PSY 461: Research Controversies in Psychology

Winter 1998

There will be two major projects required of Research Controversies students this term. One project will be completed during the first 6 weeks of class before comprehensive exams; the other will be completed during the second half of the term.

Project I

The project for the first half of the course will encourage students to develop a broad area of expertise in psychology and will focus on preparing students for the Comprehensive Exam to be taken in mid-February. For the first project, students will be working in groups of 5 or 6 to develop teaching presentations on one of five major topics. (Each topic represents one of the areas for which students receive a subscore on comps). Each group will become experts on their topic, and they will have one week of class time (i.e., 4 hours) to teach the rest of the class the important concepts and issues within their area. Essentially, each group will be developing 4 hours worth of lecture/presentation material on their topic.

For this assignment, students will need to study their area thoroughly to determine what the most essential and important concepts, controversies, and research methods are. These concepts/issues should be the main focus of the presentations. Each group should be sure to emphasize important research methods in their area and any controversial issues surrounding research methods. Students should try to anticipate questions that might arise and be prepared to answer those questions or to clarify concepts with additional information. (In other words, students should know more about their topic than what they are presenting.) Faculty will be available to consult with students about developing the presentations.

Through this project, each student will become an expert on one of the areas to be tested in comps; in addition, all students will benefit from one another's expertise and thus help to prepare one another for the exam.

Your presentations should reflect your careful preparation in both their content and their organization. The quality of the presentation is as important as its content. The presentation should be clear and well-organized; one idea/topic should follow logically from the previous one. Presenters should use the chalkboard, overheads, or handouts to present important concepts. Presenters should strive to make the presentation interesting and compelling enough to hold the class's attention. Creativity is encouraged.

Within your groups, you may divide the work load as you see fit. However, be sure that your week's worth of presentations form a coherent whole. Ideally, part of the first presentation should include an outline of the major topics that will be covered. Also, whenever relevant, presenters should point out connections between the topics as they are being presented, so Friday's presentation should refer to related issues from earlier in the week. In short, your four presentations should be as integrated as possible, which will require that your entire group work together.

Past experience has indicated to us that group work can be problematic because social loafing, or, alternatively, overcontrolling may occur. To minimize this possibility, we will ask each person in each group to rate all group members on their participation in and contributions to the final product. These ratings will be taken into account as grades are assigned.

The major areas to be covered, along with the primary faculty member to consult, include:

Project II

For the second half of the course, students will be working in pairs or small groups to develop presentations on the history of particular topics in psychology. This assignment is designed to a) help students gain perspective on psychology as a living, changing discipline; b) help students understand psychology's relationship to other disciplines and to historical conditions; and c) encourage students to identify both the roots of current controversies and probable future directions.

We will not meet as a class for the month prior to these presentations so that you may concentrate your energy on finding and assimilating materials. You will need to consult materials from other disciplines besides psychology (what those specific disciplines will be will depend on your topic, but they may include philosophy, biology, education, sociology, history, medicine, etc.) Because you will know your topic for presentation well in advance of its due date, you will be expected to include a wide variety of sources rather than relying exclusively on what is in Hanover's library. You will have plenty of time to request interlibrary loans (if you do so early in the term), and will also have opportunities to travel to other libraries or track down other resources. (The library has started a new service--a van to IU libraries each weekend.) Again, faculty will be available to consult with you as you develop your presentations.

You should plan for this presentation to last one class period, including time for questions. This means that we will be meeting to hear presentations for the last 2 weeks of classes, plus the final exam period (which will be extended by 1 hour to allow us to complete the presentations).

Topics for the second project include:


--History of idea localization in the brain

--History of color vision theory

--History of the idea of sensation vs. perception


--History of the research on the concept of repression (from Freud to Loftus) as it relates to sexual abuse

--History of the nature-nurture issue as applied to the development of intelligence

--History of ethical issues in the use of human subjects


--History of ideas regarding parents' role in child's development

--History of attachment theory

--The development of Piaget's theory and how views have changed as a result of new research and research methods


--History of amendments/changes to the DSM

--History of research on the effects of visual media (especially pre-Bandura)

--Recent history of mental hospitals (especially large state institutions)

Course outline:

4/13 - 4/17 Exam period: History presentations (4)