Dr. Christopher T. Burris is a professor of psychology at St. Jerome's University, one of the six faculties that makes up the University of Waterloo. Burris received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and has been a member of SPSP since 2004. His website is burris.socialpsychology.org.
"If an aspect of human experience evokes strong reactions in people, good or bad, I’ve usually wanted to learn about it. I’m proud of the fact that many of my publications have resulted from academic partnerships with my undergraduate students. Teaching courses on evil, religion, death and dying, criminal profiling, and “dark side” of sexuality have often pointed to gaps in the research literature. This, in turn, creates the motivation to test ideas, and the results can then be brought back into the classroom. Hopefully, the net result is an incrementally better understanding of some of life's 'big' issues."
Why did you join SPSP?
My research has consistently fused elements of social and personality psychology, and so the name SPSP screams “professional home.”
What led you to choose a career in social psychology?
After my M.A. degree in counseling and social psychology, I spent time working in both psychiatric and correctional settings, as well as teaching undergraduate psychology courses as a sessional instructor. Although interviewing an axe murderer and experiencing lockdowns in a maximum-security prison (true stories) were positively endearing, research and teaching eventually wooed me away from it all.
Briefly summarize your current research, and any future research interests you plan to pursue.
Over the years, I’ve had the luxury of dabbling in religion/spirituality, the self, sexuality, and motivation and emotion. Examples include: comparing the inner experiential worlds of atheists and religious individuals; “engulfment” as a dark side of self-expansion; the impact of evaluative threat on sexual interests; and a motivational conceptualization of love and hate. Current/future topics include the exploring the mystical properties of erotic love as well as developing and testing a causal model to explain sadistically motivated behavior across the spectrum of severity.
What is your most memorable SPSP Annual Convention experience?
A fellow attendee spontaneously uttered an obscenity to express approving amazement at my poster findings. Best peer review EVER!
How has being a member of SPSP helped to advance your career?
I try to have “one good conversation” at every Annual Convention – if someone can help me think a new thought (and I can actually return the favor), then it's been a good conference.
Do you have any advice for individuals who wish to pursue a career in social psychology?
Being a researcher and a teacher is a ridiculous privilege, and the hardest job you’ll ever love. But wherever you end up, find a way to keep tackling those big questions about how humans move through the world that we've yet to answer (or even ask). It’s one of the most prosocial things we can try to do with the skills we have.
Outside of psychology, how do you spend your free time?
I’m usually outside, being stared at by birds… all the while trying to convince myself that I’m actually watching them.