Monday, March 5, 2018 - 14:30

How Does Psychology Professor Sarah Cavanagh Inspire Students?

Get to know Assumption faculty! Assumption Magazine now features in each edition a question and answer profile of faculty who are making significant contributions to their field and the College community. To read the latest edition, please click here.

Sarah Cavanagh, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology and Associate Director for Grants and Research, D'Amour Center for Teaching Excellence.


Ph.D., Tufts University; Psychology (Experimental), 2007 M.S., Tufts University; Experimental Psychology, 2004 B.A., Boston University; Psychology, 1999

Classes Taught at Assumption

General Psychology; Motivation & Emotion; Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience

What is your area of expertise?

I am an experimental psychologist who primarily studies emotion regulation or the processes by which we strive to modulate our emotional experiences and the impact they have on our behavior.

What first attracted you to this discipline?

I've nearly always wanted to research and teach about psychology. I had a brief flirtation with marine biology in high school and was tempted by literature in college, but I always returned to psychology. I am fascinated by people's minds. In graduate school, I worked with my advisor on her research comparing brain function in people with and without posttraumatic stress disorder, but I was much more engaged by questions of how people differ in their emotions and the degree to which they attempt to control them.

What impact have you made on your field?

Probably my book – The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion, which was published last fall in Professor James Langʼs Teaching and Learning in Higher Education series. It combines my research interests with my passion for teaching, and I've had great fun traveling around to different campuses, talking to various faculty about teaching innovations.

How does your classroom instruction prepare students for careers or additional study?

If students intend on graduate work in psychology, some of what they'll learn is simply relevant content, a solid grounding in psychology. My hope is that my students will also learn how to critically approach research (and popular media reports of research) and finally some healthy living skills to apply to their own lives. One of the great things about psychology is that so much of it is relevant to daily living.

What comprises a successful student?

A successful student is constantly learning.

What is one thing most people don’t know but would be interested to know about you?

The contrast between my demeanor, which is pretty soft-spoken and gentle, and my taste in music and books and film, which tends toward the darker, louder side of the spectrum. My good friend in graduate school used to get into my car and hear my music and say, “Sarah, why is that man screaming?”

What do you feel is the best part about your job?

Flexibility. I love that I write, teach, work one-on-one with students, engage in public speaking, present research, and design research studies. There are such endless opportunities to do new and interesting things in academia.

What is one piece of advice you share with students?

Sleep! You'll actually get more done in less time if you sleep well. Nearly every aspect of your life will improve, from your studies to your time at the gym to your personal relationships.


Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College @AssumptionNews