1: Psychology, You, and Your World
Your survey begins with an introduction to the field of psychology and an overview of the major ideas of the field, examining how modern psychology is practiced now versus in the past, and why it is so fascinating. Find out what psychology is—and is not—and get a sense for how findings from psychology can influence how we think about ourselves and the world around us.
2: How and Why Psychology Matters
Psychology has the power to provide answers to important questions about human nature. Investigate the real-world impact of psychology and the methods psychologists employ to understand the world. You’ll look at the role of observation, as well as challenges of bias in psychological experiments. Then get a taste for how nature and nurture affect our behaviors.
3: Positive Psychology: A Science of Happiness
“Positive psychology” is a relatively new field that emphasizes the value of positive emotions such as joy, satisfaction, and happiness—in other words, mental wellness. Uncover the elements of positive psychology and how 21st-century psychology offers strategies for increasing your well-being.
4: Your Brain: A User’s Guide
Thanks to modern genetics research and imaging techniques, our understanding of the brain is more powerful than ever. Delve into the secrets of this mysterious organ with an insightful tour based on the field of neuroscience that helps us understand not only the functions of the brain, but also learning, behavior, and development.
5: Your Nervous System, Hormones, and Behavior
Continue your study of the human hardware with a survey of the nervous system. Zoom in on neurons and explore the ways neurotransmitters connect your mind to your body. Then review a variety of neurochemicals and hormones that are responsible for everything from our mood to our body’s growth and decline. Close with a study of stem cells.
6: Understanding and Managing Stress
One fundamental aspect of stress is that different people respond to similar events in different ways. To understand why, Professor Sanderson examines the nature of stress—in relationships, in work, and in the environment—and shows how stress can be helpful (e.g., fight or flight) or harmful (e.g., PTSD). See how to better manage your stress.
7: Sensation: How You Gather Information
“Sensation” refers to the physical input we receive from the environment;“perception” is the process by which we make sense of this input—how the brain organizes and interprets these inputs. Delve into the field of “psychophysics” to examine the link between physical stimuli and psychological experience.
8: Perception: Illusions and Interpretations
How we perceive the world is often driven less by our objective reality than by psychological factors that influence our interpretation of the world. Understanding this key idea—that we interpret the world—is the subject of this lesson. Professor Sanderson takes you through an eye-opening world of illusions, gestalts, and subliminal messaging.
9: Pain and Placebos
Our experience of pain is heavily influenced by psychology; so this lesson examines how we perceive pain—and what we can do about it. Learn about the peak-end theory of experience, as well as techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback to treat pain. You’ll also reflect on the effect of placebos.
10: Attention, Sleep, and Dreaming
Humans experience numerous states of consciousness, from focused attention to autopilot to dreaming. Sleep, in particular, offers intriguing insights into the relationship between our brains and consciousness. Here, you will analyze our mental processes during sleep and some of the theories to explain what’s going on when we dream.
11: Consciousness Modified: Drugs to Mindfulness
There are extreme ways to alter consciousness, but as you will find out in this lesson, there are plenty of ordinary ways to change how you think and increase mindfulness. Delve into the human mind as modified by stimulants, depressants, hypnosis, meditation, and more.
12: Performance Psychology in Sport and Life
One recurring theme of this course is how psychology can help you improve your life, and this is arguably no more apparent than in the world of sports. How do athletes get into the flow? How can you optimize your performance? Studying “drive theory” can help you on the field, in the office, and everywhere else, as well.
13: Cognitive Development across the Lifespan
We are all familiar with the way learning grows exponentially in childhood and then slows as our brains become more fixed in adulthood. But of course, learning and mental growth can continue across your lifetime. Here, investigate the states of cognitive growth in children, and then turn to strategies to change your perspective on aging.
14: How Language Develops and Why It Matters
One important component of mental development is our acquisition of language, both verbal and written. Walk through the building blocks of learning a language, from phonemes and morphemes to grammar and semantics. Then consider what it takes to be bilingual and what people who speak multiple languages can tell us about the human mind.
15: Attachment Bonds from Infancy to Adulthood
Continue your study of human development, beginning with the way infants form attachments in the first few weeks of life. Explore the relationship between children and their parents, and the role of the environment on development in childhood and adolescence.
16: Moral Development and Situational Ethics
What do you do when you witness bad behavior? Do you stand up to say something, or do you remain silent? This lesson examines what researchers in psychology say about how people approach moral decisions—and why they choose to act. Survey models and theories of moral development.
17: Learning: Conditioned, Reinforced, Observed
“Learning” refers to a relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience, and psychologists have three distinct theories to explain how humans learn: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning and modeling. Unpack these theories and see them in action.
18: Memory and Forgetting
We may think of memory as a video of things we have experienced, but in reality, memory is a constructive process, meaning that we organize, shape, and even change information as we store it. In this lesson, Professor Sanderson delves into the types of information processing in our brains and the way memories are constructed.
19: Problem-Solving and Errors of Thinking
Psychologists describe thinking as forming concepts to organize our world, solve problems, and make judgments and decisions. In some cases, our thinking strategies can pay off, but errors in thinking can lead us astray. Discover some new ways of approaching problems to help you think more clearly and make better decisions.
20: Psychology of Eyewitnesses and Confessions
The implications of psychology—our faulty perceptions, slippery memories, and more—can have serious repercussions for ourselves and the world at large. Consider what happens if an eyewitness to a crime identifies the wrong person? How easy is that to do, and how can law enforcement guard against it? Take a look at the legal implications of psychology.
21: Intelligence and Creativity
How do you define intelligence and creativity? And how can they help us manage our environment and achieve greater success? Here, Professor Sanderson explores the multifaceted dimensions of intelligence and shows you techniques to help you improve your natural creativity.
22: Emotional Intelligence and Success
One dimension of intelligence is your emotional intelligence—your awareness that emotions can drive behavior, coupled with an ability to manage emotions. Find out how you can increase your emotional intelligence, improve your relationships and social skills, and work more effectively under pressure.
23: Adversity and Resilience
Life inevitably comes with challenges, and some can be quite extreme—job losses, serious injuries, the loss of a loved one. But people have the remarkable ability to adapt to adversity and even to potentially find something positive developing from even the most dire life events. This lesson reflects on “resilience” and how we can cultivate our inner strength.
24: Motivation: Eating, Sex, and Achievement
Motivation refers to the set of factors that activate and direct our behavior, usually toward a goal. Here, you will survey a range of theories for what motivates us, and how understanding motivation can help in all sorts of ways. Reflect on diets, dating, and “lighting a fire in your belly” to achieve more in life.
25: Emotions: Why You Feel
Dig into the murky world of emotions as well as the physical reactions they cause—a racing heart, expectant thoughts, and a smile or tears. Positive psychology offers numerous lessons on how to think about emotions and improve happiness, from maintaining strong friendships to the way we express our feelings.
26: Attraction, Love, and Lasting Relationships
Building close relationships is fundamental to human life, and, therefore, central to psychology. In fact, our relationships are the single best predictor of our happiness. Let’s dive into the world of love and marriage, beginning with the dynamics of attraction and ending with the secrets of a successful relationship.
27: Strategies of Persuasion
Why is effective persuasion so powerful? Understanding the process by which someone’s attitudes or behavior are influenced by other people can make you a great salesperson or a savvy consumer—but there is a dark side in the form of cult behavior. Find out what psychology tells us about how to win friends and influence people.
28: Conformity, Social Loafing, and Obedience
Psychology is about the individual’s mind, but it is also the study of how groups behave. After all, humans are social beings; we want to fit in and be liked. In this lesson, you will learn when we conform, when we avoid socializing, the pros and cons of group behavior, and how to resist mindless obedience to authority.
29: Stereotypes and Aggression
Humans are quick to form stereotypes—overgeneralized beliefs about a particular category of people—and we use stereotypes to guide our behavior, for better or worse. Here, reflect on the pernicious consequences of stereotyping and its relationship to aggression. From social identity to racism, examine the tribal aspect of humanity.
30: Altruism: Origins and Opportunities
Shift your attention to a more positive aspect of human nature—our capacity for altruism. What causes some people to act selfishly, whereas others step in to help, even to their own detriment? Here, Professor Sanderson takes you into the world of evolution, empathy, decision-making, and more.
31: Explaining Personality
We tend to characterize ourselves and others according to our personality traits, such as being introverted or optimistic. Where do these traits come from? And are these patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions relatively stable? In this lesson, you will learn about scientific theories of personality and whether change is possible.
32: Demystifying Psychological Disorders
More than half of Americans will experience a psychological disorder at some point in their life, and virtually all of us have some symptoms of mental illness. Examine the categories of psychological disorder, where they come from, and what we can do about them. From anxiety to schizophrenia to ADHD, consider the range of disorders.
33: The Epidemic of Mood and Anxiety Disorders
Continue your study of psychological disorders with a deep-dive into mood and anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and more. Survey the latest theories that underlie these conditions, as well as available treatment options.
34: Understanding and Overcoming Addiction
Round out your study of psychological disorders with a lesson on the nature of addiction. Whether it is a nasty cigarette habit or a substance abuse problem to surfing the internet, the term “addiction” refers to the condition of engaging in compulsive activities, when those activities result in harmful consequences. Investigate treatment options.
35: Ways Therapy Works
How does therapy work? Common (mis)conceptions of therapy can often be very simplistic, but this form of treatment is much more varied and complex than many realize. Explore a host of therapies from psychoanalysis to behavior and cognitive therapies and more to get a better understanding of how they work.
36: Mindset, Health, and General Well-Being
We have seen how perceptions influence the way we view the world. In this final lesson, dig into the research that shows how perceptions influence our health and well-being. Put everything you have learned together to see how stress, thinking patterns, mindset, exercise, and close relationships all affect how you think about yourself—and the world.
I’m here to take you through the scientific study of all the mental processes and behavior that make up psychology.
I’m here to take you through the scientific study of all the mental processes and behavior that make up psychology.
About Catherine A. Sanderson
Catherine A. Sanderson is the Poler Family Professor of Psychology and the chair of the Department of Psychology at Amherst College. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Stanford University and master’s and doctoral degrees in Psychology from Princeton University.
Catherine’s research has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. She is the author of four college textbooks, including Real World Psychology (with Karen Huffman), and two trade books: Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels and The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity. In 2012, she was named to The Princeton Review’s list of America’s Best 300 Professors.
Catherine speaks regularly for public and corporate audiences on topics such as the science of happiness, the power of emotional intelligence, the art of aging well, and the psychology of courage and inaction. She has been featured in numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA TODAY, The Atlantic, CNN, and CBS Sunday Morning. She also writes a blog for Psychology Today called Norms Matter that examines the power of social influence on all aspects of our lives.