Ph.D. in Psychology: Social-Personality

Social and personality faculty members and doctoral students conduct theoretically rigorous research that addresses both basic and applied questions about human behavior at the intersection of individuals and their social environment.

The program trains students for research and teaching careers in a variety of settings. Coursework provides students with foundational knowledge about classic and contemporary issues in social and personality psychology, research methods, and statistics. Our research training philosophy is built on the apprenticeship model; students work closely on multiple research projects with one or more faculty members as they develop their research interests and methodological skills.

Five key strengths of our program

Research

Students become involved in many types of research, which provide opportunities to:

  • Examine basic and applied research issues
  • Work with a variety of research methods including experimental designs, survey research, interventions, behavioral observation, experience sampling, alcohol administration, hormone assays, and implicit/automatic processing
  • Participate in a multidisciplinary research team

Specialized minors

Students minor in quantitative psychology, health psychology, or develop a specialized minor that meets their career goals.

Teaching skills

Students develop teaching skills, first as a teaching assistant and later teaching an independent course. There are multiple department and campus resources available to help students enhance their teaching effectiveness. 

Mentoring

Students have a mentoring team of three faculty members (their primary advisor and two others they choose) who provide career guidance throughout their time as a doctoral student.

Professional development

Students participate in a weekly brown bag series that is organized by second and third-year students. Research presentations are made by students, program faculty, and faculty from other institutions. Professional development sessions address a variety of topics including career options and research funding opportunities.

Areas of research

Faculty members in the social-personality area are broadly interested in motivation, goal conflict, close relationships, personality, sexual aggression, stress, and health.

Some of the specific research questions that faculty members are currently examining include:

  • What are the processes underlying romantic relationship satisfaction and stability?
  • Is risk and self-defeating behavior a sign of self-regulatory failure or strategic pursuit of people's goals?
  • How do interpersonal stressors affect health and behavior?
  • How can personality trait standing be modified to improve health status?
  • What psychological experiences mediate and moderate social status and racial health disparities?
  • Do stress biomarkers mediate the relationship between risky family environments and negative health outcomes?
  • What is alcohol's role in sexual assault?
  • What risk and protective factors predict men's likelihood of committing acts of sexual aggression?
  • How can the "in the moment" decisions that people make when intoxicated be examined in experimental research?  
  • How do insecurities affect people's willingness to settle for less in relationships?
  • Why do some people have greater difficulty getting over their romantic ex-partners?
  • To what extent do personality traits, social investment and self-regulation influence someone's probability of engaging in excessive alcohol consumption?
  • How do people solve goal conflict?

Graduate students

Prospective graduate students should review faculty profiles and contact potential advisors directly prior to submitting an application to ensure the faculty member is currently accepting new students.

Social-personality courses offered in recent years

  • Social Psychology: Research and Theory
  • Personality
  • Social Cognition
  • Close Relationships
  • Health Psychology I: Theory and Basic Research
  • Health Psychology III: Biobases of Health Psychology
  • Social Psychology of Motivation
  • Evolutionary Psychology of Emotions
  • Seminar in Experimental Social Psychology (special topics)

Resources for future doctoral applicants

Consult these materials when you first consider pursuing a doctoral degree. They provide some suggestions that should be initiated several years before you apply.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology offers a comprehensive and user-friendly road map explicating the graduate school application process, from helping you decide which type of graduate program is right for you, to advice on how to craft personal statements and the interview process.

The American Psychological Association offers useful and very thorough guides on how to prepare for the graduate school application process, as well as some information about the factors that help you succeed once in graduate school.

Highlights of this guide include: