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Professor Peter Hegarty

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Professional biography

I studied psychology at Trinity College Dublin and Stanford University before teaching at City University of New York (1999-2001), Yale (2001-02) and the University of Surrey (2002-2020).  I also held visiting appointments at the University of Michigan (2006) and Trinity College Dublin (2015-16), and was Suzanne Tassier Chair of Gender and Human Rights, Université Libre de Bruxelles in 2017-18. I joined the Open University in 2020.

I co-organized the 2008 and 2010 University of Michigan's International Summer Institutes in LGBT Psychology with Abigail Stewart and Nicola Curtain, and the Annual Meetings of the History and Philosophy of Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (in 2013 and 2014). With David Griffiths and Kamilla Hawthorne, I co-organized the conference After the Recognition of Intersex Human Rights at the University of Surrey in September 2016. The Research Knowledge Transfer event Building an LGBT European Social Psychology in 2019 hosted by ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon, and co-organized with Andrea Carnaghi, Mauro Bianchi and Carla Moleiro was the first LGBT psychology event organized by the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP). In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic I directed the 2020 EASP Summer School as a virtual event.

I was awarded the University of Surrey's Prize for Teaching Excellence in 2004, the British Psychological Society Award for Promoting Equality of Opportunity in Psychology in 2017, and the Distinguished Book Prize from Division 44 of the American Psychological Association in 2018.

Research interests

My two sole-authored books on the history of psychology are about entanglements between sexology, intelligence testing, and masculinity in the first half of the 20th century (Gentlemen’s Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men (2013, University of Chicago Press), and psychology’s relationships with lesbian and gay movements from the 1970s to the 2000s (A Recent History of Lesbian and Gay Psychology: From Homophobia to LGBT (2018, Routledge). Both of these books are centred on events in the USA. The 2019 special issue of American Psychologist, Fifty Years since Stonewall: The Science and Politics of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, co-edited with Alexandra Rutherford, puts this recent history into international perspective.

Critical theory guides both how I design psychology experiments and research psychology’s history. My research in social cognition began under the PhD supervision of Felicia Pratto. We examined the relationship between social groups' normative status and explanations of group differences. When people explain differences between two groups, they focus their explation on the lower status group, framing the higher status group as the background norm for comparison in scientific publications, news media, and in psychology students' explanations of group differences. Susanne Bruckmuller showed how this framing communicates meaning about relative group power to readers. Various publications have described the relevance of this line of work for Foucaultian critiques of psychology, theories of othering, and memory studies.

I have been invovled in research projects that have put psychology and history in diverse relationships with each other. These projects have examined conceptualizing events in historical and cyclical time (with Karl Halvor Teigen and others); changes in political commemorating over historical time (with Theofilos Gkinopoulos): analogies between natural and social history (with Natasha Bharj); and historical essentialism about sexuality (with Katherine Hubbard).  In a special issue of Memory Studies in 2017, Olivier Klein and I theorized the dilemma of conducting cognitive research on historical memory when cognitive psychology is an approach to sense-making that is situated by historical events.

I have long been critical of the assumption that teaching people about the biological basis of sexual orientation is a "magic bullet" to reduce sexual prejudice or homohobia. My view is informed by discourse analysis of scientific articles, surveys about beliefs about sexual orientation, and the ways that these beliefs express prejudice and tolerance, and studies of interventions to change beliefs in the laboratory and in the classroom. Sebastian Bartos' meta-analysis shows that many other psychological interventions to reduce homophobia do reliably work. I have reviewed the evidence across the social sciences about this hypothesis here. My early interest in essentialism and sexual prejudice re-surfaced in a recent collaboration with Fabio Fasoli on how making "gaydar" decisions about others can lead to discrimination.

In the SENS project, Katrina Roen, Tove Lundberg, Lih-Mei Liao and I were the central members of a team that used qualitative methods to describe how healthcare professionals, young people and parents make sense of diverse sex development, the medical interventions that are offered in response, and the terms used to describe it. Katrina Roen created a podcast about our work here

In 2012 I contributed my oral history to the Psychology’s Feminist Voices project.

Teaching interests

I have taught module in various areas of psychology, but my primary interest is in teaching in the area known in the UK as CHIP: Conceptual and Historical Issues in Psychology. (In North American, this area of teaching is sometimes called "History and Systems"). I hope CHIP gives students fresh perspectives and critical resources to understand what is at stake in psychology in the present moment.   In 2015 co-edited a special issue of the journal History and Philosophy of Psychology on Innovative approaches to teaching CHIP with Katherine Hubbard and Lovemore Nyatanga.

Impact and engagement

I was the first person elected to chair the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Sexualities Section (then the Lesbian and Gay Psychology Section) from 2004-2006. I contributed to the first 2012 version of the BPS Guidelines for Therapeutic Treatment of Sexual and Gender Minority Clients. The 7th and 8th editions of the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual (published 2009 and 2020) cites the research I did with Carmen Buechel on the ordering of information in graphs and tables representing gender differences

Research on such topics as the sexist discourse of lads mags, the reasons people say “Anthony and Cleopatra” rather than “Cleopatra and Anthony,” the effects of assumed Whiteness on scientific reasoning, discrimination that follows from “sounding” lesbian or gay, or the effects of reading about heroic acts on homophobia have all attracted media attention from the BBC, Metro, Daily Mail, Pink News, the British Academy’s blog and other outlets.

Early social research with Nicola Tee on students' attitudes to transgender rights was cited by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency as one of the first pieces of European research on transphobia. Later, Y. Gavriel Ansara and I content analyzed the language in psychological research about children who do not identify with the gender assigned at birth, which informed the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s language policies.

I have spoken about the SENS project research and research conducted collaboratively with intersex stakeholders on public understanding to various medical audiences. I am a member of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Differences of Sex Development.

I have also spoken at the London Science Museum, the Cheltenham Literary and Science Festivals, the Surrey History Centre, the Sick! Festival, the Institute for Historical Research and at the event Science, Faith and Sexuality organized by the Ozanne Foundation about various aspects of my psychological and historical research.

Please visit my Google Scholar profile to get a picture of who I have collaborated with in the past and who I have been working with most recently. Please email me directly regarding reprints, research supervision, or events at peter.hegarty@open.ac.uk.