Dr. Frank McAndrew was born on a U.S. military base in Germany and grew up in the anthracite coal region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. When Dr. McAndrew started college, he recalls, “I was not at all interested in psychology because, like many people, I didn’t really know what it was about.” He knew that he wanted to become some kind of a scientist, probably a biologist. It wasn’t until he took an introductory psychology class, that he realized “there was this discipline that did all this cool stuff. It was a science. But it was doing a lot of the things that I thought biologists did, running rats through mazes and seeing how the brain works. And so, I got hooked in introduction to psychology.”
Dr. McAndrew continued taking biology courses and “an awful lot of English literature courses” because he liked reading the plays and novels as “they were more interesting than textbooks.” He states, “I got a good broad liberal arts kind of education, but psychology was the thing that I really loved the most.” He shares that he decided to go to graduate school simply because he loved being a student and he found out that if he went for a PhD, he would get paid for doing something that he liked to do. He attended the University of Maine for his PhD in Experimental Psychology.
In this podcast, Dr. McAndrew shares his academic and professional journey including his experiences when applying to graduate schools and offers advice about this process in hopes that current and future graduate students can learn from his experience. He also offers specific advice to those seeking a graduate degree in experimental psychology. For example, he states, “if we’re talking about a graduate degree in some area of non-clinical psychology, the prestige of the school you go to does matter, and that’s something, especially if you’re looking for an academic job, that carries an awful lot of weight when you’re on the job market.” On the other hand, “when you’re applying for a PhD in experimental psychology, in particular, you’re not really applying to a school, you’re applying to work with an individual.” Dr. McAndrew also offers his thoughts on the important skills that psychology students should develop in order to be successful in their future careers.
Dr. McAndrew shares his thoughts on becoming a teacher and professor and discusses the academic lifestyle. After receiving a one-year appointment at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, he found that he liked teaching and the academics and admits that he “agonized” over staying in the academic world for “a good 15 or 20 years” after he started teaching. He said that it didn’t seem like a real job to his relatives because he had too much free time and “didn’t seem to have a boss.” He had many interviews for other jobs in marketing and research “but at the end of the day, whenever these job offers came through it always came down to, ok, I’ll be wearing a suit and I’ll get two weeks’ vacation and I’ll be working on things that other people think are interesting rather than what I think is interesting.” So, he stayed in the academic world and is now the longest-serving psychology professor in the history of Knox College (44 years & counting). In fact, he founded the environmental studies program at Knox and served as Chair of the Department of Psychology for a decade. He is currently the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology and teaches introductory psychology, social psychology, industrial psychology, organizational behavior, statistics, evolution and human behavior, environmental psychology, and the history and systems of psychology.
Dr. McAndrew is an award-winning teacher, and his research has appeared in dozens of professional and academic journals and is regularly featured in popular media outlets such as NPR, The New York Times, the BBC, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and NBC’s Today Show. His current areas of interest include aggression, gossip, creepiness, and the naming of children. He writes a blog for Psychology Today Magazine called Out of the Ooze: Navigating the 21st Century with a Stone-Age Mind. He discusses the power of gossip and the psychology of creepiness later in the podcast.
Dr. McAndrew was a wrestler in high school and college and most of his students and academic colleagues are unaware that he masqueraded as a college wrestling coach for 30 years (12 years as head coach). At about 43 minutes into our discussion, we discuss his experience of an elephant attacking his car.
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Frank McAndrew is an experimental and evolutionary social psychologist who studies gossip, aggression, creepiness, and the naming of children. He is also interested in environmental psychology which studies the relationship between people and their environment (both natural and man-made). He is the longest-serving psychology professor in the history of Knox College.
Bachelor of Science (BS), Psychology (1974); Kings College, Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Experimental Psychology (1981); University of Maine, Orono, ME. (Also did graduate work in Zoology)
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Welcome to the Master’s in Psychology Podcast where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host, Brad Schumacher, and today we welcome Dr. Frank McAndrew to the show. Dr. McAndrew is a renowned social psychologist, speaker, and author. He is a Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, IL. His interests are broad and include evolutionary social psychology, environmental psychology, and the psychology of gossip. More recently, he has been studying creepiness and horror. Dr. McAndrew has published numerous scholarly articles and book chapters on these and other topics and is a sought-after speaker at conferences and events. Today, we will learn more about his academic and professional journey, learn more about the power of gossip, and the psychology of creepiness. Dr. McAndrew, welcome to our podcast.
Thank you, Brad. Very happy to be here.
Well, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about your journey and talk about these two very interesting topics as well. But if you’ve seen the podcast, we like going through some of your history of your academic and professional career first. So first of all, can you remember when you first became interested in psychology?
Actually, I can very clearly. When I started college, I was not at all interested in psychology because, like many people, I didn’t really know what it was about. I thought it was about crazy people in therapy and I knew I had zero interest in that. I had some vague notion I wanted to be some kind of a scientist, probably a biologist. So, when I started college, I started out being a biology major and doing all the things you would do for that. And I stumbled into an introductory psych class the 2nd semester of my freshman year. Probably just because it happened to fit my schedule and I needed to find a course. And it just, wow, I had no idea that there was this discipline that did all this cool stuff. It was a science. But it was doing a lot of the things that I thought biologists did, running rats through mazes and seeing how the brain works. And so, I got hooked in introduction to psychology.
Well, you’re not alone, a lot of our guests do talk about that one course that actually changed direction for them, and I see that you received your bachelor’s degree from King’s College in Psychology. At what point did you know you wanted to focus on psychology as an undergraduate?
Well, I think right after I took introduction to psychology, I continued to take biology classes and I actually took an awful lot of English literature courses just because I liked reading the plays and novels and things you had to read for those courses, they were more interesting than textbooks. So, I got a good broad liberal arts kind of education, but psychology was the thing that I really loved the most.
How did you end up at the University of Maine for your doctorate in experimental psychology?
I’m I guess my personal story is a little embarrassing. I was so naive about things and you, in my own defense, you need to remember the world was very different then, there was no Internet. This was also before the time when colleges and universities were flooding your mailbox with brochures and come ons. So, the whole process of finding a college or a Graduate School was very mysterious. You couldn’t just go online and, you know, read websites. And, as a working-class kid, I really didn’t understand about PhD, I didn’t really even know what a PhD was to tell you the truth. I decided to go to grad school for the simple reason that I really loved being a student. And I’d found out that if you went for a PhD, people paid you to go. So, I was going to get paid for continuing to do something that I like to do. But I was totally naive about prestige in schools. A PhD is a PhD, right, whether it’s from Harvard or the University of Maine, it doesn’t matter. I I honestly just didn’t know anything about that and so I had this vague sense I maybe wanted to live in New England, so I applied to several schools there and a number of other schools. And I was looking for schools that didn’t have application fees. Now I understand I could have asked for a waiver, but you know, that didn’t occur to me at the time. So, I ended up applying to a hodgepodge of places. I applied to 11 schools. I got accepted at six of them, but I ended up at the University of Maine. Well, it was in New England which I liked, but it was the 1st place that accepted me and made a firm offer of money. And I was so excited and thrilled. It was the bird in the hand, and I just took it. Now, in hindsight, I had gotten into some more prestigious programs who did offer me money and ended up not going there. I think it all worked out just fine, but when we get around to talking about what advice that I have for people. I will be using my story as a what not to do. Example of that.
Well, that’s a good share. And and you mentioned that back when you were applying, it was a little different. You didn’t have the Internet; you didn’t have that access. And so, I’m sharing our screen for some of the Maine masters and doctorate psychology programs. They’re a handful of few of them and back then, probably in Maine, there might have been one or two, if you recall, or maybe there was only one in in Maine. Do you recall how many you had back then?
I believe now I was coming from Pennsylvania, so I had actually applied to graduate schools all over. But I do believe at that time, the University of Maine was the only school in the state that offered any graduate programs in psychology.
And so that still is the case here, at least in psychology. You see the Psychological Sciences for master’s in arts and then a PhD in both Clinical and Psychological Sciences in Maine. And so, it’s always interesting for us and our audience to find out well, how did you decide on that. And you summarized it beautifully and saying, hey, I really wanted to get to that area if you had to do it all over again, maybe you would have made a different choice but based on your vita and based on your experience and your notoriety and you’re sought after speaker, I think everything turned out well for you.
Well, and I made lifelong friends and had a great experience there. So yes, the the road not taken may not have been all that much better.
You mentioned this already, but I’ll I’ll go ahead and ask you. So, what advice would you offer those seeking a graduate degree in psychology?
Well, if we’re talking about a graduate degree in some area of non-clinical psychology, the prestige of the school you go to does matter, and that’s something, especially if you’re looking for an academic job, that carries an awful lot of weight when you’re on the job market. For example, if you want to teach at an Ivy League school, you’ve got to have a PhD from an Ivy League school or from Stanford, or something very close. They just don’t even look at people from other places. Another thing to keep in mind that I was not aware of, but I have many students who’ve gone on to Graduate School and have talked to them about this. When you’re applying for a PhD in experimental psychology, in particular, you’re not really applying to a school, you’re applying to work with an individual. You really need to find the person who is doing the work you are interested in, and you need to do your homework on that individual and you really should approach that person before you send in an application. Send them an e-mail and just ask them “are you accepting any grad students?” Butter them up a little bit by showing them that you’ve read their work and you’re excited about it because from their perspective they’re looking for somebody who’s going to come in and help them.
It’s all about them in Graduate School. They want a bright, hardworking graduate student who’s gonna collect and analyze data for them, help them publish papers, and if that you can show them that you know what they’re doing, and you want in. That’s gonna, at the very least, they’re gonna go to that pile of applications and pull yours out and give it an extra close look.
Well, that’s good advice. The other thing that I’d say is I I’ve heard some of my guests say that some students don’t even do that background research to find out if they’re still studying in the same area that they’re interested in. I had one case where somebody reached out to one of my guests and she had totally, completely changed her view of interest and and she had to tell the student, no, I’m no longer looking at that. I’m looking at this and oh OK. And then he kind of felt a little embarrassed that he hasn’t seen the last two years’ worth of research where she switched her areas of interest. So that’s one other thing to keep in mind.
That that’s absolutely true. But in fairness, I think those of us who are professors recognize that from the outside, sometimes it’s hard to tell when an interest is shift. So, if a student does send an inquiry like that, you don’t think badly of them because you understand they can’t really know.
And not only that, not everybody reaches out to you like that and finds out a little bit and touches base. So got to give them kudos for that. You already mentioned this a little bit in hindsight, would you do things differently in that process that you you went through to find that Graduate School or that graduate program? Any other thoughts on what you might do differently or might have done differently?
Well, first of all, I would follow my own advice and find individuals that were doing work I was interested in. I did what I just said you should not do, which was just sort of mail in applications to these graduate programs without even really looking at who was on the faculty. Kind of like the way you applied to college, and I think that was done more often back then than it is now. But even then, you should not have been doing it that way. So, if I had things to do differently, I would be looking for people rather than schools. I would not have put so much weight on geographic location. I would have been more conscious of the reputation of the department. But having said all that, we’ve already acknowledged that things seem to have worked out OK anyway, so yeah, but I, I yeah, go ahead.
Did you…what I was going to say is, did you apply directly to only graduate doctorate programs, or did you apply to any master’s programs as well?
I only applied to doctorate programs primarily because those were the ones that were going to support me financially. I was not really able at that time to go to Graduate School if I was going to have to pay a lot of tuition to do that. And I did have good GRE scores, and on the advice of some of my professors, I thought I had a fighting chance of getting in, so if I didn’t, there might have been a Plan B that I would have pursued, but it didn’t happen.
Well, I’m glad that you brought that up and we talked about this earlier as well for those who are just joining us, and this is their first podcast that you’re listening to. Many, many students don’t realize that you would probably get more funding opportunities if you applied directly to the graduate program at the doctorate level instead of the masters. Usually at the master’s terminal level, or even just masters in in passing to the doctor if you just applied to a master’s degree program, you typically don’t get offered as much funding if at all. So that’s one thing to keep in mind.
Well, and to expand on that a little bit, if you are interested in just a master’s program and you are interested in one that will support you financially, you probably want to apply to one at a university that doesn’t also have PhD programs. Because those schools are going to be taking what money they have and investing them in their PhD students, whereas there are many masters programs, especially in experimental psychology, that do have graduate assistantships and similar forms of aid. And since master students are the highest level they have, they will give the money to them.
Yeah, very good point. So, one other question that I have for you in preparation to help the psychology students is what are some of the important skills that psychology students should develop in order to succeed in their future careers? And how can they actually acquire and hone those skills while they’re still in school?
Well, the most important skills are those sort of basic 3R Elementary school skills. You want to be a good writer. You want to have good quantitative abilities; cause statistics are a big part of life in psychology. And, uh, it’s certainly communication skills are undervalued, I think. You’re going to be doing a lot of public speaking even if you aren’t going to become a teacher in the graduate seminars. The way you present yourself is a very important component of how people are going to think about you. So yeah, you you want to be able to be a public speaker as well as a writer and do quantitative stuff. And if you’re planning to go into experimental psychology, you absolutely need to get research experience and we can talk about that a little more when you want to.
Well, we can actually talk about it now because my follow-up question that is many students don’t realize how important it is to get involved in labs. You could volunteer. You could help out. You could just do the statistics. You could. Anything is going to give you a leg up over somebody who doesn’t have that lab experience. And so, if you want to expand on that a little bit more, I, I’d appreciate it.
Yeah, absolutely. Very often, the students, I think, overemphasize grades. You know, I wanna take all these courses and get A’s. And you know, they’re they think their world is gonna come to an end if they get a B plus in something. Uh, you’ll be surprised at how little that counts, uh, in applying (to) grad schools. Yes, you don’t want to have a, you know, a transcript full of Cs and Ds. But having a 3.9 GPA or 3.4 GPA is not going to make any difference. There, if you’re applying to a, an experimental psychology program you’re applying to do experiments. You’re saying I wanna do experiments for a living and you gotta show some evidence that you know what you’re getting into. And you mentioned becoming a part of somebody’s lab. Everybody has a team of undergraduates doing the the dirty work to help them get their research done, and they’re happy to help get somebody else in there to move them along in their academic career as well. But any kind of research at all if you’re in a course where you’re having to do a little independent project of some sort or other, that’s research. Many schools have a capstone experience. Uh, don’t think of this as just a necessary evil to be gotten through, this is the thing that you can use to sell yourself, and there are lots of opportunities to present your research at undergraduate research conferences or at special sessions for undergraduates at regional psychology conferences and it’s now, I mean, back when I was young, it was unusual for undergraduates to have had bunch of that on their transcript. Now if you’re applying to a PhD program and you don’t have any evidence of that, you know, they’re gonna wonder why.
Right, right. I wanted to follow up with two other comments. Number one is you know the advantage of going to these conferences, local, regional or national conferences, is you can introduce yourself to some of the people in the field. And number two, you can see what kind of research they’re doing and then you could actually, you know, you use the word, butter them up a little bit, talk to them a little bit about hey. Are you accepting any new graduate students? The other thing that I wanted to mention is when you’re working on this, even back in high school, even before you go to, you know, undergraduate school do take advantage of those opportunities to do some independent studies and do some research if that’s available as well, because that would actually open the world up to you to find out are you actually enjoying it? Do you find that interesting? And if you don’t, then that that leads you down a different path and so don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and and try it to find out if it’s something for you.
And it is, it is scary if you’re a 19- or 20-year-old undergraduate student and your professor says I want you to go to this conference and stand up in front of an audience of people and give a little talk if you’re not absolutely required to do that as part of a course or something, so many students just say well, thank you, but no. But it matters and it is scary. But after you do it a few times, you start to get some confidence, and this is what you’re gonna be doing in Graduate School. The sooner you get started on it, the better.
Exactly, exactly when I was doing my research on you in preparation for this interview, I noticed that while you were working on your doctorate, you must have been an instructor at Knox College because you actually started at Knox College in ‘79 and you graduated with your PhD from UM in ‘81. Tell us about that experience and how difficult or challenging it might have been doing both of those.
It was difficult and challenging, and the back story, as best I can remember it, is you only had a certain number of years of financial support in my graduate program and I was at the end of that. And so, I had done everything I needed to do except to actually write the dissertation. And so, it looked like I wasn’t going to have any funding for the following year. And at this point, I wasn’t really committed to a career in academia yet, but I thought if I could get an academic job that would give me the flexibility of time to get this dissertation finished up and see what I could do. So, I went on the job market and ended up getting this job at Knox College fairly late in the process and it was just a one year visiting gig and so. I was newly married, and I said to my wife, don’t worry, we’ll move to the Midwest. It’s only gonna be for a year, and then we’ll, you know, do something more exciting and figure it out from there. And but I really the job was an excellent fit, a tenure track job, did open up that I competed for, and a lot of other other funny things happened at that time. We had a baby. My first year here at Knox College. I had not yet finished my PhD. And for any students who are at this stage of their career, it is kind of overwhelming. I can remember just laying there, looking at the ceiling, got this brand new baby. I don’t have my PhD finished yet. I’m trying to prepare 6 new courses to teach, and I just remember wondering how I got myself into this. So, I ended up. I was naively thinking, OK, I’ll take this job and I’ll have my dissertation done by December of the first year, right? Well, it was March of the second year before I actually got it finished and that included having to go back to Orono, ME for much of the summer after my first year, Knox, because I needed the computer resources and statistical, uh, stuff they had there. Nowadays, of course, you could sit with your laptop and do it. But so yeah, I I do not recommend leaving grad school without your degree finished if you can help it.
So that’s why I asked that question and that and that baby was that Tim or Maura?
That was Tim.
OK, alright. And so, one other thing and I’ll I’ll talk about Knox in a second here. But I do have one other question that kind of transition us over there. Some people, when they’re going through their graduate career, they stay with an academia and then they receive their doctorate and then go right into, you know, applying while they’re doing that, or others go into private practice. Some even going to the government. Many other different avenues nowadays, more so than in the past. Usually if you went for your PhD back then you’d usually stay in the academic world. Nowadays we have the PsyD, and we have the PhD and everything else. So, when did you know, was it after that one-year appointment at Knox that you decided, hey, I really do love this teaching, and I really do love this. Is that when you decided to stay on that track or?
I would. I would not say that it was that soon or that clear cut. I I think I agonized about this decision. Do I stay in academia or not for maybe a good 15 or 20 years after I started teaching. I did like the teaching, and I did like the academic lifestyle. But again, my background. And I will. It just didn’t seem like a real job to my relatives and people like that. You know, I I seem to have too much free time and I didn’t seem to have a boss and somehow it just didn’t seem respectable. And so, part of me wanted to, you know, get a job where I made more money and had a more traditional kind of visibility. And I had some interviews and job offers in things like marketing, research and a job offer with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, where I’d be doing research on visitor responses to exhibits and things like that. But at the end of the day, whenever these job offers came through it always came down to, ok, I’ll be wearing a suit and I’ll get two weeks’ vacation and I’ll be working on things that other people think are interesting rather than what I think is interesting. I had a good friend in grad school who finished his PhD and went into marketing research, and he called me one time and was just really kind of depressed about his job because his current project was for a paper company and would it be better to sell toilet paper by emphasizing its softness or its absorbency? And this was the, the question that he had to answer, and he ended up going back into academia, by the way. So yeah, so it took me a long time to kind of be at peace with the fact that, hey, I’m a professor, and that’s OK.
And that is OK. You are actually the longest serving psychology professor in the history of Knox College, 44 years and counting. And I read on your website that you, in the almost 200-year history of Knox, only eight other professors in any department have served longer. So, I also read that you founded the Environmental Studies program at Knox and then you chaired the psychology department for a decade. But tell us you know a little bit more. I know you went there for that one year and then after that, did you decide, hey, did they offer you another year term or tell me what happened after that initial year?
Well, during that initial year, there was a let me back up a little bit. There had been a tenure track job there that I had originally applied for. It was now the summer just before the school year, was ready to start, and they had failed to hire somebody. They had offered the job to seven different people over time and been turned down by all of them. So, when they brought me in, they had changed to just a one year visiting position because in the words of the Dean who looked me right in the eye as she said it, we know we can’t hire the best person at this point. By the way, would you like the job? Yeah, so.
Anyway, when I took the job then they did another search that year. And brought in other people interviewing for the job. And I was also a candidate for that job. And what happened was in the middle of this search, I got a job offer from another school. It was in a place that I thought we would rather live, but it wasn’t really a better job. But I was in this position where, you know, if you’re not going to hire me, I gotta take this job and I just kind of put it out there and they’ve made me an offer. And so, I stayed. And then we had another baby. And one thing led to another and we just kind of, you know, stayed. We’re still here.
You are still there. I’m going to talk about two topics. I kind of highlighted a couple of them at the beginning of the intro here. So evolutionary psychology tell us, you know, how does evolutionary psychology help us better understand human behavior? And what are some of the common misconceptions about this field?
OK, well. It’s a it’s kind of a big picture way of thinking about human beings and the same way we think about other species of animals. When we look at any species, we look at its typical patterns of behavior and how it organizes itself socially, and we look at its evolutionary history. The animal is the way it is because that’s how it had to be to be successful. Evolutionary psychologists think about humans the same way, and the way we organize ourselves socially. Why we remember some things better than others. Our brains are shaped through natural selection to retain some information more quickly and easily than others. And so basically, we are what we had to be in early prehistory to be successful and things have changed too fast for our brains to catch up. So, we’re walking around in the 21st century with caveman brains basically, which is the source of a lot of our trouble, I think. But it gives you a lens to look at almost any aspect of human nature through. Now, you asked what are some of the misconceptions about it. It’s not a position or a a perspective that certainly in the social sciences is very well accepted. People don’t like it for a couple of different reasons. First of all, they don’t like the idea that biology has anything to do with human behavior. It’s OK to talk about dogs and cats and chimpanzees that way, but humans, you know, we’re different. And so, this whole evolutionary thing doesn’t sound right, and they also think that if we find out that there is any sort of evolutionary or biological basis for something that we’re saying, it’s OK. So, for example, if we find out that it’s natural for young males to behave violently, some people hear us saying it’s OK for young males to behave violently, and nobody’s saying that at all. The analogy I like to use is if we discover that a disease has some sort of genetic basis, we don’t say oh well, it’s got a genetic basis, let’s just let people die of it. No, we think we’ve learned something important that helps us deal with it and so those are some of the misconceptions, I think.
Well, in fact, you actually have a blog with Psychology Today called Out of the Ooze. And then I think I don’t have it on the screen here, but something about. Thinking about it from a caveman’s perspective or something like that.
Navigate, Navigating the 21st century with a stone-age mind.
So that’s exactly what we’re doing. And when you were talking about the evolutionary psychology aspect of human beings, you know, going through COVID, we’re not even caught up with that and and still studying the impacts of that. Now we have AI out there that is going to be impacting how we actually communicate and how we actually go about doing research and, and, and I put that in quotes here because some teachers are, are having to figure out should I allow my students you to utilize that AI and some of them are embracing it but still giving some guidelines on hey this is good for you to kind of come up with different ideas or different perspectives but there are tools out there for you as a teacher to test to see if somebody submits something in writing and they used AI. So, any thoughts on that?
Well, that’s certainly something my colleagues are talking a lot about right now. Uh, I guess I’m getting close enough to retirement. I probably have about another year or so before I retire from teaching that I’m sort of choosing just not to worry about that. If I were much younger and this was going to be a battle, I was going to have to fight for many years, I would be more concerned about it. But it’s an interesting question because if you can have artificial intelligence writing for you is writing one of those tasks that humans no longer will have to do, and is it therefore something that ultimately students will not have to be taught? Who knows?
Soon to be determined. I guess it’s, it’s evolving as we speak even today. So, I also mentioned about the psychology of gossip. Now you’ve written exclusively about the psychology of gossip and what are some of the benefits and drawbacks on a high-level view of based on your research, what are some of the benefits and drawbacks of gossiping? How can we actually use this knowledge to improve our relationships?
Well, I think people are very familiar with the negative parts of it, and when you use the word gossip, people immediately think of the bad stuff, right? You’re spreading either false or damaging information about other people, so you can get ahead, and they see it as a selfish, you know, aggressive, kind of act. And I don’t deny that gossip can be used as a weapon. But gossip is what makes us who we are. It, you might as well ask people to stop breathing is to ask them to stop gossiping. Uhm, again, thinking, as an evolutionary psychologist. In the world that we evolved in, in this small group of 150 or 200 people, to be successful, you had to know what other people were up to. You had to know who was sleeping with whom. You had to know who had powerful friends and who didn’t. You had to know who you could trust and who you couldn’t. And the way you found out about this is by talking to other people who have had interactions with these individuals, so you know. And people who didn’t care about that, people who had zero interest, weren’t very good at attracting and keeping mates. They weren’t very good at maintaining alliances, and those jeans got selected again. So, like it or not, we’re the descendants of busy bodies, and it’s just part of who we are. So, I think it’s natural to gossip. But gossip has a lot of benefits. It does increase cohesiveness in groups. If I share sensitive information with you, I’m saying, look, I trust you, Brad, to not use this information in an irresponsible way or in a way that’s going to cause trouble for me and that creates a bond between us. In a perverse sort of way, it’s also the thing that kind of keeps us in line, right? If you’re at work and you’re tempted to slack off and let other people do your work for you, knowing that other people are going to talk about that forces you to be a good citizen. So, yeah, there are, there are definitely benefits to it, but we get in trouble if we don’t do it right.
I agree with you and gossip can actually be a good thing in and outside of the academic world. Your family, friends, social. Now we’re talking about social media and and I don’t know if that would still be considered gossip because it’s out in the public, but you can share things through social media targeted at individuals as well.
Yeah, it’s gossip. It’s gossip with a megaphone.
OK, there you go. What I want to do now is I want to share your website. It has a lot of information. Before we started recording this podcast I, I mentioned to you that there’s a lot of information on here and you mentioned more than enough more than you actually need to know, but I actually like the the way that it’s set up. Here’s your home page tells it a little bit about you. I like this phrase right here; Professor McAndrew is well-known as a purveyor of psychological science to lay audiences. So, I, I like that because when I was doing research on you more and more, I would read that you love enjoying kind of breaking down the science and then explaining it to the lay person. So, I it feels like that’s part of your passion. Am I. Am I right there?
Yes, I’ve always liked to write and it’s one of the things you’ve got all these different skills that you need to rely on in academia. For me, writing was one of the ones that was the most enjoyable compared to some of the others, and so getting to write for something other than those stuffy academic journals was fun and more people read it than anybody that, you know, than the number of people that read any journal article and so it’s a very rewarding thing.
And here’s that Psychology Today blog, Out of the Ooze: Navigating the 21st century with a stone-age mind. A lot of interesting articles here as well. And then here is kind of a good transition into the next topic you you’re more recently looking at creepiness and horror and the first thing that I thought of was what, what is the psychology of creepiness, you know? So, tell me what that is.
Well, yeah, this is kind of a delicate topic because there’s an old saying in psychology that research is me search that, you know, people gravitate toward topics that resonate with their own lives, and I don’t know how many times I’ve had interviewers ask me. So, tell me about this interest in creepiness. You know, where is that coming from? And I would like to think that there is no real personal relevance to this, but some of my research has shown that creeps don’t recognize that they’re creeps. So how would I know? But I got interested in this by I, I suddenly noticed how often I heard people using the word. This guy creeped me out, or this situation creeped me out. That person is creepy, so I just kind of casually started asking people. Well, when you say that, what do you mean when you get creeped out? What does that mean? And it was pretty clear that it’s not the same thing as being afraid, and it’s not the same thing as being disgusted. It was its own thing. And so, being a good researcher, I decided Oh let let me take a look at the psychological literature and see what people have to say about that and I was absolutely blown away that there wasn’t a single study or paper on creepiness ever written by a psychologist. I, I just couldn’t believe it. And so, I saw an opportunity to do something new. And I had a student who was interested in it. And so, we did the first study on creepiness. And of course, it was a topic that everybody was interested in, so it attracted a lot of media attention. So, it kind of snowballed from there. At first, I thought it was just this one off. Going to do this. One little study about it, but then I couldn’t escape it because then the creepy clown craze started. You remember that from a few years ago?…
…where these. And that is OK I I. In our original study, one of the things people did was to rate the creepiness of occupations and clowns were rated as the creepiest. That was it. That’s all I had to do with clowns. But then I was asked to write an essay for The Daily Beast, I think it was, on given that people think clowns are creepy, why would that be the case? Well, it turned out then that there was this cabal of professional clowns who identified me as the person that was responsible for ruining their careers. And they started, they called the president and the Dean of my college to try to get me reprimanded or fired. They left threatening messages on my voicemail. By the way, this was all in an attempt to show me that clowns are not creepy.
It’s kind of ironic.
My wife and I, yeah, we still worry that some night this little car is gonna pull up in front of our house and all these clowns are going to leap out, but so it’s led to a lot of interesting and kind of fun experiences. But again, this is one of those things that you one can’t plan, right? I’ve always lurched from one little thing to another, and then whatever happens as a result of that kind of takes your life over for a while.
And so, I’m sharing this page again. It should pop up here in a second, but I think you mentioned one of the here’s Explorations in Creepiness: Tolerance for ambiguity and susceptibility to not just right experiences predicts the ease of getting creeped out. And so, this was a paper that was actually presented at the meeting for Society for Personality and Social Psychology in San Francisco. But I also saw some other ones here where you know, Why do people see ghosts while others don’t? And, and some other ones. Why people see ghosts? down here, Encounters with ghosts. So, I’ll, I’ll ask this. I’m not sure if you can answer based on you know what you’ve seen so far. So, what makes something creepy or someone creepy? And why do some people find certain things creepy, and others do not?
Well, let me start with the first question. Creepiness is all about uncertainty. If you’re getting creeped out, you’re kind of wallowing in discomfort because you can’t decide whether there’s something to worry about or be afraid of or not. You’re interacting with a person who’s just acting strangely. Their nonverbal communication is all wacky. They’re steering the conversation in uncomfortable directions, and it could just be a harmless person who doesn’t have very good social skills, and if you started screaming and running away from that person, that would be weird. Uh, but on the other hand, if it is somebody with more sinister intentions, you should scream and run away. So, you’re left kind of hyper-vigilant and monitoring the situation to see if in fact there is something to worry about. Places do the same thing for us. You’re in a place that’s making you feel creeped out, but you don’t really know that there’s anything to be scared of there. But you are paying very close attention just in case there is. So, this feeling of being creeped out is sort of this grey zone between being comfortable and being afraid, it’s this period of trying to make a decision and yeah, that, that that’s what it’s all about. And some people are more prone to that people in particular who are uncomfortable with uncertainty in general. Some people just like answers and they like to know how things are and they’re not very comfortable saying, Oh well, I, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. So, if you’re one of these people who really likes certainty, likes clarity, you’re gonna be creeped out more quickly and more intensely than somebody who’s more comfortable with just kind of saying, well, who knows?
I I should share this one as well. You have some YouTube videos and and it should pop up here in a second. But one of these is The Psychology of Creepiness. So, for those of you who are interested in this area, we will have this once we go live on the on the website, so you’ll have this there and then you also have some other ones on here. This is the research settings and then some other videos on your YouTube channel here as well so. We will see.
Wow, you’ve, you’ve really done your homework. Those videos on the YouTube channel were actually class lectures from the COVID era where we had to teach remotely. That’s why they exist.
OK, I kind of figured that because of the, the year that is listed there 2020. So, the other thing that I wanted to share is if you wanted to find out a little bit more about Dr. McAndrew, he does have an about page on here at Knox College. Nice summary of what his general interests are. And then here’s that the link to go to that Out of the Ooze blog on Psychology Today magazine and then a little bit more about it teaching interests and his, his curriculum Vita and then obviously you’ve made many different appearances and and been on many different shows. I like looking at the grants and everything because a lot of people don’t realize when you are teaching at the doctoral level you, depending on the level research institution level one, two, or three research institution, you’re almost required to do more and more research. And how do you fund that? Sometimes you have to go outside of the funding that you have available within your college or university as well. So, I just wanted to highlight these and of course you have some social media accounts, and we’ll add those on the on your page when we go live as well. I like this is this…
That’s my granddaughter, yeah.
There you go. There you go. So, we’ll share all of these things as well. Dr. McAndrew, what do you love most about your job?
Well, I think I what I’ve loved the most is the flexibility it gives me. I can pursue anything I’m interested in. I got to be the wrestling coach here for a long period of time, which is sort of an avocation of mine. I have close, intimate relationships with students. Many of my best friends in the world are people who were former students of mine that 25 years later we’re still in touch. Uh so uh, it’s, you know, the whole package. There isn’t one little thing that, in particular, I love the most it, it’s, it just clicked from the beginning.
You know one thing I should mention, I I didn’t mention at the beginning here is when you received your doctorate in experimental psychology at UM – University of Maine, Orono. You also did some graduate work in zoology, and so tell us why zoology? Is that, was that just an interest and you decided, hey, I, I, there’s some classes here that I really want to take and, and tell us a little bit of background on why zoology.
Well, my original story about going off to college, being interested in biology when I got sucked into psychology, I didn’t suddenly stop being completely interested in biology as well. I was still interested in biology and in particular animals and animal behavior, and when I got to Graduate School, I wanted to take some courses in animal behavior, which I did. And then as a result of that I got connected with a behavioral genetics lab in the Zoology department and started doing some research there with fruit flies of all things, and got a publication out of that. And so, this background in animal behavior sort of became a secondary teaching area for me. And I did teach animal behavior for quite a while when I first came to Knox, so, uhm, yeah, it was just interest more than anything else.
I also saw on your about page on your personal page that you’ve been lucky enough to have experienced the animals of South Africa and Tanzania in the wild. And then there’s a moving animation of an elephant and, and if you click on it, you get to see the pictures of an elephant attacking your car. That must have been exciting and scary at the same time.
Well, yeah, it was one of those things. That it wasn’t until it was over that I noticed my heart leaping out of my chest, but yeah, it, it was. The whole thing was over in a very short period of time, but. I was taking pictures because if it was going to get me, I wanted there to be a record of what had happened.
Proof, you wanted proof of it so.
Yeah. Who the perpetrator was.
Right, right. So, you know you’re getting close to retirement when you look back at your career and when you’re looking at the field of psychology right now, what are some of the most pressing issues facing the field of psychology today? And how can psychology students help address some of those challenges?
Well, I think one of the big challenges certainly in the research area of the field has been the replicability crisis, the idea that some of the classic research that we’ve depended on in psychology has proven to be difficult to replicate when you redo the experiments. And there are a lot of reasons why I think that’s the case but, uhm, on top of that, there has been some really shameful dishonesty in research that’s been uncovered in the last 10 to 15 years, some pretty high-profile researchers faking data. And so, the field has kind of swung so far in the other direction now of making sure that everything is legitimate. It’s getting harder to do research because there are so many hoops you have to jump through now, and the number of participants that you need to have to get a paper published is so large and it’s a lot more work to submit an article to a journal now than it was even 20 years ago. So, I think the field is going through a shakedown period in response to these scandals that have happened. That is one of the biggest challenges, I think. Now for a new person coming out of grad school, I don’t think there’s a lot they can do about that, except, you know, try to manage their own career while that’s happening.
Kind of know the rules of the game, basically, when they get out there. So, near the end of most of our podcasts, I like asking some fun questions. So, one fun question that I usually start off with is tell me something unique about yourself. I’ve already identified a few of them but tell me something unique about yourself.
That’s a tough one because I don’t know that there is much unique about me. I’m a fairly ordinary guy in academia. I think my background as a wrestler and a wrestling coach kind of stands out because that’s not the typical thing you see professors involved with. But yeah, I’d have to say I’m pretty un-unique.
Well, I’d argue against that, Dr. McAndrew, you. If you combine all these things being attacked by an elephant, you actually were born on a U.S. military base in Germany. And you grew up in an in anthracite coal region of North, Northeastern Pennsylvania. You actually live now in Maine and reside in a Prairie in Western Illinois in a house that’s approximately 120 years old. Not a lot of people can say that they live in a house that’s over 100 years old, so that’s, that’s unique as well. If you look back at some of your favorite terms, principles, or theories, what is your favorite term, principle, or theory, and why?
Well, I I have to say I, I kind of like the crazy bastard hypothesis. Uh, just, just for the name of it. The short version of the crazy bastard hypothesis is when you see people behaving in an extremely reckless way without any regard for their own safety, you wonder what that’s all about and how that could ever be an adaptive thing to do. But if you think about our, our whole human history, if there’s this crazy bastard who’s willing to do any kind of reckless daredevil thing, at crunch time, when you’re going into battle, do you want that person on your side or on the other side? And so that’s the short version of the crazy bastard hypothesis. There’s a method to the madness.
There you go. No, I like that. I like that. Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of psychology?
UM. Well, there, there are so many different types of psychology, so the advice would be different for different types. For those that are interested in clinical psychology, you really need to be able to get a buzz out of helping people or trying to help people. I never wanted to be a clinician because dealing with people who have problems all day long would absolutely suck the life out of me, and I would feel terrible if I didn’t think I was helping them. So, you want to see that there’s a match between who you are and the thing you’re being drawn to. On the other hand, if you’re going into experimental psychology and you don’t really like math very much and you don’t like to write, that’s probably not the direction you should be going either. So, what you want to do is play to your strengths, find out what you’re good at and what you enjoy and that’s the kind of psychology that you want to be drawn to.
OK, very good advice. I wanted to share one other page on your website, and this is your Links to Interests page. So those of you who are interested in creepiness or gossip or anything else, he has a very vast number of links to different areas on this page, as you can see, so feel free to browse through his website. A lot of information as we mentioned earlier, I I like the fact that you’re including all these different areas for anybody who comes to visit to your website as well. So, I applaud you for that. One final question for you, kind of a fun question, is if you had the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
I guess. I would kind of like to go to Antarctica just because hardly anybody has been there and it’s so different than any other place in the world that one could visit.
So, I’ll, I’ll go with that.
That’s a good answer. That’s a good answer. Is there anything else that you’d like to discuss or bring up on this podcast?
No, we’ve covered, I think, all the bases here and I really appreciate, uh, the care that you took in doing your homework before this interview. I learned more about myself by talking to you than I knew there was to know.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk about your journey and your willingness to share your thoughts and advice and experiences. Frank, thanks again for sharing your journey with us.