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Introduction to Social and Developmental Psychology

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

This course will introduce students to the disciplines of developmental and social psychology through the lens of one capacity important to research in both subfields: having a “theory of mind.” “Theory of mind” refers to a person’s ability to use what they observe about someone’s visible behavior to figure out the “invisible” thoughts, feelings, and motives behind that person’s actions. Psychologists use a range of experimental methods to learn about “theory of mind” in individuals at a range of ages. In this course, we will use existing experimental research on the topic of “theory of mind” as a passport to acquiring skills important to the disciplines of social and developmental psychology. These include learning to understand experimental design, to evaluate empirical studies critically, and to generate testable hypotheses.

How does a young child understand that another person can have beliefs that differ from his or her own? How does this initial ability grow into a more complex understanding of other people’s perspectives by the age of 6 or 7? Through an in-class simulation of a real experiment, we will also consider how adults, who are more practiced at making sense of other people, efficiently keep track of another person’s perspective during a social interaction. And we will consider cases in which adults are prone to errors in their interpretations of others’ actions.

Students who complete this course will:

  • Gain a clear understanding of the concept of “theory of mind” and its importance to social and developmental psychology.
  • Improve their facility in reading and critically evaluating articles in the field of experimental psychology.
  • Understand the methodological principles and paradigms employed in experimental psychology.
  • Develop their skills as experimentalists, such as generating hypotheses and interpreting their own experimental findings.

A general familiarity with/background in psychology (e.g., an AP psychology course in high school) is helpful, but not required. All students should be prepared to engage fully with the challenge of reading technical, scientific papers (perhaps for the first time).