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PSY 231:  Social Psychology

Humans are SOCIAL ANIMALS. The goal of this course is to help you understand how we operate in the (social) world. You will come to see that social factors influence ALL others areas of psychology (and life!). By the end of the course I hope you will come to recognize and understand the various social influences with which you are confronted every day. Social factors influence how we think, how we feel, how we make decisions and what those decisions are, our health, and even the basic information that we take in from the outside world. ENJOY!

In class, we’ll use a combination of lectures, class discussions, video clips, demonstrations (volunteers needed!), out of class exercises, and miscellaneous other experiences.  It is my goal to make this course entertaining as well as informative.  In the end, in addition to increasing your understanding and appreciation of social psychology as a science, I hope this course will help you see applications in your day-to-day life, be more thoughtful and curious about social influence, and be a more critical consumer of information about human behavior.

Course Objectives:

  • First, obviously, you should learn what social psychology as a field is all about, becoming familiar with current scientific theory and research in the major areas of social psychology, and being able to distinguish social psychology from related disciplines.
  • Second, you should understand what it means for social psychology to be an experimental science and appreciate the manner in which social psychologists come to develop their models and theories.
  • Third, you should become familiar with the massive amounts and varieties of social influence that impact our day-to-day lives.
  • Fourth, you should develop skills necessary to evaluate and think critically about information concerning social psychological phenomena obtained from research, the general public and the media; in other words, you should become a more informed “consumer” of social psychological information.
  • Fifth, you should discover the personal relevance of the course material, including understanding the role of social psychological forces in your life and the lives of others, and an appreciation of the practical value of social psychology.

Next taught:  2014-2015 academic year.

PSY 245:  Emotion

This course is dedicated to the study of human emotional processes. The science of emotions is a wonderfully rich, albeit complex, research area. This field is marked by intense debate about almost every issue – including the very definition of emotion itself! This class will involve a very active, hands-on approach by students to understand the importance of emotion in our everyday lives, and to science more broadly. We will discuss such questions as: what are our emotions? where do they come from? what purpose do they serve? how do emotions relate to our thoughts, memories & opinions? can we control our feelings, or do they control us?

The course content is broken into 3 units:

—What is Emotion? This unit will focus on defining what emotion is, as well as what it is not.

—Structure & Function of Emotions – This unit, our largest, will focus on the “how” and the “why” of emotions, including components of emotions, whether emotions are “good for us” or “bad for us”, the processes by which we become emotional, emotional influences on other aspects of life (and vice versa), etc.

—Discrete Emotions – in this final unit, we will focus in-depth on specific emotional states, and what is currently known about causes and consequences of that state

Next taught: 2014-2015 academic year.

PSY 270:  Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is the science of understanding human strengths and the practice of promoting these strengths to help people psychologically and physically. Throughout most of the 20th century, mainstream psychology research and practice centered around a disease model – largely focused on “fixing” what was “broken” in the human psyche. Positive Psychology provides a distinct contrast, emphasizes optimal functioning – what’s “right” about people, what helps individuals achieve happiness and life satisfaction, and to prosper in the face of adversity. Positive psychology explores factors that make life worth living and the human strengths that enable individuals to confront challenges, appreciate others, and regard daily experiences as meaningful.

In this course, we will read, discuss, and critique books and articles dealing with current issues in positive psychology, including defining happiness and the nature of the good life, subjective well-being, human strengths and virtues, finding meaning, emotions, flow, and optimism. The standard format will be a short lecture, followed by class questions and discussion. We will also use video clips, classroom demonstrations (volunteers needed!), out of class exercises, and miscellaneous other experiences to help understand and apply the information from the course to your daily life.

Next taught: Spring 2014.

PSY 295a/b, PSY 296 a/b:  Honors Seminar

Seminar for students completing the department Honors program.  For more information on the Honors program, visit the main Honors website:  http://as.vanderbilt.edu/psychology/honors-program/ .  I mentor cohorts that enter Honors in odd-numbered years.

PSY 342:  Social Bases of Behavior

This course is intended as a graduate-level introduction to the field of social psychology. We will use two primary paths for this introduction. The first ~1/3 of the course will involve an examination of the progression of several key ideas in social psychology as they have evolved over the course of the last eighty-ish years. One aim of this is to introduce you to specific content. But another aim is to help you think about the development of ideas. Often we perceive social psychology as static and its ideas as unrelated to each other. But ideas develop over time and are often more related to each other than we might imagine. Understanding this development and interrelation helps in the understanding of the particular ideas being studied. Getting a gut level feel for how ideas develop and interrelate is also a skill you can transfer to your own research interests, whatever they are.

The remaining ~2/3 of the course will cover different specific subareas of social psychology, emphasizing a mixture of classic studies with cutting-edge contemporary research. In these subareas, we will attend to some of the technical matters involved (i.e., the uses of specific methodologies), as well as, once again, the historical progression ideas.  We will also focus on cultural similarities and differences within specific topics.

Given the vast amount of work in social psychology and the limited time available, the course will NOT cover an exhaustive list of topics within social psychology. Rather, a subset of topics of particular historical and contemporary interest will be covered, with an emphasis on the development of theory and methods over time.  The key focus for this aspect of the course will be on applications of social influences on behavior, with particular attention to diversity of these influences within and across cultures.

Course objectives:

1) Familiarity with some of the important social psychology theories and studies

2) Development of the ability to think like a social psychologist (and to apply this thinking to your particular domain of study)

Generally taught in odd-numbered years.

PSY 352:  Seminar in Clinical Science – Emotion

This seminar is dedicated to providing a thorough overview of the key areas in affective science.

✧ The seminar is meant to meet the APA breadth requirement in affective processes.

✧  In addition, to contribute to our distributed approach to several other APA requirements, explicit attention is given to History and Systems, Lifespan Development, and Diversity. History and Systems is met by reading and discussing a seminal paper within particular areas of affective science; lifespan development is addressed with a series of readings focused on child development as well as positive affect through the lifespan; diversity is addressed via readings on universality of expression and cross-cultural differences in affect expressions.

✧ The seminar is designed to help you understand the affective processes that influence your particular field of study.

✧ You should come out of this class with a solid introduction to the major areas of study within the broad field of emotions. Further work in emotions will in all likelihood lead you to specialize in just a couple of these areas.

✧ The class should also provide you with the background to critically evaluate emotions-related research.

✧Finally, the seminar should help you develop and/or hone your teaching skills, through the development of a lecture-module designed for use with undergraduates, based on your final project.