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Ian McGregor

Professor of Psychology

Ian McGregorAn old aphorism in sales is to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” A veggie friendly version might be to “sell the crunch, not the lunch.” The point is that mere information is relatively inert when it comes to motivating people. Engaging people requires vivid and visceral connections to product perks. I use this premise in my Personality Psychology course. Students are my customers. The course is built around their imagined question, “why should we care about this.” After teaching the course for several years I stopped using a conventional information-heavy text-book, and wrote my own instead (students get a chapter each week). It unfolds the story of Personality Psychology from the perspectives of Myth, Religion, and Psychoanalysis, and then from contemporary scientific perspectives on Traits, Biology, Desire, Illusion, Security, Pride, Meaning, Love, Wisdom. From these diverse viewpoints it zeros in on the promise that understanding the powerful personality processes that shape human habits and reactions can help students function better in their families, relationships, and vocations.

Each week builds on the previous week for an integrative perspective held together by narrative understanding, punctuated with illuminating AHA! experiences and demonstrations.  Short weekly assignments or quizzes help students apply the material to real life topics and learn as they go along. A final assignment involves applying the course material to their own lives. This experiential structure helps students buy in to the course and makes learning feels less effortful. Students find themselves wanting to learn instead of just having to. They also retain more, afterwards, because they see how the course material is relevant to improving meaning, relationship quality, and wisdom in their own lives. I love teaching this course. It provides opportunities for the students and me to laugh about our shared human foibles as we go along, and I seem to learn something new each time I teach it (over 30 times). The most gratifying part, however, is seeing the lights go on—students’ AHA! moments, when they become seized by insights like, “OH MY, now I get it! That explains my boyfriend!”

University of Waterloo

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