John M. Zelenski is a Professor of Psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He completed psychology degrees at Northwestern University (B.A.), the University of Michigan (M.A.), and Washington University in St. Louis (Ph.D.). His research has focused on the causes and consequences of introverted-extraverted behavior, the links among nature, happiness, and sustainable behavior, and the meta-science of improving research practices.
Do you have a favorite conference memory or story?
I am sure that there were many memorable talks at the 2004 conference in Austin, but I missed most of them. This is the SPSP conference where I first met my partner Cheryl. I was in the hotel lobby with my new colleague (Michael Wohl) when he spotted an old high school friend across the room. She joined us for an evening of Austin’s great live music, and their high school reunion took a back seat to new flirtations. Cheryl and I spent a lot of time together in Austin, and at the next few SPSP conferences, until I finally convinced her to move to Ottawa with me in 2010. Since then, I don’t anticipate SPSP conferences quite as passionately, but I do devote more attention to the academic content knowing that I will not have to wait another year to see Cheryl again.
Can you recall a moment, experience or person that influenced you or led you to decide that personality and social psychology was the path for you?
Almost certainly, I am a personality-social psychologist because of Bill Revelle’s undergraduate personality research course. His contagious enthusiasm caught my attention, and he posed perplexing questions about why caffeine and arousal seem to have different interactions with introversion-extraversion depending on the time of day. He supported my plodding through these questions with a thesis project that helped paved the way to a personality focus in graduate school and beyond. Bill also argued that psychology was really a sub-field personality (because of personality’s breadth), making it an ideal choice for someone who does not like to choose.
What are your current research interests?
My interest in introversion-extraversion continues, but it has evolved from time-of-day effects, through emotional and cognitive correlates, to momentary variations and counter-dispositional behavior. This has led to current interests in authenticity and how traits are linked to identity.
With that said, most of my research currently addresses a completely different topic: how people connect with nature and how this links to well-being and sustainable behavior. In a nutshell, I am trying to understand whether and how we can foster a ‘happy path to sustainability’ where people treat the natural environment better and benefit from a closer connection with nature. (This all began when then student Lisa Nisbet pitched the idea to me as the local happiness guy; the research and my interest in it just continued to grow, an unexpected but wonderful career turn.)
Do you have a favorite course to teach and why?
Positive psychology is my favorite course to teach. A big part of the reason is that I feel very confident with the content having recently written—shameless plug—a textbook for the course. Student questions can still surprise me, but I am better prepared than ever. In our current credibility revolution definitive answers are difficult, but I can at least feel good about my strong opinions. More importantly, reflecting on the good life, priorities, and strategies comes at an ideal time for young people tinkering with their worldviews and future plans. This was particularly evident when I taught positive psychology with Semester at Sea, a dramatically mind-opening experience for most participants and an ideal time for positive psychology content.
Outside of psychology, how do you like to spend your free time?
The time I spend doing nature related activities has grown substantially since I began that research. Perhaps it counts a little as psychology then, but I enjoy birding, kayaking, fishing, and gardening. I also spend pleasurable time with podcasts in my ears, cooking, finding interesting wines, and learning archery (just targets, unless I miss).