Jaclynn Sullivan | Assistant Professor of Psychology

Jaclynn Sullivan, assistant professor of psychology

Q&A with Dr. Jaclynn Sullivan, Assistant Professor of Psychology.

MMU: I understand you presented at Psychonomic Society Annual Convention, twice at the American Psychological Society Annual Convention, and at the annual meeting of Midwest Psychological Association, how did you become involved with these conferences?

JS: I have been attending conferences since I was an undergraduate student, but got more involved as the years have gone on. My advisor from graduate school presents at the Psychonomic Society and American Psychological Society conferences every year and always encouraged that in his students. I call it nerd fest—we get to learn about the awesome work everyone is doing at their own institutions and see old friends at the same time.

MMU: Can you give a quick synopsis of your presentation? What were you hoping conference attendees would walk away with?

JS: My presentations always vary in content, but typically I present on the year’s project in my lab. This year I worked on a project concerning athletes and their identities being tied to their performance in learning. This is a little different than my normal body of research, which concerns classroom conditions that impact learning. However, I saw how many athletes I had as students the last few years and thought maybe the embodied cognition work I do as a cognitive psychologist could be applied to the social psychology world. The research I did this year suggests that athletes, when told that they have a great mind body connection and that connection helps them remember, perform much better on a memory test of foreign words than if the athletes are told their mind body connection will hurt them. It’s all about stereotype threat. If I invoke a stereotype based on your group, you will believe you should perform like the stereotype says. I hope the people who saw my research learned a little bit about stereotypes we can invoke and how that may change our students’ outcomes on seemingly unrelated tasks.

MMU: How did you become interested in these topics? Where does your passion for the subjects come from?

JS: My research area is embodied cognition—the idea that your mind and body work together in every single thing you do, think, and feel. I think I came to this area of research because I saw patterns of behavior (working out or sitting still, for instance) in myself that ultimately changed the way I could think or the way I was feeling. My PhD advisor was supportive of my quest to understand why people perform better when their bodies are involved in their thinking and how a teacher might change that too. I think a lot of passion for my area comes from my incessant need to understand why people do the things they do. I’m a researcher by nature. I constantly look at the world around me and wonder why people get different outcomes—learning outcomes specifically. I love to learn and I want to understand learning to make it easier for the students I teach!

MMU: How does your research or work outside of MMU inform what you teach in the classroom? In what ways do students benefit?

JS: That is a big question with a bigger answer; everything I research is tied to my teaching. Every experiment I do is aimed at seeing the bigger picture for humans and their pursuit of knowledge. My work shows me what works in the classroom and what might not be as beneficial, which I can then directly insert into the methods I use to teach. That is the biggest reason I love research so much and seek to envelop myself in the research world—because it transforms the world I create for the students in my classroom. My research and attendance at these conferences also helps me see new things my students would be interested in. I then get to bring them research ideas for senior theses or their projects in research methods.

MMU: Was there an idea or bit of research you learned during the conference and found especially interesting? What did you walk away with?

JS: That’s probably too big a question to answer since I learn, conservatively, hundreds of things from each conference. One example is from MPA this year where I saw a presentation about teaching research methods using a texting scenario. I saw that presentation on a Thursday and implemented it into teaching social psychology Monday morning in an intro psych class. I also saw a group of researchers who are doing work with outdoor education at APS a couple of years ago. That really stuck with me and informed the capstone I teach on the nature of mental health.

Those are just two of probably a hundred things I’ve implemented in my own work as a result of seeing someone mention something at a conference. We’re an awesome community of researchers in psychology and build off each other’s work constantly.