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Psychology: The science of being human

A note from Essentials of Psyhology author... 

Essentials of Psychology by Saul M. Kassin

Saul Kassin

Recipient of the APA Award for Distinguished Contribution to Research on Public Policy (2017) and the APS James McKeen Cattell Lifetime Achievement Award for Applied Research  (2021)

To me, Essentials of Psychology is not just a textbook. It’s a labor of love. As a product of the Baby Boom generation, I was drawn into this great field of ours not only to solve the human mind as one might a Rubik’s cube but to also make the world a better place. That is the great promise of psychology and the reason I want to educate and inspire future generations of students.

My background in psychology is broad. As an undergraduate, I worked with a cognitive psychologist running tightly controlled experiments on implicit learning. What an amazing experience it was to watch my fellow students learn an artificial grammar from passive exposure to letter strings without even realizing they had learned anything. 

I went on to attend graduate school in social psychology at a time when the field was trying both to digest the hardcore situationist implications of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments and to embrace attribution theory, the Fritz Heider-inspired study of how laypeople interpret the effects of situations on people’s behavior. My interest in attribution focused not only on adults but on development in preschool children who were supposed to be too young to grasp the rules of attributional logic. As part of my dissertation, I created animated films to depict principles of attribution rather than use the kinds of verbal descriptions built for adults. Lo and behold, preschoolers who were allegedly too young to make adult-like attributions did just that.

Thanks to a transformative postdoc, I next had an opportunity to apply psychology to the study of law. I never turned back. I studied jury decision-making, a perfect venue for social perception. Almost immediately after discovering that confession evidence is all-powerful in court, I became horrified by the lawful processes of police interrogation that are used to get people to confess. “It’s Milgramesque, but a whole lot worse,” was my first reaction. And if that isn’t bad enough, the attribution theorist in me knew that as soon as someone confessed—even if they were completely innocent—judges, juries, and everyone else would believe that confession. Case closed. I’ve dedicated much of my adult life working with the Innocence Project and others to understand and uncover false confessions and to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Essentials of Psychology by Saul M. Kassin, Gregory J. Privitera, Krisstal D. Clayton

Gregory J. Privitera

Recipient of the St. Bonaventure University's highest teaching honor, The Award for Professional Excellence in Teaching, and its highest honor for scholarship, The Award for Professional Excellence in Research and Publication

As a young man, I found myself curious about psychology—not necessarily as a discipline per se, but because of the questions it made me consider. As a high school student, why was popularity so important to me? As a veteran of the U.S. Marines, what makes our comradery so strong? As a college student, what am I doing here? Even today, as a professor, author, and scholar: How can I make the biggest difference in the lives of my students?

In this light, my inspiration for writing Essentials of Psychology stems from my love for psychology not only as a science but also as a lesson in human behavior—as a way to more meaningfully connect students to the relevance of psychology for their careers as well as for themselves. Psychology has relevance to us all because it is interdisciplinary. From medicine (e.g., diagnosing and treating mental health) to business (e.g., understanding your customer base), education (e.g., evaluating the dynamics of a classroom), sports (e.g., having “mental toughness”), and those little “everyday” decisions (e.g., choosing whether to eat breakfast, go to class, or work out), psychology plays an integral role.

This interdisciplinary focus is reflected by the collaboration of authors for this text. Our backgrounds range not only across generations and geography but also across the psychological disciplines that we practice, from law to health to pedagogy. From a professional perspective, I see psychology as a field that is scientific and collaborative—one that contributes value through the integral part it plays in building a better future. From a personal perspective, I see psychology as a driver of personal accountability—a window into not only why we behave the way we do but also for how we can adapt and flourish. My hope is to bring these perspectives to life in this text—to share with students from all disciplines and backgrounds the value that psychology brings, not only to their careers but also in their lives and the lives of others.

In addition to my teaching and scholarship, I am a proud veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and I’m married with three children: Grace Ann, Aiden Andrew, and Luca James.

Essentials of Psychology by Saul M. Kassin, Gregory J. Privitera, Krisstal D. Clayton

Krisstal D. Clayton

Recipient of Western Kentucky University's College of Education and Behavioral Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award (2015)

To each and every instructor embarking on a new classroom of learners, you may not know me, but like you, I am one of the millions of people across the world who have taken an introductory psychology course. And, like most students, I did not have my sights set on majoring in psychology. Instead, I chose to take my first psychology course to complete a general education requirement. I had no idea that class would completely change my life.

As a young woman raised in a small town, I had little exposure to the wide range of problems that psychology could solve. I was also a bit naïve, and until my time at New Mexico State University, I depended on music, videos, and books to teach me about the outside world. Teaching myself in my own small-town bubble created an environment ripe for misconceptions and didn’t leave much room for growth. Thankfully, my pursuit of a doctorate in experimental psychology helped me to correct many misconceptions and learn some much-needed lessons.

From small-town America to over a decade in higher education, I am now a full-grown (yet still quite short) faculty member at University of North Texas! My experiences have empowered me to be an advocate for diversity and implement a teaching philosophy centered on inclusivity. I am a change agent who looks for opportunities to better the lives of students and academics, and I thus serve as an appointed member of the Aspire IChange Network. In addition, I am an award-winning pedagogue who has prepared and taught 16 different psychology courses, served as a teaching mentor to faculty and graduate students, and now co-authored this text with Saul Kassin and Gregory Privitera—two psychologists whose impressive works had a special place in my classrooms long before I met them in 2018.

As I write you this letter, I cannot help but express my gratitude for all that psychology and you, dear pedagogue, have given me. Without a caring teacher, engaging textbook, and safe space to learn, I would not be here—or who I am—today. You, and what you do, are important. It takes teachers who care, real-world examples our students can cling to, stories we can see ourselves in, and a vast collection of psychological science to inspire the next generation of thinkers and doers. This is why my first journey into textbook authorship with Essentials of Psychology is one of the most important I have ever embarked upon. I hope you will take this journey with me.

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