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Faculty Q&A with Dr. Emily Splane

Oct 1, 2015

By Bobbie Stewart Photo by Zach Thomas, '00 In the past couple of years, Psychology has grown to be one of the most popular majors at Flagler College, second only to Business Administration for this year’s incoming class. Flagler College Magazine caught up with Dr. Emily Splane, associate professor of Psychology and chair of the Social Sciences Department, to better understand students’ fascination with human behavior and development, and why the major continues to grow in popularity.

Q: What was your reaction when you learned Psychology is one of the most popular majors for this semester’s incoming class?
A: I wasn’t so surprised as the numbers have been pretty high over the last few years. For one, we have a very good Psychology faculty. And students are exposed to psychology in high school more than in previous decades, so that factors in to them declaring it early on. I also anticipate seeing a number of Psychology students double major in Criminology. The Criminology numbers are huge, too. We have 45 incoming students who have declared that as their major in only our second year of having it as a major. Students are interested in the psychology side of criminology — the profiling aspect or understanding deviant behavior.

Q: Why do you think students are interested in the psychological side of deviance?
A: A couple of reasons. I think the FBI-oriented, crime-solving TV shows are intriguing and fun to watch. You see the profession, it becomes tangible and you can see what these people do. They think “Oh that’s something I’m familiar with, and that looks cool.” And parents have that visual, too. On TV, those jobs look high-paying and action-packed. 

Q: And how does that compare to reality?
A: Certainly there is some reality there, but psychology is extremely broad and increasingly so. No longer is psychology just counseling, but it includes criminal profiling, understanding deviant behavior, the studies of human brain development, cognition, social interaction and also Industrial Organizational Psychology.

Q: What is that?
A: That’s where psychologists go into businesses and work with employers to incentivize employees to make them more attached to their workplace. They look at what sort of perks would make them happier — childcare in the workplace, free lunches, etc. Employers want to incentivize without wasting money.  Psychology has expanded from the medical, clinical side to even the business side. And then there’s another area that’s gradually growing, merging neuroscience with Psychology.

Q: Can you talk about this area?
A: It’s an area of cognitive Psychology that looks at how people think and problem solve. One reason it’s growing is because of technology, the functional MRI, where we can actually see near-live-time brain activity associated with a cognitive task. With it you can take a psychopath and can show them a murder scene, something grisly and bloody that would bother the normal person and their emotional regions are not activated, whereas they are activated in the non-psychopathic brain. It’s not just that behaviors are different, but their brain activity is different. It’s helped us understand that treatment is different for these people.

Q: What does it take for Psychology students to be successful in the major these days?
A: It takes research experience and/or internship experience. We now have more faculty than we’ve ever had engaging students with research, and that’s really important. Lynn Brueske-Walton is our internship coordinator, and she does a terrific job matching students with agencies that suit them well. We’ve had a number of students employed with agencies they did their internships with. These students are getting jobs without graduate school.

Q: How do you think our social climate impacts the growing interest in Psychology?
A: They’re growing up hearing about psychological disorders discussed openly. It’s discussed within families, on TV shows and in movies. There are a number of shows dealing with the gamut of psychological disorders. We didn’t talk about those things openly before. There’s an increased awareness, sympathy and desire to help people.

Q: Why are students choosing to study the subject at Flagler?
A: I think it’s because it’s a small school with a small classroom environment. They know they will know their faculty. We’re able to help them with advising and guiding them to research opportunities or internships. They’re not lost in any shuffle. We get to know the students individually, and because of that we can write really good, thorough letters of recommendation, which can help them get into graduate programs or jobs.

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