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Psychology Department Goals and Objectives

Psychology investigates mental processes and behavior in human and non-human animals. We ask the following sorts of questions: How do mental processes and behavior develop and change? How is understanding informed by the evolutionary history of a species, genetic factors, learning, and the interaction of these? How extensive are individual differences and what causes them, including pathological deviations? To what degree are the cognitive abilities and behaviors of human and non-human animals similar? What are the major differences? These and other questions are most often addressed empirically, through data collection as informed by past hypotheses and findings. Simulations and mathematical modeling are incorporated at times. 

Our courses have explicit ties to other disciplines, as befits a department situated in a liberal-arts setting. For example, students who enroll in Introductory Psychology may consider topics in art, literature, philosophy, and/or religion through the lens of psychological research. Many of our intermediate and advanced courses are cross-listed with other departments. Our faculty have contacts, both pedagogical and scholarly, with faculty in other departments. They regularly participate in interdepartmental and multidisciplinary programs. Thus the richly interdisciplinary character of Psychology both contributes to and finds support at the College. Our majors seek advanced training and find jobs in many areas, reflecting the broad relevance of the discipline. 
Introductory Psychology meets several educational goals related to scientific and quantitative understanding. These include increasing students' understanding of Psychology as an empirical discipline and acquainting them with its multidisciplinary character. Students learn the basic findings and concepts in each of the discipline's sub-fields. They learn to incorporate multiple perspectives in examining psychological phenomena. 

Students who complete the introductory course successfully should appreciate the ethical constraints that guide the design of studies with human and non-human animals; understand the nature of scientific questions, including the generation and testing  of hypotheses; comprehend the ways that variables are manipulated and measured; appreciate the care required to measure reliably and validly; grasp the role that basic statistics play in describing and making inferences about measured data; represent data in both figure and tabular form and write appropriately about these data; competently perform basic statistical manipulations, given relevant data sets; recognize different kinds scientific studies, including observational, correlational, and experimental investigations; perceive the strengths and weaknesses of each of these kinds of investigations and understand the conclusions that can be drawn validly from each; recognize common misrepresentations of data in the popular press; read critically and evaluate current scientific reports in Psychology, employing the skills mentioned above; and practice scientific writing and revision.

This course is our main vehicle for meeting the general-education goals. However, many non-majors study one or more of the sub-disciplinary courses at the intermediate level where the goals are further elaborated. The statistics course offered by the department is a requirement for several majors.
Psychology offers no correlate. The objectives set for majors include an elaboration of students' understanding of the goals noted above. These include augmenting their understanding of the key concepts and principles of the discipline, including its various sub-fields. Through successive courses, students develop their critical-thinking skills in reading and analyzing primary research, and their thinking becomes increasingly multidisciplinary. Their skill in understanding and employing statistical methods is amplified, as is their ability to design and conduct psychological investigations. The research-methods courses focus on these skills. The studies reflect students' more thoughtful understanding of the ethical treatment of human and non-human participants in investigations. Students' ability to prepare documents in the format of the American Psychological Association is enhanced. Their oral and written communication skills increase over time, facilitated by faculty feedback.  

Whatever the content of courses, the basic skills identified above are central to all. One exception is Statistics, in which the focus is primarily methodological. Otherwise, all our courses elaborate the basic tool kit of skills identified above. The level of skills students are expected to master increases from the introductory to the intermediate and advanced levels. Primary data papers grow increasingly important at more advanced levels. Correspondingly, we expect students' critical thinking about measurement, research design, statistics and argument analysis to become more sophisticated. Incorporation of multiple perspectives increases with the number of courses taken. 

Major requirements reinforce these goals. Majors must complete intermediate-level courses in at least four of the six core areas of the discipline. Required courses, such as research methods and senior seminars, complement this broad study, as do optional independent research courses. All of these are designed to offer greater focus, depth, and integration of multiple perspectives as students mature through the program.