Topic outline

  • Course Introduction

    This course will introduce you to the fundamental principles of psychology and to the major subjects of psychological inquiry. It has been designed to not only provide you with the tools necessary for the study of psychology but to present you with a sampling of the major areas of psychology research. The course begins with a short overview of how psychology developed as an academic discipline and an introduction to a number of the principle methodologies most commonly deployed in its study. The subsequent units are arranged around broad areas of research, including emotion, development, memory, and psychopathology. We will focus on well-substantiated research and current trends within each of these categories.

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  • Unit 1: The History and Methods of Psychology

    "Psychology has a long past but a short history.” This brief statement by one of the pioneers of psychological research, Herman Ebbinghaus, captures the history of psychology as a discipline. Though it is relatively new as a formal academic subject, the questions it seeks to answer have been around since the beginning of man. In this unit, we will review the history of psychology as a discipline, by learning about both its ancient philosophical ("prescientific”) roots and its more recent reincarnation as a "scientific” field of study.

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  • Unit 2: The Nature and Nurture of Behavior

    What makes you "you”? This question gets to the heart of one of the longest-running debates in psychology: the nurture versus nature dispute, which asks whether humans are a product of their environment or of their biological makeup. While it is unlikely that we will ever conclusively answer this question, research has provided us with some important insights that will assist you in understanding arguments on both sides of the debate. This unit will introduce you to a number of these concepts, identifying several of the factors that psychologists have isolated as potential identity-shapers. We will examine the interplay of these forces and focus in on the gene-environment interaction.

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  • Unit 3: The Biology of Psychology

    Early psychologists considered the brain a "black box” that controlled certain processes, though they did not know how to identify these processes or how the brain controlled them. This is no longer the case; nowadays, scientists insist that the psychological mind and physiological body are fully integrated with one another. As such, in the past few years, no subject has become more relevant to psychology than neuroscience, or the study of the structure and function of the brain. Today, knowledge of the biological origins of our psychological states is integral to the study of psychology. In this unit, we will review the basic biological and neurological structures that psychologists associate with human thought processes and behaviors.

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  • Unit 4: Sensation, Perception, and Consciousness

    As human beings, we perceive our world through our senses. This means that we are constantly performing a complex set of processes by which we take in sensory information, convert it into a form usable by the brain, and have the brain send signals to a relevant part of the body in order to tell it how to respond - all in a matter of milliseconds. In this unit, we will highlight two sensory systems and gain a deeper understanding of how we perceive the world around us. We will also discuss how our perceptions of the world and our self are influenced by our different states of consciousness. What happens when we are asleep? What is the function of our dreams? We will also learn how our biological rhythms function and how they can be used to explain phenomena like jetlag. Finally, the unit concludes with a discussion related to psychoactive drugs and how these drugs play a role in our state of consciousness.

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  • Unit 5: Learning and Memory

    Psychologists are concerned with how people learn and create memories of their experiences. For example, early psychologists such as Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner performed experiments that explained human action by measuring changes in behavior. These experiments informed our understanding of the process of learning and marked the beginning of the field of behaviorism. In addition, the subfields of cognitive psychology and neuropsychology have endeavored to determine how people think, perceive, remember, and learn. In this chapter, we will draw from behaviorism, cognitive psychology, and neuropsychology to learn the basic principles of learning and memory.

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  • Unit 6: Development

    The physical, mental, and emotional changes that an individual undergoes over the course of his or her lifetime raise a number of questions about who we are and how we develop as human beings. One such question is whether our traits are stable or changeable throughout our lifetime; another is whether development is a continuous, gradual process or a set of discrete stages. Though these questions remain unresolved, this unit will provide you with ways to think critically about these issues. It will also provide you with an overview of human development, from infancy to old age.

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  • Unit 7: Social Psychology

    Human beings are social beings. As psychologists, we acknowledge this fact by studying the ways in which an individual's social environment impacts his or her emotional and mental functioning. This is called social psychology - the focus of this unit. We will discuss the social behavior of individuals, groups, and entire societies as well as the influences that our relationships to these entities have on us as individuals. The readings conclude with a discussion of the theories related to human motivation and emotion.

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  • Unit 8: Psychopathology

    Today, we commonly think of psychology as a means of treating mental disorders. However, the branch of psychology that addresses these disorders is known as psychopathology, a field of study made famous by Sigmund Freud. Clinical psychologists have since refined the field, developing more sophisticated methods for diagnosis and treatment so that clients can maintain a normal lifestyle. Millions of people live with various types of mental illness and mental health problems, such as social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, drug addiction, and personality disorders. Treatment options include medication and psychotherapy. In this unit, we will aim at understanding different perspectives on psychological disorders, learning to identify characteristic symptoms of each.  As you review this final unit, think about all the factors that may contribute and alleviate the major mental disorders discussed. What is the interplay between biology, social support systems, and other environmental factors in how human beings cope?

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  • Optional Course Evaluation Survey

    Please take a few moments to provide some feedback about this course at the link below. Consider completing the survey whether you have completed the course, you are nearly at that point, or you have just come to study one unit or a few units of this course.

    Link: Optional Course Evaluation Survey (HTML)

    Your feedback will focus our efforts to continually improve our course design, content, technology, and general ease-of-use. Additionally, your input will be considered alongside our consulting professors' evaluation of the course during its next round of peer review. As always, please report urgent course experience concerns to and/or our Discourse forums.

  • Final Exam

    Quizzes: 2