Scott R. Ross
Professor of Psychology
As a clinical psychologist, I have focused on the deficits in humans in order to allay the maladies of the mind. My interest came at an early age. Even in high school, I read books by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, searching for answers. My cousin was a psychology instructor and would give me old psychology textbooks to study. I wanted to know what made the mind work.
Later, in graduate school, maladaptive personality traits such as antagonism, close-mindedness, and emotional instability become targets of my research into personality disorders. Often using the Five-Factor Model to describe these, they include psychopathy, antisocial, and self-defeating personality disorder, and the imposter phenomenon. Other interests in the peculiar workings of the brain led me to neuropsychology and the study of traumatic brain injury. However, my early motivations into psychology were rooted in a much more transcendental perspective.
In a nutshell, I wanted to uncover the best that Western Science had to offer for exceeding normal human potential--in part, what Nietzsche referred to as the "new (wo)man" or super(wo)man. This person reaches into the upper limits of human capacity and--in the words of Abraham Maslow--is in the process of "self-actualizing" where 'common' life is colored by "peak experiences." But, this was not to be found in my studies of clinical psychology focusing on disorder. And so, I am now pursuing a program of research in positive psychology that aims to understand not only the factors that contribute to happiness, but those that utilize human strengths and potential--even weaknesses to be transformed into unique skills and abilities. Recently, my interests have been drawn to industrial and organizational psychology, as work is where so much of our time in life is spent.
My Research Interests
My research has focused on three general, partially overlapping, lines of research. These include non-neurological factors and complications in head injury; personality, including both normal and abnormal variations; and positive psychology.
i. Non-Neurologic Factors and Complications in Head Injury
Over the last five years, I have continued the development of two primary lines of research, which first started in graduate school. One line, based on opportunities in my graduate milieu, focuses on non-neurologic factors involved in head injury. In this vein, my students, colleagues, and I have published articles falling under three subcategories: (1) malingering or incomplete effort; (2) personality and contextual factors of neuropsychological assessment (e.g., litigation); and, (3) sleep disturbance and pain in the assessment of functional impairment in head injury.
Of the articles published, I believe that the most significant is the following: “Ross, S. R., Millis, S. R., Krukowski, R. A., Putnam, S. H., & Adams, K. M. (2004). An examination of the MMPI-2 Fake Bad Scale in the detection of incomplete effort in head injury. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 26, 115-124."
Co-authored with a student colleague, this article has been cited almost 50 times in peer-reviewed articles. These findings are important because they show that the MMPI-2 has a high rate of accuracy in diagnosing malingering among persons with suspected head injury.
In neuropsychology, “malingering” is defined as the purposeful feigning of symptoms (e.g., attentional or memory impairment) in order to obtain financial reward. In our study, the MMPI-2 Fake Bad Scale had an overall diagnostic accuracy of 90%, in a relatively large sample of persons who malingered symptoms compared to those with bona fide traumatic brain injury. Our findings were so strong that it has inspired considerable research since its publication. So much so, that a committee was convened by the University of Minnesota Press to determine if the Fake Bad Scale should be included in the standard set of scoring criteria for validity scales on the MMPI-2. For neuropsychologists, the MMPI-2 is the most widely used measure of personality and psychological status. However, because of political forces--“old-timers” like Jim Butcher have been consistently opposed to the use of this scale--it was not included in the standard set of validity scales.
In the appendix, a statement by Yosi Ben-Porath gives the findings of the committee and admits that despite recommendations by the committee for its inclusion, this scale was not included in the formal scoring criteria. Our article lends clear evidence for a particular ‘side’ of the debate. However, because of greater political forces, it remains a “research scale.”
Much of this work was conducted in collaboration with Rebecca Krukowski, a former DePauw student who is now at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, as well as other current and former students from DePauw, including Rachel German, Elizabeth Jones, and Jennifer Zgorka.
ii. Normal Personality, Personality Pathology and Psychopathy
A second line, based as much on my students’ interests as my own, focuses on the description of personality disorders (e.g., schizotypal, psychopathic, borderline) in terms of broader models of normal personality. In addition, many of my students have been interested in the assessment of psychopathy, largely inspired by TV shows such as CSI, Profiler, and Criminal Minds.
This last vein of research began in 2003 with two senior thesis students, Angie Thompson and Amanda Thurston, who proposed a study of psychopathy in prisoners. This work was later published in collaboration with Stephen Benning (Vanderbilt University) and Christopher Patrick (University of Minnesota). In fact, a large part of my sabbatical grew out of this research as I spent a year in Spain working in Javier Molto’s laboratory in Castellon’, Spain. Consequently, my interests in personality largely fall along three lines: first, the Five Factor Model of personality as embodied in the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R; Costa & McCrae, 1988, 1992); second, Jeffrey Gray’s model of behavioral inhibition and activation (BIS/BAS) and the Fight-Flight-Freeze system (FFFS); and, finally, psychopathy and its measurement in terms of multiple dimensions that comprise the construct.
These are all ongoing lines of research in which I continue to actively involve DePauw students. However, I am hoping to phase out research in psychopathy for three reasons: there are too many investigators of psychopathy (I’m a small fish in a large pond); psychopathy is one of the most negative manifestations of humankind; and there are too many psychopaths doing psychopathy research. (I do not think that investigators’ choice of areas to study are random.)
Though there are many good people doing psychopathy research, my experience in Spain somewhat soured me on the field. Nonetheless, I’ll probably publish another 2 or 3 more manuscripts in this area in the next 5 years. This work has involved a number of former students at DePauw including Zack Adams, Kimberly Bye, Portia Egan, Liz Jones, Heidi Keiser, Jessie Strong, Angie Thompson, Amanda Thurston, Corinne Webb, and Faith Zabek.
iii. Positive Psychology: Achievement, Forgiveness, and Flow
Finally, a third line began in my first year at DePauw and resulted from the interests of one of my best senior thesis students, Karega Rausch. This third line originally focused on achievement and different interpersonal styles of achieving and resulted in a number of presentations and publications with students as co-authors. Until recently, however, it had lost some momentum but has recently picked up steam with on-going collaborations with former students from DePauw (Heidi Keiser) as well as faculty members, Michael Roberts and Sharmin Tunguz, at DePauw.
Over the years, this line of research has transformed into a broader interest in positive psychology. Positive psychology focuses on human virtues and abilities rather than vices and deficits. Branching out in this area, my students and I have focused on forgiveness as a psychological construct.
Although forgiveness is a hot topic for research in positive psychology, the vast majority of forgiveness studies have focused on the propensity of individuals to forgive others for committing transgressions. Surprisingly, self-forgiveness (i.e., the propensity to forgive one’s self for committing misdeeds) has been largely ignored and overshadowed by “other-forgiveness” in theoretical and empirical studies of the broader construct of forgiveness. Until recently, reference to self-forgiveness has been relatively sparse, even in monographs attempting to explicate the general construct. Numerous studies designed to increase forgiveness, or decrease psychological symptoms through the process of forgiving, have included little more than ancillary treatment modules that address the issue of self-forgiveness. However, using multiple measures of forgiveness, my students and I have demonstrated that self- and other-forgiveness represent largely independent constructs under the broader rubric of forgiveness (see below).
I am continuing my collaborations in this line with Joanna Will, a recent graduate of DePauw who is now in the doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia. In addition, this work has also involved a number of other current and former students at DePauw including Amanda Brinkman, Anna Cooper, Laura Hedrick, and Kasee Matters.
Optimal Experience (Flow)
A final area that overlaps with earlier (and, now, current) interests in achievement is a construct that is at the very core of positive psychology—flow. Flow is a state of optimal functioning identified by Csziksentmihalyi (1975; 1990) and believed to be the key experience that underpins sustainable happiness. This experience is characterized by complete immersion in an activity, to the point of complete absorption where time distorts and the sense of self is lost.
Activities that demand a high level of challenge, where a high degree of skill in brought to bear to meet those challenges are believed to be those activities that contribute most to flow. Because skill varies as a function of the individual’s abilities and talents, an individual’s choice for tasks to engage in nonrandom and most likely tailored—especially in flow-seeking individuals—to maximize the flow experience. If challenge is too high, an individual will experience anxiety; too low, and they experience boredom. So, the key to flow is to match one’s skill to a tasks (challenging) demands. In our research, we’re focusing on two aspects of flow.
First, what personality features contribute to flow or increase the likelihood that one will experience flow—across various tasks and life domains. This question is one that I have been collaborating with a former DePauw student who is now in the doctoral program at Purdue University in Clinical psychology.
Second, a more difficult question, what are the situational factors that contribute to flow and what is its role in work? To answer that latter question, I have been collaborating with Sharmin Tunguz, our resident I/O psychologist, and Heidi Keiser, a former DePauw student who is now in the doctoral program at the University of Minnesota in I/O psychology. This general line of research on flow has also involved a number of other former students from DePauw including Amanda Brinkman, Alyssa Butts, Sarah Hile, Evan Skarin, and Kerstin Walker.
Ross, S. R., Putnam, S. H., Millis, S. R., Adams, K. M., & *Krukowski, R. A. (2006).
Ross, S. R., Benning, S. D., Patrick, C., *Thompson, A., & *Thurston, A. (2009). Factors
Ross, S. R., *Bye, K., Wrobel, T. A., & Horton, R. S. (2008). Primary and Secondary
Ross, S. R., Moltó, J., Poy, R., Segarra, P., Pastor, M. C., & Montañés, S. (2007).
Ross, S. R., Benning, S. D., & *Adams, Z. (2007). Symptoms of Executive
Segarra, P., Ross, S. R., Pastor, M. C., Montañés, S., Poy, R., & Moltó, J. (2007).
Ross, S. R., Hertenstein, M. J., & Wrobel, T. A. (2007). Psychopathological
Ross, S. R., *Kendall, A. C., *Matters, K. G., Wrobel, T. A., & Rye, M. S. (2004).