PSY 380 Science and Pseudoscience in Psychology: Thinking Critically

Section CRN Instructor Time
48448 Dr. Charles Goodsell M, W, F 11:50am - 12:45pm

Why do people believe “weird” things? This course is designed to provide students with the skills needed to scientifically evaluate fringe-science, paranormal, and otherwise unorthodox claims about human behavior that regularly appear in popular culture and in the popular media. 

We will discuss how these beliefs arise from the normal workings of the human mind and learn   about the biases and heuristics in cognition that are typically adaptive, but that also lead to predictable errors in reasoning. Our focus will be utilizing a rational, skeptical, and scientific approach for evaluating truth claims of all sorts in everyday life, including those about “weird” things. Examples of pseudoscience and questionable science will be drawn from traditional areas of psychology as well as from physiological psychology and neuroscience. Example topics are: extrasensory perception (ESP), subliminal perception and persuasion, astrology, purported "recovered memories", hypnosis, graphology (handwriting analysis), polygraphy (lie detection), controversial therapeutic techniques, bogus personality assessment, and “alternative” medical therapies.

At the completion of this course, students will understand: (1) how the scientific method can test ordinary and extraordinary claims about human behavior; (2) how individuals’ experiences and beliefs are influenced by the context in which they were derived; (3) how to critically evaluate your own beliefs, as well as others’ claims about human behavior, such as those that appear in scientific or popular media; (4) why psychologists find the study of human thought and behavior so fascinating. Ultimately you should become wiser consumers of information, propaganda, technology, and medical and scientific findings, hopefully making you more responsible and healthy citizens. It will be fun too!