Course title: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Psychology
Instructor: Scott Akalis
Kiss freshmen year goodbye and prepare for an academic boot camp that would bring senior psychologists to their knees! Just kidding. This course will involve very few boring lectures, very little memorization, no tests, and will only meet once a week. You may ask, “wait, am I still in school?” Yes, but sophomore tutorials are a different sort of school. Instead of drool-inducing lectures and anxiety-invoking exams, you will engage in interesting discussions over real psychology articles and you will learn to think and write like a real psychologist. However, as class meets only once a week and is very small, punctual attendance will be mandatory and I will know if you are missing. Indeed, this will likely be the smallest psychology class you ever have, so take advantage of the opportunities it will provide for discussion and collaboration.
Following an introduction and a review of the psychologist’s basic skills, we will start with classic psychology topics, most of which deal with problems and pathology, among other “bad” things. Following that unit, we will depart from the mainstream of psychology and cover topics that have more recently emerged and may well be the areas that capture the interest of the field in the future. The second unit covers a rapidly-developing movement named Positive Psychology, the focus of which is the “good” side of human nature. Finally, the last part of the semester will address controversies of interest to the research psychologist and also contentious issues facing the ordinary person, earning these last two units the “ugly” title.
Although the reading and writing load in this course is large to oppressive, I have tried to make the material light and engaging. I will not let us dwell entirely on depression and prejudice, in the hope that topics like optimism and happiness will rub off from the readings and writings to the reader/writer. I have also made the course “top heavy,” with most of the workload falling in the first two-thirds of the semester. I imagine that most of your other classes will have the opposite design, so I hope that this helps you manage your courseload.
In addition to learning how to write psychological papers and read primary source materials of diverse content, a key objective of all sophomore tutorials is to familiarize you with psychology’s three different levels of analysis. Psychological phenomena in each major content area will be conceptualized as the product of events at these three levels, the foci of which are:
The Brain - addresses the mechanisms that underlie mental processes and behavior (ranging from genetic to biochemical to neural to information processing)
The Person - addresses the content of mental processes and behavior (including beliefs, goals, motivations, and attitudes)
The Group - addresses the effects of the social surroundings (ranging from dyads and small groups to communities and culture).
Just to make it clear which levels of analysis each reading addresses, you will see the letters B, P, and/or G in brackets after each reading. You will also be encouraged to incorporate the interaction of multiple levels of analysis into your writing whenever possible.
In general, I have tried my best to introduce what I consider to be essential background for any beginning psychologist, at the same time as I included topics that I think are important and interesting for any person. The nice thing about psychology, as I hope you will find, is that these two spheres often overlap. Few other professions allow one to gain such perspective on one’s personal life. Thus, I hope this course will catalyze learning on two fronts, practicing the skills of a psychologist and perhaps providing insight on how to make your personal life more positive and meaningful.
Discussion Points – 15%
By 8pm each Sunday night, you will post the questions and comments that came to you when going over the week’s readings. The exemplary set of points would address multiple readings from multiple perspectives. These thoughts can take the form of cries for clarification, comments concerning subjects you found interesting and worthy of discussion, study ideas, or criticism. I am assigning these discussion points instead of a weekly discussion paper, so that we can open up, rather than close, avenues of discussion. Oh, and it’s also easier for you. Speaking of which, everyone will receive one “Get-out-of-discussion-points-free” card at the beginning of the semester so that you may skip submitting these one time without penalty. Oops, I just compared discussion points to jail.
Participation & Preview Presentations – 20%
I understand that some people naturally talk more than others. I only ask that you prepare thoroughly for discussion by tackling all of the readings and trying your best to participate.
Just as the discussion points need not be in any one particular format, the preview “presentations” do not need to be formal, anxiety-provoking affairs. I do not expect you to have your long papers written before you give these presentations and, in fact, the presentations may be used as brainstorming sessions during which you can get feedback from all of us regarding your paper ideas. The purpose of these “presentations” is not only to give your classmates and me an idea of what you find interesting, but also to let you experience creative group process as it takes place in psychology lab groups. Each student will have 5 minutes, most of which will ideally be spent discussing their topic after they have briefly introduced it.
Long Papers (2) – 40%
In these papers, you will review a topic of your choice within the broad area specified. The paper should bring the reader up to speed with the field’s current understanding of your topic and the path of studies that led there. You should also end with some look ahead at what aspects of the topic are left unresolved. These papers should be written in APA style and total 8-10 pages.
Short Paper (1) – 10%
This paper is meant to get you thinking about designing experiments of your own. Your objective is to employ a recently-emerging paradigm (implicit measures – the topic of the previous week) and address how demographic differences (culture, gender, or development – the topic of two weeks prior) may affect your study’s results. The short paper will only require miniature literature review (briefly covering the past use of the methodology you would employ), methods (detail the participants, materials, and procedure of your proposed experiment), and results (predictions, including the effects of participant differences) sections of the standard APA paper and should be no more than 6 pages in length.
Sophomore Essay Reflection – 10%
This assignment is just to get you thinking about possible sophomore essay topics. Write an informal 3 page paper about an area of your choice and the research questions within it that interest you most. You may write this paper from the first-person perspective, describing how this topic fits into your interests. This paper will not be graded on grammar or APA style (you can even write it in crayon), although one might remain wary of forming bad habits. You will not be held to this topic for your actual sophomore essay, but it is important to begin thinking about it before spring semester.
Random Drawing – 5%
This portion of your grade will be determined by the arbitrary roll of a die. Sorry, that’s life.
** Extension policy: Late papers will be marked down 2 grades per day late (A to B+, B+ to B-, etc.). Extensions are only offered in rare cases limited to the death or near-death of one’s self or loved ones.
1. Introducing the Course & Reviewing the 3 R’s of Psychology (9/26)