Psychology, Measurement, and Blue M&Ms

Psychology, Measurement, and Blue M&Ms

TWENTY-ONE QUESTIONS WITH DR. STEFANIE DOROUGH

November 1, 2014

Stefanie Dorough has been Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ave Maria University since Fall 2013. She has a B.S. in Psychology from Southern Nazarene University, and an M.A. in Psychology from the University of Dallas. She went on to get her M.S. and Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University, where she specialized in Life Span Human Developmental Psychology. She agreed to meet at the Bean for coffee and an interview. 

1. I started out as a Theology Major, but I switched to Psychology because of a book I read. The author was writing about bonding in relationships, combining the psychology of what is going on in the brain and body with theology. For some reason, I found it really fascinating. I was interested in Biblical languages at the time. The author was using his knowledge of Greek, which I liked, to clarify psychological concepts. That’s how I became interested in psychology.

2. How I ended up studying Human Developmental Psychology was an accident. A lot of Ph.D. programs in psychology are mentor-based programs; you remain in the wider program, but you work with one person. When I went to check out Oklahoma State University’s program, I met my mentor and we hit it off. My mentor, James Grice, ended up being my sponsor five years later when I joined the Church. At first, I didn’t want to get my Ph.D. I wanted to go out and explore the world. My plan was to run away to self-educate on a beach in Mexico—Ha! He convinced me to come to the program. It was a dynamic relationship with a person who inspired me to go on. Right at the time I entered, Oklahoma changed the program to a developmental perspective. I didn’t pick the specialty, but now it’s my favorite.

3. I came to Ave Maria University because I was looking for a Catholic university. I got an exhaustive list of every Catholic university, and then went through and found the ones who were hiring for anything I could teach. I would look at the mission statements of these schools, and eliminate anything that wasn’t clear. That’s how I discovered Ave Maria. I was immediately attracted by its name. As a convert, that’s one of the most beautiful things you can encounter—“Ave Maria.” I went to Ave’s website and saw a video of Keith Houde from the Psychology Department explaining the curriculum. I don’t know how many people have read the full mission statement for Psychology, but it is beautiful. You should read it some time. I applied for the position that night, and had a call the next morning. I had a phone interview with Keith. He asked me to come visit. I did, and I just fell in love with the campus. I had an interview scheduled with another Catholic university the next week, and I cancelled it.

Keith is amazing. He has a very clear vision of the mission. To have a mission that is so well conceived, and then also the perfect person to implement it (Keith), is incredible. I was able to come in and get right on board. I make the joke that Keith is Simon and I’m Garfunkel. 

4. I’m working on a manuscript about measurement in psychology with my mentor, James Grice. It brings up the question of what it means to measure things, and calls psychologists back to philosophy with the idea being that you can’t measure something without knowing what it is first. Historically, psychologists have tried to bypass that metaphysical work. Specifically, the paper is on the measurement of neuroticism, a term that everybody has a vague idea of, but there’s no one definition of it. A lot of measurement journals talk around the obvious facts of measurement, ignoring the fact that measurements have to represent real processes. When you start to get real talking about measurement, people look at you like you’re a child. They want to dismiss you and talk about things that sound smarter. They are bypassing the issue.

We want the paper to get out to people who use these measurement scales every day. We want them to start saying: “These measurements really don’t make sense.” For example, say we have students participate in group projects, and we give them a scale from 1 to 5 on which they are supposed to rate their groupmates, answering objective questions (like, how often they showed up for meetings). We get so used to looking at these scales as measurements, that we forget to think about what they mean. I once had a student circle “3” and make a note saying: “We didn’t have any meetings.” They processed “3” as a neutral, but what does that mean in the context? Our paper tries to draw attention to things like that.

5. My favorite movie is Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. I know that sounds very stupid, but it’s brilliant, and that’s that. I think it’s actually a very deep and profound movie, and I watch it all the time. One of the best things about Bill and Ted is that they know their limitations. They have this huge task they have to do, this impossible task (because they’re dead, and they have to find a way to be alive again to save the people they love), and they know they can’t do it—they’re not smart enough, they just can’t—so they go and find people who can help them.

6. The last book I read was Man, Woman and the Meaning of Love by Dietrich von Hildebrand. It was amazing.

7. Where would I go if I had a month off? Nowhere. I had a month off, and I didn’t go anywhere.

8. My favorite piece of writing is something that I wrote as a student on the structures of anger. It was a phenomenological analysis of an experience of anger. I liked it because it was exciting to write and to see things for myself. I still read it when I get discouraged. I had it on my coffee table until recently. When you read something that someone else wrote, it inspires you. But then thinking that you wrote it—! If 22-year-old Stefanie could write this, well, then surely I can do this lecture.

9. Every Sunday is Sushi Sunday. I started it on my own, and then moved to town and began inviting friends. On Father’s Day, Fr. McTeigue [from the Philosophy Department] came with us, and that was fun. In Naples, we always go to Blue Fish Sushi, an all-you-can-eat buffet for $9.99—and no one has gotten sick yet.

10. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a literary critic. I would read plays, and books, and then at some point someone gave me a copy of “Death of Salesman,” which I didn’t like. So I read someone’s analysis of it, and I liked that better. I think good psychology is more like literary criticism than anything else.

11. My favorite course I teach is Human Development, and I’ve taught that more than any other class, because I used to teach it when I was doing my Ph.D.

12. In my office, I have a corkboard where I put notes that my students write me. It’s kind of kindergarten-teacher style, but I get notes, or drawings, and I hang them up.

13. My biggest intellectual influence is Aristotle. I had a very sudden moment of conversion from not-believing to believing, but there was a lot leading up to that. Reading the prologue to John’s gospel from the perspective of Aristotle, which I came to understand more fully by struggling with Heidegger’s work on metaphysics, opened up the meaning of Scripture to me in a new way. It had become very empty and dry to me. Also, I love Augustine. One time, I was reading the Confessions, and I had a toothache, which is kind of unusual (it’s not like I’m plagued with toothaches). I was really uncomfortable, but I got to this passage about when Augustine had a toothache, and I was just like, “Ok, haha, Saint Augustine…”

14. I recently purchased two books by Roger Scruton on art and beauty: The Face of God and Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. I read them in preparation for his visit in October.

15. I eat a lot of steak; I eat a lot of rare steak.

16. I expect from my students a good faith effort. Risk. I want them to risk themselves. Good teaching is risking yourself in front of others. Your students have to risk themselves in return. They have to engage a topic, even when they are not very confident.

17. My favorite article of clothing is boots. They protect you against snakes, and they look really cool.

18. I haven’t liked to eat or drink anything that’s blue since 1995, which is when they introduced the Blue M&M. There was a whole advertising campaign to vote for the new color M&M—blue, purple or pink. Pink doesn’t fit in with the color scheme of M&Ms, so you knew that wasn’t going to go. (This was my pre-teen mind.) Purple, well, you wouldn’t put in a secondary color before a primary. I had this moment in my mind, watching the commercial, when I knew that we were going to have blue M&Ms. That was when it happened. There are more blues in a package of M&Ms than anything else—and I would know. Sometimes half of the pack is blue, and it’s a total waste.

19. My first CD was Elvis at his Romantic Best. I still have it and it is amazing.

20. I hate the word “plethora.” I think it is the most horrible word. Nobody uses it in conversation, but somehow when students write a paper they often feel the need to use the word “plethora.” Every time I read it, I cringe. There are so many synonyms I would like to see people use: “multitude,” “host,” just anything besides “plethora.” I also don’t like when people use the words “myriad” and “veritable cornucopia.” These are the three phrases I would like to see removed from papers.   

21. I have three favorite songs. I like Dire Straits’ “Romeo & Juliet,” Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” and Queen & David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”