Isn’t That Spatial: Where Psychology and Geography Intersect
Rather than being a psychologist employed in a non-traditional discipline, I am a “behavioral geographer” located in a geography department, working extensively with psychologists and publishing in the psychology literature. My bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD are all in geography. My interest in psychology originated after contact with an educational psychologist in New Zealand, who referred me to Piaget’s works on space. During and after my PhD work at the University of Iowa, I helped develop a new area of geographic research called behavioral geography. This focused on spatial decision-making, environmental perception, geographic scale spaces, spatial cognition, and cognitive mapping.
The works of Piaget and Tolman guided much of my early interests. By 1970, I had interacted with psychologists such as Joseph Kruskal, Clyde Coombs, Doug Carroll, and Vic McGee while attending joint meetings of the Classification Society and the Mathematical Psychology Group. My interest focused on using non-metric multidimensional scaling to define representations of internally stored spatial knowledge, called “cognitive maps.” My interest in spatial cognition developed during the 1970s, when I started interacting with psychologist Tommy Gärling, University of Umeä, Sweden, and solidified when I moved from Ohio State University to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I worked jointly with Lawrence Hubert, James Pellegrino, Jack Loomis, Roberta Klatzky, and Daniel Montello. Collaborative work with Loomis and Klatzky has continued for 17 years, to this day. Our joint interests have emphasized spatial cognition, human way-finding, spatial updating, and sightless navigation. This latter interest came about after I became legally blind in 1984, an event which initiated a visit by Loomis and Klatzky, who offered to help in my rehabilitation. Recently, I also collaborated with psychologist Mark Blades, Sheffield University, on a project relating to a similar study.
I currently serve on an NRC committee on spatial thinking, where spatial scientists (e.g. geographers, geologists, astronomers, and mathematicians) and cognitive and developmental psychologists puzzle out questions relating to spatial thinking and reasoning on both local and universal scales.
Everywhere I have taught, I found helpful faculty in psychology interested in real world problems, refreshing colleagues who eagerly extended their interests beyond the laboratory into geographic space. What ties all this together is an interest in spatial concepts and how different groups understand those concepts. During these various co-operations, we have developed new methodologies, used established methods in different ways, and developed new technology designed to assist spatial information processing and use, such as the UC-Santa Barbara personal guidance system for blind travelers, originally conceptualized by Loomis.
I am also helping introduce geographic information science and its principal methodology, geographic information systems, to various disciplines of psychology and am contributing pieces on cognitive mapping to the Encyclopedia of Psychological Assessment and the Encyclopedia of Social Measurement.
Over the years, I have co-organized joint geography/psychology sessions at the quadrennial meeting of the International Geographical Union and the International Psychology Union in Sydney, and have organized sessions and participated in international psychology meetings in Kyoto, Japan and Stockholm, Sweden. In 1998, I organized a small meeting of geographers and psychologists at the Chateau de la Bretesche in France to discuss cognitive mapping and wayfinding. Looking back over the last few decades, I have probably published more joint work with psychologists than I have with geographers.
I feel at home working with psychologists, and have often been referred to as a psychologist rather than a geographer. I generally believe the disciplines share many concepts, but are usually separated by scale effects and the choice of experimental settings, such as laboratory versus real world geographic spaces. I hope more psychologists venture into “non-traditional” academic liaisons, and that geography is considered one of the most viable disciplines that could engage in such interactions.
Golledge, R. G. (2002). Handbook of Environmental Psychology: The open door of GIS. In R. B. Bechtel & A. Churchman (Eds.). Handbook of Environmental Psychology. (pp. 244-255). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Reginald G. Golledge is a professor of geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Legally blind for the past 15 years, his interests in behavioral geography include spatial cognition, individual decision-making, and the acquisition and use of spatial knowledge. His recent research has included work on congenitally blind persons.
Giving Psychology the Business
My career path reinforces the notion that life is both serendipitous and endogenous. After graduating with an MBA from the University of California, Los Angeles, I was working for Walt Disney’s marketing department, and eventually ran Disney Music Co. Along the way I observed my wife, Judy Tschirgi, study for her PhD in cognitive psychology at the University of California, San Diego, and I became interested in reasoning and decision-making. One of my professors at UCLA had planted the seed that I could study consumer and managerial decision-making as a marketing professor in a business school. So we moved to Chicago, I went to the business school at Northwestern, and Judy joined Bell Labs as part of its human factors department.
Marketing is a very interdisciplinary field, drawing on psychology, economics, statistics, and operations research, and so along the way I experienced a good amount of confusion about which direction to pursue. Fortunately, I ran into Hilly Einhorn early on, took my first behavioral decision theory class from him at the University of Chicago, and was immediately hooked. My goal was to become the best psychologist dressed in marketing clothes that I could be, and my first job at Chicago’s graduate school of business allowed me to do exactly that, with a joint appointment in marketing and behavioral science.
Working in a business school is a bit different than working in a psychology department. The two biggest differences are the students and colleagues. Most top business schools have active PhD programs, but they are small. Although we have a behavioral lab where we can run experiments, business faculty do not have labs in the same sense as psychology faculty. Our focus is on MBAs. These students are smart and can absorb difficult material, but their primary motivation for attending graduate school is to further their business careers. This translates into less tolerance of theory for theory’s sake and more emphasis on demonstrating the practical significance of the material being presented.
The second big difference is that one’s colleagues have research interests that cover a broader spectrum than one would find in psychology. I realize that there are lots of sub-fields and specialized interests in psychology, but take my word for it, being parochial does not pay off in a business school. And so as with most things in life, one adapts to the environment. My research started off focusing on specific and manageable decision-making problems, and I published most of my papers in psychology journals. As my career has progressed, the problems have become a bit messier and more relevant to business.
The dominant language in business schools is economics. Money talks, and in a business school, it lectures. At the same time, there are all sorts of characters wandering the halls with non-economic backgrounds: sociologists, statisticians, and quite a few psychologists. Most psychologists work in either marketing or organizational behavior. At Wharton, out of a marketing department of 25, there are10 faculty members who do psychologically-grounded research, on topics including decision-making, social cognition, persuasion, psychometrics, memory, self-control, and social identity. Although marketing has its own set of journals, including both the Journal of Consumer Research and Journal of Consumer Psychology, the research is predominantly psychological, and the field-values faculty publish in the basic social science disciplines.
Moving into a business school necessitates collaboration with people who have different training skills, a transition that is both challenging and rewarding. The challenge is appreciating different perspectives while being constantly reminded of the limits of what you know and can contribute; the reward is the collegial interaction, which can provide a more diversified set of skills and knowledge base. With time I also have come to appreciate working on problems of a more applied nature, in part because the research output is more concrete and observable.
Finally, in the more than 20 years I have been working in business schools, it has been gratifying to see the intellectual quality steadily improve, at least partly due to an influx of new colleagues with solid basic training in psychology, economics, and statistics. Hopefully more psychologists will migrate to business schools in the years to come.
Stephen J. Hoch is the John J. Pomerantz professor of marketing at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, chairperson of the marketing department, and director of the Baker Retailing Initiative. Previously, he taught at the University of Chicago. He received a bachelor’s in human biology from Stanford University, a master’s from UCLA, and a PhD from Northwestern University.
Medical School Academics: Traditional for Some, New for Others
I tend to be the odd man out when discussing career paths with other psychological scientists. In fact, I certainly hadn’t entertained the thought of seeking a career in research psychology at the beginning of graduate school. Rather, I imagined a career as a school psychologist in order to avoid as many research methodology and statistics courses as possible.
But here I am in my first year as a tenure track assistant professor in a school of medicine. During graduate school I became involved in research projects focused on adolescent development through the mentoring of my advisor. At the same time, I was becoming interested in the field of pediatric psychology. As a result, I sought out clinical and research experiences at a local Children’s Hospital. Over time, my research focus shifted toward adolescent health related behaviors. I became interested in pursuing this research as an academic career, and it soon became obvious that my research interests would not fit within many school psychology departments. Moreover, traditional health psychology graduate programs did not appear too interested in hiring junior faculty members with a PhD in school psychology, regardless of research focus.
Medical schools, however, are more open to non-traditional academic psychologists, and that is why I am there today. One of the primary distinctions of an academic career in a medical school setting is the majority of research positions at medical schools are funded on “soft money.” Soft money refers to the need to fund your salary and research studies through grant money, often from the National Institutes of Health. A benefit of funding your own research is it is possible to answer sophisticated research questions because you have the resources to do so. A negative aspect of soft money is the need to continually apply for grants in order to further your research agenda. The specter of the grant being completed means you have to be ready for the next grant application, causing the need to be forward thinking at all times. Additionally, there are research topics that do not naturally lend themselves to public health concerns, which may cause problems acquiring federal funding. I currently have a career development award from the National Institute of Mental Health, and it is a great grant mechanism to further my research training and gain increased independence as a researcher.
Interdisciplinary, or cross-disciplinary research, is also a focus of many academic careers in a medical school. My research focus, for instance, is on assessing and exploring the role of adolescent romantic dyads on individual behavior, with a specific focus on behaviors that lead to an increased chance of STD/HIV infection. As a result, my research agenda includes an unholy alliance of social psychology, developmental psychology, sociology, medical research, and basic biological science. For instance, romantic dyads are embedded within broader social relationships (sociology), and I have been exploring the process by which risk messages are communicated to adolescents (social psychology) over time and within relationships (developmental psychology), with the ultimate goal of decreasing both STD and HIV infections (medical and biological sciences). I enjoy the interdisciplinary aspect of the medical setting; I have found that my own research has been decidedly enriched by the contributions and cultures of different disciplines. With that said, communication across disciplines can be an interesting, and occasionally frustrating experience.
By having a career in academic medicine as a behavioral science PhD, I have had to accept the role of being a stranger in a strange land. Although my skills as a researcher are regarded as beneficial by other faculty members, the fact remains that this is a medical school where MDs receive their clinical training, and they hold first priority. Hence, a psychologist’s skills augment the goals of the university and do play an important role, but it seems as if that role will always be secondary to the greater goal of the medical school. This is evident within the power structure of the medical school. It is a rare section or department that has a PhD as the director who impacts the role of non-physician health professionals, but perhaps academic roles throughout the medical school will change over time.
It has been a relatively short but strange road to an academic career in psychology within a medical school. The resources available to do cutting-edge and important research with a public health focus are tremendous in a medical school, and I do feel as if my research makes an immediate difference in the health of adolescent populations. I truly enjoy the psychological science that I can complete in a medical school, and I look forward to becoming increasingly familiar with this nontraditional situation within a traditional setting.
Matthew Aalsma is an assistant professor of psychology and pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. His research focuses on adolescent health behavior, which includes assessing adolescent STD/HIV risk behavior, as well as the role of the broader social environment on adolescent health behavior.