Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Scott Acton

Scott Acton

  • SPN Mentor


Professor Scott Acton died February 6, 2006, in a motor vehicle accident. Social Psychology Network is maintaining this profile for visitors who wish to learn more about Professor Acton's work.

Please see below for more information:

I am interested in relating theoretical and methodological issues in individual differences to health-related outcomes. My interest in individual differences includes the topics of personality, psychopathology, and intelligence, all of which can be shown to have significant health-related consequences. For example, the trait of impulsivity appears to be a temperamental vulnerability factor for substance abuse.

In relating individual differences to health-risk behaviors, it is useful to have an overarching model of individual differences. One model that I find useful for the classification of psychopathology includes two higher-order dimensions: internalization (anxious-misery and fear) and externalization (psychopathy and substance abuse). I am interested in exploring the theoretical and methodological basis for these dimensions and relating them to substance abuse and sexual risk-taking. For example, I am the principal investigator on work funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program showing that internalization predicts smoking treatment failure. I am currently exploring the hypothesis that both internalization and externalization are causally related to smoking initiation, maintenance, and relapse.

My recent work has made use of a theoretically informed measurement approach called item response theory, which has advantages over classical test theory in terms of testing the correspondence between a concept and its empirical referent. One application of item response theory is to distinguish latent category-likeness from latent dimension-likeness. For example, I am currently exploring whether the diagnosis of major depression can be reduced in a non-trivial sense to a dimension similar in content to internalization. In doing so, I am making use of a conceptual and psychometric approach called the dimension/category framework, which I helped to develop while in Belgium over the summer of 2002.

I am currently drawing together the various strands of my research program in the Generalized Interpersonal Theory of Personality and Psychopathology. This theory includes a structural model that includes both the Big Five dimensions of personality and the internalization/externalization dimensions of psychopathology and a dynamic model that predicts affect and behavior in interpersonal interactions. The dynamic model explains phenomena such as depression precipitating rejection and expressed emotion precipitating depression; it also specifies how to bring about change in psychotherapy. My next step will be to show that common mental disorders are reducible to the dimensions in the structural model in terms of the dimension/category framework. This work should both generalize the interpersonal theory of personality and give a theoretical basis to the growing literature on the internalization and externalization dimensions of adult psychopathology.

Primary Interests:

  • Culture and Ethnicity
  • Emotion, Mood, Affect
  • Evolution and Genetics
  • Health Psychology
  • Interpersonal Processes
  • Personality, Individual Differences
  • Research Methods, Assessment
  • Sociology, Social Networks

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