Dr. Peter MacIntyre – Breaking Ground on a new Method

peter-webDr. Peter MacIntyre is Professor of Psychology and the 2015 winner of the Cape Breton University President’s Award for Excellence in Research. Having published extensively on the psychology of language learning, Dr. MacInytre has, over the course of his career, become a leading innovator in his field. Most recently, he co-authored Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality (2014) with Tammy Gregersen and co-edited Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning (2015) with Zoltán Dörnyei and Alastair Henry. The latter seeks to boldly reimagine the methodology of data collection in language learning. Starting out as a committed undergraduate in the communication labs right here at CBU, Dr. MacIntyre finds himself in the midst of a distinguished career among a group of likeminded, international researchers who are devising an innovative, new methodology of research.

Throughout the history of the discipline, in general, psychology has tended toward a preoccupation with negative experiences such as stress and anxiety. In language learning, a focus on problems with learning and communication has been a prevailing trend. According to Dr. MacIntyre, one of the most interesting innovations in the work he does has been investigating the use of happiness and positive emotion in language learning. He explains, “There has been surprisingly little research on positive emotion in language learning. I think most people recognize the value of positive emotion, but it simply has not been a research area.” With this realization comes the unique approach to study that Dr. MacIntyre and his colleagues are pioneering. Furthermore, he suggests, “Anxiety has been well studied, and we know quite a lot about the cognitive, academic, social and even physical effects of anxiety arousal. We know much less about the specific consequences of enjoyment,
for example.”

Dr. MacIntyre’s work focuses on the dynamic changes in emotion and cognition that take place as part of the psychology of communication. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the notion of dynamism in psychology and the radical departure it impels for the study of communication psychology. Dr. MacIntyre explains the value of this dynamic shift, aware that the field more broadly does not necessarily accept the departure. Conducting traditional research on motivation in second language acquisition would normally mean administering questionnaires and studying large numbers of people at one time. He says, “There is talk of a ‘dynamic turn’ in the literature, but the field has not yet embraced the concept fully. There has been well-accepted, theoretical work advocating looking at the dynamics of language. But, there is a pressing need to advance the methodologies that can be used to study processes and retain their complexity. That is one of the reasons for our research – to work out at least one method that can be used in
this area.”

Much of this new research takes place in the new language lab at Cape Breton University. The plain hallway in an otherwise unremarkable part of campus, belies the location of the world-class language lab. The facility (built with funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation awarded to Dr. MacIntyre and Dr. Erin Robertson, as well as funding from the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust) has allowed Dr. MacIntyre, his students and colleagues to move their work from classrooms to the carefully constructed, meticulously controlled environment of the language lab. High quality audio-visual recording equipment in a thoroughly soundproofed environment allows researchers in the lab to measure, moment by moment, a person’s emotional responses to the process of language learning. Most importantly, the lab allows for the perfect conditions in which to practice new research methods and to gather accurate valuable data.