S S 301 • Honors Social Science: Psychology W
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
Psychology is a discipline that is broadly concerned with the ways in which people perceive, understand and interact with the world. As such, it addresses questions that range from the micro level of perception within the eye to the macro level of social interactions among people. The SS 301 in psychology is designed to introduce students to a representative range of the topics subsumed within this discipline. We will be taking a levels-of-explanation approach, in which we will simultaneously explore the biological, environmental, and cultural aspects of each of the selected problems. We will also specifically consider the ways in which psychology investigates these problems, in terms of both methodology and epistemology. The hope is that students will leave the SS 301 with an understanding not only of what psychology studies, but also of how and why.
This class contains a substantial writing component and will involve both papers and exams. Students will write a series of four short (3-5 pages) reaction papers. For each paper, students will choose one of about five alternative questions, related to what is currently happening in class, to address. These papers are intended to involve analysis and opinion, not factual recitation. There will also be a midterm and a final exam. Both of these exams will have a short answer/short essay format, and will be take-home exams.
Final grades will be computed on the following basis:
Exams: 50% (25% each)
Papers: 40% (10% each)
Example paper topics:
An inevitable trade-off exists in research between control and ecological validity. This trade-off can be seen in a wide variety of ways in psychology: a lab versus a natural location for research, a randomly chosen versus a naturally occurring group of subjects, focusing on a limited set of factors at the expense of the diversity of influences on any behavior. In your view, how should psychology deal with this issue? For example, is psychology a science? Should it be? Should it adopt the same constraints (control) as natural sciences? You can make a strong argument for one approach or the other, or present a balanced middle ground.
The argument has been made that, in principle, it would be impossible for human beings to fully understand the nature of their own brain. What is your view of this argument, and why?
The current zeitgeist in psychology is to find the neurological mechanism associated with a given cognition, emotion or behavior. Does finding such a mechanism constitute an explanation for the given cognition/emotion/behavior? Why or why not?
A major issue in psychology, practically since its inception, has concerned the relative influence of genetics and environment. Originally, this was seen as an either-or question, later as a matter of degrees of influence, and most recently in terms of the components of an interaction. Though it is rarely asked, it is worth considering whether this is really an important question, and why? What is your position on this issue?
The research on hemisphere specialization led to the popular conception of people who are right-brained or left-brained. In light of what you have learned about hemisphere specialization, do you find this to be a useful concept? Why or why not?
M. Gazzaniga, & T. Heatherton, The Psychological Science: the Mind, the Brain and Behavior
R. Hock, Forty Studies that Changed Psychology
W. Price & H. Richley, Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Introductory Psychology
About the Professor
Wendy Domjan has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Wisconsin, with specialties in perception and cognition, and currently has a major focus on psychology of religion and psychology of religious fundamentalism.