About Teaching & Academics : Introduction-to-Psychology

Course Overview

Psychology in the 21st century is not the field of yesteryear that you may have learned about in high school. There is a greater emphasis on wellness, how we shape our own experiences, and how the principles of psychology can help you understand and improve your everyday life.

Human beings are endlessly fascinating. Our social organization, our perceptions of the world, our emotional range, and our inner thoughts all define what it means to be human. The field of psychology has always been the scientific study of mental processes and behavior, helping us to understand ourselves and the world around us. How do we think, feel, and remember? Why do we act the way we do? And, most important, is there any way we can train our minds to improve our lives?

What’s new in the field of psychology is that many answers to these questions are beginning to be well understood. From the days of Freud, Piaget, and Skinner to the modern science of fMRIs, Introduction to Psychology is a grand introduction to one of the most captivating fields of inquiry—where the subject is you, and everyone around you. Taught by Professor Catherine A. Sanderson of Amherst College, these 36 insightful lessons not only give you a panoramic grounding in the history, methods, and fundamental findings of psychology, but they also introduce you to the most up-to-date 21st-century research and discoveries—including strategies to increase your happiness and to improve how to live your life.

For example, consider the way meditation may help you increase your focus. Or reflect on the way stress, diet, and sleep alter the chemical processes in your mind, affecting your judgment, mood, and overall sense of well-being. The brain is not a computer to be programmed, but it does remain malleable throughout life. And thanks to the discovery of this surprising “neuroplasticity,”  21st-century psychology can give us much greater insight into how to optimize our brains, focus our mindset, and generally allow us to be our best selves.

As you will discover, psychology today sits at the intersection of genetics, behaviorism, neuroscience, education, aging, ethics, public policy, and a variety of other fields. When you complete Introduction to Psychology, you will come away with a new way of looking at the human experience. You will have gained insights to help you better understand yourself. And your new wealth of strategies will help you to think more clearly, be more courageous, strengthen relationships, and experience greater psychological and physical well-being.

Introduction to Psychology focuses on the exciting possibilities of what it means to be human. Take a look at how perception can be deceptive, investigate the many factors that cause stress (and how to manage them), or discover how you can optimize your performance in work and other facets of life.

Take a Fascinating Tour from the Brain to Behavior

The lump of gray matter that makes up the brain within our skulls is responsible for how we perceive the totality of our experiences of what we encounter in the world. As you will discover, the brain is a wonderful mix of components that usually work in harmony with each other. Through several key lessons in this course, you will:

  • Find out what the different parts of the brain do, from the limbic system to the parietal lobes—and why teenagers act the way they do;
  • Follow how the cerebral cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and neurochemical transmitters all operate;
  • Learn how the brain processes sensory inputs, creates memories, and helps us adapt;
  • Explore the different kinds of brain waves that help us get into the flow for sports performance or settle into a good night’s sleep; and
  • Survey your cognitive development across life, and why our brains decline into dementia in old age.

More than a century ago, the famous case of Phineas Gage—a railroad worker who ended up with an iron rod through his head—alerted researchers that parts of the brain were responsible for different functions.

In the 20th century, one of the big debates in psychology was over nature versus nurture—and how the role of the environment versus your genes affected who you are. As 21st-century psychologists have concluded, however, both play an important role. Neuroscience is one fascinating aspect of psychology, but the environment around us, the attitudes we cultivate, and the actions we take all come together to shape our lives. The fantastic news, as you will see, is that once we understand how psychology works, we can influence the world at large.

Explore the Realm of Senses and Perception

How do you mentally and emotionally process the world around you? And how do these perceptions affect the way you live? Professor Sanderson treats you to numerous lessons and stories about how we perceive—or in some cases, misperceive—the world.

Consider how you gather information from the five senses. However, our information gathering is not always reliable. You will dive into some delightful psychological trickery, such as visual illusions that challenge how you understand the world you see with your eyes and how you hear the world with your ears. (Just wait, until later, when you get to the anecdote about a gorilla!)

In the realm of the senses, pain is an important component of perception, so you will investigate questions such as:

  • Why do we experience pain?
  • How does the nervous system work?
  • What role does the mind have in the treatment of pain?

The answers may surprise you—and they will certainly demonstrate what a powerful tool the mind is.

Learn to Improve Your Mindset and Well-Being

Early in the course, you will discover that research in psychology has a number of goals: description, explanation, prediction, and the possibility of change. One way the field itself has changed in recent decades is that researchers have developed a more robust understanding of “description,” which means how the mind works. When you understand how your mind works, you then have the ability to apply psychological principles to bring about personal change in behavior.

Whether you are brand-new to psychology or have explored the field in some detail, one of the most valuable things about this course is the wealth of practical insights and strategies that it offers you for how to strengthen your well-being. One organizing idea is the concept of “mindset,” which is a way of thinking and approaching the world in such a way as to bring about positive change in a variety of domains, such as:

  • Business performance;
  • Professional development;
  • Sports and athleticism;
  • Better sleep;
  • Increased resilience;
  • Stronger relationships; and more.

Are you interested in becoming a better problem-solver? Want to be more creative? Are you trying to provide the most enriching environment for your children—or yourself? What about adversity, or the moral courage to do the right thing? Topics from psychology have inspired many a self-help book, but encountering the science and data for yourself truly empowers you to live your best life.

Demystify Our Social World

Introduction to Psychology covers a wide range of concepts. Professor Sanderson begins with an exploraton of the basics of psychology and then expands to the many aspects of the human mind, which touch on all facets of our daily lives—including social relationships and societal structures. From aggression to altruism, psychology looks at, and influences, how we connect with those around us, and ultimately how our social world functions.

What happens when things go wrong? Several lessons analyze how psychology illuminates such challenging topics as errors of thinking, ethical quandaries, and myriad disorders of the mind. Among other topics, you will unpack the nature of addiction, the epidemic of mood and anxiety disorders, and the way therapy works in the 21st century.

Professor Sanderson has been teaching introductory psychology for 20 years. She says this survey of introductory psychology is her favorite class to teach because of its impact on our lives. Our minds are the product of many influences, but once we have a comprehensive view, we are then in a much better position to think about ways to optimize our health and well-being. The material you study in Introduction to Psychology may change your life—and stick with you for a lifetime.

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