by Sonia Barkat
From comedy to psychology to the art of pickling and preserving, Adar Eisenbruch, a new visiting associate professor in Purchase’s psychology department, has explored a range of fascinations over the years.
Eisenbruch, 33, who did his undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University, joined the field of psychology, following a foray into improv and stand up during and after college. Eventually, he decided to find a new focus in life.
“At some point I sort of realized: well, I’m probably not going to get on SNL,” said Eisenbruch. “So I thought about what else I could do with my life that’s realistic but still retains this love of comedy. I have no idea how I got into comedy but I know how comedy got me into evolutionary psychology.”
Eisenbruch became curious about why people have different senses of humor, and why some people are driven to make others laugh while some are not.
“I just Googled ‘psychology of humor’ and it turned out that is a thing,” said Eisenbruch. “There’s a textbook called ‘The Psychology of Humor,’ so I bought a used copy and read it from cover to cover in three days. There was a little section on evolutionary psychology, and that was my favorite part of the book, so I read all those citations and then different things by those people, and it led me down this rabbit hole of evolutionary psychology.”
Eisenbruch continued following the trail of evolutionary psychology through a master’s at Queen’s University Belfast, a PhD at the University of Santa Barbara (where he frequently taught) and a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard. What Eisenbruch loves about his field are the perspectives it opens up.
“Psychologists have been studying things for a very long time, like mating, cooperation, friendship and morality, and evolutionary psychology gives us new ways of understanding those topics," Eisenbruch said. "I like the ability to reinterpret something that people are already somewhat familiar with and change their minds.”
Eisenbruch eventually returned home to New York City, where he currently lives.
“I have a dog, she’s very beautiful. My hobbies include reading, crossword puzzles, and making pickles,” Eisenbruch said. “I’ve been getting pretty good at that; I’m mastering spicy pickles right now! So yeah, I’ve been really into pickling lately. I don’t know why. I just like it.”
At Purchase, where Eisenbruch has become a professor for the first time—teaching Introduction to Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Senior Project I—he has found yet another pastime to enjoy.
“I like performing and making people laugh,” said Eisenbruch. “So classes are nice because students have no choice but to show up—it’s sort of a captive audience.”
Eisenbruch said his approach to teaching is theory-driven.
“I don’t really like free-floating facts, so I lay out a theoretical framework and use facts to support that," Eisenbruch said. "And honestly, I just try not to be boring. I don’t want to make my students bored, and I don’t want to make myself bored.”
Kailey Campbell, one of Eisenbruch’s students, has found Evolutionary Psychology to be one of her favorite classes.
“I enjoy him as a teacher. He’ll always try to address everyone’s questions, and he’s very intelligent so he has a lot to offer," Campbell said.
According to Campbell, Eisenbruch can be funny in class, and often makes cultural references.
“The other day in class he talked about 'Gold Digger' by Kanye West, because we were discussing the evolution of mate attractiveness and potential,” said Campbell. “He’s very easy to relate to because he’s younger—which surprised me because I think I was expecting an older professor to be teaching evolutionary psychology!”
Eisenbruch said he makes an effort to bring humor into the classroom.
“It usually fails, but I try all the time! I think it’s fun for the class, and I think it makes things more memorable,” Eisenbruch said.
Another goal he has is to get his students thinking in ways that relate to evolutionary psychology.
“I want them to apply it to new situations and information they encounter," Eisenbruch said. "I once told some of my students that my goal for them was that they would become really annoying for the other professors! If they’re going into their other classes, raising their hands and saying ‘what about from an evolutionary perspective? Why do people think this way?’ that would make me really happy.”
The seniors Eisenbruch is working with are asking evolutionary questions for their senior project, which studies how voice pitch affects people’s friendship preferences, and expands upon research Eisenbruch started in grad school.
“We’re seeing what inferences people make about others depending on how high or low their voice is,” said Eisenbruch.
Dana Kirk, a psychology senior, found herself on the project after her advisor left on sabbatical.
“We knew he was leaving and that we would end up with a new professor, but we didn’t know it was not going to be cognitive psychology," said Kirk "Evolutionary psychology. I’ve never looked into it at all, but I fundamentally agree with Eisenbruch’s research, and I think it’s important to further it.”
Although Kirk is not strongly drawn to the area she’s now studying, she appreciates Eisenbruch as an advisor.
“I went to his job talk when they were figuring out who to hire, and I liked his presentation; I wasn’t crazy about the content itself—just because it was evolutionary psychology, and that’s not really my bag—but I do like him and I think that’s what makes this whole process more fulfilling,” said Kirk. “I feel a mutual respect, he seems self aware, and I trust his intellect and skill. I think in that regard I’m pretty lucky.”
Similarly, Campbell said she likes how Eisenbruch encourages his students to debate his points.
“He never says ‘this is the only way,’ which I really like in a teacher," Campbell. "I think it shows humility.”
Eisenbruch says he appreciates getting questions.
“Many students here are very eager to learn,” Eisenbruch said. “and it pushes me to be at the top of my game, because I know they are going to ask interesting and tough questions, and I need to be ready for them. It also makes me feel like, ‘oh, this is working!” he added. “This isn’t falling on deaf ears, and that feels really good.”