Nov 18

People Who Care About a Topic Shouldn’t Get Involved?

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”
―Martin Luther King Jr., 1960, ‘Suffering and Faith’


People Who Care About a Topic Shouldn’t Get Involved?

It’s a little odd to me that there is a debate over whether or not participatory action research (PAR) is a valid method. Like most things that are different from the norm, the importance lies in not jumping to label them as “good” or “bad” but as what they actually are: different. And, ideally, any scientist would welcome all tools which expand the understanding and possibilities in a given situation. The argument against it seems to be based on the concern about whether or not a researcher who is also a participant can be objective in assessing the situation, deciphering the data, or implementing what is truly the most beneficial course of action. But objectivity, though vital, actually isn’t the most important element of these otherwise-ignored situations. The most important thing is that they are recognized at all.

One of the first things we are told from the first lesson in our most basic class on entering the field of psychology is that “science doesn’t answer big questions” (Psychology as a Science and Profession, n.d.). Instead, science is meant to answer the decidedly small questions unique to very specific situations so that what is learned may then be appliedto more general situations. And that works perfectly, assuming that we’re aware of what requires our focus and have the means to conduct the research. But this scientific method is a top-down approach, assuming that those who have the training, resources, and opportunity to conduct research also have an exhaustive knowledge of what needs to be researchedand will automatically carry it out. Realistically, that is not going to be the case.

In general, research is conducted in cycles of “hot topics” which faze out, giving way to other areas of focus, all of which depends on what interests or corporations provide the funding. In addition, researchers are compelled to publish, which means that they will naturally turn their focus to topics of interest (increasing the chances of publication), rather than what is necessarily most important. Much falls through the proverbial cracks. This is exactly why PAR is well-suited to groups who are ignored, oppressed, or exploited (Maguire, 1987). The group in question does not have to wait for attention or funding from the greater population that would not otherwise consider their problem worthy of attention. It is a bottom-up approach where those who intimately involved in the problem (and vested in outcomes) conduct their own research to bring about positive change. Though this method attracts criticism for not being truly scientific, it is fair to say that much of the progress that has been made with this method never would have come to pass otherwise, because the issues it addresses would not have caught the attention of the scientific community at large nor garnered its focus and funding. This is exactly the “small questions” psychology is meant to answer—specific situations with unique problems requiring specialized solutions tailored to those involved. Private therapy also incorporates this bottom-up technique into its generally top-down approach. Clinical psychology has techniques and methods which are scientifically proven to help in given situations (top-down). However, individual therapists are also given license to adapt these proven methods, depending on their educated assessment of their client and the specific situation (bottom-up)—receiving constant feedback on what is working and what isn’t and evolving the intervention plan to best bring about the desired positive change. This is the same method that PAR uses on a larger scale, with a researcher applying their knowledge to a larger group or demographic.

Rather than dismissing PAR as “unscientific,” it may simply be accepted as another tool that is useful in bringing about positive change. In any research situation, a researcher must decide what method is best for testing a hypothesis. PAR is one possible method which may or may not be suited to a certain situation. In addition, it may actually be moreuseful in situations where there is not a great deal of existing knowledge about the dynamics, traditions, or practices of the group in question—when a researcher is just beginning to gather information on a population. Last semester, I was required to take ENG 221: Writing in the Social Sciences, which requires its students to each find a culture to observe throughout the semester. I chose a group of which I am a long-time member: an online group focused on fountain pens and writing. Because I was already a member of the group, I held a greater practical knowledge than someone who would have been observing from outside the group: I already understood the (very plentiful) jargon; I understood what was taboo in the group and what was encouraged; I understood the hierarchy of the members. All of this would have been lost on an outsider or, at minimum, created a significant learning curve in order to study the group. Because I was an “insider” but also a researcher, I was able to use my knowledge of the group to better understand my observances. I think of this as a very powerful tool—much like the benefit of an interpreter when approaching new study of a culture with which the researcher is not familiar.

Returning to the private therapy parallel, any therapist would be quick to acknowledge that change in a client isn’t something the therapist does, but something the client brings about for themselves. As Yeich and Levine (1992) describe, “Empowerment seems to be a process that one must do for oneself-not something that someone can do for or to another.” This may be even truer for a group: those who are considered in-groupare not going to be as open to being told what to do from someone (or some group) considered out-group (e.g. researchers who have not experienced their situation first-hand). However, because PAR arises from within the group desiring the change, the necessary steps to bring it about would be more readily accepted and adopted. The policy that a researcher should not have a vested interest in their own research is based on the assumption that this is mutually exclusive with being objective. However, if a researcher in this situation can remain as objective as possible in assessing the best course of action, an interest in the outcome may not only bring an otherwise-ignored topic into the spotlight, but it may provide the motive needed to see the situation through to a satisfactory resolution.




Psychology as a Science and Profession(n.d.) Lesson 1: Why Psych 105?[Lesson Notes]. Retrieved from Pennsylvania State University, Psychology as a Science and Profession, https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1803751/modules/items/21132916

King ML, Jr. (1960). ‘Suffering and Faith’ The Christian Century27 April.

Maguire, P. (1987). Doing participatory research: A feminist approach.Amherst, MA: Center for Inter- national Education,  University of Massachusetts.

Yeich, S., & Levine, R. (1992). Participatory research’s contribution to a conceptualization of empowerment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22(24), 189&1908.

Nov 18

Solving Our Own Problems With Help

Many communities face challenges that affect their way of life. These can include anything from bullying to pollution and a host of things in between. The question then becomes, how do communities deal with these issues. On one hand, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience involving the issues. At the same time, many of the community members are probably not versed in the scientific inquiry. Therefore, there is a need for a professional with such experience to help with the problem-solving. The professional in many cases, however, will be new to the situation, and not completely knowledgeable about the background. Given this scenario, the most logical step would be to combine the two, such that they are working together in an effort to create the necessary social change. This is exactly what Participatory Action Research (PAR) attempts to accomplish.

Participatory Action Research is a research method within social sciences that “emphasizes collaborative participation of trained researchers as well as local communities in producing knowledge directly relevant to the stakeholder community” (Coghlan & Brydon-Miller, 2014) Essentially, a trained professional, (psychologist, biologist, ecologist, etc.) works with members of a community in an effort to research, and solve some problem, or create some change within the community. It is based in “self-reflective inquiry”, in that both the researcher and the community members look at the things that they do in an effort to improve their practices and situations they find themselves in. (Baum, MacDougall, & Smith, 2006) There are three distinctions that make participatory action research different from traditional research: research is conducted in an effort to enable action; participants are active in the research process; power is shared between the researcher and researched. (Baum, MacDougall, & Smith, 2006) These methods have been applied to a host of settings including activism, community problem solving, education and health care.

At the agency where I work, one of the divisions uses participatory action research to create social change in school environments. The division creates a yearly Youth Advisory Committees (YAC), comprised of high school teenagers, who, in conjunction with paid professionals, research topics important to the youth audience. Topics include teen pregnancy, drug and tobacco use, underage drinking, bullying, and a host of other issues they deem important. Once they have identified the issues they want to focus on, they begin working on solving the problem. The meet bi-weekly at our agency in an effort to come to a solution that creates change in their audience. The teens on the committee look at themselves, and their environment, and with the help of professionals, are able to analyze and troubleshoot troubling behaviors that create solutions that can be applied to all individuals in this particular community.

When communities face problems, it is they who have the power to correct them. In many cases, however, they lack the knowledge and skill to effectively create solutions to these problems. Participatory action research helps to solve this issue. It introduces a professional to the problem who guides the community on identifying issues, conducting research, making analysis, addressing policies, and creating change. (Phillips, Berg, Rodriguez, & Morgan, 2010) Through this process, communities can better solve problems, and create change that positively influences their quality of life.


Baum, F., MacDougall, C., & Smith, D. (2006). Participatory Action Research. Journal of epidemiology and community health, 60(10), 854-857.

Coghlan, D., & Brydon-Miller, M. (2014, December 24). Participatory Action Research. The Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Phillips, E. N., Berg, M. J., Rodriguez, C., & Morgan, D. (2010). A Case Study of Participatory Action Research in a Public New England Middle School: Empowerment, Constraints and Challenges. American Journal of Community Psychology, 46, 179-194.



Nov 18

Rehabilitation for the Wrong?

Perhaps one of the most prevalent thoughts in American society is that criminals deserve what they get. There is this longstanding debate over whether or not the death penalty should still be applied to criminals. And seeing as how many states still practice this, it is obvious which side is winning this argument. Now I’m not asking here whether punishment fits the crime, per se. Sentencing laws are an entire issue on their own. What I would like to discuss is the social view on criminals.

Why do we put people in jail? Is it meant to be for punishment, or for rehabilitation. Which one works best to ensure that no future crimes are committed? I’m sure many people would love to be optimistic and say rehabilitation. But rehabilitation is not what goes on in prisons.  For some prisoners, it feels like they are put through a “deprivation of liberty” (Ginnekin, Esther, Hayes, 2017). They feel like their whole lives are restricted, their freedom, their choice, their futures. Especially if they get out of prison, then the next big step is reforming their life by getting a job and starting over. But they can’t exactly just go about doing that, can they. There’s too much stigma around being a former convict. “How is my criminal record… being put behind me, if every time I have to apply for a job, I have to disclose it, considering that my actual criminal record has no bearing on the actual job that I’m actually applying for” (Ginnekin, Esther, Hayes, 2017).

In comparison to the treatment that they receive while they are finally released, the treatment that they have to endure while inside prison is astoundingly cruel. However society doesn’t even bat an eyelash at this because the social view of this is that the criminals deserve whatever punishment comes to them. Which is an understandable view for people who may have lost loved ones and such, but for society as a whole to not care about treatment of criminals, it is simply astounding.

Perhaps I am overstepping my bounds, but this topic is rather personal to me as my father was sent to prison a few years back on charges of second degree murder of a business associate of his. Of course such a crime is unforgivable and the man at fault certainly deserves the time he has to serve, but that doesn’t mean he should be treated like an animal once inside the prison system.

Let me give an example of what I am talking about on a social level. I would like to affect social change in the sense that we need to stop dehumanizing criminals. When my father was being put on trial, there was a lot of media buzz surrounding it. But they all spun the same story. That he was just another immigrant who came to this country to cause gun violence and take away the lives of hard working Americans. Never mind the fact that my father came here as a refugee after having his village bombed by Americans during the Vietnam War, personally watching his mother stabbed to death by soldiers, recovering enough to come to this country as a teenager, perfecting the language enough to get a bachelors in English, learning enough to get a masters in Buddhist studies, spending years as a monk, raising a family of his own out of poverty. No. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that he was a criminal. He was a bad guy who deserved to be punished. Anyone who saw the news would see an image of a monster painted before them. But anyone who knew him would say “Bruce? The Buddhist monk?”

Affecting social change pertaining to opinion on such a large scale would be rather hard. But like we saw with Rescue, if we aim to conduct research in such a manner as to target specific demographics, disseminate information in a widespread and easily consumable manner, then perhaps public opinions on criminals can change.


van Ginneken, Esther F. J. C., & Hayes, D. (2017). ‘just’ punishment? offenders’ views on the meaning and severity of punishment. Criminology & Criminal Justice: An International Journal, 17(1), 62-78. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1177/1748895816654204

Nov 18

The Impacts of PAR

Participatory Action Research is a tool often used by the government to conduct research investigating public health and social impacts of policies. This approach uses feedback and emphasizes participation and action in communities, and uses these results to try and change the communities for the collective improvement of society and local groups. Tools like this are essential to applied social psychology and government interventions.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) makes extraordinary efforts to bring help and assistance to members of the community who are typically quiet, or such a minority that their voices go unheard. This is especially true of male victims of sexual assault/rape. 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives and men are 140% more likely to develop PTSD as a result. (Penn State University, 2018) This may be due to a number of factors but one of the leading suggested causes is the lack of current support networks for male victims of sexual violence. In our society, sexual violence towards men is often misunderstood or even turned into comedy. This only makes the psychological strain on the victims even more harsh. Due to methods such as PAR, research and funding can go towards programs to help male survivors cope and develop needed support networks.

Applied social psychology is beneficial in many ways to communities. Utilizing tools such as PAR, researchers and psychologists can work to develop efficient and beneficial intervention programs and policies for individuals in need. Using feedback and communication directly from the community, the policy can be tailored to fit the specific needs of the group.



Baum, F., MacDougall, C., & Smith, D. (2006). Participatory action research. Journal of epidemiology and community health60(10), 854-7.


Nsvrc.org. (2018). Statistics about sexual violence. [online] Available at: https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf [Accessed 19 Nov. 2018].


Penn State University (2018) Psych 270 Canvas Module – Developing PTSD. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1914063/modules/items/24970423





Nov 18

Social Change… Starting with Identity

One of the goals of community psychology is to analyze social change and to guide social action toward resolving social problems (Goldstein 2015). I am currently writing a research paper regarding the death penalty for another class. As part of my research, I watched a TED Talks video featuring Bryan Stevenson titled “We need to talk about an injustice,” and I started thinking about social change research.

Bryan Stevenson’s lecture is a very powerful and enthralling speech. I was intrigued by the speaker and he held my attention from the beginning to the end. From the very beginning of the speech, Mr. Stevenson persuasion is very clear. He shares information about his goal and provides information, truths, and facts about current situations going on the American justice system. Mr. Stevenson says “There is power in identity. When we create the right kind of identity, we can say things to the world around us that they don’t actually believe makes sense. We can get them to do things they don’t think they can do.” That is a very powerful statement and it holds so much truth to it. Mr. Stevenson then told a story about his grandmother, and how she pulled him to the side and told him three things. The story was rather humorous, but it’s not just the humor that sticks with you. The story had a message. His particular message that he got from his grandmother was to not drink alcohol, and that stuck with him as he grew older.

Mr. Stevenson’s area of expertise is law. According to the bio, Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He’s the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting the abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. With this background, Mr. Stevenson is more than qualified to speak on the subject. Mr. Stevenson gives facts to support his cause. He uses statistics to further add emphasis to the cause. He pleads to everyone, this is not just about one or two races, this about humans as a society. Mr. Stevenson says “Wealth, not culpability shapes outcomes. We cannot be fully evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion,and justice.”

“Participation Action Research (PAR) works to address the specific concerns of the community as well as the fundamental causes of the oppression, with the goal of achieving positive social change (Brydon-Miller, 1997). I see this video combining research and law together to bring about change in our society, which is very important if we are to progress as a society.


Brydon-Miller, M. (1997). Participatory Action Research: Psychology and Social Change. Journal of Social Issues,53(4), 657-666. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00042

Goldstein, E. B. (2015). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience. Stamford: Cengage learning.

We need to talk about an injustice [TED Talks]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice?quote=1385#t-1265890

Nov 18

Applied Psychology is the only psychology

The question presented in the conclusion of this class, whether social research good or bad, made me stop and think. I cannot come up with a reason why it is bad. In fact, I think that all of psychology is based on social psychology. Psychology aims at seeking to understand behavior, and creating interventions that have a positive effect and outcome on people. The reason why the field of psychology is ongoing and continuous is because we are not complacent on research that has been done and are constantly seeking to understand more. This starts from a desire to understand human behavior, which is the social factor of psychology, in all umbrellas of psychology. With out that desire of trying to understand human behavior, psychology wouldn’t exist. So, from that standpoint, applied psychology should be credited with creating psychology in general. All other forms of research are based off of an applied social psychology approach. Awesome job applied social psychology!


Nov 18

Small Steps For Big Change

Since I live in Southern California where fires have been ravaging our mountains, neighborhoods and homes of thousands of people, I have decided to write about social change with regard to the environment. Of course there are many reasons fires can start, and sometimes we don’t ever find out the cause, but the information we do have is vital to help prevent the spread of wildfires moving forward. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “since the 1970s, unusually hot summer days (highs) have become more common over the last few decades.” While other parts of the country are experiencing extreme temperatures and weather conditions that are evident in all of the hurricanes, flooding, etc., the West Coast is hit by extreme heat that leaves us more susceptible to wildfires.

Many people think that climate change is not a social issue, but that is simply not true. There is no one magic cure or answer to this major issue, but if everyone made just a concerted effort to be more conscious of their choices, we could be headed in the right direction. Even the simple act of not tossing cigarettes or cigarette butts out the window while driving could potentially save an area from being overtaken by wildfire. 

Basic research has already been conducted on what’s going on in the environment. Now is the time to target specific areas that have markedly extreme consequences of climate change and implement interventions. This can be on a grand scale, nationwide, or on a smaller scale, countywide. So many people are already coming together to do what they can to rebuild their community, but beyond that moving forward, progressive intervention needs to occur so that we can prevent more tragedies from happening in the future. Now is the time for companies, like Rescue: The Behavior Change Agency, to start encouraging young people to be proactive and change the world! 

EPA: https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/weather-climate

Nov 18

Stand The Test Of Time

Relationships can be one of the hardest things in life to maintain, and there are so many of them in your life at that. You connect to various people in your life through a familial relationship, friendship relationship, or maybe it’s just someone that you share your morning commute with but you always have a great chat every morning. Some relationships are just moments like the morning commute or they are long term like friendships and family.

Which is why I wonder if my relationship with my wife will stand the test of time. I’ve seen so many relationships break up that I think what will be the thing that does us in. Do we truly have the patience for one another?

Well I think I can finally answer that question now, I think sometimes in life you are given opportunities to test whether or not a relationship will stand the test of time particularly a marriage and I think recently we’ve had two such tests.\

The first test, we had two guinea pigs that both fell ill the same day (warning this gets tragic), one was put to sleep immediately (on my birthday no less), and the other still had a chance. We had to medicate him every two hours, and hand feed him every four hours. There was no rest for either of us as we did this for over twenty-four hours. You might be wondering why is this a test. This is a test, because if we had an infant, we just proved to each other that despite the lack of sleep we can work together, try to make informed decisions together about care, and that we were willing to take turns and allow the other to get some sleep while the other took care of our guinea pig in this case, but it could just as easily be a baby. Unfortunately it was all in vain as the second guinea pig died in our arms twenty minutes after we got him two new companions to encourage him to maybe want to start eating on his own.

The second test, and this was a true time test here, we recently spent two days driving from California to Canada. Road trips can be fun, but they can also be stressful, it can really cause a lot of fighting between couples. And time certainly seemed to drag on and on, but somehow we managed to communicate and enjoy the drive rather than fight the entire way. This was a mini test of time, as in the car there is really no getting away from one another, there is only room to entertain each other, talk to one another, so if you get into a fight. But somehow we managed to come through this unscathed.

So now I know better that we do have the patience to attempt to stand the test of time.


Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., & Coutts, L.A. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Nov 18

Social Change in the United States

Social change is something that we are always going to witness and see happening as people evolve.  Usually social change is for the better and helps people accept others for who they are/want to be.  For example, big groups that are bringing social change to the communities around the United States is the LGBQT community.  The LGBQT community is for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.  They started in the late 1980’s and they really started this organization because they believed that the “gay community” does not necessarily represent everyone.  Their purpose is to bring awareness and acceptance to all individuals despite what their sexual orientation is.  They also like celebrate their pride, diversity, individuality, and sexuality.  Every year their typically is a LGBQT parade in NYC and this parade is to demonstrate for legal rights such as same sex marriage.  Although some states have implemented this as a legal right in their state not all of the states in the United States have adopted this law.  I think it is important for groups like the LGBQT to bring awareness and show their determination to gain the legal rights that they want to see happen.  Again, everyone despite their sexual orientation are people and they should be able to choose who they want to marry and be able to do so legally and rightfully.  So again I think that social change is needed to bring more individuals up to date and understand that they deserve the same rights that a heterosexual couple would have.  Social change is important for the evolution of people in general.  Another example is if you look back to 51 years ago… interracial marriage was finally legally allowed in all the states in the United States.  Allowing a couple of different race to be able to marry also took social change to make this occur.  This allowed different social relations to take place for a couple of two different races because it was now legally allowed in all states.  If the law was never passed in all states I am sure that social relations between a black and white couple in a state that allows them to get married would be different in a state that did not allow them to be married.  Social change is extremely important for society and even for people for growth, acceptance, diversity, and much more.

Nov 18

Distance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder…. or Go Wander?

While our lesson this week put an emphasis on what initially sparks a relationship, my blog is going to dig a little deeper into what maintains a relationship. The basics I think we have all heard from the age of teenagers…opposites attract but so do similarities. For most relationships, I believe the attraction falls somewhere in the middle. It is a unfamiliar enough to create an interest, yet similar enough to make us comfortable. My story is a little more complicated.

I met my husband when I was 18, a little over 12 years ago, and while our initial attraction may be straight out of the psychology laws our journey has been nothing of the sort. The lesson states that the Myers-Brigg Typology Indicator scores indicate that people with similar personalities tend to get along well because they think, feel and act the same. When I was 18 I was shy, naive, and let’s just say a little straight arrow. My husband was the “bad-boy” from out of town that no one really knew much about. He was a risk, and after a lifetime (it seemed) of following the rules I was ready for a little rebounding. In this case, we are a prime example of the popular idea of “opposites attract.”

Let’s fast forward a few years through our roller-coaster relationship that now includes our son. We had been all over the map of attractions from the most passionate of thoughts to wanting to strangle each other. Our opposites for the most part were not attracting anymore, because the real-world kicks in and those little things I once found so exciting I now found to be immature and stupid. I am sure my husband will agree the same as my quiet and inexperienced self became more of a responsibility to him. At this point… I think we would have found comfort in a more similar relationship then we did with our alternate ends of the spectrum.

Ultimately, the fact that we were so different pushed us to the further sides of life experiences and we became so distant until we lived separate lives. My husband took a job on the road and basically came home only on holidays while I maintained as much of a normal life for our son at our home. Slowly, we relied less and less on each other for anything and discovered new attractions outside of our marriage. A very dangerous game to play! We were both craving for the similar-to-me effect.

My story does have a positive ending, as after a LOT of consideration and efforts we changed the direction of our story. My husband left his job on the road and we reestablished a relationship based on the people we had grown into, instead of who we were years ago. I believe the biggest aspect of relationships is keeping an attraction going, while understanding that what the attraction is might change over time. Initially we were attracted by our differences and then at some point we needed to look harder to find the similarities to maintain the attraction. I think there can be a mix of both!



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