Primary Learning Goals for Introductory Psychology

Two years ago, Dean Olin requested that the Department articulate learning goals for PY 101. Carl Clements and I created the following list based on a review of textbooks used for the introductory course.



            Upon completion of the Introduction to Psychology course (PY 101 or PY 105 [Honors]), students should have competence in four goals identified by a task force commissioned by the American Psychological Association (Halonen et al., 2002). Although these goals are among those developed for undergraduate majors in psychology, they are also applicable to the introductory course.

1. Theory and Content of Psychology: Demonstrate familiarity with major concepts, theoretical perspectives, empirical findings, and historical trends.

2. Research Methods in Psychology: Understand the rationale and application of the scientific method to behavior, cognition, and emotions.

3. Critical Thinking Skills in Psychology: Respect and use critical and creative thinking, skeptical inquiry, and the scientific approach.

4. Application of Psychology: Understand and apply psychological principles to personal, social, and organizational issues.


Key Outcomes

            The following are key outcomes of the introductory course, organized around the four goals described above. These are skills and areas of knowledge that students would be expected to acquire through enrollment and study in the Introductory Psychology course. Students would be expected to have entry level skills and knowledge in these areas and to be prepared for further study in the 200-400-level courses available to undergraduates.

Theory and Content of Psychology

            1. Understand key themes related to the discipline and subject matter of psychology (e.g., Weiten, 2004)

                        A. Psychology is empirical.

                        B. Psychology draws from a variety of theoretical perspectives.

                        C. Psychology evolves in a sociocultural context.

                        D. Behavior is determined by multiple causes.

                        E. Behavior is shaped by heredity, immediate environment, and cultural heritage.

                        F.  People’s experience of the world is subjective.

            2. Outline the historical roots and developments of psychology as a science.

            3. Identify and outline the major theoretical perspectives in psychology.

            4. Describe the organization and function of the nervous system.

            5. Describe the basic processes involved in sensation and perception.

            6. Describe major states of consciousness, including sleep, dreams, and biological rhythms.

            7. Understand the learning processes of classical conditioning, operant   conditioning, and observational learning.

            8. Describe the basic processes of memory and forgetting.

            9. Describe the history and logic of intelligence tests.

            10. Understand the determinants of and debates about human intelligence.

            11. Understand drive and incentive theories of motivation.

            12. Identify the physiological and cultural components of emotional experience.

            13. Describe the primary issues of development in infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

            14. Distinguish the psychodynamic, humanistic, biological, and social cognitive perspectives on personality.

            15. Understand the connection between physical states and psychological states.

            16. Understand the nature of stress and coping and describe how stress affects the immune response.

            17. Describe the influence of culture on definitions of abnormal behavior.

            18. Distinguish the characteristics of the major psychological disorders, including anxiety, mood, somatoform, dissociative, personality, and schizophrenia.

            19. Describe the common and distinguishing characteristics of insight, behavior, and biomedical therapies.

            20. Identify the components of an attitude and processes of attitude change, including those involved in prejudice.

            21. Understand the factors that influence conformity and obedience.

            22. Identify fundamental group processes.


Research Methods in Psychology

            1. Understand that psychological conclusions are based on the scientific method.

            2. Identify the primary methods for conducting research, including experiments, correlational studies, surveys, and case studies. Identify the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

            3. Formulate research hypotheses and construct appropriate research designs.

            4. Identify independent (predictor) and dependent (criterion) variables in research.

            5. Interpret basic research findings based on correlational and experimental studies.

            6. Identify common flaws in research and methods used to minimize these flaws.

            7. Critically evaluate basic research reports.

            8. Appreciate the experience of being a research participant.

            9. Know the ethical guidelines for research.

            10. Generalize research conclusions appropriately.


Critical Thinking Skills in Psychology

            1. Use empirical evidence to evaluate information.

            2. Recognize and apply critical thinking skills in the areas of verbal reasoning, persuasion, hypothesis testing, uncertainty, and decision-making.

            3. Recognize and identify examples of logical fallacies that undermine critical thinking.

            4. Recognize reasoning errors such as confusion of correlation with causation.   

            5. Critically evaluate reports of psychological phenomena reported in the mass media.


Application of Psychology

            1. Apply psychological concepts from each content domain to one’s daily life.

            2. Understand the application of psychology to public policy.



Halonen, J. S., Appleby, D. C., Brewer, C. L., Buskist, W., Gillem, A. R., Halpern, D., et al. (2002). Undergraduate psychology major learning goals and outcomes. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Weiten, W. (2004). Psychology: Themes and variations (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.