PSYC260: Introduction to Social Psychology

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... the center around which modern social psychology actually turns is the understanding of subjective experience
— Daniel Wegner & Daniel Gilbert (2000), social psychologists

About This Course

This course is a psychology class designed to introduce undergraduate students to the primary topics and research methods relevant to the field of social psychology. By the end of this course, you should be able to demonstrate the following:

  • Broad knowledge of the theories, models, and key ideas central to social psychology, with an emphasis on current perspectives and issues in the field.
  • Familiarity with some methodologies commonly used in social psychology, including an introduction to experimental design, behavioral methods (e.g., reaction times), questionnaire design and use, and social cognitive/ affective neuroscience.
  • Greater comfort and dexterity discussing empirical psychology research and results, via reading and discussing empirical papers, as well as learning the study designs and results of classic and current studies (not just the interpretations). 
  • Improved scientific writing style and public science communication, through targeted writing assignments (e.g., literature review, research proposal, science journalism blog post).

How can you do well in this class? Here are some tips rooted in research on pedagogy.

  • Engage with the material (both in class and while reading the textbook).
  • Examine concepts critically and ask lots of questions.
  • Recognize when you do not understand material & seek help early.
  • Apply class ideas to your current and real-world knowledge.
  • Take notes on lectures, class discussions, reading materials, and in-class activities.
  • Envision how material will support your career & personal learning goals. 

 

Course Format

Office Hours. Every week, I hold a "coffee hour" where students are welcome to stop by my office and have tea or coffee and discuss course material or career development. 

All course activities, exams, and assignments are designed to achieve the overarching course goals described above.  Course grade is computed from the exams, in-class quizzes, writing assignments, and a participation score based on in-class worksheets and presentations. This course is primarily lecture-based, but also includes in-class activities and discussions. Details are provided below.

Exams. You will take two (2) noncumulative exams and one (1) semi-cumulative final exam. Exams are a mixture of multiple-choice, short answer or diagram labeling, and short essay. Exams cover all materials, with a heavy emphasis on concepts and findings covered in lecture, class activities, and discussions.  

Exams are designed to test three levels of learning:

  1. Your acquisition of new knowledge (often this requires rote memorization) - these sorts of questions include being able to recall the names of concepts or researchers, what study results were, etc.
  2. Your integration of new knowledge (how do different ideas & concepts fit together) - these sorts of questions require you to be able to differentiate between similar concepts and identify core ideas across theories
  3. Your application of new knowledge (how do concepts apply to real world situations?) - these sorts of questions are scenario-based questions where real world observations are presented and you must apply social psychological theory to identity processes in the scenario.

In-Class Quizzes. A total of 10 pop quizzes will be given throughout the semester. These are 5-item quizzes based on the assigned reading material and are used to reward students who keep up with the reading assignments. 

In-Class Worksheets. A total of 10 worksheets are given at random throughout the semester and count as part of your participation grade. There are no right or wrong answers on worksheets, but instead are designed to help students apply class material to their own lives (e.g., a worksheet on social media usage when we learn about social comparisons) and start discussions in class.  

Psychology in the Wild. If this is a small course (< 50 students), the participation grade will also include a "Psychology in the Wild" grade. Throughout the semester, students are called on twice to share an example in front of the class on how they applied a social psychology concept to their every day life. For example, when we learn about persuasion techniques, a student could present on how they used a "foot in the door" technique to negotiate room-mate responsibilities. This is a 1-2 min oral presentation to the class. Students sign up for this the week before, so know in advance and have time to prepare. 

Writing Assignments. There are a total of three writing assignments throughout the semester. Writing assignments are designed to improve the evaluation of previous psychological theories and findings to generate novel research questions,   These are briefly described below to provide an overview of what the assignments address. 

  1. Literature Review. This writing assignment is designed to improve students' evaluation of previous psychological theories and findings to generate novel research questions and hypotheses. Skills built include how to conduct a literature search, format a manuscript and references in APA style, evaluate existing evidence to identify gaps in the literature, and generate a relevant, testable hypothesis. 
  2. Research Proposal. This writing assignment builds on the first assignment. Students design their own experimental study to test their hypothesis of interest and must write up a research proposal inspired by grant-writing. Students must briefly summarize prior literature, justify the broader impacts of the research question for society and science, and describe study methods. 
  3. Science Journalism. This writing assignment is designed to address good public science communication. How do you make social psychology findings accessible to non-scientists, while also maintaining accuracy? Students pick an empirical study (no brief reports) published on a topic taught in the course (from the following journal options: Psychological Science, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Personality & Social Psychology BulletinCognition, Emotion, or Cognition & Emotion, Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, Neuroimage, Psychophysiology, Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology). 

 

Additional Resources

APA Formatting & Citations. Your writing assignments MUST be in APA format. If you cite peer-reviewed research or literature review articles, you must be sure to cite them correctly in APA format. The best resource (that I also use) is the Purdue OWL APA Guide here.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The primary professional organization for social psychologists is SPSP. If you are passionate about social psychology, think you’d like to pursue graduate school in this area, or want to learn more about social psychology as a career, you can sign up and get involved in the society.

Society for Affective Science. One of the primary professional organizations for those interested in emotion or affective science is SAS. They are a newer society (founded 2015) but have an active student body that is open to undergraduate members. This is an interdisciplinary society, which means that all sorts of scientists and thinkers from across academic fields come together to share their work on emotion.

Social & Affective Neuroscience Society. This society is dedicated to research exploring the neural mechanisms underlying social and affective processes. They were founded in 2008 and are a great resource if you're interested in how neuroscience intersects with social psychology.

Society for Psychophysiological Research. If you're interested in how physiology relates to social psychology, one arena for learning more is via this society. This is an interdisciplinary society. 

Social Psychology Practice Quizzes. If you would like to test your knowledge further, here are some practice Social Psychology tests and quizzes that you can utilize.