Suggested Psych essays for College Freshmen
April 12, 2010 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Thought-provoking essay or study suggestions for Freshmen/Sophomores to read, debate, and write on in a "Writing Topics in Psychology" class.

It's basically a writing course for Psych majors, so I'm trying to stay away from the stuff they get in Intro classes (Piaget, CBT, etc) and do more interesting (whacky?) stuff. So far we've done things with Freud, Ernest Becker and Terror Management Theory, Evolutionary Psychology (Moral Animal by Wright), Resiliency related stuff (Al Siebert), Milgram, and I TRIED to get them into a few chapters of Tor Norretranders' "The User Illusion"--mainly the counsciousness stuff about Libet's studies and more recent fMRI studies that relate to the idea of a delay in consciousness/attention. The latter reading was just too complex for most of them (though I thought chapters 7, 8 and 9 could stand on their own, that may have been the problem). While I wanted to find something by Erich Fromm, so far I haven't found a good 20-40 page chapter/article that I think would work.

What articles on psychology really intrigued you or stuck with you over the years that you think could provoke dialogue, argument and responses?

(Note: I have found several contenders doing searches of askmefi, i was just looking for more ideas.)
posted by whatgorilla to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How about a discussion on the traditional IQ VS Gardner's multiple intelligence theory? I don't have any specific articles off the top of my head (and I can't spend the time looking atm), but I bet it wouldn't take you long to track some literature that would fit the bill.
posted by Silvertree at 12:15 PM on April 12, 2010

I'll definitely look into it--we read a bit about "multiple intelligence" when we read some supplementary material to "Personality" by D. Nettle, a book I forgot to mention (it's been a long semester with my now 8 month old twin girls--which is why I'm asking askme for help!). Our next reading, by Carol Dweck, also mentions this (if I remember correctly). Thanks.
posted by whatgorilla at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2010

The thing, oddly, that stuck with me most from my college intro psych course was "Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman. We read the whole book, but he's a pretty clear, well-organized writer, so I'm sure a chapter excerpt would work as well, or perhaps an essay he published separately?
posted by unsub at 12:46 PM on April 12, 2010

I enjoyed reading Oliver Sack's The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat in my cognitive psych class in college. It should be at the right level for your freshmen students. For other cognition writing to spark debate there are several good essays in Hofstadter and Dennet's The Mind's Eye (although that may be a little more cognitive philosophy, but interesting none the less).
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 1:32 PM on April 12, 2010

Not necessarily the length you specified (and possibly a little advanced for intro level? I don't think so, but they were introduced to me during my grad program), but I love these two particular articles, and found them really interesting for discussion when I studied them:
Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"
Joy Lei's "(Un)Necessary Toughness: Those 'Loud Black Girls' and Those 'Quiet Asian Boys'"

Something on "bystander effect" and Kitty Genovese, etc.

Jungian archetypes, as they relate to film or tv or something else in popular media

Attachment disorders in adopted children

Something related to autism--hot topic these days... you can take advantage of the opportunity to spread some science about it! :)

Birth order stuff? I find it very wacky, but it surprises me too how much I think about it in clinical practice sometimes.

Something on health psych! Meditation/mindfulness use with cancer recovery maybe?

Zimbardo would fit the bill for discussable, but he is a windbag, so I am not seriously suggesting that.
posted by so_gracefully at 2:34 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

I like the idea of essays from the Mind's Eye. The kind of reasoning involved in that book is more broadly applicable to other fields than niche discussions about disorders or psychological phenomena. I can't think of a better way to challenge students than to get them to tackle the nature of consciousness, although might be too hard for freshman who have never had any basic logic or philosophy course, ever.

I had a good supplementary text in one of my classes in undergrad called How to Think Straight About Psychology. The writing is dumbed down to an almost ridiculous degree, but I can't think of a better simple introduction to the scientific method applied to psychology. This book will not give you subject matter for your students to write about, but would be appropriate for the kind of writing assignment where you ask them to design an experiment to test a hypothesis, or explain a flaw in a common pseudo-scientific claim. That kind of assignment is really good preparation for advanced classes and grad school.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:23 PM on April 12, 2010

Skinner wrote a lot of stuff that would fit the bill, I think. Some of it was more philosophical than psychological, but that should only make it more eligible for your purposes.

A chapter from Beyond Freedom and Dignity, perhaps?
posted by voltairemodern at 10:36 PM on April 13, 2010

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