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Meet the Professors: Amber Gaffney

Social psychology professor Amber Gaffney opens up about her hobby and profession

Dr. Amber Gaffney, social psychology professor at Humboldt State University, has traveled all over California for her studies. She received her bachelor’s degree at HSU in 2006 and her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University in 2014. In between she traveled to Mexico and Canada for her past hobby, professional bike racing.

“I like to be athletic,” Gaffney said. “The idea of riding my bike professionally came when I was in grad school, which is pretty late in the career, but I wanted to do it.”

Gaffney participated in many tournaments in her professional cycling career. While it was expensive, it was all worth it for her.

“Since teaching here at HSU, I have not been able to go cycling professionally anymore, but I still like to go for runs when I get the chance,” Gaffney said.

Gaffney comes from Denny, California a small town east of Willow Creek.

“It’s a town in the middle of nowhere,” Gaffney said. “People won’t understand rural towns until they go to Denny”.

Gaffney became a psychology professor at HSU after years of studying. She teaches social identity and social influences. Her expertise is how social identity is affected by political party alliances.

“We research on how your political alliance can shape your view of the world,” Gaffney said.

One of her research papers was on the 2016 presidential election. She looked at how the Trump administration grew to represent the Republican party.

“We called that concept ‘prototypicality’,”Gaffney said. “We looked at pre-2016 election, and it was fairly low, but post-2016, it increased. So that meant that more Republicans viewed Trump as representative of the Republican party.”

Dr. Gaffney explains the textbook definition of prototypicality is ‘a set of attributes that best defines your group in a specific context with respect to another group’. In the context of Gaffney’s research, the aspects of the Republican party can be shaped because of Donald Trump’s leadership.

Gaffney is very passionate about teaching social psychology, and as a psychologist she has fun lecturing and teaching in her classes.

“I want students to look at the psychological mechanisms of why people support certain groups,” Gaffney said. “When we talk about prejudices, when we talk about inter-group relations, when we talk about inter-group bias, these are things that almost everyone has experienced.”

This story was corrected at 9:56pm on Dec. 6. The previous version of the article listed Gaffney as only having graduated with a masters degree from Claremont Graduate University. 

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