James W. Kalat (rhymes with ballot) is Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University, where he teaches Introduction to Psychology and Biological Psychology. Born in 1946, he received an AB degree summa cum laude from Duke University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, under the supervision of Paul Rozin.
He is also the author of Biological Psychology, Ninth Edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007) and co-author with Michelle N. Shiota of Emotion (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007). In addition to textbooks, he has written journal articles on taste-aversion learning, the teaching of psychology, and other topics. A remarried widower, he has three children, two stepsons, and two grandchildren. When not working on something related to psychology, his hobby is bird-watching.
What Is Psychology?
“A few years ago, I was on a plane that had to turn around shortly after takeoff because one of its two engines had failed. When we were told to get into crash position, the first thing I thought was, “I don’t want to die yet! I was looking forward to writing the next edition of my textbook!” True story.
I remember taking my first course in psychology as a freshman at Duke University more than 40 years ago. Frequently, I would describe the fascinating facts I had just learned to my roommate, friends, relatives, or anyone else who would listen. I haven’t changed much since then. When I read about new research or think of a new example to illustrate some point, I want to tell my wife, children, colleagues, and students. Through this textbook, I can tell even more people. I hope my readers will share this excitement and want to tell still others.
Ideally, a course or textbook ill psychology should accomplish two goals. The first is to instill a love of learning so that our graduates will continue to update their education. Even if students remembered everything they learned in this text—and I know they won’t—their understanding would gradually go out of date unless they continue to learn about new developments. I fantasize that some of my former students occasionally pick up copies of Scientific American Mind or similar publications and read about psychological research.
The second goal is to teach people skills of evaluating evidence and questioning assertions, so that when they do read or hear about some newly reported discovery, they will ask the right questions and draw the appropriate conclusions (or lack of them). That skill can earn,’ over to other fields besides psychology.
Throughout this text I have tried to model the habit of critical thinking or evaluating the evidence, particularly in the What’s the Evidence features, which describe research studies in some detail. I have pointed out the limitations of the evidence and the possibilities for alternative interpretations. The gpal is to help students ask their own questions, distinguish between good and weak evidence, and ultimately, appreciate the excitement of psychological inquiry…”