Dr. Frank Farley’s work could be considered “risky.” As a professor in the College of Education, Farley teaches graduate students the ins and outs of educational psychology while conducting his own extensive research on risk-taking behaviors. He even coined his own term, now recognized by the general field of psychology, called the Type-T personality.
As a former president of the American Psychology Association, Farley is a sought-after expert in the field. Within the last year, he appeared on more than 100 media outlets, including everything from the Bucks County Intelligencer to the “Today Show.” The Canadian native talked to The Temple News about his all-time favorite risk-taker and how he came to study the workings of the mind in the first place.
The Temple News: How did you end up in psychology?
Frank Farley: It took me quite a while to get there. I grew up in Canada. Nobody in my family had gone to university, but I decided I would. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I started off in a combined philosophy and economics major. I was interested in philosophy because I liked the questions, and I left because of the answers. I felt that philosophy raises great questions, but the answers are endless, interminable and don’t seem to move us forward much.
TTN: What did you do after that?
FF: I dropped out and bummed around the Canadian Northwest Territories. I worked for Imperial Oil, a Canadian oil company. Then I worked on the railroad for a while. I worked for the government liquor store, did all sorts of stuff. Then I thought maybe I should leave town, go to another place – a change might be good. So I moved about 300 miles from where I was born to enroll at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Say that quickly 10 times.
I was walking down the hall in the arts and sciences building, and I passed a lab. There was a professor in there, and I asked him “What is all this?” He explained that it was an experimental psychology lab. The more we talked the more I began to think, “Hmm, psychology – experimental that is – maybe that’s a way to marry the great philosophical ideas with hard science.” I was quite interested, so I got my bachelor’s in psychology.
TTN: What sorts of things do you research?
FF: There’s a lot I’m interested in, but one big thing is physical extreme behavior – extreme sporting, climbing Mount Everest, automobile racing, skydiving.
TTN: Where do you conduct your studies?
FF: I don’t favor doing research in a lab setting as much as going out where the people are. I worry that my field has overemphasized lab studies. We’ve got a big world out there right? Six-and-a-half billion people, and a lot of psychological research is done in a university setting. I think that’s raising some serious questions for our ultimate understanding of human nature. We need to be out there, where the pain is, where people live and are doing things in real time.
TTN: What is a Type-T personality?
FF: When I want to study risk-takers I try to get to know them. One of my favorites was Rocky Aoki – one of the greatest risk-takers of all time. A physical risk-taker, he was in the Guinness World Records for many years. As one of the world’s leading hot-air balloon racers, he flew a balloon over the Pacific Ocean from Japan to California and almost died doing it. He was an offshore powerboat racer. He emigrated from Japan at the age of 20 with nearly no money and started Benihana’s, risked everything on this idea. Type-T personality is exactly what Rocky was – thrill-seeker, risk-taker and positive thrill seeker.
TTN: You and Rocky became good friends. Can you share any interesting experiences you had with him?
FF: I was having lunch with Rocky one day, and I asked him what adventure he was going on next, and he said he was racing in China’s first-ever balloon race. I asked him if I could come with, [and] he asked if I’d ever raced a balloon before. I had never been near one, but I trained for about two weeks and then went to Shanghai. We got on a train, our five-person crew, and went into the interior of China. We flew for many days in that race. It was fabulous. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Kara Savidge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.