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Spring 2003

Vol. 03 No. 2


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Kevin McCaul

Professor of psychology, gardener, aspiring song writer, Kevin McCaul has been at North Dakota State University since 1978. He has held an array of administrative positions, including department chair and interim dean of two colleges. Among other achievements, he was awarded the prestigious Faculty Lectureship in 1990. He holds one of only a few Senior Investigator Awards in the behavioral sciences from the National Cancer Institute. He makes lists.

Until you care about what you're doing you're not going to do very well.

I also believe that chance plays such a big role in what we end up doing in life because we all can point to instances where just by chance this happened and it threw us in this direction.

I got into one of the three schools by chance — partly by chance — and what if I hadn't? I have no clue what I'd be doing but I wouldn't have gone to graduate school, I wouldn't have gotten a Ph.D., I wouldn't be teaching. Something else. I wasn't driven.

I think kindergarten and first grade teachers have a huge responsibility and also a much harder job than what we have.

My best teaching isn't done in the classroom at all, it's done with the students who do research with me and that's what I enjoy the most because that's where you really get to know the students.

I get nervous at every single class before I start. And I've been doing this forever.

I want students to come out thinking differently about the world.

In part what you do in at least some psychology classes is you have to combat common sense or naive psychology or even well-learned stereotypes about the way people interact with each other. There's data that show that men, if they're talking to an attractive woman and if she's pleasant to them, most men will go away with the assumption that she's interested in him. There's good data to show that's true. But it's not true. So disabusing them of that stereotype and teaching them a different way of looking at those interactions would be a fun example.

Research does tell us things sometimes that don't fit with common sense.

Our assumptions about the way the world works and the way people work aren't always right and it's really cool either when you find out that you're wrong about the way the world works or when you have a little bit better explanation.

My big research interest these days is in worry. I study worry as it relates to health.

I don't think it's necessary to worry but I don't think it's such a bad thing to worry either.

I am a psychologist. I can't treat patients, nor would I want to. I actually tried that in graduate school. I treated one of my friends who had claustrophobia. It was entertaining to try and treat her. I have seen her recently and she still has claustrophobia, so I wasn't very good at it. I've always liked the applied end of psychology.

Social psychologists are testing the idea that much of our motivation to maintain self esteem is driven by fear of death. That's an interesting one. It's very Freudian. In fact, Freud's made a big comeback in social psychology in the last decade.

Being able to hang on to the idea that you're a good person, that you're valued, somehow staves off what otherwise would be bothering you all the time—the knowledge that you're going to die.

It's stuff like that that makes you like social psychology, even if you don't quite buy it.

Fear of the future is probably not a good thing. A little bit of worry about the future, on the other hand, helps you regulate yourself. It helps you do things to change the future.

I grow all that stuff in my basement from seeds, partly because it makes the winters shorter.

I would like to write a book. Although I find the older I get the less funny I am. To anybody.

I'd like to write one song. It could even be pretty bad.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.