Some Introductory Information

Welcome to Psychology 381

I am glad you have chosen to take psychology 381.

The course focuses on principles of learning and the research and theories that have been developed.  Our class is scientific in its approach borrows from the Behavioral tradition.  We will adopt a behavioral language,  we must  refer to behavior itself not inferred  non-observable explanations of that behavior.

We won’t say any behavior is: crazy, paranoid, passive-aggressive, lacking in self esteem, unfocused, lazy, lacking any motivation, etc.  Such terms are only inferences about what we are actually witnessing.  “Sally is paranoid!”  But why – “because she is always so suspicious.”  But why is she so suspicious, “because she is paranoid!”

“My rat is smart and has learned the maze.”  You say your rat is smart only because she learned the maze and you say she learned the maze only because she now makes many fewer mistakes than she did a few days ago.  It takes practice to avoid this habit to infer reasons for behavior that are nothing more than fictions we make up to explain what we are seeing.

The heart of this course is the laboratory.  You will be assigned a lovely little white female rat to care for and study throughout the semester.  Your little rat takes daily care and you must visit and play or work with her every day.  You will teach her a trick and with a partner will design and carry out an experiment in an attempt to learn something about her.  Much more about the actual experiment later.  For now, your first assignment is simply to play and bond with your rat.  We will do no harm to these animals or stress them in any way.

Any lab science course is time consuming.  There are new concepts to learn in lecture and then there is the lab and the experiment.  You will be spending a minimum of 1-hour per day with your animal throughout the semester.  Coming over for 15 minutes is a waste of time, nothing really gets accomplished.

You will complete a weekly blog on WordPress based on notes you take throughout the week.  You will add video and graphs to this blog (see first blog assignment elsewhere in this web site).  WordPress is free and doesn’t take long to learn.  Your blog will be a record of your progress each week and can be seen by everyone including your friends and family as well as me. Your weekly blogs take the place of written laboratory reports, though you should follow APA format whenever possible especially for references.

Speaking of references, this is another part of the course.  You will find and read previous research done in the area related to your experimental idea.  The social science librarian has just emailed us and said that the following link is excellent for a literature search

Tens of thousands of studies have been done in the field of learning and though it may take some digging you’ll find what you are looking for.  Don’t include references that you don’t end up reading and using for you study in some way.

Your experiment will be evaluated mostly on how well you  “problem solve” as opposed to how well your data actually turn out. “The best laid plans always go awry” and your job is to figure how what to do next.  Things are never as simple and they first seem. I’ll help you with this, but your experiment will center on some question that you have about your rat.  Ideas for these questions comes from simply observing her and there will be something that you find interesting and would like to explore more in an experiment.

So, get a WordPress account, it’s free and it would be helpful also to have a gmail account, also free.  Your video can be shot on almost any digital camera.  Instructions for embedding video into your blog is found elsewhere in this web site.


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