Nowhere on a college campus is research as interesting as it is in the psychology realm.
Dr. Dustin Wygant, Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Psychology department, is one of Eastern Kentucky University’s faculty members who is making a difference through his research. Wygant’s research explores various personality disorders, with an emphasis on psychopathy.
Eastern Kentucky University is known as the School of Opportunity. Faculty not only teach through traditional methods in the classroom but also conduct ground-breaking research for the betterment of their students, EKU at large, and their field of study.
Wygant first garnered interest in the study of personality disorders during his graduate program at Kent State University. He was given the opportunity to work in a court psychiatric clinic and found it fascinating. “You never know what you’re going to get,” said Wygant. “I fell in love with it.”
In addition to teaching at EKU, Wygant has his own Forensic Psychology practice. Students usually accompany Wygant to his forensic evaluations. They go to the jail for interviews and to the courtroom when he testifies about his findings. “I try to not only do this for myself but to train the next generation of forensic and clinical psychologists.”
Wygant’s three main areas of research – malingering, psychopathy, and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The three lines of research are related and comprise what a forensic psychologist does in their career.
Over the last several years, Wygant has been studying the psychopathic personality trait by collecting research data in nearby prisons. EKU Students interviewed and tested 237 inmates at the Northpoint Training Center in Burgin, Ky. Each inmate was assessed for up to 10 hours to gain the necessary data and compare it to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which has the criteria for various forms of psychopathy. Through this study, the students, fulfilled their clinical hours, and just as importantly gained insight and training to benefit their future work.
Wygant performed a similar study with an all-female inmate population in recent years as well. EKU students tested and interviewed 200 inmates at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Peewee Valley, Ky. The majority of the research on psychopathy is on men, but Wygant was interested to see if those same relationships existed between female inmates, and found that they largely do.
In addition to involving students in his research, Wygant also works alongside other EKU faculty and alumni for collaborative research projects. Wygant is currently working with James Pennington, Assistant Professor for the Department of Government. Their study is to determine if citing the findings from psychiatric evaluations during a testimony confuses the jury or aids in their decision-making. The study has been local thus far, but Wygant and Pennington have recently received a grant to move the study online to collect data from a larger sample.
Wygant received a $28,000 grant to study post-9/11 veterans using the MMPI 3. His research partner is Dr. Jaime Anderson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Anderson received her Masters of Clinical Psychology from EKU in 2011. She went on to earn her doctorate at Alabama State University.
The plan is for data to be collected from 150 veterans at each institution, for a total of 300 participants. The tests and interviews will focus on elements such as trauma, post-traumatic growth, self-harm, anxiety, and depression. The goal of the study is to see how well the MMPI 3 works in a veteran sample. Wygant believes the majority of the participants will be veteran students at EKU. However, with roughly 4,000 post-9/11 veterans in Madison County, some participants may be from the community as well.
“Post 9/11 veterans are a unique group that we need to pay attention to,” said Wygant. “They have a high suicide rate compared to other veteran groups. A test like the MMPI can be used to assess their mental health needs.”
Ultimately, Wygant wants to develop measures and methods that enhance a psychologist’s ability to assess things like malingering, trauma, and psychopathy. “These are important social issues, and we tackle one little part of it,” said Wygant. “At the ends of the day, we are shedding light on the human mind and how it works, and I think that is important.”