Interview with Alex Haslam:

From psychology’s theoretical core to rusting Star Fighters…

How did you get into psychology?

I was studying Maths and English at University at the University of St Andrews and I needed to take up a third course, so chose Psychology because it fitted into my timetable. After a riveting lecture on Asch – delivered by our lecturer, Margaret Wetherell — I was hooked.

When you think about the field of psychology today, what would you say are its biggest strengths, and weaknesses?

The biggest strength is the body of well-supported theory at its core.  The biggest weakness is people’s ignorance of this, and the fetishisation of ‘effects’.  Reduced to a science of effects, psychology is pretty pointless; while as a science of theory it is imperious.

What do you think makes a good psychology researcher?

Great supervisors, great collaborators, great students.  The first pull you up, the second help you up, the third push you up.  Without the first, you lack direction; without the second you lack motivation; without the third you lack life.  I have been massively fortunate to have all three throughout my career.

What are you researching at the moment?

Lots of things. but, at this precise moment, I am finishing off our book on the New Psychology of Health, and starting to think about new editions of the New Psychology of Leadership and Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology.  I am also thinking about a paper I want to write on Identity Leadership and Economics.

Tell us about the SIGN group…

Where do you start? We are a world-leading group of researchers who look at the implications of group membership and an associated sense of social identity for a range of social, organizational and clinical phenomena.  Our work has very broad reach and we work with colleagues around the world to advance understanding of important social processes — everything from depression and autism to education and retirement.

Tell us about your plans for the future…

This question reminds me of the time that Steve Biko (a key anti-Apartheid activist in the 1970s) was asked in a court what his plans for the future were, and whether they involved violence. He said he didn’t know because he didn’t know what his opponents we going to do, and hence couldn’t predict what actions would be called for. All I can say is that my plans involve trying to rise to what my colleagues and I see as the key social psychological challenges of the day. For me, one of these is the lack of high-quality leadership in a wide array of political and organizational spheres. If we don’t get to the bottom of this — theoretically, empirically, practically — and do something about it, I think we’re in very serious trouble.

Tell us something that people might be interested to know about you…

I hold the World Record for losing appearances on University Challenge [a TV general knowledge show between Universities].  Played 4, Lost 4. On a more up-beat note, we filmed the BBC Prison Study in Ellstree Studios in North London where George Lucas had previously made Star Wars, and we got to sit in a disused Star Fighter that was rusting away in the car park. Having never seen Star Wars, I had never thought this very noteworthy, but I notice that people seems to find this more interesting than many of my other stories. On the other hand, perhaps this just tells you something about the lackluster nature of my other anecdotes.

Originally Posted by The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology (available here).