Pure evil and people's perceptions is the subject of research

Scholarly journal publishes article by Abington student-faculty team

ABINGTON, Pa. — The professional journal Personality and Individual Differences published an article co-authored by a Penn State Abington student and his faculty research partner.

Dominic Vasturia, senior in biology, and Russ Webster, assistant professor of psychology, developed "Demons with firepower: How belief in pure evil relates to perceptions and punishments of gun violence perpetrators" during a two-year undergraduate research collaboration.

Webster’s research on the concept of pure evil dates back to 2011 when he developed a course, "The Psychology of Evil," as a doctoral student. He taught the course twice at Abington.

“To our knowledge, we are actually the first researchers to successfully measure people's perceptions of whether pure evil actually exists. We are merely interested in how people’s perceptions of human nature relates to how people approach the world,” he said.

“This project provided me with invaluable experience, working both independently and with other researchers. Not many students have the opportunity to receive this first-hand experience of devising, carrying out a scientific study, and analyzing the data on a topic I was interested in and helped form,” Vasturia said, calling Webster "a wonderful mentor."

Vasturia and Webster presented this research at the Association for Psychological Science conference in Chicago last year as well as at other professional meetings. The pair is working on publishing another paper based on their work for Vasturia’s undergraduate research, known as the ACURA program at Abington.

Vasturia is applying to graduate school in neurobiology for the fall 2018 semester. Webster said undergraduate research is invaluable toward achieving that goal.

“Having conference presentations and a publication as an undergraduate is very attractive to any graduate program as it demonstrates advanced skills in communication and critical thinking,” he said.

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington, formerly the Ogontz campus, offers baccalaureate degrees in 19 majors at its suburban location just north of Philadelphia. Nearly half of its 4,000 students complete all four years at Abington, with opportunities in undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more. Students can start the first two years of more than 160 Penn State majors at Abington and complete their degrees at University Park or another campus. Lions Gate, the campus' first residence hall, opened in August 2017.

Contacts: 

Regina Broscius