Why do some people seek out and enjoy taking personality surveys more than others? This is the subject of a yearlong research project Dr. Benjamin Wagner, assistant professor of psychology at St. Thomas Aquinas College, is working on with honors student Melissa Etter ’22.
The research project is one of several that Ben has undertaken with students since he joined the STAC faculty in 2013. Another similar study examined the connection between narcissism and social media. Ben’s collaborator on that project, Courtney Gray Gerver ’17, is now pursuing an advanced degree in neuroscience at Penn State University with plans to become a professor and researcher.
“I’m so proud of her! I love working with students,” says Ben, who was voted 2019 Teacher of the Year by STAC’s Student Government Association. “Every day, I get to talk about really cool stuff with curious young people who have the power to change the world.”
A native of Columbiana, Ohio, Ben is a fourth-generation teacher who now lives in Cliffside Park, N.J. His research specialty involves studying the art of persuasion from a scientific scope. In other words, he looks at how attitudes and emotions influence persuasion and how we can more effectively change people’s attitudes where it really counts.
“Ultimately, we’re always trying to convince another person of something or are ourselves the ones targeted by others who wish to change our minds,” he says. The ability to change people’s attitudes and behaviors becomes particularly meaningful in addressing issues of global concern. “I think specifically of health-promoting behaviors — the biggest killers in the U.S. are chronic, so-called lifestyle diseases resulting from maladaptive behaviors that could be changed — and pro-environmental behaviors; global climate catastrophe anyone?”
Ben, who earned his doctorate at Ohio State University, has authored and co-authored several research papers published in such journals as the European Journal of Social Psychology and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. At STAC, he’s taught a number of psychology classes, most recently Consumer Psychology, General Psychology, Health Psychology, Psychological Statistics, and Research in Psychology. He credits his Ohio State mentor Melissa Beers, Ph.D., for shaping his identity as a teacher-scholar, and STAC for the trust and freedom to develop and teach courses in the way that works best for his students.
While Ben enjoys seeing students’ excitement when they grasp a difficult concept or gain a new skill, he also loves helping them navigate through the challenging years of college. “STAC affords me the opportunity to really get to know my students over multiple semesters and years on a personal level,” he says. “It’s so rewarding to work here for that reason.”
In addition to teaching, Ben contributes to the STAC community as the advisor of the Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and as the Title IX Deputy for Faculty.
In the local community, he has volunteered as a statistics tutor for Of Home, Family & Future, a nonprofit that assists survivors of domestic violence and college students in the foster care system. He has also taught in the prisoner education program at the Sullivan Correctional Facility. In his free time, Ben most enjoys playing the piano, cooking vegan dishes, reading about 20th-century American history, and spending time with his dog Lord Pigglesworth (aka Piggie).