered on one individual at a time. Early returns (N = 96) indicated that people do better than chance in selecting extreme members of a group across several trait dimensions, and a preliminary retest study (N = 68) results show that this ability seems to endure over time. A third study replicated the findings of the previous two while employing a more rigorous methodology. These findings were presented at the 2010 meeting of Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
The following is a list of courses taught by Dr. Andrew Beer at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Courses are presented in terms of frequency offered, with the most frequently offered courses appearing first.
SPSY 309: Psychology of Personality
This course is designed to provide a broad overview of the major theoretical approaches to the study of personality (from Freud to the modern day), with a particular emphasis on their relevance for contemporary research and empirical findings. The broad aims for the course are to (a) learn about different personality theories and how they are tested empirically, (b) become familiar with different methodologies to study personality, and (c) get a better sense of what personality is and the role it plays in all of our lives.
The course is organized according to theoretical perspective. After an introduction to personality research methods, I begin with the oldest and least empirically-based theories (e.g., Freud’s psychodynamic theory) and move forward in terms of time and scientific progress. Students see the application of research methods in personality throughout, and the course concludes with perspectives that focus more on the origins of individual differences in behavior.
Course reading includes a textbook and occasional outside reading for extra credit. Course assignments include a series of reading quizzes, one paper (rotating topics), and 3-4 exams (content split evenly between multiple choice and essay questions).
SPSY 502: Senior Seminar in Person Perception
This course provides a relatively in-depth look at how we make judgments of personality. We begin the course by examining some basic methodology in this area of research. We then read seminal articles in different sub-areas of person perception. From our discussion of these materials, students formulate their own research ideas and develop them in the form of formal research proposals. In addition to this, we read and discuss a bestselling book based loosely on the original work we cover in the course. The goal of the book discussion is to draw parallels between the basic research findings and real, everyday life. I hope that through these exercises, the students will come away with an understanding of how to think critically about the process of interpersonal judgment.
The general course format is discussion. When necessary early in the course, I lecture about research methodology, but the vast majority of the class is spent discussing original empirical articles. These articles trace personality perception from its origins to recent findings, with the latter articles changing from semester to semester as the literature expands.
Course assignments include daily discussion questions, twelve reading quizzes, class participation, one article presentation (an oral and written assignment), an in-depth research report, and an oral presentation of this report.
SPSY 402: Advanced Topics in Psychology: Personality Assessment
This course is designed to provide an extensive look at how we measure personality. We first discuss primary issues associated with evaluating tests, such as reliability and validity. Then, we consider the test construction process. Finally, we engage in a class project that applies this knowledge to a topic of our choosing. The primary course goals include a) developing a familiarity with principles of measurement, b) understanding how to relate these principles to the scientific study of personality, and c) applying these ideas to a real-world personality measurement situation.
Early in the semester, we review the basic principles in lecture format, but we quickly move towards application of the concepts. First, I ask students to research a personality trait of interest and propose a new way to measure this dimension. Their research will culminate in a written proposal, which is presented to the class. The class then votes to adopt one of these proposals as the class project for the remainder of the semester. From that point forward, the course becomes a laboratory/lecture hybrid, in which we learn one day about a concept and apply it the next. For example, the students read about proper item generation (e.g., clarity, singularity of construal) and then spend a couple of class periods creating items relevant to our chosen construct. This process culminates in the construction of a preliminary test, which will be administered to a sample of participants. I then guide them through the basics of test analysis, which provides the basis for a final research report.
Course assignments will include two papers, laboratory activities, reading quizzes, one presentation, and two exams.
SPSY 300/SFLM: Special Topics in Psychology: Psychology in Film
This course examines a wide variety of psychological phenomena as portrayed in film. Throughout the semester, students are exposed to core concepts in psychology and then presented with films that explicate or apply these concepts. The primary course goals include a) developing a familiarity with topics representing most major subfields in psychology b) learning to recognize this information in situations outside of the classroom. It is our hope that by learning to notice psychology in action via the study of films, students will begin to notice psychology in action in other areas of life.
The course is team-taught with Dr. Peter Caster, an expert in film studies and a swell guy. The course opens with a general look at how our perceptual system allows for film to be experienced. From that point, we arrange the bulk of the course content around broad areas of psychological inquiry, each embodied in a relevant film. For example, after 1-2 days of lecture on relevant concepts from learning and memory, students will watch the film Memento, a thriller about a man with anterograde amnesia. We will hold a class discussion following each film, in which we ask the students to examine the film in light of the psychological concepts presented in class. We will have 7-8 such units, including a presentation of personality and its portrayal in film. Afterwards, students will develop their own independent film analyses, in which they choose a character in a film and explain how certain aspects of the character’s personality are revealed throughout the film. Students will work in groups and present their projects to the class during the final weeks of the semester.
Course assignments will include content quizzes for each unit, two reaction papers to films of the students’ choosing, a personality in film paper, an in-class presentation, and a comprehensive final exam.
SPSY 300: Special Topics in Psychology: Psychology of Human-Animal Interaction
This course is designed to examine the relation between humans and animals, primarily from a personality and social psychological standpoint. We first discuss general similarities and differences in cataloging and explaining stable individual differences in both human and animal behavior. Then, we compare and contrast human and animal interaction styles and outcomes for health and well-being. Finally, we read and discuss a book on the general topic. The primary course goals include a) developing a broad understanding of human and animal behavior, and b) developing an understanding and appreciation of the human-animal bond.
Course meetings alternate between lecture and discussion format, usually with original empirical work providing the focal point.
Course assignments will include two exams, one paper in which the student constructs a personality profile of an animal in his or her life, one group project which culminates the leading of a class discussion, and a final exam which draws upon these group presentations.
SPSY 101: Introduction to Psychology
This course provides a general introduction to the discipline of psychology, the scientific study of behavior. The goal of the class is to provide students with a snapshot of the major components of psychological research, ranging from the biological bases of behavior to group (social) behavior. The course involves 1) assigned readings in the text, 2) class lectures, and 3) exposure to psychological research methods.
The general course format is largely lecture, though I do incorporate a lot of demonstrations and class participation. I provide outlines of lecture material in power point format (available on Blackboard prior to the scheduled presentation of the material) and use these to guide the course meetings, and whenever appropriate, I engage the class in activities to reinforce concepts presented in lecture. The lectures do not merely repeat what can be read in the textbook; instead, they will attempt to provide a clearer understanding of the problems in psychology, using examples and demonstrations to reinforce important concepts. Two hints for getting the most from this course are to 1) come to lecture and 2) complete assigned readings before the lecture.
Course reading is a common textbook adopted by the department. Course assignments include two short papers and four multiple choice exams. The course also includes a research exposure component, which encourages our students to learn about psychology by participating in original research conducted by their faculty and fellow students.
SPSY 307: Social Psychology
Social psychology is the scientific study of how others influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This course introduces students to the major theories, findings, and important issues in social psychology covering many different topic areas, as well as key research methods used to gain knowledge in the area. Course format consists primarily of lectures given or discussions led by the instructor.
I find social psychology to be a course that allows for easy student engagement, simply because the topics often involve concepts that can be applied to their everyday social interactions. I arrange the course first by general topic (e.g., conformity) and then by studies within the topic (e.g., Sherif’s autokinetic effect, Asch’s line judgment studies). I tend to introduce a topic with a seminal study and then try to trace the research forward (to the present day whenever possible). This format helps students learn generally about the nature scientific inquiry as applied to social phenomena while learning more specifically about the effects of our social environment on our individual behavior.
Course reading is a textbook and some occasional excerpts from original empirical work. Course assignments include two papers and four multiple choice exams.
Dr. Andrew Beer is an associate professor of psychology, currently in his fifth year at USC Upstate where he teaches courses in personality, personality assessment, person perception, psychology and film, and human and animal interaction. He also serves as co-director of the annual Youth Leadership Institute. He completed his graduate work under David Watson at the University of Iowa and maintains an active program of research in personality assessment, broadly construed. He also enjoys music and basketball in his spare time.
- Beer, A. (2013). Group personality judgments at zero acquaintance: Communication among judges versus aggregation of independent evaluations. Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 385-389.
- Beer, A., & Brooks, C. L. (2011). Information quality in personality judgment: The value of personal disclosure. Journal of Research in Personality, 45, 175-185.
- Beer, A., & Watson, D. (2010). The effect of information and exposure on self-other agreement. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 38-45.
- Beer, A., & Watson, D. (2009). The Individual and Group Loyalty Scales (IGLS): Construction and preliminary validation. Journal of Personality Assessment, 91, 277-287.
- Beer, A., & Watson, D. (2008). Asymmetry in judgments of personality: Others are less differentiated than the self. Journal of Personality, 76, 535-560.
- Beer, A., & Watson, D. (2008). Personality judgment at zero acquaintance: Agreement, assumed similarity, and implicit simplicity. Journal of Personality Assessment, 90, 250-260.
- Teracciano, A., McCrae, R. R., & 79* Members of the Personality Profiles of Culture Project. (2005). National character does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures. Science, 310, 96-100.
- McCrae, R. R., Teracciano, A., & 79* Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project. (2005). Personality profiles of cultures: Aggregate personality traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 407-425.
- McCrae, R. R., Teracciano, A., & 78* Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project. (2005). Universal features of personality traits from the observer's perspective: Data from 50 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 547-561.
Goals and Student Learning Outcomes
1. Knowledge base of psychology: The student will demonstrate familiarity with the major concepts, theoretical perspectives, and empirical findings of psychology.
1.1 The student should be able to identify theory and major research findings in the natural science areas of psychology.
1.2 The student should be able to identify theory and major research findings in the social science areas of psychology.
2. The student will demonstrate understanding of and apply basic research methods in psychology.
2.1 The student should be able to explain different research methods used by psychologists.
2.2 The student should be able to locate and interpret research and theory to develop appropriate research questions.
2.3 The student should be able to design basic studies to address psychological questions using appropriate research methods.
3. The student will demonstrate the ability to communicate psychological material effectively in writing.
3.1 The student should be able to synthesize appropriate information from a variety of psychological sources and develop a well-organized, logical presentation of that material.
3.2 The student should be able to demonstrate effective writing skills by using professional writing conventions (e.g., grammar, audience awareness, and APA guidelines) to present psychological material.
Students who major in psychology are a diverse group. Some plan to pursue graduate work in psychology or related fields, while others are preparing for work in human services careers. Others haven’t yet settled on a career goal but enjoy learning about the science of psychology. In order to meet the needs of these varied groups the psychology program is designed to be as flexible as possible while meeting the objectives of the program. These objectives include:
- Providing students with experiences in a wide variety of content areas such as cognitive psychology, personality theory, human development, neuroscience, abnormal psychology and social psychology
- Introducing students to the methodologies used to study human experience and action
- Facilitating development of oral and written communication skills
- Providing experiences in critical thinking
These objectives provide a strong foundation for students pursing graduate study and for students choosing to enter the work force after graduation. Some Upstate psychology majors continue on to graduate school to study different branches of psychology such as school psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, industrial and organizational psychology or human factors. Others branch out into fields such as neuroscience, social work, medical school, law school or the ministry. Other students choose to work after graduation and work as case workers for DSS or DJJ, as residential youth counselors, group home coordinators, as victim or patient advocates, in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, as employment counselors, in advertising agencies or market research or in college admissions as counselors or recruiters.