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The foundation of psychology is the idea that behavior and mental processes can only be understood by appreciating the complex ways in which they are shaped by biological, psychological, and socio-cultural forces. As a Fairfield psychology major, you will gain exposure to these different perspectives by taking a wide range of courses that explore the study of neuro-chemical activity in the brain; developmental influences on thought and behavior, memory, attention, and learning; and social influences and group memberships that give rise to conformity with norms, prejudice, and prosocial behavior.
You will also learn the scientific principles that underlie psychology’s accumulation of knowledge across these domains. You will learn to think and problem-solve like a psychological scientist, developing skills in scientific reasoning and research methodology that will help you appreciate the importance and efficacy of taking an evidence-based approach to understanding and addressing social, cognitive, and behavioral issues across the lifespan and across various applied settings.
Psychology is often referred to as a “hub” discipline because of its many interdisciplinary links with other fields such as the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, education, and public policy. Scientific contributions from psychology often inform the work being done in these fields, and psychologists regularly incorporate insights generated in other disciplines into their own work. Psychology thus stands well placed to facilitate the kinds of interdisciplinary conversations necessary to provide answers to the most pressing social and behavior issues facing modern society.
What Makes Our Program Special
- A broad range of faculty expertise, from biological psychology, to learning and cognition, to developmental psychology, to community psychology, to personality, to clinical disorders and treatment, to the psychology of prejudice and well-being
- A wide range of applied internship opportunities
- A variety of undergraduate research opportunities in which students work directly with faculty mentors
- Opportunities for advanced undergraduates to serve as teaching interns
- Well-equipped research facilities
- Strong record of placement of psychology majors in advanced graduate programs
- Small class sizes - It is rare for even introductory classes to have more than 25-30 students and upper-level classes often have no more than 15 students
Chair and Professor
Psychological & Brain Sciences
Office of Undergraduate Admission
P: (203) 254-4100
F: (203) 254-4199
Requirements & Curriculum
|Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences|
|Research Methods in Psychology|
|At least one (1) course from the Understanding Biological Processes content area|
At least one (1) course from the Understanding Developmental Processes content area
|At least one (1) course from the Understanding Cognitive and Learning Processes content area|
|At least one (1) course from the Understanding Individual, Social, and Cultural Processes content area|
|At least one (1) course from the Understanding Clinical Processes and Applied Contexts content area|
|At least three (3) elective courses from the above four content areas OR from Experiential Learning or Additional Elective courses|
|Four (4) additional Psychology Courses|
A detailed list of course requirements, offerings, and more can be viewed in the University’s course catalog.
A particular strength of the Psychology Department is the faculty, whose members are not only excellent teachers, but also productive researchers. Many students (first-year through seniors) work with faculty members as research assistants and collaborators. Students may volunteer their time in a research lab, or they may work on faculty members’ research projects in the Supervised Research course. As a result of these collaborations, students often co-author papers that are presented at professional research conferences, and many students give presentations at the annual the annual Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society research symposium on campus.
Check out some of our psychology research projects below, then visit the College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate research page to learn more.
Those who work in “helping professions,” such as first responders, teachers, nurses, and mental health professionals, have an increased level and risk of burnout in comparison to other occupations. As such, it is critical to understand how to reduce the risk of burnout among these professionals. In this research study, faculty mentor Michael Andreychik, PhD, and psychology students Courtney Hankins '19 and Katherine Mackenzie '21 tested the idea that one way of reducing the risk of burnout is to encourage helpers to empathize with the positive emotions (e.g., joy, pride, hopefulness) of those with whom they work.
To examine the potential burnout-reducing effects of empathizing with others’ positive emotions, they presented college students with a video of a fellow student describing both the good and the bad parts of their adjustment to college. Before watching the video, participants were randomly assigned to adopt one of four perspectives as they watched: remain objective, focus on the student’s negative emotions, focus on the student’s positive emotions, or focus on all of the student’s emotions. Participants then indicated how much distress they experienced while watching the video and whether or not they would be willing to help the struggling student by giving or providing her with advice. The researchers’ key prediction was that while all participants who connected with the struggling student's emotions would report a greater willingness to help her, participants who connected with the student’s negative emotions would report greater burnout-related emotions than those who connected with the student’s positive emotions.
Environmental Effects on Autism Spectrum Disorder
Under the mentorship of psychology professor Shannon Harding, PhD, undergraduate students Christina D'Agata '19, Lea Lecaj '19, and Katie Trykowski ’20 conducted an in-depth research study investigating the effects of environmental enrichment on behavior in rodents that expressed symptoms of autism. The students set out determine whether or not environmental enrichment would improve the rats’ autism spectrum disorder symptoms, as well as their development, anxiety, and/or social behaviors.
Throughout the study, pregnant Long Evans rats were administered valproic acid (VPA) or a saline control on pregnancy day 12.5. After the rodents developed further, male rats were assigned to the following groups: saline-standard, VPA-standard, saline-enriched, and VPA-enriched. Enriched housing included toys, social partners, and new bedding. Standard housing consisted of a Plexiglas cage with cob bedding. Enrichment continued for two weeks before behavioral tests were conducted. It was hypothesized that enrichment would reduce the autism symptoms seen in the male rats, specifically reducing anxiety and improving social behaviors – a finding that could have important implications for the therapeutic treatment of ASD in humans.
Ethnic Identity as a Moderator of Suicide Ideation
Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among African American young adults, but studies have suggested, that ethnic identity, which is made up of aspects such as language, religious affiliation, and cultural traditions, may serve as a protective factor against feelings of defeat and suicide ideation in African Americans.
In this research study supported by the Vincent Rosivach Collaborative Research Fund, psychology major Chelsea Salvatore '19 and faculty mentor David Hollingsworth, PhD, setout to examine ethnic identity as a moderator of the relationship between defeat and suicide ideation in African Americans. Participants included 106 African American college students, who were asked to complete self-report measures that assessed variables of interest. Results indicated that in participants with low levels of ethnic identity, defeat had a significant effect on suicide ideation. Conversely, in participants with high levels of ethnic identity, the relationship between defeat and suicide ideation was no longer significant.
How Do Photos and Technology Shape Our Memories?
Dr. Henkel’s research team has been running a series of studies examining the impact of taking photos on what people subsequently remember. When we outsource our memory to our cameras – expecting our cameras record and in essence “remember” our experiences, we engage in different ways of thinking about those experiences than if we do not take photos. This research follows up on Dr. Henkel’s 2013 work which was featured on NPR, and dozens of other media sites, including the New York Times, BBC news, Wall Street Journal., and CNN.
Physical Environments of Nursing Homes and Quality of Care
How do the Physical Environments of Nursing Home Residents Shape the Quality of Care They Receive?
As part of the Interdisciplinary Health Studies Scholars grant awarded to Dr. Henkel (psychology) and Dr. Alison Kris (School of Nursing) for 2013-2015, a team of undergraduate researchers from both psychology and nursing recently completed a project examining how memory cues in the environment, such as personal family photos, can bring about greater social interaction between health care providers and nursing home residents, which in turn can boost not only the residents’ morale and wellbeing, but can increase the social interactions between health care providers and the residents, which can improve the quality of care received.
How can We Better Treat Individuals with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders?
How can We Better Treat Individuals with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders such as Schizophrenia, and Schizotypal Personality Disorder?
Dr. McClure’s NARSAD Young Investigator Award (The Brain & Behavior Foundation) examines the impact of Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT) when paired with an agent that targets the norepinephrine system compared to CRT plus placebo. Dr. McClure also collaborates on projects examining treatments for personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, including studies of medications such as oxytocin and psychological interventions such as dialectical behavior therapy. Students working in this lab have the opportunity to conduct telephone screens of potential participants, observe diagnostic interviews and neuropsychological assessments, and sit in on CRT computerized training sessions.
Expectations and their Effects on Others
How Strongly (and Permanently) are Other People Affected by the Expectations that we Hold about Them?
Research has shown that our expectations about others (“She isn’t very nice”) can affect how we treat them (“I’m not going to talk to someone who’s so unpleasant”), thus causing them to behave in the way we expected (“I’m certainly not going to act friendly toward someone who doesn’t even seem to want to talk to me”). But, what are the limits of these self-fulfilling prophecies? For example, how many times must someone be treated as unpleasant before they become a “permanently” unpleasant person? What if someone who has been treated as unpleasant (or unintelligent, etc.) for many years begins to be treated in the opposite way? Will their behavior or personality change? Dr. Andreychik is currently exploring these and related questions with his students.
Intimate Partner Violence
How is Intimate Partner Violence Related to Factors such as Childhood Trauma and Emotion Regulation?
Dr. McClure’s lab in the psychology department at Fairfield University studies risk and protective factors for intimate partner violence in college student dating relationships, including childhood trauma, anxiety and mood symptoms, personality factors, and emotion regulation. Students working in this lab have the opportunity to interact with study participants by administering the computerized assessment battery and emotion regulation tasks, as well as to clean and analyze data.
More About Psychology
Life After Fairfield
A survey of Fairfield alumni who majored in psychology indicates that most seek an advanced degree at institutions including Yale, New York University, UCLA, and Columbia. The largest number have sought graduate and doctoral degrees in psychology and allied fields, but many have gone to medical, law, education, and business schools. About half of those in business are employed in public relations, human resources, investments, advertising, and marketing.
As a student, you will have many choices and can find guidance from both faculty and a network of alumni mentors who can offer counsel based on their own experience. The Psychological and Brain Sciences Department has recently developed the Alumni Mentor Database to allow undergraduates to correspond with psychology alumni with similar professional interests. Each participating alumnus or alumna has submitted information concerning his or her advanced educational and employment experiences. Students may browse through all the records or search the database to locate the names and addresses of alumni with specific interests or experiences.
Here are some other useful resources to explore as you think about careers and graduate school in psychology:
Graduate School Advice
Learn how Fairfield's Career Services can support your post-graduate goals, and how our tight-knit alumni network can build career and mentoring opportunities that last a lifetime.
Diversity and Inclusive Excellence
As a Jesuit, Catholic university, Fairfield is dedicated to diversity and inclusion; to radical hospitality in service of racial, social, and economic justice.
Internship in Applied Psychology
Psychology majors can serve an internship for one or two semesters of credit in applied psychology. The wide range of opportunities includes:
- Working with children with Autism spectrum disorders
- Assisting probation officers and guidance counselors
- Working in advertising and human resources
- Assisting in mental health treatment settings
Integrating both cognitive and experiential learning, the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department offers its senior psychology majors the opportunity to work as interns in varied settings. Each student spends at least ten hours per week on-site under qualified supervision enabling her or him to use the skills and knowledge acquired as students of psychology. All internship sites allow students to spend ten hours a week using knowledge acquired in their classes.
Juniors who are spending a semester aboard on London can also participate in a specially designed clinical psychology internship program with departmental permission.
Sample Internship Sites:
- CRN International (radio marketing)
- People's Bank (human resources)
- YWCA (domestic violence unit)
- Superior Court (adult probation, family court, juvenile center)
- Legal Services of Connecticut
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (children's unit)
- Family and Children's Agency, Norwalk
- New England Center for Children
- Giant Steps
- National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Fairfield Preparatory School (counseling)
- The United Way (organizational)
Internship in Teaching Psychology
This practicum experience, open to advanced psychology majors, affords students an opportunity to explore the profession of teaching psychology. Under the direct supervision of the Department's staff, students are introduced to the issues of curriculum development, methods of classroom instruction, selection and use of media resources, test construction, and strategies for the academic and practical motivation of students. Interns have the opportunity to observe participating faculty engaged in the profession of teaching, share in some of the instructional activities, and meet with other interns in a seminar format to process the learning experiences.
American Psychological Association
The American Psychology Association (APA) is the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, with more than 121,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students as its members. Its mission is to promote the advancement, communication, and application of psychological science and knowledge to benefit society and improve lives.
Association for Psychological Sciences
The Association for Psychological Science (APS) is the leading international organization dedicated to advancing scientific psychology across disciplinary and geographic borders. Members provide a richer understanding of the world through their research, teaching, and application of psychological science. Passionate about supporting psychological scientists in these pursuits, APS shares cutting-edge research across all areas of the field through journals and conventions; promoting the integration of scientific perspectives within psychological science and with related disciplines; fostering global connections among members; engaging the public to promote broader understanding and awareness of psychological science; and advocating for increased support for psychological science in the public policy arena.
Psychport: Psychology in the News
PsycPort is the leading source for news articles relating to psychology, mental health, behavior, stress management, Alzheimer's, bullying, depression, gender issues, parenting, sexuality, sleep, suicide, therapy, workplace issues, and more.
The College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University is home to a vibrant community of engaged faculty, dedicated staff, and accomplished scholars devoted to the process of invention and discovery and excited by the prospect of producing knowledge in the service of others.
The Psychological and Brain Sciences Department guides students in developing an understanding of the content and methods of psychological science, as well as an appreciation for the many ways in which psychology can be applied to better understand and address a wide range of clinical and applied issues. The program’s interdisciplinary nature not only prepares majors for advanced training in psychology, but also for advanced training in related fields such as law, education, business, social work, and public policy, as well as for entry-level positions in fields such as business, human resources, public relations, and community development.
The Department places a particular emphasis on hands-on engagement with psychology. In addition to requiring all majors to complete at least one experiential learning course, there are multiple opportunities for students to engage in psychological research, teaching internships, and community service.