Welcome to Part II of our two part interview with Dr. Edwards. Here we move a bit more from the discussion of the fandom itself to a discussion of Dr. Edwards’ and The Brony Study’s history, covering topics such as Dr. Edwards’ background, how the members of the Brony Study became involved with the study, some of the current and future plans for The Brony Study, and (perhaps most importantly) Dr. Edwards’ fanfic-in-progress. We hope you enjoy the rest of the interview. Check it out and comment below the break!
P: Pat Edwards/Psych Ology
K: Well, one thing that we probably should have done early that was kind of interesting. When we were going to get some general background for this stuff, we had trouble finding general info on the people in the Brony study, or at least within the articles we dug up about it.
There’s some general: you’re psychologists. You’re from South Carolina. Stuff like that. We looked and we looked. And one thing that I was kind of curious about: was what your background?
P: It probably would be a little puzzling. Not a lot of research would come up unless you went back quite a ways. I got my degree from University Of Georgia, and I was going to be a clinician, a therapist, that was my primary interest. While I was in graduate school, I got into research and really found that I had a knack for research. I’d always been interested in science.
I also taught a course, they said, “You should teach” and I loved it. Of course, my wife at the time said, “It’s a whole group of people who’ve never heard your stories.”
I am quite a story teller. I’m a navy veteran, I worked in psychiatric hospital, and I grew up in a very dysfunctional family. I have lots of stories to share.
At first, I started doing research primarily in behavioral medicine and in health psychology. I did research on how our families impact on people’s pain perception. If you grow up in families with lots of pains, you naturally have more pain, and the answer is yes. It’s a modeling issue.
I also was working on my therapy training as an adult therapist, but also I had a specialty in sex therapy and couples. So I did some research on rape and incest and published some of that. But most of my publications came in my first four years when I was at North Dakota State.
K: Oh, so that was—we found those! We found those.
P: I was teaching there. There should be a few with the University Of Georgia. When I was working with Amos Zeichner. Major professor always come first. I was lucky to get second or third. Then, what happened was after four years in Fargo, we got sick of the weather, even though I’m from South Dakota.
So we moved down here to South Carolina. I took a position in a psychiatric hospital. But after a year, I said “I miss academia.” I took a job in Northwestern in Louisiana for one year. UGH. Louisiana was quite an interesting place. But then I was offered a position back here in South Carolina. So I came back. And I talked in 20 years at Lander University, it’s a four year state school. I did a little research, but to be honest with you, I was teaching six courses a semester.
We started a counseling emphasis for the undergraduates. And I was teaching almost all the clinical courses. For almost 20 years, that’s pretty much what I devoted myself to. Then I began to get interesting in research again, partly because my students needed to get into some research experience. And I had an interest in absorption and that’s a trait…people high in absorption are people who can really get lost in experience. I often tell people that you know you’re high in absorption when you go to the movie one of the worst things anyone can do is talk, and I’m like that. As soon as the movie starts, I am the movie. Don’t talk to me, don’t say anything. I’m high in absorption.
I was interested in if whether that explained why some people do so well in art therapy and ozone people don’t. Some people can really get into the experiences, and others can’t. So I started doing a little research in that. And then I remarried, and I was commuting two and a half hours a day. And I said, ehhh. So I retired from Landard after 20 years. And the last four years, I’ve been adjunct extraordinaire. I kind of take my wagon wherever they need me and I taught at Wofford, Spartenburg Methodist. Mainly, right now, I am USC Upstate. But it was there, that I got up here that the whole Brony thing fell on my lap. I told my students that if somebody had told me three years ago that I would be traveling around to conventions and doing Skype interviews, that I’d be, in some ways, one of the foremost experts on something, I would have kind of went, “Huh?” You never know when something falls in your lap. And like I say, I’ve also come to realize that my background is such that I teach developmental, I teach personality, I teach abnormal psych, I’ve worked with families. So I kind of bring a lot to the table. I also am kind of a natural—I have a natural knack for sort of looking at situations and pulling the pieces together. My colleague, Jan Griffin, who joined this about a year ago, she’s at Upstate. She’s the writer. I’m pretty good at writing, but boy, she is a detail person. I’ll do the interview and write it up, and I’ll hand it to her and she tears it apart. And I’m totally okay with that. And Marsha Redden is—
You also had asked the question…if we want, we can talk again sometime. You need to digest what I’m telling you.
K: We need to transcribe all this.
P: Yeah, and see what sense you make of it. It’s like any good science. You find one answer and two new questions. But it’s kind of intriguing—you asked a question about how we try to balance between studying the herd. There is this phenomenon, I’d guess you’d call it, ‘aca-fan’. Have you ever heard of that? There was little bit of research on it. It came up with Star Trek, primarily. People started saying, “Wait a minute,” You had these professors who were big Trekkies and they were also out researching. And people started saying, “Well, can you do both?” Resulting in acaFan. And I kinda realize that one of the things with our group, the four of us. It’s kind of intriguing.
Marsha, who was an adjunct with me at Wofford, is also a clinical psychologist, although her specialty is clinical neuropsychology. She doesn’t like cartoons. I think she’s watched maybe two episodes of MY Little Pony. Marsha is the skeptic. Marsha is the one who stands out and makes sure we don’t get too sucked in to the fandom.
Daniel is a Brony. Daniel’s been a Brony for two and a half years. So I like to say Marsha’s way back here watching us, Daniel’s out there bobbing around somewhere with the herd, and Jan and I are sort of so close that we can feel the rumble of the wind as the ponies goes by.
So, I call myself a Brony Booster. I’m not a Brony, but everything I continue to see leaves me with a very positive impression of the fandom.
Jan is a social psychologist, but she’s kind of in the same boat that I was. For the last 20 years, she’s just been teaching. For her, this is very exciting, because, as a social psychologist, her interest is in stereotyping and how people react in groups and that. So, fandoms, perfect. We make a really good team. Dan brings the inside perspective. He’s also big into anime and big into cosplay. He’s very immersed into fandom. I think we bring a really interesting perspective into it. Most of us hadn’t been doing a lot of it, but we were well prepared. Especially with my background with doing surveys and factor analysis.
K: So how did the Brony study here, how did all the people in it actually get together and actually become the Brony Study? At first it was you and Dr. Redden because you were adjuncting?
P: Right, right. I still remember the day: Marsha was in her office, and this was a day or two after Will had told me about being a Brony.
She came in, and I said, “Let me share with you.” She had the reaction everyone has at first, “You got to be kidding me.”
Marsha…there’s another important difference. Marsha and I are both clinicians, but Marsha is more psychodynamic. I’m tend to be more humanistic-existential, though I was trained in behavioral. So we’re very, very different as for what we bring as far as this. In fact, the 9/11 question [is the MLP fandom a response by bronies to the traumas of 9-11], that was something Marsha first brought up, and I agree with her. I think that plays some part of a role, but mainly because when you talk about cohorts, especially age related cohorts, like my grandparents: they were products of the depression, and that shaped and affected everybody. And my father was the shaped by World War II and Pearl Harbor.
I thought about this the other day. I was asking one of my classes about 9/11. They looked at me and said they were all in the 4th grade then. I suddenly had this insight, because I was in the 4th grade when President Kennedy was shot. I knew it happened, but it didn’t have the same impact on me that it did on people four or five or six years older than me. Kennedy’s assassination shaped that group of people.
So, I think 9/11 has shaped and shaken the foundations in some ways for that cohort, but that’s quickly passing. In 2 or 4 years, I’ll have students who won’t remember anything. So there’s going to be something new.
But back for a second—
So I said something to Marsha, and she said, “Somebody should study this.” So we got permission from Wofford to put the online questionnaire up, and that’s how it started. Then—Marsha isn’t an adjunct, she’s kind quasi-retired in private practice. But then I moved over to USC Upstate, and I’m teaching much more there, and it just so happened that my office is right next to Dr. Griffin. And one day we were talking, and I mentioned to her about the Bronies, and she just immediately reacted like “Oh my gosh, I need to know more!”
It’s interesting, because she had two sons and a daughter. She said, “When I raised them, my sons played with Barbie’s.” Both of them are doctors now and in their 30s. She was immediately drawn to the fact that here’s a fandom of boys who are allowing themselves to like something that is like that.
Jan is—she has all four of the Build-a-Bear ponies. Although I have to admit, three of them are mine. I bought them for scientific reasons. But she has Rainbow Dash—actually, I bought her Rainbow Dash.
K: So you have four ponies.
P: For scientific reasons! Although, it’s interesting. The Bronies, for the longest time, kept asking me, “Who’s your favorite pony?” And I kept saying, “Well, I’m not a Brony, so I don’t really have one.” And they’re like, “No, no, you’ve got to have one.”
So I finally said, it’s Twilight Sparkle, because she’s a student pony. Then one of the came up to me and said, “Well, now what? She’s an alicorn.”
And I said, “Oh, that’s right. Well, she’s just a grad student now.”
Daniel contacted us right after I did the second survey. Marsha takes care of any emails to the Brony Study, and she usually sends the ones to me where somebody has technical questions. She forwarded me this email from Daniel, and as soon as he said he was a faculty member, our ears perked up.
We were preparing to do our exposure study, where we took 500 students and spoke. Well, half of them were from Louisiana. We started talking, and then the first time I actually met Daniel when we went together out to the Las Vegas Convention that didn’t go too well.
We shared a room at Brony Con this last year. He’s a little too far away to meet, but I ended up talking to him for an hour on the phone yesterday. He and I together have launched a new study in which we’re looking at fandoms in general. We’ve collected about 2000 fans. We haven’t even asked the Bronies, because I know as soon as we do, we’ll get thousands of Bronies. We’re trying to get other fans. We’re trying to get a pool of sports fans, TV show fans, movie fans, and look for some of the fan function differences between the fandoms.
That’s kind of where we’re at right now. We have a couple of students who are working with us. We’re doing two poster presentations that the students are going to present. And we’ve had a couple other people reach out to us.
Right now, we’re pretty comfortable with that.
J: Have you done disciplinary work with people in other fields of psychology?
P: That was a good question. We haven’t yet, and it’s something I keep thinking. And actually, Coder Brony, we talked about this a little bit, I think at the Las Vegas Convention. You know that it would really be nice if we could get some kind of umbrella, or some way at Brony Con we could have a little meeting. I really feel like it would be useful to know what everybody’s doing. I don’t really know about the overlap a lot.
What I’m finding is people like you all, we’re all coming from very different directions, which is great, because I know we’re going to discover a lot of different dimensions.
I know there are some people who are in the area of communications, and there are people in fan studies.
J: There’s a fan studies group in Washington that’s doing some research.
P: That’s why I like the idea. And you were talking about setting up a clearing house where we could host the research. In three weeks, we’re going to submit those posters and then we could post those so people could read them. But also, a lot of times I’ll end up coming across some really obscure articles in different places, and I really thinking that it’d be real nice if we all had one place we could go and find them.
I’d like to do more. We haven’t yet, and it’s not because we’re feeling exclusive. There’s so much about the fandoms.
A part of it is being real busy. I’m still teaching six courses a semester, and also writing a fanfiction novel. In fact, I’m close—it’s interesting, because…I’ll put it in a real quick nutshell. My son Will, in Los Vegas, had a dream. I woke him up to get him ready, and he said he had a great dream. Well, in his dream, he went into a room in a convention and it was full of ponies. And they were all clapping and cheering and one of them came up to him and said, “What’s it like to be the first human in Equestria?” So that was his dream.
Well, that became the basis for this book. The book centers on this group of teenagers who are bullied, isolated, living in this very rural town. What ends up happening is Zecora comes to the human world and she takes four people back with her. There is a new evil that has shown up in Equestria, and she needs them to help solve the problem. Of course, the evil actually comes from our world. It’s fun.
For me, it’s a vehicle—I’m writing it, not just for Bronies, but I hope others, because I want to give people the sense of how being a Brony can give people a positive impact. How it helps each of them in their own way. How it’s helping people become the person they need to be.
It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also time consuming.
K: Would we be able to find it up on FiMfic?
P: I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m close to having it finished, at least, the first draft, but then I have to figure out what I want to do. I may contact Hasbro and see if there’s any possibility if I could go ahead and get it published. It takes place in Equestria, but except for Zecora, it doesn’t have Pinkie Pie, or any from the Mane Six. It actually has a host of other ponies called the Lost Pride of Equestria. There’s an elven pride, and a dwarf pride.
It’s a little bit of a blend of Lord of the Rings. There’s the elf shadow ponies, Pegasi paladins. I think the Bronies will find it intriguing because it’s a whole aspect of Equestria that they’re not familiar with. Then there are the rainbow ponies that they see in the distance, who are, of course, the ponies we’re familiar with.
I think it’ll be interesting vehicle, to introduce somewhat of what potentially happens to the Bronies.
The teens are distinct collection of individuals. I’m tapping to my clinician part. One’s being bullied, one has an alcoholic father, and the girl’s being sexually molested. They’re dealing with some pretty heavy shit, but being a Brony kind of helps them. And they end up saving Equestria.
K: Have you written fanfiction about anything else before?
P: I’ve got several other novels that I’ve been working on. Most of them are more psychological novels. The writing is something that’s a little new. The other thing is, I’m an artist.
This is a little bit of the book, but it’s also product placement. At Los Vegas, I took some of my crafts out there. I made dream catchers, one for each of the ponies. I made incense burners and votive candles that looked like stained glass windows.
I was raised Catholic. I’m not Catholic. You can kind of see some of that.
And so, In the book, the portal devices that allow the teens to cross are actually dream catchers, so if somebody really gets into the book, well, they’ve got the whole set. But that’s also the other thing. My creativity has been more directed towards that art, but I’ve been really inspired to do this writing. And it’s fun.
I’m one of those kind of people. I was telling someone the other day that when I start to write, the characters come to life. In some cases, well—my one friend, I read her a part, and she said:
“I can’t wait to know what’s going to happen!” and I said, “Neither can I!”
And she said, “What?!”
And I said, “Well, it’s because the character has it hidden.”
Literally, the characters will wait for me in the car, when I come out with my Dictaphone. It’s like they’ll come to life. It’s the process of creating the book that’s fairly new, fulfilling and fun. And I think it’s going to be damn good. I like it.
So hopefully within another month to six weeks I’ll be at a point where I can start to decide what I’m going to do with it. And I figured, too, that being Dr. Psych Ology won’t hurt.
You had also asked about that, the naming issues. And this kind of came in to the ‘aca-fan’ thing. I was aware early on that I could take this very aloof and distance researcher approach. But I felt like to win the trust of the fandom, because I had some fans first say, “Oh, no, we shouldn’t do this, because most scientists come in and make us look bad.”
And I’m like, “Well, no. That’s not what I’m looking for. That’s not my goal.”
And I kind of felt that by the lab coat and assuming the persona of Dr. Psych Ology—and then my son Will ponified me. He’s the one who drew the image. I just felt that it would send a message to the fandom that I was going to respect them and their interests. I also want to be a part of them. So that’s where that started.
Then Marsha wanted to be ponified, and we decided that she’d become Dr. Sci Entific.
Then Jan, who we ponified, but I haven’t put it up yet. She’s Dr. Sig Nificant. And Jessica, who’s one of our research assistants. Jessica is so cute, and so bubbly. She’s so Rarity. Rarity is her pony. She’s just the epitome of Rarity. Her pony is going to be Rare Findings.
It’s part of our having fun with it. We’re enjoying it, and whenever I get an opportunity, I always thank the fandom, because none of this would be happening if the Bronies wouldn’t have stepping forward. And they continue to. Even when, sometimes, the questions get longer than I mean them to be.
I think in the end, it’s going to be a—not only the fandom gains, because the more we know, the more we—I think what we’re doing is that we’re kind of normalizing. It seems like an incredibly unique, strange thing, and it’s certainly unique. I think we’re going to find in the fandom picture, it’s really not that unexplainable.
And also, they’re going to help psychology. If I can get my colleagues to stop looking at fans as deviant right of the bat, and say wait, let’s look at the function, and then we’ll decide, I think that’ll be a big step.
The study we’re doing right now will be a big help me go to my clinical colleagues and talk about the fandom. But what I don’t want to do is go and say, “Send all your patients!”
I would like to clarify, because in part, I had Bronies who had their therapists tell parents, “There’s something really wrong with them.” I’d like the therapists to stop that.
I don’t know if you saw someone had posted on the Facebook fandom page, and I copied it. It was a pony post it. It said, “My parents sent me to a therapist because I was a Brony, but by my third meeting with him, he was one too.” Imagine that might happen!
K: Is there anything else we wanted to say?
P: What we might want to do…we talked a lot, and I know I have a tendency to jump around a bit. We could always get together and chat again.
Although, let me mention one thing. You had raised this, and actually, we had got an email about this the other day, and I emailed the person back. We are aware, and it’s one of the things we highlight in our publication that we are talking about the Brony fandom, but we have to realize that we’re not getting all the Bronies. We get the Bronies who go to Equestria Daily, follow the Facebook pages. One of the things we did do, though, was the former fan survey, and I feel pretty good about that. We were able to get over 200 people who had left the fandom. Nobody’s ever studied former fans, in anything.
The problem is it’s simply hard to get what those Bronies who aren’t that interested involved. They certainly aren’t going to be willing to sit and do the long surveys. We realize we’re only seeing the more motivated segment. But that’s a limitation with any kind of research, unless you can order everybody to come in and take part.
But then of course, they’re not motivated. That could screw up the answers. We’re aware of that, and in our publications, that’s one of the things we’ll highlight.
K: We’re certainly coming from ethnographic research where people will write a whole book on just one person. We’re not as concerned with sample sizes.
P: I will say the one thing that helps us counteract that is the sample size. In our second survey, we have 12,000 Bronies. Well, we’re not getting the whole population, but that’s a huge chunk.
And then what I might hypothesize is that maybe there are more hidden Bronies, and maybe a few more secret Bronies because the hiddens simply aren’t interacting that much. The groups that I would think are more visible are the social Bronies and the hipsters and the also, I think, the secret Bronies are the ones who will talk more about it.
J: And other groups that I think about sometimes are fans from MLP from before Friendship is Magic. Some of them do like the new show, but they won’t identify with Bronies, because they’d want to identify as fans from beforehand. That’s one group even in our research we’re not going to interact with directly, until we make a move to. But I think about them from time to time.
P: You know, let me mention, that you should say that. You didn’t really ask it, but it’s a burning question that we keep getting that I think we’re getting closer to explaining. And that’s the gender discrepancy, 85% male and 15% female. Some people would say, given that it’s a stereotypical girls show, why aren’t there more female Bronies?
That was something I really pondered, too. The hypothesis we have right now, and that we’re trying to test, is that when a lot of girls were little knew about My Little Pony. They played with, the combed their hair. But some of the researchers I talked with said when girls become that tween age, when they hit 10, they have a very strong rejection of everything that was little girl. Now they’re going to get into shoes, jewelry, and they’re only a couple years away from discovering boys.
Whereas, what we’re finding with most of our male Bronies is that they had no knowledge of My Little Pony when they were younger, or if they did, it was real tentative. The girls reject Mt Little Pony strongly because that the position they need to make to become tweens and teens and develop. And if you come back a few years later and say, “Here’s My Little Pony”, they have this strong negative stereotype. I think that the little girl stereotype is much stronger than it is for the males.
J: Another possibility, that may not be as strong, is similar…it’s not necessary for a girl to watch MLP anyway or even take a position. A girl could just watch MLP and it’d never be considered a thing. And that’s what the demographic is like.
If you think about the unfortunate situation of Michael Morones right now, girls his age could watch the show without any indication that they were with anything in particular. That’s the point.
P: I agree, it’s probably a combination of both of those. There’s less of a stereotype they’re fighting if they decide to watch it. But I also suspect that they—cause see, in our exposure study where we had the 500 students. What we found was that the female students often had a stronger reaction than the males necessarily did. That led me to start thinking that part of it is that they form such a ‘that’s for little girls’ thing.
J: One thing of that I’ll say, is that playing around ethnographically and talking to random people on Twitter who say sort of disparaging things about the show or about kids. All of them would say something to see how they would respond. There is a tendency for girls to question both—at least, women in the age of late teens to early twenties—there is a tendency to disparage both boys and girls younger than them for watching the show and disparage them not based on gender, but based on age. Men tend to disparage based on gender, but the girls I’ve seen, the initially interaction is that “you’re too old for that. This is for a five year old or six year old.”
P: That would kind of fit with our hypothesis. They really identify it with being younger
Well, I very much enjoyed this!
K/J: Thank you!