UBCO Instructor and PhD Student Megan Udala - Photo taken by Willa Holmwood
UBCO Instructor and PhD Student Megan Udala - Photo taken by Willa Holmwood

UBCO Instructor and PhD Student Megan Udala discusses some of Psychology’s most Fascinating topics.

Sitting down with Megan Udala (M.A., UBC Sessional Instructor and Clinical Psychology PhD Student) was an experience filled with passion and excitement. From her work at UBC Okanagan to Kelowna General Hospital, I knew her mind would be able to tackle my complex psychological questions. Between the laughter and her highly amusing comments, this is what went down:

Willa Holmwood: “Why are young adults so fascinated by serial killers?”

Megan Udala: We all have this primitive drive.  So, if we think about where we came from evolutionarily, usually it’s survival of the fittest so there’s often a lot of fighting, death, and drama in the history of our lives. I think that that part of our brain has stayed a little bit and we find it fascinating. I don’t want to say because it’s catharsis, but up to 90% of people have had a vivid thought or fantasy [about murder], however most people don’t act it out. We all think about it, so I would guess it has to do with the primitive part of our brain.

WH: Given the ethical debate of brain scans, how does this play into the justice system?

MU: We’re getting so much more knowledgeable about how the brain works and how function is localized. We are starting to more confidently say this part of the brain causes this thing. We are starting to uncover how the brains of people vary depending on pathology. I think we are wading into an incredibly controversial ethical dilemma if neuroimaging is ever used as evidence in court. If you as a jury are sitting there and hear, “oh this person has a brain just like John Wayne Gacy or just like Ted Bundy, so obviously they’re evil and you can’t really fix them” that’s incredibly problematic because of how powerful those statements are. However, we know with studies of other neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, that you can have abnormalities present in the brain but not show clinical symptoms. Just because your brain is like that doesn’t mean it actually manifests that way in real life. It’s going to be an interesting next several years to see if it ever becomes permissible in court.

WH: Can you comment on the future of artificial intelligence?

MU: There’s a really great book called Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, by James Barrat, who writes about what is going to happen when artificial intelligence radically changes humanity. I think that we’re using artificial intelligence (AI) constantly in our lives, it’s all in our pockets, our cell phones, the ads that we see on Facebook, the people we see on Tinder, and we use it and love it right now… the problem is that if it becomes too intelligent. Neuropsychologists have a role in order to assess if something has the same intelligence as humans. Are we smart enough to be able to understand ourselves and other beings that are like us? I’m guessing that in the future, psychology should play a role in the ethical concerns of AI. The way we operate in society is changing because who knows what’s going to happen. If we get to the point of superintelligence, I think that it’s great, because we can just download our brains and live forever as machines that could be used for good!

WH: Do dogs have a role in psychology?

MU: Absolutely! For so many years we’ve actually bred dogs to love humans. We have developed a unique bond and have become so intertwined. Dogs are very sensitive to different types of human emotions, so they’ve actually been selectively bred into that. We love cute things with big eyes and soft features, probably for survival and companionship. I think any kind of animal can have a positive effect on mental and physical health. I've been in some prisons that actually incorporate dog kennels and daycares as part of the rehabilitation process. Inmates get a chance for responsibility and to work with the dogs and community members. It’s great for rehabilitation and for their well-being.

WH: Do you have any advice for psychology students?

MU: Research is number one… getting involved, trying things, being okay with trying any type of psychology just to see what research is like. Also, looking for it in everyday life because it’s around us all the time. Take note of why you like the Netflix show you like, or why your Netflix is using their algorithm to suggest certain shows to you, or why you get those recommendations on YouTube… constantly asking why. Humans are unique in a way. Understanding how they operate, what they do, think, feel, and behave, helps us to know more about the whole world if we know a little bit more about ourselves.