General content knowledge across the range of psychology’s major subareas.
About the Nature/Nurture issue: The degree to which any behavior, emotion or mental condition is the result of genetic (nature) or environmental influences (nurture), such as learning or exposure to situations or substances before or after birth.
How to conduct experiments, with humans or animals, to identify factors that predict or cause changes in any type of behavior or mental process.
How to carry out statistical analyses on data collected in the above-noted experiments and interpret the findings
How to communicate the results of completed studies in writing (using American Psychological Association [APA] format) and verbally, both clearly and effectively.
How to separate pseudoscience from legitimate scientific knowledge in the behavioral sciences as well as areas outside our field (e.g., medicine).
How to recognize one-sided sources of information, be they political, theoretical, religious, philosophical or otherwise, and seek out balanced, ideally non-partisan sources of information on the same topics.
The difference between empirical questions–those that can be answered by structured observations and organized collections of data–and philosophical questions, which generally cannot be answered empirically.
Design and conduct correlational/observational studies to determine which human or environmental factors are reliable predictors of behavior, and under what conditions.
Design and carry out “true” experiments to evaluate which human or environmental factors cause changes in behavior, and to identify how other factors might enhance or weaken the effects of the first.
Use statistical software (e.g., SPSS or Minitab) to analyze data from experiments or correlational studies to determine the probability that results could have occurred by chance (e.g., via an unlucky/disproportionate assignment to groups) and the strength of such associations (i.e., what proportion of behavioral variability is accounted for by our factor of interest). Students should be able to understand what the computer-generated results tell us.
Critically read reports of studies purporting to accomplish either of the above goals–prediction or causation–and determine whether or to what extent the conclusions are justified by the data.
Write clearly and convincingly about why people and animals behave the way they do. This goal applies both to communicating one’s own research findings as well as to analyzing, synthesizing and summarizing the results and writings of others.
Verbally present to others, about one’s own research or knowledge acquired by others, with the goal of educating them about the causes and correlates of human and/or animal behavior.
Be sensitive to the ethical considerations of conducting psychological research on human and animal subjects, and adhere to a code of conduct that includes, among other things: Always obtaining informed written consent from subjects before involving them in experiments; getting approval from any animal or human subject committees that oversee such research; and debriefing subjects once the study is completed. Researchers should also be prepared to help subjects get over any negative aftereffects of participation in a research project, such as feeling embarrassed, unintelligent, etc., especially if the study included any type of deception. In the case of deception, subjects should be thoroughly educated about why it needed to be used in the experiment.
Identify when correlational data is incorrectly used to support claims about causation. This very important error is pervasive in society and is especially damaging when committed by those with power to affect our lives (e.g., politicians, journalists, medical practitioners, scientists, lawyers, judges and juries). We want our majors to notice and vigorously challenge this error whenever and wherever it is encountered.
Perform well on tests of general content knowledge across the major subareas of psychology: learning, memory, cognition, social psychology, personality, sensation and perception, intelligence, motivation, emotion, psychological disorders and their treatment, research design and statistical analysis–and exhibit a fundamental understanding of the biological/neuroscientific bases of all the above-noted topics, as well as how they are affected by development across the lifespan (i.e., prenatal, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, aging). Along with the nature/nuture issue noted earlier, these last two italicized factors–biology/neuroscience and development across the lifespan–are dominant themes in modern psychology.
Open-minded about things not yet known about human behavior and mental processes, and to resist forming premature and/or impenetrable beliefs about such things.
Critical thinkers who are not afraid to be skeptical about suspicious sounding claims, especially about causes or predictors of behavior, and who demand solid, ideally empirical, evidence before accepting such claims.
Unmoved by arguments by authority figures, especially when better ways exist to get the same information (e.g., science/empiricism).
Willing to educate others about what they’ve learned about behavior and mental processes–whenever and wherever these topics come up. The field of psychology has begun to prioritize getting “what we know” into the public sphere, where it can and should inform public policy decisions, and students of psychology who share their knowledge are key players in this mission.
Caring, empathic individuals, who, even if they’ve never experienced the challenges of others, particularly in the area of mental health, can nevertheless understand and appreciate what those challenges might be like. Psychology students who see others suffering from depression, anxiety, memory loss, traumatic stress disorder or any psychological challenge should be advocates for treatment and be willing to do whatever they can to encourage and help others get such help. Most psychological problems can be treated–through counseling/therapy, medication, or other approaches–but many who suffer are unaware of this, and/or believe that to even seek treatment shows weakness. Students of psychology can make a huge difference by challenging these attitudes.
Professor of Psychology Department Chair
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