PSYC190: The Science of Emotion 


About This Course

This course is a first- and second-year undergraduate science seminar worth 3 credits designed especially for students interested in exploring affective science or the science of human emotion. Emotions are complex, emergent mental phenomena that involve our bodies, minds, and environments. Because emotion is entangled with both “mental” and “physical” processes, it impacts every sphere of our lives such as health and development, interpersonal relationships, attention and memory, learning, attitudes and decision-making, marketing, work performance, motivation, politics, aesthetics, and morality. In other words, it’s a very important and relevant topic, no matter what your major or career interests.

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 affective science.

  • Clear grasp of the methodologies commonly used in affective science.

  • Greater comfort and dexterity reading empirical peer-review papers.

  • Preliminary mastery of basic research design.

  • Improved scientific writing style.

Course Objectives

Below are the objectives of this course, as well as my more general aims as an instructor.

1. To provide you with an introductory but comprehensive overview of the psychological study of emotion. We all experience emotions and hold commonsense ideas about what emotions are. But how can we scientifically understand the nature of emotions and our affective experiences? To address this, we must take an interdisciplinary approach in both research methodology and theoretical perspective. We will consider a spectrum of methodologies and perspectives on emotion in psychology and the social and biological sciences.

  • Theoretical Diversity: This semester, you will be exposed to a range of theories and research on emotion drawn from Cognitive Science, Social Psychology, Biological Psychology and Psychophysiology, Social Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, Developmental Science, Anthropology, Linguistics, History, Clinical Psychology, Behavioral Economics, Philosophy of Science, and Philosophy of Mind.

  • Methodological Diversity: You will be exposed to neuroimaging, psychophysiology, experience sampling, as well as behavioral and questionnaire measures of emotion.

2. To engage you in active learning and reflective inquiry about the nature of science and emotions, and the value of research—both as these relate to science more broadly and also with respect to affective science. We all bring with us many assumptions and beliefs about the nature of science and emotions that we have acquired from our families and culture, and from previous experiences and education. However, to really understand what science (and specifically, affective science) is requires both experiential and reflective learning. Throughout this course, we will use small group discussion, written reflections, in-class experiments, writing workshops, and a field trip to help you grow your scientific skills and understanding.

3. To integrate and apply your growing knowledge of excellent scientific practice to current problems in emotion science. Ultimately, by exploring both emotion theory and scientific methodology, you will be equipped to ask novel, testable questions and create your own studies to test those questions. You will demonstrate your integration of emotion theory and methodology by writing up a research proposal at the end of the semester. We will have class periods devoted to helping you develop your research ideas and paper. You will also work one-on-one with the instructor to ensure that you get the most out of your project. 

Course Format

Lecture & Laboratory. This course includes both lecture and laboratory components, with two days a week dedicated to lecture on the key principles behind affective science and one day a week dedicated to hands-on experience, in-class experiments, and group discussions. Laboratory days may also include a small amount of lecture at the beginning to introduce tasks and appropriate procedures or methods.

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. 

Exams. You will take two (2) noncumulative exams (in essay format with some multiple choice or short answer). The exams will cover all materials, including concepts and findings from the class that are not covered in the readings, as well as concepts and findings in the readings that are covered in class. Exams are primarily in essay format, requiring you to synthesize arguments and ideas from multiple different perspectives.

Reflection Assignments: Excellent science requires critical and creative thinking. This course has 5 reflection essays that are aimed at helping you explore your own assumptions and ideas about the nature of science and emotions, and to integrate key ideas from the course. These reflections will provide you with “big ideas” to take away from the course and to apply to your other classes and everyday life.

Research Assignments: Science exists through research, and to help you develop your scientific skills, this course has a Research Proposal due at the end of the semester. To scaffold you through the research process, you will complete 5 research assignments that help you brainstorm your hypothesis, gather empirical literature, develop a solid outline, write up your paper, and experience the peer-review process. The skills you learn from the research assignments will also prepare you for many tasks that are integral to psychology laboratories.

Research Proposal as Final Paper: The paper will be a 10-page double spaced research proposal in APA format (with 1 inch margins on all sides, 12-point Times New Roman font) where you will design and propose your own original empirical study. The paper will have an Introduction, Literature Discussion, Methods, Predicted Results, and Conclusion.

  1. The Introduction will frame your research question and why it is important or why we must answer that question.

  2. The Literature Discussion will summarize previous research on that question (or related questions if your idea is novel). You are also welcome to include both research and papers discussed in class as well as other empirical papers that were not discussed in class.

  3. A Methods section and Predicted Results section will outline your hypotheses, how you are operationalizing them, the research methods you are proposing to use and the anticipated outcome of your study.

  4. Finally, in a Conclusion, you should summarize your anticipated findings and their impact on the literature and the real world.

**Please note that the Research Proposal is an exercise; you are not expected to actually conduct this study

** Research Assignments are designed to help you reach important milestones in your development of the research proposal. Additionally, we will spend some class periods focusing on developing your ideas, peer- reviewing, and going over common writing problems that students face. You are also required to meet with me at least once to discuss your proposal ideas; I will send out a sign-up sheet for this required meeting.

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