General Psychology (PSY 161)
Term 1, 2004
Bill Dragon
Office: 106C Law Hall
Office Hours: 3:30 PM Monday-Friday; or by appointment
Phone: 895-4281 or


Class Hours:
Monday - Friday: 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Monday-Thursday: 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM

 Reading Schedule
    Sept. 01
    Sept. 02
Explaining Human Behavior (1)
Studying Human Behavior (2)
      Sept. 03
The Genetics of Behavior (3)
Neurons, Hormones, and Neurotransmitters (4)
      Sept. 04
Evaluating the Biological Perspective (5)
      Sept. 05
(Exam 1: Preface, and Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
      Sept. 08
Behavioral Learning (6)
Social and Cognitive Learning (7)
      Sept. 09
Evaluating the Learning Perspective (8) (Critique 1 Due)
      Sept. 10
Thinking and Reasoning (9)
Memory (10)
      Sept. 11
Evaluating the Cognitive Perspective (11)
      Sept. 12
(Exam 2: Chapters 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
      Sept. 15
The Social Context (12)
The Cultural Context (13)
      Sept. 16
Evaluating the Sociocultural Perspective (14) (Critique 2 Due)
      Sept. 17
The Inner Life (15)
      Sept. 18
Evaluating the Psychodynamic Perspective (16)
      Sept. 19
The Whole Elephant (17)
      Sept. 22
(Exam 3: Chapters 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)
      Sept. 23
Writing Day
      Sept. 24
Group Presentations (Turn in Research Report)

Goals of the course
: Psychology is the scientific study of behavior. This definition may surprise you. It may surprise you because it is so broad. In fact, before we enroll in our first psychology course we usually have very specific ideas about the nature of psychology. Some of us believe that psychology is all about Freud and the unconscious. Others believe that psychology is all about Skinner, rats, and pigeons (oh my!). Still others believe that psychology is about helping people. Although these ideas are quite diverse, they only represent a small part of the total subject matter of psychology. Therefore, one goal of the course is to help you become familiar with the variety of issues that concern modern psychology.

The definition stated above may also have been a surprise because it included the word "scientific". Many of us, before our first course in psychology, do not associate the words "psychology" and "scientific". However, we will learn that there are great similarities between the way psychologists, biologist, geologist, and other scientists study the content of their disciplines. You may wonder how disciplines that examine such different issues could be similar. The commonality between all of these disciplines is the method they use to test ideas. That method is the scientific method. Therefore, a second goal of the course is to become familiar with the methods that all scientist use to empirically test their ideas. We will also concentrate on how the ideas produced by psychological theories are empirically supported (or not supported) through carefully conducted research.

As with any other scientific discipline, psychology is driven by theory. We observe the world, develop a theory to explain our observations, empirically test predictions based on our theory, and revise our theory based on empirical evidence. This procedure can sound very abstract and dull. However, in the hands of a psychologist, it can be exciting and personally relevant. For instance, in this course we will concentrate on the fundamental concepts and theories of human behavior. However, we will always try to integrate them into our knowledge of the world.

Examinations: There will be three exams, each will be worth 25% of your course grade. Exams will be given only on the date indicated above and will start promptly at 9:00 AM. The exams will be approximately two hours in length and will be composed of objective questions and essays. Make up exams will be given to students who have missed any of the scheduled exams. All make up exams will consist of several essays. Exams must be made up within two days of the actual exam date.

Writing Assignments: One goal of the course is to develop an understanding of how an idea is empirically tested. Another goal is to refine your writing skills. These two goals will be partially accomplished through three writing assignments. During the course you will be asked to write two critiques and one research report. The critiques will be short summaries of current research articles from psychological journals. The paper format and the selection of journal articles for the two critiques will be discussed early in the first week of class. The research report will be a longer paper that presents a research question, describes how it will be empirically tested, and explains how the data collected either supports or refutes the experimenter's prediction. You will be the experimenter! More on this below.

All papers must be turned in by 12:00 Noon on the following days: the first critique is due on Sept. 9, the second critique is due on Sept. 16, and the research report is due on the last day of block (Sept. 24). Any paper that is late (i.e., 12:01 PM) will be reduced one full letter grade for each 24 hour period it is late. The first critique is worth 5% of your final grade. The other papers are worth 20% of your final grade (10% for the second critique, 10% for the research report of your group research project).

Group Project: Each class member will participate in a group research project. The projects have several goals. First, they will enable you to become intimately acquainted with a particular content area of social psychology. Second, they will give you first hand experience at conducting a research project. This experience will enable you to not only become critical consumers of science but also skilled producers of science.
The group projects will be run in the following manner:

  • Groups will be selected by Tuesday of the third week.
  • Initial topics will be selected by Wednesday of the third week.
  • A typed outline of the topic and method of testing the topic will be turned in by Thursday of the third week and the group will turn in two research articles on the topic (should be within the last 10 years).
  • Data collection should be completed by the end of the third week.
  • Data analysis complete by Monday, of the fourth week.
  • Group presentations will be on the last day of class from 9:00 am to 12:00 Noon. All group members must participate and each class member must be present for all group presentations.

  • Electronic Class Discussion: On Monday of the first week you will each participate in a workshop on how to use the VAX system on campus and how to use the computer "newsgroup" set up for this class. The workshops will be small and will enable you to post questions to other members of the class, reply to a question posed by another class member, or join a discussion that other members of the class are having on some issue related to this course. The goal of this "newsgroup" is to provide the class an opportunity to continue discussion of issues raised in class or address issues that we were not able to fit into our normal class time.

    There is an advantage in having an "electronic" voice rather than an acoustical voice in the discussion of the issues surrounding psychology. It encourages us to think more carefully about our positions before stating them, it allows us to easily go back to issues earlier in the discussion that may have gotten lost or sidetracked, and it gives everyone in the "newsgroup" a voice in the discussion that is free of the anxiety of public speaking. A side benefit is that nobody can interrupt you - so if you have found that other people cut you off, or that the discussion moves away from the topic faster than you can formulate a response, or that you can never seem to get a word in edgewise, this is your chance! I encourage you to use the "news group" daily. If you check the news group and do not see a discussion that is interesting to you, post your own message.

    This is an extremely powerful medium and can be used in variety of ways. I encourage you to explore the issues and the power of the "newsgroup". For instance, discussion of movies or related campus events, incidents that occur on campus, general calls for help on your paper, rides to Iowa City or Cedar Rapids, stress reduction conversation, setting up a "personals ad service",......

    Finally, notice that there is no grade attached to the use of the "news group". Research has shown that if a reward is attached to something that people find interesting, they will be less likely to participate in that activity in the future when that reward is absent. Therefore, I have set the newsgroup up to stimulate rather than stifle future use of computers and computer news groups at Cornell.

    Grading: The exams will account for 75% of your course grade (First exam 25%, Second Exam 25%, Third Exam 25%). The writing assignments will account for 25% of your course grade (5% for the first critique, 7% for the second critique, and 12% for the research report). Your group presentation will account for 1% your course grade. Grades will be determined on a percentage basis using:

    Grades will be assigned on a percentage basis using:

    A  94%     C  74%
    A- 90%     C- 70%
    B+ 87%     D+ 67%
    B  84%     D  64%
    B- 80%     D- 60%
    C+ 77%     F  59%

    Academic Honesty
    : Any violation of academic honesty is a serious breach of the student-teacher relationship and the values of Cornell College. Therefore, violations of academic honesty will be treated accordingly. Any individual who cheats on an exam or turns in work that is not their own will receive a course grade of "F".

    Class Attendance: It is obviously very important that you attend every class period. Material covered on the exams will come from the text and information presented only in class. It is especially important that you attend all the group presentations. The presentations fulfill several of the educational goals of this course. Therefore, individuals missing any part of any presentation (including their own) will have their final course grade reduced by 1/3 of a full letter grade.

    Please be Prompt: Latecomers are very disruptive to everyone and may force us to continue beyond ending time. In addition, there are two behaviors that will absolutely not be tolerated in class; SMOKING and EATING.

    Last modified 8/07/97