Graduate Program in Social-Personality Psychology

Department of Psychology

Kansas State University

General Background and Philosophy

The Social-Personality field of specialization was introduced under the direction of E. Jerry Phares and Franz Samelson in 1964.  Since that time, numerous students have earned doctoral degrees in the field.  Most of them have chosen academic careers and are teaching in colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad.  Others have arranged post-doctoral training, are in private practice, or work for the government, private industry, or as research consultants.

The faculty members directly connected with the program are very diversified in their theoretical and research interests, but all are strongly committed to the training of scholar-researcher “generalists” rather than technical specialists.  That is, our students are expected to acquire a broad, theoretically informed understanding of the Social-Personality field, and its articulation with other branches of psychology, as well as the various technical skills necessary for basic and applied research.  As students progress through the program, their areas of particular expertise become defined by their research projects, thesis, and dissertation.

Although much of the required general knowledge will be gained through classwork, strong emphasis is also placed on individual study and research by students working closely with faculty members.  All students are required to actively pursue research projects throughout their graduate training.  Such work typically reflects the particular interests of the student, and is oriented toward the development of masters theses, doctoral dissertations, and articles suitable for publication.  Some indication of the wide range of problems open to investigation in this program may be gleaned from the titles of the following dissertations completed over the past several years:

  • Empathic anger as a predicator of punishing and helping behaviors (Guy Vitaglione, 1998)

  • The effects of tokenism on task-specific self-evaluations and global self-esteem (Angela Karrasch, 1999)

  • Eating disorders in young women: A test of psychodrama intervention (Christy Scott, 2000)

  • Does humor mediate the effects of film violence? Affective consequences of viewing the violent action comedy (Susan Romaser Heil, 2001)

  • Attachment security as a predictor of preschoolers’ prosocial responses to mothers and peers  (Susan Burns, 2002)

  • Cross-sex friendships: A cross-sectional exploration (Fred Sanborn, 2004)

  • A general framework for modifying health-relevant behavior: Reducing undergraduate binge drinking by appealing to commitment and reciprocity (Amy Conner, 2005)

  • Parental and peer influences on adolescent helping (Jeffrey Bartel, 2006)

Student Statistics

As of the Fall 2007 semester, there are 14 graduate students (11 females, 3 males) in the Social-Personality program.  Of these, 9 students are currently working on their M.S. degree and 5 are working on their Ph.D. degree.

The Program of Study

Experience here and at other universities indicates that most full-time graduate students can complete their Ph.D. degrees in approximately five years.  However, some take longer because they begin full-time paid employment after becoming Ph.D. candidates (and this delays their progress in the program), or because they wish to gain greater expertise in research and/or teaching than is possible in a shorter time frame.  It should be kept in mind that the program of study outlined below more or less represents the ideal case; it will vary a good deal for individuals, particularly as they negotiate the latter years of the program.

First Year:  During their first year in the program, students typically take the Proseminar in Social Psychology and the core course in Personality Psychology.  Students also take the first two courses in the quantitative methods sequence and 1-2 additional core courses in areas such as cognitive psychology or history of psychology.  In addition to working on a first-year research project with their advisor, students enroll in research credit hours. Each student should consult with his/her faculty advisor to discuss in more detail the various options available.

Social-Personality faculty members and guest faculty from other departments will regularly discuss their research at informal meetings. These meetings are particularly important for first-year students because they provide opportunities to gain an intimate grasp of research processes and procedures.

Second Year:  During their second year in the program, students typically complete core courses and quantitative course requirements.  In addition, they may enroll in seminars offered by faculty in the Social-Personality or other areas, or by faculty in other departments (e.g., Sociology, Family Studies and Human Services) that are relevant to their ../research/career interests.  In conjunction with work on their thesis, students enroll in Masters research hours (PSYCH 899).  As students decide on a Masters thesis project, they select two additional faculty members to serve along with their major professor on a supervisory committee.  In addition to the Social-Personality faculty, supervisory committee members may be selected from among other psychology faculty.  The department includes faculty with expertise in a variety of areas relevant to the Social-Personality area, such as perception, cognition, judgment/decision-making, neuroscience, and industrial-organizational psychology.  Students are encouraged to take advantage of this pool of expertise.

Third Year:  In the third year, students continue to take seminars that are relevant to their interests and may also begin or continue coursework related to special areas of concentration that are offered by the Psychology Department (e.g., the Teaching Apprentice Program, the concentration in Occupational Health Psychology) or the University (e.g., the Graduate Certificate in Gender Studies).  Also in this year, students who have completed their Masters thesis will begin preparing for Ph.D. qualifying exams (“prelims”).   These exams are given over a three-day period and cover basic theory/research issues and methods in the field, with emphasis upon the student’s area of specialization.  The exams are constructed and evaluated by each student’s supervisory committee.  During the semester prior to taking prelims, students (especially those who also have research or teaching assistant responsibilities) will often take a lighter course load.

Fourth Year and Beyond:  Once prelims are successfully completed and the student is officially declared a Ph.D. candidate, most of the student’s effort is focused on the dissertation project. The student will enroll in Ph.D. research hours (PSYCH 999) and will use this time to write and then present a Ph.D. research proposal to his/her supervisory committee.  Subsequently, research hours will be taken while the student completes the Ph.D. itself.  Students may also continue to take a few seminars or other classes related to their areas of concentration.

Positions for graduates

As they near completion of their Ph.D. dissertations, students usually apply for suitable employment positions.  The department receives regular notification of openings for graduating doctoral students in academic, government, and industry settings.  Such positions are also advertised in the APA Monitor and the APS Observer and, increasingly, on the Web.  No doctoral student completing our program and actively seeking a position has ever gone more than a few months without obtaining employment.

More detailed information about the program may be obtained by contacting any of the faculty members listed below.

Social-Personality faculty and their research interests

Mark Barnett (phone: 785-532-0603, e-mail:

Dr. Barnett’s recent research interests include: (a) the development and expression of prosocial emotions (e.g., empathy) and behaviors (e.g., helping), (b) children’s and adults’ perceptions of particular individuals (e.g., the homeless) and behaviors (e.g., helping, lying, minor moral and legal violations, teasing), and (c) sex differences and sex-role stereotyping.

Laura Brannon (phone: 785-532-0604, e-mail:

Dr. Brannon’s recent research interests include: (a) applied persuasion research in domains such as health and consumer behavior, (b) compliance with medical recommendations, and (c) cognitive factors mediating the effectiveness of persuasion techniques.

Don Saucier (phone: 785-532-6881, e-mail:

Dr. Saucier’s research interests include: (a) the measurement and reduction of prejudice, (b) the examination of attitudes toward social and political policy issues potentially related to prejudice (e.g., hate crime legislation, affirmative action, same-sex marriage), and (c) the individual differences related to resistance to persuasion and attitude challenges (e.g., social vigilantism).

E. Jerry Phares   (Professor Emeritus, e-mail:

Leon Rappoport (Professor Emeritus, e-mail:

Franz Samelson (Professor Emeritus, e-mail:

(Revised July, 2007)