In the Media: Undergraduate teaching lab investigates psychology behind gaslighting — Toronto Star

December 5, 2023 by Josslyn Johnstone - A&S News

Recent research out of Department of Psychology associate professor Suzanne Wood’s teaching lab is filling a gap in the peer-reviewed literature about gaslighting in romantic relationships, as highlighted in the Toronto Star.

Lead author Willis Klein, an undergraduate student of Wood’s at the time and now a PhD student at McGill University, became interested in the psychology behind gaslighting when he noticed the concept rising in popularity around the time of the 2016 Trump election. However: “Almost all of the psychology research that I could find was relatively old,” he told the Star. “There was a lot of public interest in this phenomenon but, at the time, there wasn’t even really a working definition when it came to psychology.”

For the paper, Klein and his colleagues investigated the effects and underlying motivations behind gaslighting, defined in the Star as “a form of abuse in a romantic relationship that sees the perpetrator intentionally attempt to convince a sane and rational partner that their grasp on reality isn’t firm in order to manipulate them”. The researchers identified specific traits and behaviors that gaslighters generally share and uncovered two primary motives for this abuse: avoiding accountability for bad behaviour, such as infidelity, and controlling the survivor’s behaviour.

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