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Personality research nets award for PhD student

U of T Scarborough Clinical Psychology PhD student Achala Rodrigo received a prestigious Vanier scholarship. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Why are extroverts often highly successful people?

Just ask U of T Scarborough Clinical Psychology PhD student Achala Rodrigo, who considers himself an extrovert in most situations. His research into extraversion, combined with his record of leadership, have just been recognized with a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

“Extroverts are considered to be good leaders, they demonstrate charisma, enjoy higher social status, and they generally seem to have good outcomes in terms of interpersonal functioning,” says Rodrigo. So what’s behind that?

Rodrigo says extroverts seem to be able to regulate themselves well with others, and he is using neuroimaging research to examine associations between brain areas that serve aspects of self-control and interpersonal functioning. The novel optical imaging technology used at the Clinical Neurosciences Laboratory at U of T Scarborough allows researchers to measure brain activity while the individuals interact with others.

“We want to look at all the facets that make up extraversion and then identify exactly how control relates to this personality trait,” he says. “If you consider good leaders, for instance, they can be warm, empathic and willing to listen to others, as well as able to assert themselves as needed. So, they have to be good at finding a balance in regulating their internal needs while taking into account what others need.”

While his research is focused on understanding brain functioning, he says, “the ultimate goal is to understand how we can become better at navigating our social environment.”

The Vanier scholarship, worth $50,000 a year for up to three years, is designed to help Canadian institutions attract and retain highly qualified doctoral students, based on their research, their academic excellence and their leadership skills.

Sri Lanka-born Rodrigo entered U of T Scarborough as an undergraduate when he came to Canada 10 years ago. “I have called UTSC home throughout my academic career,” he says. Outside the classroom, he has a long list of achievements, from president of the Rotaract Club of U of T Scarborough to training director for the campus’s Model UN, among many others.

“This award recognizes one of Canada's most promising clinical psychology students,” says Anthony C. Ruocco, associate professor in the Graduate Department of Psychological Clinical Science, and Rodrigo’s doctoral advisor.

Ruocco notes that this is already the second time a student in the three-year-old Clinical Psychology field of the Counselling and Clinical Psychology PhD program at U of T Scarborough has won the Vanier.


© University of Toronto Scarborough