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Dr. Erin Buchanan
Photo by Kevin White

Dr. Erin Buchanan

Associate professor of psychology

Her research

You’ve survived a major catastrophe. While the world you know — including your home, familiar places and potentially your loved ones — have been washed away, you remain. How do you cope? How do you look at the world? What actions do you take to get your life back together? This ability to bounce back is your resiliency.

Resiliency testing is just one area in which Buchanan has published.

In her lab, she and students work on projects that explore big questions — like the meaning of life — through statistics.

How she uses math to help people

Often, Buchanan’s role is to develop scales. In the social sciences, scales may measure concepts by asking questions or giving statements and seeking responses such as “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” After developing scales, she tests them to see if they measure what was intended, and analyzes differences across demographics.

“Social desirability can come into play, where people will say, ‘Oh, you want me to say positive things,’ or you end up with all happy or all negative answers, and you don’t get anything in the middle,” she said. “We’re trying to statistically stretch the scale out so we might be able to better predict the negative-life outcomes (such as depression, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder or drinking) that come with that.”

Recently, she and students tested 47 scales with Introduction to Psychology classes. “Just the way you phrase things can change whether a respondent will say yes or no. Just because it’s culturally relevant.”