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Salovey spellbinds students of psychology

By Liz Oliner

It's hard to find a Yale student who has not heard of Professor Peter Salovey, GRD '86. With approximately 500 students enrolling in his introductory psychology course each fall, Salovey is one of Yale's most popular and vibrant lecturers.

In the spring of 1992, 1,052 students--about a quarter of the total undergraduate student body--enrolled for his course Psychology and the Law, granting him the distinction of having taught the largest course ever at Yale.

"The real joy [in teaching intro psychology] is taking students who aren't sure what they want to major in and persuading them to be psych majors. I enjoy teaching and the subject matter and hope that my enthusiasm is infectious," he said.

The throngs of students attending his early morning class are a testament to his teaching. "Salovey is a dynamic speaker. He is very entertaining. I don't mind waking up at nine a.m. to go to his lectures," Debby Ngo, SM '01, commented.

Yet Salovey claims he was never formally taught to teach. "I don't really know what I'm doing [when I am lecturing]. I am just trying to communicate my enthusiasm in an organized way, " he said. He mentioned that he took drama classes in high school until he came to the self-realization that he was only a "mediocre actor."

Despite his reputation as "Easy-A Salovey," Salovey claims that he "never gave more A's than the normal distribution of A's across all Yale college courses." He speculates that the "rhyming nature of his name" probably encouraged his reputation.

In addition to introductory psychology, Salovey also teaches one graduate seminar on emotions and one on health behavior. Each has roughly a half dozen undergraduates in it. He says he would like to teach Psychology and The Law again, but needs to find a way to make it "more consistent with the rest of Yale College course enrollment." At the same time, he is hesitant to start capping his courses.

Salovey holds a secondary appointment at the School of Health. One general area of his research focuses on how principles derived from social psychological research apply to the promotion of health-protective behaviors. In particular, he is investigating how to "frame" messages to make them more persuasive in promoting healthy behaviors.

Salovey has also been on the cutting-edge of research in emotional intelligence. In fact, he and fellow psychologist John Mayer coined this term, which refers to "competence with respect to emotional skills and behavior."

As an undergraduate at Stanford, Salovey believes he was always academically focused. He divided his free time between "left leaning political activities" and a variety of unusual jobs. Trying "to put [him]self through college," he cooked in a Mexican restaurant and assisted an electrician. His most unusual job was at a bank, where he examined signatures on checks to ensure that they had not been forged.

Salovey received his doctorate in psychology from Yale, and has lived in New Haven since he was 23 years old. Residing one-and-a-half blocks away from the University with his wife and cat, he usually walks to class.

His wife, who graduated from the Yale School of Public Health, now owns the consulting firm Urban Policy Strategies. Her firm "helps organizations establish programs for inner-city children and families," Salovey explained.

As a theater buff who is also fond of ethnic foods, Salovey thinks New Haven has a lot to offer. He and his wife enjoy attending shows at the Yale Repertory Theatre, the Long Wharf, and the Shubert. They are also both partial to Korean food. "One of my favorite Korean dishes is Dolsot Bimin-bop, which is a hot clay pot filled with sizzling rice, vegetables, meat, and an egg," Salovey said.

In his free time, Salovey plays the bass with the Professors of Bluegrass--a band comprised of four Yale students and himself. "Since I am not that musically talented, it requires all of my attention," Salovey said. "And it is nice to have a couple of hours to be focused on one thing and not to think of anything else."

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