Cupid’s Accomplice

This Valentine’s Day, psychology professor Kevin Dooley will stand in front of a class of 400 students and spend 90 minutes talking about love.

But then again, that’s just what he does every Tuesday and Thursday from 8 p.m. to 9:20 p.m. in Solis Hall 107.

In 2009, Dooley pioneered the Psychology of Love and Attraction course offered through the Psychology 193 special topics series. The class had never before been taught at UCSD until Dooley created the course. Winter Quarter 2013 is the second time Dooley has taught the course at UCSD. Aside from having been exposed to the topic of love and attraction during his undergraduate and graduate studies, Dooley mainly created the course out of personal interest on the subject.

“I think anyone, to some degree, is interested in understanding love and attraction,” Dooley said. “It is one of the biggest questions and biggest focuses of attention. It is a big part of what we care about.”

The class applies the theory of sexual selection — an evolutionary mechanism that explains what people look for in mates — in order to understand how and why we love. Beyond that, it examines how love and attraction have influenced the development of cultural aspects of human life.

“Some of the theories out of this topic of evolution of love and attraction suggest that all this human cultural stuff was shaped through mating, through what we found attractive in others,” Dooley said.“This led to the development of the capacity for creating and appreciating music, art and even things like witty conversation and humor — the stuff that we so enjoy about the human experience.”

Although this course approaches love from a purely scientific angle, Dooley admitted that for him, love hasn’t lost its magic touch. He argues that approaching love scientifically won’t make you immune to the feelings it evokes.

“Sometimes, people worry if you learn too much about something it will take away the magic and beauty,” Dooley said. “You could love chocolate cake and learn how to make a great chocolate cake, but it is still going to taste great. Knowing about it doesn’t change subjective experience of eating it and enjoying the delicious flavor.”

Dooley said that an empirical understanding of love doesn’t have to ruin the emotional experience.

“You could logically know all the facts [about love] and have an awareness of the theories and reflect on your behavior, preferences and your feelings, but the feeling still happens,” he said. “It — having a scientific approach — helps you understand love, but it doesn’t take from the power of the experience.”

But Dooley said that he also has another love: music. Before discovering psychology, Dooley had set his sights outside academia. “My plan was to be a rock star,” Dooley said.

Dooley has been passionate about music since childhood. He started out by playing the piano. Ultimately, though, he found that he was more passionate about drums. He played drums throughout high school and chose to pursue music at the University of Southern California. Dooley majored in music with a specialization in jazz drumming.

Even though Dooley wanted to pursue a career in music, he said that he has always been curious about others’ cognition — a curiosity that led him to his current career.

“So much of life is about understanding others, predicting what people could do, wanting to change what people could do and understanding and changing ourselves,” Dooley said. “[Psychology] is a powerful tool for understanding the world and coming at it scientifically.” Dooley’s desire to understand others led him to declare a minor in psychology, but he never thought this desire would replace his dream of rocking the stage.

“I added a psychology minor, which at the time was just for fun, not thinking I would do something with it,” Dooley said.

After Dooley graduated from college, he devoted his time to playing music and teaching drum lessons.

But Dooley found himself wanting to return to school.

“I found myself missing school, missing learning things. I found myself interested in psychology in terms of what I would read about for fun,” Dooley said.

Dooley reasoned that in coming back to school, he could make psychology his main focus while still pursuing music part time.

“I thought, why not come back to school and learn more about psychology as my main focus — and then I can still play music on the side as well,” he said.

His rekindled interest in psychology brought Dooley to the UCSD graduate school program in 2004, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2011.

While in the graduate program at UCSD, Dooley managed to incorporate his love for music into his studies. He approached music through the lens of psychology and eventually found an advisor — psychology professor Diana Deutsch — who would let him combine his interests in his research. With Deutsch, Dooley delved deeper into the topic of musical perception by studying musical illusions as well as perfect, or absolute, pitch — the ability that some musicians have to name any note that is played to them on its own.

Dooley first taught at UCSD in 2008.

In addition to teaching at UCSD, Dooley also teaches at various community colleges in San Diego such as Grossmont College, Palomar College, San Diego Mesa College and San Diego City College.

Even though Valentine’s Day falls on the day of his Psychology 193 lecture, Dooley said he has to teach because it’s not an official university holiday. He says that he doesn’t mind working through Valentine’s day, because his job and the holiday are so fundamentally interconnected, that it is a teaching opportunity.

But Dooley has hopes that the course will help those who have a Valentine this year.

“Maybe someone will be off applying this knowledge on a date, especially since the class is so late at night,” he said.

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