Meet Margaret Matlin
...a Distinguished Teaching Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York/Geneseo, in upstate New York, where over the past 28 years she has taught courses in Introductory Psychology, Psychology of Women, Cognitive Psychology, and Child Psychology. She is also an avid Lucy fan. Two incompatible interests? Not at all. We first profiled Dr. Matlin in our "Star Notes" publication in 1993, and caught up with her again recently over the internet. In both instances, she shared with us the many ways in which Lucy figures prominently in her professional life. She writes:
"Yes, I remain an enthusiastic I Love Lucy fan! The irony is that Lucy has so many fans in various professions and in various parts of the world. However, sometimes we discover -- just by chance -- that our colleagues are fans. For example, at a psychology conference, I noticed that the marketing manager for three of my textbooks was wearing a Lucy tie. After I explained that I was also a Lucy admirer, he told me that my acquisitions editor was similarly devoted!
"Sometimes my students seem surprised to see that my office is decorated with two large posters (the candy factory and vitameatavegamin). Specifically, they wonder why a feminist professor would admire Lucy. One of the people interviewed on the recent PBS biography (American Masters: "Finding Lucy") phrased it well, 'Lucy was not a feminist, but the show demonstrated why we need feminism.' Furthermore, Lucy's never-give-up attitude is generally an adaptive strategy. And finally, well, there has never been a more witty, zany show in the history of television!
"In addition to teaching class, I write textbooks for undergraduate students. Believe it or not, I often find ways to talk about I Love Lucy in my texts. In a book entitled Cognition, for instance, I was discussing the difficulty a person has with divided attention--where a person has to do two or more tasks at once. What better example than the scene in I Love Lucy's "Homecoming" episode in which Lucy, trying to please her husband, is polishing a shoe with one hand, typing lyrics with the other, and speaking into a phone wedged between her shoulder and chin. Most undergraduates are very familiar with I Love Lucy, so they can connect immediately.
"In my introductory textbook, Psychology, I wanted to discuss a tricky concept: that disgust, fear, and happiness are associated with differing heart rate and skin temperatures, which could be used to discriminate among those three emotions. How should I convey those facial expressions in an interesting manner? What better way than to show Lucy's ever-expressive face, portraying each emotion: to illustrate disgust, the obvious choice was the classic Vitameatavegamin photo; to illustrate fear, the shot in which Ethel tells Lucy's fortune, to show happiness, Lucy and her buddies in the car singing "California, Here I Come." Again, students can relate immediately to these situations.
"But I also use Lucy in my own life--she helps me write! Research by psychologist Alice M. Isen shows that when people are experiencing positive emotions, their thought processes change. When people watch an amusing cartoon, for instance, they are able to see subtle relationships among concepts that do not occur to them if they watch an emotionally neutral film. The viewers also solve problems more creatively. On days set aside for my writing, I work solidly for about four hours, then take a lunch-time break to watch the local broadcast of I Love Lucy. This enjoyable break relaxes me and takes my mind away from the material I am writing. Afterward, I can return to my desk refreshed, and work for most of the afternoon.
"Certainly hundreds of us still find happiness and pleasure from watching Lucy's performances. I wonder if she ever knew just how many ways she helped us laugh--and how that laughter continues to help us decades after those original broadcasts!
Dr. Matlin received her bachelor's degree from Stanford University and her PhD. from the University of Michigan. She is the author of four current text books: Psychology (third edition), Psychology of Women (fourth edition), Cognition (fifth edition), and Sensation and Perception (fourth edition).
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