Faculty Profile: Dr. Marc Setterlund
During the first two years of Marc Setterlund’s undergraduate studies, he was a chemistry major who was bound and determined to become a doctor—until a run-in with a rat changed his mind.
“We had to use a scalpel to dissect dead rats, and I couldn’t do it,” he says. “My hands were shaking, and I realized that if I couldn’t do surgery on a dead rat, I could never do it on a live person.”
It wasn’t a psychology class, however, that brought out Setterlund’s interest in the discipline; instead, it was a class on the theatre of ancient Greece and Rome.
“We were reading The Bacchae by Euripides, and I was fascinated by the question Euripides addressed about why the protagonist and his cousin were so different,” he says. “I realized these questions, which revolved around what people do and why, are very much psychological questions. These two non-psychology classes really confirmed that I wanted to be a psychology major.”
Setterlund earned his doctorate in psychology from John Hopkins University in 1993 and joined the Alma College faculty in 1997. He still focuses his research on those same questions of why seemingly “normal” people make the everyday choices they do.
“I try to figure out why someone would buy that particular car or feel comfortable spending that much on a sweater,” he says. “I want to know what influences the decisions they make, whether it’s self-esteem, their social situation, or a number of other factors.”
Since the liberal arts originally introduced Setterlund to psychology, he encourages students to take courses outside their own discipline to make meaningful connections. He says one of the best places to do so is through a Spring Term travel course, like the one he leads every other year that travels throughout Austria and Germany.
“I like teaching the liberal arts,” he says. “The focus of my Origins of Psychology course is psychology and the Nazi movement, but we also study the architecture and music in Vienna during that time, as well as a lot of other cultural aspects. It’s really cool to see a student who has never traveled before suddenly identify Romanesque architecture thanks to a psychology class.”