Social psychology

Clark University’s Ph.D. Program in Social Psychology: An Overview

An Introduction to the Program:

This program integrates social and cultural perspectives to link basic psychological processes with central issues in social and political life - locally, nationally, and internationally. At Clark, the social psychological perspective includes the study of inter-group relations, societal peace and conflict, and the role of individual differences and social structures in political attitudes and behavior. The cultural psychological perspective examines how human experience—thought, behavior, feelings, etc.—is culturally organized—through semiotic mediation, symbolic action, and/or accumulation of inter-subjectively shared representations of the life-space. Students and faculty in the program use a wide variety of quantitative methods and qualitative methods—experimental, survey, field, phenomenological, and semiotic—to investigate and address: (1) general social, cultural, and environmental/ecological processes and interactions as well as (2) specific pressing social issues, such as ethnopolitical conflict, peace, and commitment to social change. The program encourages contextualized and interdisciplinary research, novel theoretical projects, and methodological integration. For further information, contact Dr. Johanna Ray Vollhardt.

Goals of the Program:

This program prepares students for academic careers in social and/or cultural psychology. Such preparation requires a student to: (1) develop a strong theoretical and methodological foundation and (2) begin a systematic program of research that will sustain them through the early stages of a career. Along the way, we provide opportunities to practice and perfect the skills of an academic. These include:

  • designing and conducting research projects with multiple methods
  • assisting in and teaching courses
  • working with undergraduate researchers
  • applying for grants
  • presenting posters and papers at conferences and colloquia
  • publishing collaborative and individual work in the scholarly journals of the field

Social graduate students are encouraged to work closely with one another, with advanced undergraduate students, and with faculty colleagues in developing their research programs. However, they have a good deal of freedom in choosing their research topics and methodologies. The number of required courses is minimal. The program does not emphasize courses as such, except as they are related to the specific career development needs of its members. Students can select from an array of occasional graduate courses, advanced undergraduate courses, courses at neighboring institutions, and courses developed for their needs with the social faculty. We would particularly like to call attention to courses offered in individual and family development offered by members of our Clinical and Developmental Programs.

The principle training settings of the program are the Department's research groups, forums, and lab meetings. These are groupings of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students drawn together regularly by common theoretical concerns, research interests, or training needs. The number, focus, and constitution of these groups changes from year to year, but there will always be several that are active at any time. Groups are initiated both by faculty and by graduate students.

For the purposes of meeting the University's formal course and residency requirements, the Department arranges for participation in these meetings to fulfill course requirements.

Graduate Education and Research Groups:

The principal educational settings of the program are the Department's research groups, forums, and lab meetings. These are groups of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students drawn together by common theoretical concerns and research interests. Groups are initiated both by faculty and by graduate students. All graduate students and faculty from the program meet weekly at our Social Forum, for which students receive course credit. Other coursework is minimal and includes elective courses within and beyond the Psychology department, with the aim of providing a strong theoretical and methodological foundation for the students’ program of research.

Interdisciplinary and International Emphasis:

This program provides an interdisciplinary and an international emphasis in its graduate education and research. Through the faculty members’ affiliations, the program has interdisciplinary ties to:

Additionally, there is track in which students can receive a Ph.D. in (Social) Psychology, with an interdisciplinary concentration in Holocaust and Genocide Studies (HGS). For more information click here.

Graduate students in our program are also provided with many opportunities to engage in international collaborations and are encouraged to utilize these opportunities for their professional development. Our past and present collaborations include research and teaching projects as well as exchanges with researchers at institutions in various countries, including but not limited to:

Graduate Education

Overview of Graduate Coursework in Social Psychology at Clark:

Graduate students in our program are encouraged to work closely with one another, with advanced undergraduate students, and with faculty colleagues in developing their systematic program of research—as this is the central focus. Students have a good deal of freedom in choosing their research topics and methodologies. The number of required courses is minimal but should be used to develop a strong theoretical and methodological foundation to complement their program of research.

Department Requirements:

All first year graduate students take the following courses:

  • Psyc 301 – Theory and Method: Research Design (taken in the first semester)
  • Psyc 302 – Statistical Methods (taken in the first and second semesters)

In addition, all social psychology students typically take Psyc 308 (Social Forum) every semester.

Other (elective) courses include occasional graduate courses as well as joint graduate and undergraduate courses (Capstone seminars) in social and cultural psychology, such as:

  • Advanced Topics in Cultural Psychology (topic varies)
  • Advanced Topics in Social Psychology (topic varies)
  • Social and Cultural Psychology of Genocides
  • The Social Psychology of Ethnic Violence and its Aftermath
  • Historical Background of Contemporary Psychology

These courses are supplemented by directed studies. Depending on their research interests, students also take courses offered by members of our Clinical and Developmental Psychology Programs, as well as courses in the International Development and Social Change Program, the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, or the graduate program in Geography.

Throughout their time in the program, students are expected to engage in various research groups and forums while working towards their portfolio and dissertation.

Research Groups, Labs, and Forums

Currently active groups within the social program include:

Research in Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation (RICC) (Vollhardt):
This group consists of undergraduate and graduate students working on research related to intergroup conflict and cooperation. We meet weekly to discuss ongoing projects and relevant literature. Topics include prosocial behavior and solidarity between members of different groups, how people respond to group-based violence and victimization, and psychological processes during and in the aftermath of genocide. Researchers in this group use various methods, ranging from experiments and surveys to content analyses of interviews and archival materials, including oral testimonies.  

Research on Social Action (ROSA) (Curtin):
This group conducts research related to understanding social change beliefs and behaviors, broadly defined. Topics include understanding how people develop critical analyses of social structures, the role that those beliefs play in commitments to social change, left- and right- wing activism, and the development of activist identities. The lab also includes people with interests in feminism and psychology.

Research on Violence and Aggression (Hines):
This group consists of undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in various aspects of research on violence and aggression. Some students participate in the evaluation of the Clark Anti-Violence Education program, a series of programs and research projects aimed at preventing sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking on college campuses. Other students participate in the Men’s Experiences with Partner Aggression Project, a series of research projects aimed at understanding the relationship experiences, mental health, and help-seeking experiences of male victims of partner violence and their children.

Social Forum:
This is a forum on research and theory in Social and Cultural Psychology, in which members (all social graduate students and faculty, joined by several graduate students from other programs) discuss theoretical and methodological issues, plan new research, share updates on ongoing projects, and receive feedback on manuscripts in preparation for publication.

Social Psychology Faculty

Nicola Curtin, Ph.D.
The role of social identity and individual differences in commitments to creating social change, with a particular interest in ally and coalitional activism.

Nicole Overstreet, Ph.D.
The relation between stigma, stereotyping, and health in marginalized groups. I am particularly interested in examining the role of stigma and stereotyping on mental and sexual health outcomes as it relates to experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual objectification.

Andrew Stewart, Ph.D.
Intergroup relations, ideology, intergroup violence, violence prevention, gender.

Johanna Ray Vollhardt, Ph.D.
Social psychological processes underlying responses to group-based victimization; inclusive and exclusive victim consciousness; acknowledgment; prosocial behavior between groups (especially between minority groups); psychology of genocide.

Affiliated Faculty:

Denise Hines, Ph.D.
Family violence and intimate partner aggression; male victims and other underserved victims of intimate partner violence; prevention of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; translating research for policymakers and practitioners.

Visiting Faculty:

None at this time

Emeritus Faculty:

Jaan Valsiner, Ph.D.

Roger Bibace, Ph.D.

Joseph de Rivera, Ph.D.

James D. Laird, Ph.D.

Nicholas S. Thompson, Ph.D.