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Dr. Carla MacLean: Psychology Instructor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2013/05/14

1. What positions have you held in Academe?  What position do you currently hold?

I am currently a faculty member at Kwantlen Polytechnic Universtiy (KPU). My past positions include typical graduate student work like research and teaching assistantships and also lecturer positions at both the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University. My position immediately prior to starting at KPU was as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada post-doctoral research fellow at Simon Fraser University.

2. How did you come to this point in your academics? 

I arrived at this point in my career by serendipity. It would have been convenient if I always knew what I wanted to do and I simply executed my plan – that is not how my career evolved.  Rather, I followed my interests, kept an open mind, and talked with people (all sorts). That process gave me a realistic understanding of what different career paths looked like and it also opened doors for me. My good luck led me to my career as a psychology faculty member.

3. How did you gain interest in psychology?  Where did you acquire your education?

I asked a lot of “whys’ and “hows” growing up and being an inherently social person it was very natural for me to apply that curiosity to people. Although I pursued a number of interests in my undergraduate schooling, at a certain point psychology felt more right than the other subjects I was studying. Once I selected psychology I never looked back.

My university education began at the University of Victoria, then to Saint Mary’s University in Halifax to acquire a MSc. in Industrial/Organizational psychology, and then back to the University of Victoria for my Ph.D. in experimental psychology. My education was not as continuous as my brief description above would suggest. I took opportunities during these years to work, travel and ultimately cultivate experiences and a sense of self outside of the institutions I was studying in.

4. What kinds of research have you conducted up to the present? If you currently conduct research, what form does it take?

I enjoy research. My past and present research merges the areas of forensic and occupational health psychology. Although my interests are diverse, the core of my research pursuits is the understanding of how: (i) people assess one another and (ii) we might reduce bias and/or maintain accuracy in people’s assessments of situations, information, and individuals. I typically pursue these core interests in the applied areas of eyewitness memory and investigator decision making to an adverse event (industrial incident or forensic).

Historically my research on investigator decision making has explored ways to minimize confirmation bias in industrial investigation. People who investigate industrial events are typically foremen, supervisors or health and safety professionals of the organization in which the accident occurred. The contextual knowledge that comes with familiarity with the work environment can result in biased decision making as investigators may seek information that supports their preconceived notions. The eyewitness to an industrial or criminal event is equally as important a member of the investigative dyad as the investigator. Hundreds of studies tell us that eyewitness memory is fragile, malleable, and susceptible to forgetting, even in optimal conditions. I study factors that may lead to inaccurate witness recall post-event and/or factors that can help maintain the quality and quantity of a witness’s information. In collaboration with others, I have researched: the effects of witness fatigue and misinformation, access to memory of a central instance of a repeated event, post-event information on investigator and witness identification evaluations, and psychologically-based incident report forms.

5. Since you began studying psychology, what do you consider the controversial topics? How do you examine the controversial topics?

There are many areas of controversy in psychology but the areas that directly relate to my research are: how we as researchers try to ensure we are drawing reliable and valid findings from our studies, the role of personal responsibility (i.e., human error) in event causation, and the influence of post-event suggestions on memory (my co-contributor to this In-sight issue, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, is likely a better candidate to tackle the implications of this last topic).

To address the first issue in the above list, because I am aware of the possibility of spurious results I take small steps to try to minimize error in my reporting of results, e.g., replicate when I can, use large sample sizes when possible, show restraint when talking about the implications of my findings. The other controversial area that I mention above is the role of personal responsibility in event causation. People’s views regarding human error can fall on a continuum from “the event was caused by a rogue employee who made an inappropriate decision” all the way to “there is no such thing as human error, all inappropriate worker action is a result of latent failures within the system.” A great deal of time has been spent discussing the most productive viewpoint to enhance safety. This controversy touches my research because the view of human behaviour taken by the investigating officer/organization may have implications regarding how information is sought and interpreted during an investigation, as well as, what the organization will do with the investigative findings.

Last, one area that I do not study but I follow closely is deception detection. This is a fascinating area that has evolved rapidly over the last few years. Researchers are pursuing different features of deception such as emotion and cognitive load to try and generate effective tools to enhance detection e.g., asking for the narrative in reverse order, asking about unanticipated features of the event, the strategic use of evidence or the emotion based microexpression research. This is a fun area of study that is always interesting to read about.

6. If you had unlimited funding and unrestricted freedom, what would you enjoy researching?

Well if there was really no constraints (and we could ensure no consequences for the people participating) I would move my research into a more externally valid framework. That is, I would expose people to high stakes situations and manipulate their physiological and psychological state to see how these factors affect their recall and decision making. It is hard to find research done in high resolution environments but a fairly recent collaboration of note is Loftus’s and Morgan III who used military recruits in survival school as their participants.

7. For students looking for fame, fortune, and/or utility (personal and/or social), what advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students in Psychology?

I am hesitant to answer this question as I have neither fame nor fortune and my utility is likely up for debate (just kidding). My personal experience has taught me a few general principles that worked well for me: first, do your homework so you have a good understanding of the scope of what it is you are considering, second, talk with people and find out the pros and cons of any given situation/position, third, be open to feedback – it is rarely intended to insult rather it is usually offered as a means to help you grow, and last, get hands on experience when you can. If you have a career in mind, talk to people who hire for that job and find out exactly what they require as this will enable you to target your education and experiences more effectively.

8. Whom do you consider your biggest influences? Could you recommend any seminal or important books/articles by them?

The people who influenced me the most were the people I worked directly with during my graduate training, Dr.’s Elizabeth Brimacombe, Stephen Lindsay, Don Read, and Veronica Stinson. Each one of these academics modeled a unique approach to study, research, and networking and from each relationship I took valuable lessons. On a purely scholarly note I would say that the most influential author for me over the years has been Daniel Kahneman. His work encouraged me to think in depth about how we synthesize information and this ultimately helped me script my dissertation research. I hear Kahneman’s recent book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” is very enjoyable and accessible reading (which I look forward to getting to when my busy first year of teaching is behind me!). The other authors I watch with interest tend to be more applied researchers, to name just a few, Elizabeth Loftus, Saul Kassin, Christian Meissner, Dan Ariely, Itiel Dror, Garry Wells, and Aldert Vrij.

9. You may consider many areas of Psychology important for academics and non-academics.  Even so, whether one or many points, what do you consider the most important point(s) of Psychology as a discipline?

Humans are a marvel – we habituate but then adapt with lightning speed.  We are frugal with our allocation of resources yet act with close to optimal performance with little (or no) executive effort. In psychology we recognize that the complex nature of people cannot be studied using only one perspective, we use a biopsychosocial approach and this is our strength. This multifaceted approach not only broadens our understanding of human behaviour from within psychology but facilitates collaboration with researchers from other disciplines (e.g., medicine, cultural anthropology). Being open to fresh perspectives and approaches may ultimately provide us with new and exciting understandings into human behaviour.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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