What causes a person to become an introverted hermit or a social butterfly, a manipulative criminal or a dedicated altruist? Why is it that a person who can converse eloquently with friends becomes anxious and flustered when speaking to a crowd?
Beth Leslie, who is studying towards a double degree in Psychology and Accounting at the University of Otago, is fascinated by the question of how different social environments can affect and alter human behaviour.
“I’m interested in what happens when people are put in different positions,” Beth says, “and how they react to their environment and interact with it. The environment can consist of many factors, including particular situations and the beliefs of those who surround them.”
Beth’s main area of interest is the subject of organisations and organisational behaviour, and she says that after she graduates she would like to work in the administrative side of a scientific firm, an ambition that dovetails nicely with her double degree.
Her interest in the workings of the conscious mind was aroused in part by her experience at the “Hands On Science” summer programme, which she visited Otago to take part in as a high-school student. She says that one of the highlights of her time at Otago has been returning to the programme year after year as a helper, working with high-school students to help them find their own area of interest.
“It was an amazing experience. When I went down, the students here looked after me, and now I’m one of the students who looks after the high-school kids who come down, which is very rewarding.”