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Faculty Focus Friday | Q&A with Dr. David Morgan, Professor of Psychology

Ashley Byrd

Faculty Focus Friday is a Q&A series that highlights individual faculty members in various academic programs around Spalding University. This week’s featured faculty member is Dr. David Morgan, Professor in the School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Morgan, who earned his PhD in experimental psychology from Auburn University in 1988, teaches primarily in Spalding’s Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program, including courses in Social Psychology, Applied Behavior Analysis, Environmental Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Experimental Procedures. He also teaches Cognitive/Affective Bases of Behavior in the Doctor of Clinical Psychology (PsyD) program.

What do you like about working and teaching at Spalding?

I’ve spent 30 years at Spalding and have never felt a desire to seek another academic home. Spalding has always been a very collegial place, with a respected and long history of professional training. I’m especially proud to be a member of the School of Professional Psychology, which has been training clinical psychologists for more than 35 years, and remains fully accredited by the American Psychological Association. That is a pretty remarkable achievement.

What is your academic specialty, areas of expertise or research?

My graduate training was in Experimental Psychology, more specifically, the experimental analysis of behavior, a laboratory-based science devoted to understanding basic learning principles. As a result, my major expertise is in learning in both humans and other animals, and in the application of basic learning principles to behavior, known generally as applied behavior analysis.

Why is the program in which you teach (BA in Psychology) a good option for students to consider for their major?

Psychology has always been a very popular major, not only because of the inherent interest that most students have in the subject matter, but because the discipline is an extremely useful background for a wide variety of vocations and professions. An undergraduate degree in psychology is excellent preparation for graduate work in psychology, social work, mental health and counseling, applied behavior analysis, and for job opportunities in human resources, personnel, case management, and other client-focused work. In addition, the psychology curriculum is a great adjunct to disciplines like business, communication, education, environmental science, and a host of others.

SCHOOL OF PROFESSIONAL PSYCHOLOGY

What is an example of a discussion topic, lecture, assignment, project, etc. in your class that you enjoy presenting or working with students on and that they have found engaging?

In both my Psychology of Learning and Applied Behavior Analysis classes, I have students read about and watch videos on clicker training. Clicker training was developed by Karen Pryor, author of the best-selling book Don’t Shoot the Dog, and it is an especially powerful method of teaching complex behavior repertoires. As a result, it has been adopted worldwide by both professional and amateur animal trainers. Clicker training utilizes the basic principles of behavior developed in the operant laboratory more than 75 years ago (e.g., reinforcement, stimulus control, etc.) to bring about behavior change across a growing spectrum of applications: basic obedience training in pets, scent training in both dogs and rats (drugs, explosives and even diseases like TB), service and assistive animals, and many others. The clicker training community has grown immensely in recent years, and you can find great examples of their work on Youtube.

What is an interesting thing you have in your office? 

I have a painting done by one of the resident gorillas at the Louisville Zoo. I believe it was done by Kindi as an infant.

Spalding’s mission is to meet the needs of the times, to emphasize service and to promote peace and justice. What is an example of how your teaching style, your research, your class or your curriculum is supporting the mission of Spalding?

It’s always been my opinion that one of the most important ways to promote peace and justice is to highlight those things that are universal to humans as a biological species, rather than paying so much attention to irrelevant and often transitory group differences. These universals can be seen throughout a psychology curriculum, and they are especially evident in two courses I teach – Evolutionary Psychology and the Psychology of Learning. Evolution tends to conserve features that prove adaptive, and that is true both of anatomical and physiological structures and behavior. The capacity to learn, for example, is distributed everywhere in nature, not just among humans, and that’s because it is an extremely powerful means of adapting individual behavior to changing environmental conditions. This universal characteristic of behavior emerged hundreds of millions of years ago, and is seen in every animal ever studied by science. It is this capacity that makes it possible to change virtually any behavior, either at the individual level (as in education, coaching, therapy, etc.) or at the collective level (e.g., cultural practices). Peace and justice are dimensions of human behavior, and they are both understandable and readily modifiable because they reflect learning processes.

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