Psychological Approaches to Complex Problems

Discipline: Semester at Sea Seminars
Instructor: vonHippel
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1700
End: 1815
Field Work: Day 1 | Vietnam Download Syllabus

This upper division course is intended to teach students to think like a psychologist. In service of this goal, the course will focus on the study of complex problems. Although experimental research provides a powerful mechanism for understanding a wide variety of psychological phenomena, many human activities are not readily amenable to this approach. For example, it can be unethical, impractical, or even impossible to conduct experiments on important topics, such as poverty, genocide, crime, and sexuality. In this class we will take a psychological approach to such complex problems, and will focus on how researchers try to tease out cause and effect when they cannot conduct experiments. We’ll address topics such as the impact of parenting, gender differences in math performance and sexual plasticity, and ethnic differences in crime and incarceration. We will also focus on topics that are of specific relevance to the countries we visit, such as the social consequences of China’s one-child policy, rural/urban differences in intelligence, and the geography of opportunity and ability.

Field Work

Country: Vietnam
Day: 1

Students will travel to the Dieu Giac Temple Orphanage where they will attempt to replicate classic experiments with the children living there. The Dieu Giac Temple Orphanage shelters and cares for over 120 abandoned, orphaned, or street children. They range from several months to 18 years of age and are of different ethnic groups and religious backgrounds. The children of the orphanage are taken care of by a group of Buddhist nuns and volunteers. Prior to conducting experiments students will help the nuns in the work of the orphanage and will play with the children. Once the children are comfortable with us, we will break into small groups to conduct different experiments on children of different ages. After conducting the experiments students will take notes on any methodological changes that were required and will record the results. The different student groups will present their findings and observations to each other at the end of the day.
Academic Objectives: 1. Assess whether results differ when we replicate classic experiments in non-Western sample. 2. Assess whether methods require variation when we replicate classic experiments in non-Western sample.
3. Learn about cultural differences in psychological processes.