Catherine A. Sanderson
PLACE OF BIRTH
BA, Stanford University
MA and PhD, Princeton University
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO AMHERST?
It was in all honesty completely accidental. As a graduate student, I applied entirely for jobs at research universities, but decided to send in an application because my best friend was dating a guy who had gone to Amherst, and raved about it. The weekend before my interview, I had decided I would never accept the job, so might as well cancel my visit (which I did not in fact do after my graduate school advisor yelled at me for like 30 minutes after I told her of my intention). I came for the interview, and realized that this was precisely the job I wanted – and felt very lucky when I later received the offer.
WHICH CLASSES ARE YOU TEACHING AT AMHERST
This semester I’m teaching Sport Psychology, which is pretty surprising for people who knew me in high school and college (spoiler alert: I’m totally not an athlete). I first taught this class because students approached me and asked me to design a class. And I told them, as I tell students each time I teach it, I really don’t know much about sports, but I know a lot about psychology. It’s been a really fun class to develop and teach – because the students care passionately about the topic and can always connect course material to their own lives, as former athletes, current athletes, and/or sports fans.
My research examines the influence of social norms, the unwritten rules that govern behavior in all sorts of situations. Most importantly, my research has shown that educating people about the power of social norms, including errors we make in perceiving such norms and the consequences of such misperceptions, helps people engage in better behavior. For example, women who learn how campus social norms contribute to unhealthy body image ideals show lower rates of disordered eating later on, and college students who learn that many other students also struggle with mental health challenges feel less stigma about seeking mental health services. In sum, helping people understand the psychological processes that lead them to misperceive social norms – and hence believe that all women want to be thin, that other college students never feel sad and lonely – reduces errors we make about other people and can improve psychological and physical well-being.
AWARDS AND PRIZES
B/START Award, National Institute of Health; Class of 1952 Dean Eugene S. Wilson Fellowship; James E. Ostendarp Professor of Psychology; Manwell Professor of Life Sciences (Psychology); Honorary Doctoral Degree, University of New England; Top 300 Professors, Princeton Review
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; Freedom, Jonathan Frazen; When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi; Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott; The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt.
Anna Quindlen, who has mastered so many diverse types of writing: columns, non-fiction, memoirs, fiction.
TIPS FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Develop a really thick skin. I’ve been writing for many years: articles, book chapters, textbooks, and now three trade books. Yet every time I turn in a draft of a book to my agent or editor, they return it covered with comments and criticism. It can be daunting to realize how far off my initial effort was from the intended goal, but the final product is (far) better as a result.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR PATH TO BECOMING AN AUTHOR
As a graduate student and then professor of psychology, my writing for years consisted largely of journal articles describing my research findings. But over the last few years, I’ve wanted to share the research findings from the field of psychology – my work and others – with a broader audience. This desire has pushed me to work on an entirely new set of skills, since writing books to be read by the general public requires a completely different approach than writing journal articles and book chapters to be read by colleagues in my field. I feel fortunate to have had support from Amherst College to work on developing these skills. In fact, I started writing my current book, Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels, after attending a book proposal workshop organized and funded by the office of the Dean of the Faculty.
Catherine Sanderson is the Manwell Family Professor of Life Sciences (Psychology) at Amherst College. Her research has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. Catherine has published over 25 journal articles and book chapters in addition to four college textbooks, middle school and high school health textbooks, and trade books on parenting as well as how mindset influences happiness, health, and even how long we live (The Positive Shift). Her latest trade book, published in North America as Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels (Harvard University Press) and internationally as The Bystander Effect: The Psychology of Courage and Inaction (HarperCollins), examines why good people so often stay silent or do nothing in the face of wrongdoing. She also writes a blog for Psychology Today – Norms Matter - that examines the power of social influence on virtually all aspects of our lives. Catherine lives with her husband, Bart Hollander (Senior Trial Counsel with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office), and three children – Andrew (junior at Lafayette College), Robert (freshman at Loyola Maryland University), and Caroline (sophomore at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School) - in Hadley, Massachusetts.