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Dr. Cory Pedersen: Psychology Instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University

June 10, 2013

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 2.A, Idea: Women in Academia (Part One)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Undergraduate Journal

Web Domain:

Individual Publication Date: June 10, 2013

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2013

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,177

ISSN 2369-6885

Dr Cory Pedersen

1. Where did you acquire your education?

At the undergraduate level, at the University of Calgary.  At the graduate level, at the University of British Columbia, from where I earned a Masters and Ph.D. degree in Developmental Psychology.

2. What originally interested you in psychology?  In particular, what interested you about human sexuality?

Well, I acquired my degree from the department of educational psychology and special education. I applied there because I particularly wanted to work with one of the faculty, Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl.  She was doing research in socio-emotional learning and competence, and how it relates to things like psychopathology and peer relationships.  That’s what I was initially interested in.  In particular, I wanted to study those variables as they related to mental illness and various childhood mental disorders, and I especially wanted to work with Kim.  However, well into my academic career, after many years teaching adolescent development, it came to my attention that textbook coverage of sexual development was lacking in many respects, and outright wrong (I hypothesized), in others.  So I developed my first lab at Kwantlen (tentatively called a “Development Lab”) and conducted two large scale studies on sexual development among adolescents.  From there, I developed an entire human sexuality course and changed the focus of my research to human sexuality.

3. What topics have you researched in your career?

As a graduate student, I was in two different research labs at UBC.  One was the Socioemotional Development Lab run by Kim.  We investigated things like moral reasoning, moral development, peer relationships, bullying, conduct disorder, empathy, and pro-social moral reasoning..  My masters work came out of that lab.  The other lab I worked in was the Self-Regulated Learning Lab, which involved work on the self-regulated learning components of learning disabilities among children and adults. Kids and adults with learning disabilities tend to lack self-regulated learning.  They tend to be unaware of their own learning difficulties.  We developed some self-regulated learning strategies to help them monitor their own cognition, and their own learning styles. I was in that lab, and we did a number of studies in the local schools.

For my Doctoral Dissertation, I looked at children’s conceptions of mental illness, ‘how do children come to understand mental illness in their peers?’  They do see it – unfortunately.  How do they understand its cause, its prognosis, its severity?  How do they perceive these individuals in terms of friendship quality? Whether they would be good friends or bad friends, whether they would like them or not.  And since leaving graduate school, and coming to Kwantlen, I have done several studies; most recently on human sexuality among adolescents and emerging adults. Things like the developmental progression of sexual events in life of adolescents and emerging adults.  What do they do in their developmental progression?  In other words, what they do first, what do they do next, and so on, and whether these series of events predict their level of promiscuity and level of unusual sexual activities.  I also did another study on the predictors – I do a lot of regression research – of infidelity as measured by the big five personality variables.

4. What areas are you currently researching?

I have a couple of things on the go.  Right now in my human sexuality lab we are looking at changes to current trends in exotic dance.  We have two directions in which we are going.  If you look at the popular media, you have lately seen a lot of exotic dance put out there as normative behavior.  A person can take pole dancing classes.  A person can learn how to lap dance, provide a lap dance.  Popular culture is trending towards putting lap dancing and pole dancing out as a good means for aerobic exercise.  Some researchers have coined the term `stripper chic`, which is the new culture of empowerment for exotic dancers.  Given that, we hypothesize that there has been a shift. Traditionally, exotic dance has been stigmatized in the literature.  Much literature has come out of the field of sociology, which results in a tendency towards female liberalism.  Female exotic dancers have been viewed largely as victims.  But we have a different take on that.  While admittedly many exotic dancers have been victimized, we are putting forth the argument that exotic dancing can actually be sexually liberating.  That exotic dancers are earning legitimate capital gain.  They are providing a legitimate service, and with the general trend toward what is called `stripper chic, it may be changing not just societal views, but the views among exotic dancers too.  The view of their own stigma; that their personal identity is viewed more positively.  Also, we are going to look at predictors (regression is my thing!) of things like psychopathology, self-esteem, and standard measures of restrictive or permissive sexuality.  We hypothesize that there will be no difference between the average population – Kwantlen students – and exotic dancers.

The other study that we are looking at is the enmeshment of gender identity with sexual orientation.  There is considerable anecdote, even research, that people confuse sexual orientation with gender identity.  For instance, there is a perception that if someone is gay, this person must not be gender normed; the perception that gay men are feminine and that lesbian women are masculine.  We plan to tease this enmeshment apart by having participants evaluate the degree to which they think a gay person would be suitable for a job description that is exceptionally masculine or feminine.  Of course, we think gay men will be viewed as less competent and that lesbian women will be viewed as more competent in a traditionally masculine job and visa versa.

5. What epistemologies, methodologies, and tools do you use for your research?

Almost all of my research is cross-sectional.  I have not conducted any longitudinal designs, as many trained in developmental psychology do.  Most of my research is quasi-experimental in nature that does not involve any manipulation of variables for the most part, but only to examine variables as they exist in cross-sections of the population.  Two exceptions to this general trend; the study recently done in my lab on the confounding of gender and sexual orientation, and work with my honours student on sexual paraphilia.  These were both experimental designs.

6. With your expertise, what do you consider the most controversial findings in psychology?  What do you consider some of the implications of these findings?

Well, I cannot speak to the whole field, of course.  However, if I were to speak generally I would look back at my introductory psychology classes and cover a broad range of topics.  Generally, I would say, probably, in issues to this day of consciousness.  How to know what consciousness is?  How to measure it?  These are still problematic for psychologists and philosophers.  I would say, in my particular field, some of the big issues are things like causes of sexual orientation, and at a deeper level whether we should be even asking such questions.  Such questions are biased, as we do not ask about the causes of heterosexual orientation.  Being straight is presumed status quo.  I would say, in my field, this area counts as one of the biggest of controversy.

There is also controversy around certain sexual disorders.  In particular, hyper-sexuality and gender identity disorder as disorder.  Both of these are in considerable debate as to whether they should be included or not in the DSM.  I do not believe that either of those should be included, personally, from the research that I have read.  I think they simply represent variations in human sexuality, which is exceptionally varied.  I have difficulty reconciling many sexual disorders in the DSM, because they suggest there is a normative amount of desire; that there is a normative amount and that anything more or less than that is pathological.  I consider human behavior much too varied, especially human sexual behaviour, to say, “Oh, this is the appropriate amount of sex, and any more than this, or less than this, is pathological.”  I have some difficulty with that.

In the developmental field, again there is controversy relating to the DSM, particularly, what constitutes developmental psychopathology?  What is considered appropriate behavior for children?  Determining whether a children’s behavior is pathological hinges on the adult’s perception of the behavior, and so it is the parents or teachers that go to a psychologist or physician and say, “My child is ill.”  The child rarely goes into the doctor and says, “I think there’s something wrong with me.” You don’t see that, right?  There are disorders in the DSM for children that are debatable.  Take for example, a new one that was under consideration, I think it was to be called temper-tantrum reaction disorder or something like that, being proposed for the DSM-5.  It is based on parent’s reports of children having unreasonable and excessive temper tantrums; in other words, more than the norm!  I am not suggesting that there are no mental illnesses among kids.  I simply mean that the DSM has expanded to the point where much “normative” behaviour is designated pathological if the parameters are not exactly right.  I think those are the biggest debates in the field of psychology that are of most interest to me.

7. If you restructure, or at least reframe, the study of sexuality, how would you do it?

Well, that is a tough question.  I think this links somewhat to my earlier comments about pathology.  I am teaching human sexuality now.  The last several chapters are about things wrong in sexuality.  Commercial sex, prostitution, exotic dance are wrong.  Selling sex is wrong.  Then, there are the sections of sexual dysfunction, like hyper-sexuality and hypo-sexuality, and how these are ‘disorder’.  And then next week it is paraphilia; exhibitionism, fetishism, BDSM, etc.  And it is all so structured like, “Wow, look how wacky everyone is…”  Even the chapter on gender identity that I did last week was all about why would people want to transition from male to female? What is with these people? Look how these people are different?  The science is set around pointing out what is presumed to be “normal”.  Some textbooks are grey because they call these topics ‘sexual variations,’ but the implication is the same; that there is something somewhat wrong about it all.  I do not like that.  I do not teach my class that way.  I am very liberal in my class encourage tolerance of these differences.  There is nothing wrong with these differences.  So, I would re-structure our science in how we pathologize everything, make everything seem like it is abnormal.  I do not like that.  While I appreciate that there IS pathology, I often believe much of the stress and stigma associated with pathology comes from the fact that we pathologize!

8. If you had unlimited funding, what would you research?

Unlimited funding? If I had unlimited funding, I would get two different pieces of equipment.  One, I would get a penile plethysmograph, which measures tumescence of the genital organs for males.  Two, I would get a vaginal photoplethysmograph, which is a measure of vasocongestion.  They are both measures of physiological arousal.  In sexuality research, the field is burdened by the social-desirability bias.  People are going to say what they believe other people want to hear.  Take for example the standard question, this is just an example, but take the standard question, “How many sexual partners have you had?”  Men tend to overestimate their number of sexual partners and women tend to underestimate their number of sexual partners.  The truth is somewhere in between.  It is hard to measure things like sexual arousal based on self-report.  And that is all the kind of data that I have been primarily working with; questionnaires, self-reports, survey data.  If I had unlimited funding, I would buy those pieces of equipment and hidden camera equipment to conduct observational research in labs.

If I had unlimited funds, I would also want an fMRI machine.  It would be amazing to see what happens in the brain during orgasm.  Is it diffuse or localized?  I would put technology on my side if I had unlimited funding.  Although I have asked the university for a vaginal photoplethysmograph and a penile plethysmograph, there is so far no such luck in getting this equipment.

9. When you entered academia, you likely had a certain philosophical framework for understanding the world.  How have your philosophical views changed over time to the present?

Well, there is no single salient point, right.  I mean, as a professor, the only thing I want my students to take away from my class is – if you forget everything about theories, facts, and numbers – the most important thing that every student should take away is how to think critically – how to be a critical consumer of information.  That is the most relevant thing in psychology.  The knowledge we have about the brain, its desire to explain cause and to do that via making connections that are probably superfluous, they are not real – and I want students to be critical consumers of information because psychological information is everywhere.  It is in the news, on the radio, on the television.  If you cannot be a critical consumer of information, you are in trouble. Not everyone has a critical thinking style, which is why I consider it extremely important for people to be critical consumers.

10. What advice would you give to undergraduate psychology students aiming for a work, career, and general interest in psychology?

Good grades are important, but they will only get you so far.   If you want a career in psychology, you need more than an undergraduate degree.  That is my advice.  Grades will help you get into graduate school, absolutely.  But, back to my regression models, there are many predictors of success in graduate school.  Grades are only one path – grades will put you into the competitive pool of graduate school.  Yet, you will have more chances of getting into graduate school with strong letters of reference.  Grades will provide your letter writer with something solid to comment on about you.  However, that is where it stops.  My advice for people in psychology is A) apply to graduate school and B) get in good with faculty.  Join a committee. Join their lab.  Participate in research.  Do something in some way to make yourself known to them because that is the only way they will be able to write you a letter of reference that says something besides, “This is a good student in class and they have a good grade point average.”  That is all that most professors could say with only grades to recommend you.  Letters of reference go a long, long way.

11. Who have been the biggest influences on you?  What books or articles characterize their viewpoint well?

God, I do not even know.  This is a tough one.  I do not even know, honestly.  I would put my supervisor Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl right up there.  She is exceptionally well-published and a fabulous speaker.  And she knows how to conduct research.  She really taught me how to be a researcher and a critical thinker.  I remember once that she told me about a study she was designing.  She had developed a program evaluation for a well-known socioemotional development program called “Roots of Empathy”.  The initial results were promising.  Data suggested that kids exposed to the program had less classroom problem behavior, participated less in bullying, and displayed greater social competence and prosocial behavior.    I remember Kim saying to me one day, “Look, the data indicates that bullying is decreasing and social competence is increasing.  This is fabulous, but so flawed.”  I wasn’t sure what she meant.  She said, “Well, the bullying behaviors are decreasing and the social competencies are increasing, but compared to what?  How do we know whether the behavior of all kids becomes better as the year progresses?”  Now, it seems obvious.  There was no control group!  No baseline!  Kim incorporated a control group into her subsequent evaluations of the program.  It seems so obvious, but you have to be a sharp researcher to be able to recognize that flaw.  That is critical thinking.  That is just one of the many intelligent things that Kim has said since I have known her.  She is just a solid researcher and really knows her stuff.  She is well published and just recently made full professor.  I feel like she has influenced many of my ways of doing and thinking about things.  Even outside of being her student, when I first designed the human sexuality course – and I had not been her student for years, though we speak regularly – I told her about it and she suggested that I include some statement in my course outline about the topics discussed in the course bringing up difficult issues for some people.  She is always thinking ahead.  She said, “You may want to tell people that if they have difficulty with the material than they should be referred to see someone.”  She is very thoughtful.  She is always trying to help me be more thoughtful that way too.  Some of the fundamentals of conducting research with kids she has introduced to me.  Some basic stuff – this is how to treat your participants.  This is how you ensure your participants are going to be willing to participate in your study.  That the participants understand anonymity and confidentiality, and that they understand their contribution and why it is important.  That is what I do with all of my studies now.  That is how I relay the importance of my studies to all of my participants.  I think she has been profoundly impactful on the way I conduct research, as well as how I run my class.  She always made her classes relevant; she always brought the material around, emphasized how should we be studying this particular topic.  Why we should be studying this particular topic.  She took it away from the theoretical and brought it down into the relevant, the practical applications.  And thanks to her, I have always tried to be that way too.  That is my style with my own students.  Even the way I write articles have been influenced by her writing style, the way that I mark papers, the way I make suggestions in comments These are just some examples of someone who has been immensely influential.


Creative Commons Licence In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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