The Association for Psychological Science Student Caucus recently conducted a fascinating interview of Situationist Contributor, John Jost. Here are some excerpts.
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APSSC: What led you to choose psychology as a career?
Jost: . . . . I knew at age 13 or 14 that I wanted to be a psychologist, but, like many others, I expected that I would become a clinical psychologist. The reason for that was that as a child and adolescent, I was very close to someone (an extended family member) who had a serious mental illness. I thought — quite unrealistically, of course — that I could understand him better than other people and that I could somehow help him. It wasn’t until college that I decided that I would rather try to fix the “holes” in the social system than force individual “pegs” into them. So I gravitated toward social, personality, and political psychology.
APSSC: How did you go about developing your current research interests, and how have they influenced you as a person and a professional?
Jost: I suppose that they have a personal and familial basis as well. From an early age, I was aware of differences between people in terms of political and religious attitudes. The fact that the Nixon administration spied on my father for teaching university courses on the philosophy of Karl Marx probably forced the issue. I grew up in a relatively liberal enclave of a largely conservative community and was attuned to social class and other differences — especially ideological differences. Later, when I (and others) tried, mostly in vain, to organize a union of beleaguered graduate students, I became intrigued by the question of why so many people fail to support social change efforts that are designed specifically to help them and their fellow group members. This is really the focal issue addressed by system justification theory.
How have these research interests influenced me personally? They have inspired me by setting ambitious goals that (I think) are meaningful and ultimately beneficial to society as a whole. They have also, at times, dispirited me, because I have come to see society as (under the best of circumstances) progressing by taking two steps forward and one step backward.
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We’ll post other portions of the interview, including Jost’s advice to young mind scientists, over the next several days. If you’d like to read the entire interview right away, click here. To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “A System-Justification Primer,” “John Jost on System Justification Theory,” “John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,” “Mahzarin Banaji’s Situation,” and “The Situation of a Situationist – Mahzarin Banaji.”