psyc-110: Introduction to Psychology
Lecture 1 - Introduction [January 17, 2007]
Chapter 1. Introduction to and Requirements for the Course [00:03:40]
Professor Paul Bloom: I'd like to welcome people to this course, Introduction to Psychology. My name is Dr. Paul Bloom. I'm professor of this course. And what this is going to be is a comprehensive introduction to the study of the human mind. So, we are going to cover a very, very wide range of topics including brains, children, language, sex, memory, madness, disgust, racism and love, and many others. We're going to talk about things like the proper explanation for differences between men and women; the question of whether animals can learn language; the puzzle of what grosses us out; the problem of why some of us eat too much and what we could do to stop; the question of why people go crazy in groups; research into whether you could trust your childhood memories; research into why some of us get depressed and others don't.
The style of this is there'll be two lectures a week, as well as course readings. Now, to do well in the course, you have to attend both the lectures and do the readings. There will be some overlap. In some cases, the lectures will be quite linked to the readings. But there will be some parts of the readings that will not find their way into the lectures, and some lectures — some entire lectures that will not connect at all to the readings. So, to pursue this course properly you have to do both. What this means is that if you miss a class you need to get notes, and so you should get them from a friend or from the person sitting next to you. The slides are going to be made available online. So, one of the things you don't have to do is you don't have to write this down. You take notes any way you choose, but if you don't get anything on there it'll be available online. I'm going to post it in a format which will be black and white and easy to print out so you don't have to worry about this. But again, attending to the slides is not a substitute for attending class.
There's a textbook, Peter Gray's Psychology, 5th edition, and there's also a collection of short readings, The Norton Reader edited by Gary Marcus. It's an excellent textbook; it's an excellent collection, and you should get them both. They're available at Labyrinth bookstore on York Street or you get them online. I should note that last time I taught the course I used the Marcus Reader, and when Professor Marvin Chun taught his course last semester he used Peter Gray's 5th edition textbook. So, there may be a lot of used copies floating around. You should feel free to try to get one of those.
The evaluation goes like this. There is a Midterm and there is a Final. The Final will not be held in the exam period, because I like to take long vacations. It will be held the last day of class. The exams will be multiple choice and short answer, fill in the blank, that sort of thing. Prior to the exams I will post previous exams online, so you have a feeling for how these exams work and so on. There will also be review sessions.
Starting at the beginning of the third week of class – that is not next week but the week after – on each Monday I'm going to put up a brief question or set of questions, which you have to answer and your answers need to be sent to your teaching fellow. And you'll be given a teaching fellow, assigned one, by Friday. This is not meant to be difficult. It's not meant to be more than five, ten minutes of work, but the point of the question — 15, 20 minutes of work, but the point of the question is to motivate people to keep up with the material and do the readings. These questions will be marked pass, fail. I expect most everybody could pass all of the questions but it's just to keep you on track and keep you going.
There is a book review, a short book review, to be written towards near the end of the class. I'll give details about that later on in the semester. And there's also an experimental participation requirement, and next week I'll hand out a piece of paper describing the requirement. The point of the requirement is to give you all experience actually seeing what psychological research is about as well as to give us hundreds of subjects to do our experiments on.
The issue sometimes comes up as to how to do well in the course. Here's how to do well. Attend all the classes. Keep up with the readings. Ideally, keep up with the readings before you come to class. And one thing I would strongly suggest is to form some sort of study groups, either formally or informally. Have people you could talk to when the — prior to the exams or — she's patting somebody next to her. I hope you know him. And in fact, what I'm going to do, not this class because it's shopping period. I don't know who's coming next class, or what but I'll set up a few minutes prior, at the beginning of the class, for people just to introduce themselves to the person next to them so they have some sort of resource in the class.
Now, this is a large class, and if you don't do anything about it, it can be very anonymous. And some of you may choose to pursue it that way and that's totally fine. But what I would suggest you do is establish some contact with us, either with me or with any of the teaching fellows, and I'll introduce the teaching fellows sometime next week. You could talk to us at the beginning or at the end of class. Unless there are special circumstances, I always try to come at least ten minutes early, and I am willing to stay late to talk to people. You could come by during my office hours, which are on the syllabus, and you could send me e-mail and set up an appointment. I'm very willing to talk to students about intellectual ideas, about course problems and so on. And if you see me at some point just on campus, you could introduce yourself and I'd like to meet people from this class. So, again, I want to stress you have the option of staying anonymous in this class, but you also have the option of seeking out and making some sort of contact with us. Okay. That's the formal stuff of the course.
Chapter 2. General Goals for the Course [00:10:03]
What's this course about? Unlike a lot of other courses, some people come to Intro Psychology with some unusual motivations. Maybe you're crazy and hope to become less crazy [laugher]. Maybe you want to learn how to study better, improve your sex life, interpret your dreams, and win friends and influence people [laugher]. Those are not necessarily bad reasons to take this course and, with the exception of the sex part, this course might actually help you out with some of these things. The study of scientific psychology has a lot of insights of real world relevance to real problems that we face in our everyday lives. And I'm going to try — and when these issues come up — I'm going to try to stress them and make you try to think about the extent to which the laboratory research I'll be talking about can affect your everyday life: how you study, how you interact with people, how you might try to persuade somebody of something else, what sort of therapy works best for you. But the general goals of this course are actually I think even more interesting than that.
What I want to do is provide a state of the art introduction to the most important topic that there is: us. How the human mind works, how we think, what makes us what we are. And we'll be approaching this from a range of directions. So, traditionally, psychology is often broken up into the following — into five sub-areas: Neuroscience, which is the study of the mind by looking at the brain; developmental, which is the area which I focus mostly on, which is trying to learn about how people develop and grow and learn; cognitive, which is the one term of the five that might be unfamiliar to some of you, but it refers to a sort of computational approach to studying the mind, often viewing the mind on analogy with a computer and looking at how people do things like understand language, recognize objects, play games, and so on. There is social, which is the study of how people act in groups, how people act with other people. And there is clinical, which is maybe the aspect of psychology that people think of immediately when they hear psychology, which is the study of mental health and mental illness. And we'll be covering all of those areas.
We'll also be covering a set of related areas. I am convinced that you cannot study the mind solely by looking at the discipline of psychology. The discipline of psychology spills over to issues of how the mind has evolved. Economics and game theory are now essential tools for understanding human thought and human behavior — those issues connecting to philosophy, computer science, anthropology, literature, theology, and many, many other domains. So, this course will be wide ranging in that sense.
Chapter 3. Examples of Materials Covered in the Course [00:13:08]
At this point I've been speaking in generalities so I want to close this introductory class by giving five examples of the sorts of topics we'll be covering. And I'll start with the topic that we'll be covering next week on Monday – the brain. This is a brain. In fact, it's a specific person's brain, and what's interesting about the brain is that little white mark there. It's her brain. It's Terri Schiavo's brain. You recognize her more from pictures like that. And what a case like this, where somebody is in a coma, is without consciousness as a result of damage to the brain, is a stark illustration of the physical nature of mental life. The physical basis for everything that we normally hold dear, like free will, consciousness, morality and emotions, and that's what we'll begin the course with, talking about how a physical thing can give rise to mental life.
We'll talk a lot about children. This is actually a specific child. It's my son, Zachary, my younger son, dressed up as Spider-Man, but it is Halloween. No, it's not Halloween. Oh. Well, there's more to say about that [laughter]. I study child development for a living and I'm interested in several questions. So, one question is just the question of development. Everybody in this room can speak and understand English. Everybody in this room has some understanding of how the world works, how physical things behave. Everybody in this room has some understanding of other people, and how people behave. And the question that preoccupies developmental psychologists is how do we come to have this knowledge, and in particular, how much of it is hard-wired, built-in, innate. And how much of it is the product of culture, of language, of schooling? And developmental psychologists use many ingenious methods to try to pull these apart and try to figure out what are the basic components of human nature.
There's also the question of continuity. To what extent is Zachary, at that age, going to be that way forever? To what extent is your fate sealed? To what extent could — if I were to meet you when you were five years old I could describe the way you are now? The poet William Wordsworth wrote, "The child is father to the man," and what this means is that you can see within every child the adult he or she will become. We will look and ask the question whether this is true. Is it true for your personality? Is it true for your interests? Is it true for your intelligence?
Another question having to do with development is what makes us the way we are? We're different in a lot of ways. The people in this room differ according to their taste in food. They differ according to their IQs; whether they're aggressive or shy; whether they're attracted to males, females, both or neither; whether they are good at music; whether they are politically liberal or conservative. Why are we different? What's the explanation for why we're different? And again, this could be translated in terms of a question of genes and environment. To what extent are things the result of the genes we possess? To what extent are our individual natures the result of how we were raised? And to what extent are they best explained in terms of an interaction? One common theory, for instance, is that we are shaped by our parents. This was best summarized most famously by the British poet Philip Larkin who wrote,
They mess you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra just for you.
Is he right? It's very controversial. You — It's been a series of — a huge controversy in the popular culture to the extent of which parents matter and this is an issue which will preoccupy us for much of the course.
A different question: What makes somebody attractive? And this can be asked at all sorts of levels but a simple level is what makes for a pretty face? So, these are, according to ratings, very attractive faces. They are not the faces of real people. What's on the screen are computer generated faces of a Caucasian male and a Caucasian female who don't exist in the real world. But through using this sort of computer generation, and then asking people what they think of this face, what they think of that face, scientists have come to some sense as to what really makes a face attractive, both within cultures and across cultures. And that's something which we're going to devote some time to when we talk about social behavior, and in particular, when we talk about sex. Not all attractiveness, not all beauty of course, is linked to sex. So, pandas for instance, like this panda, are notoriously cute, and I don't have anything to say about it really. It's just a cute picture [laughter].
Morality is extremely central to our lives, and a deep question, which we will struggle with throughout most of the course, is the question of good and evil, evil and good. These three pictures exemplify different sorts of evil. What you could call institutional evil by somebody behaving cruelly toward somebody else, perhaps not due to malice but because of the situation that she's in. It has picture of Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer or driven by political cause? And then there's this guy on the bottom. Anybody know who he is? Ted Bundy. Who got that? Film that man [laughter]. No. Ted Bundy, exactly, and that's before we get into the technical stuff like crazy-evil, and we're going to have to come to terms with why some people are like that. And again, the same situation comes up. Is it part of your nature to be good or bad or is it largely due to the situation that you fall in? And there's a lot of some quite spectacular experiments that try to tease that apart.
If we're going to talk about evil, we should also talk about good. These are pictures of two notoriously good men, Oskar Schindler and Paul Rusesabagina, each who at different times in history saved the lives of many, many people at great risk to themselves. Schindler in the Holocaust, and then the other guy, in – and I can't pronounce his name – Rusesabagina, in Rwanda. And they both had real good movies made about them. But what's interesting with these cases is you couldn't have predicted ahead of time that they would be heroes. And one personal issue within any of us is what would we do in such situations?
Finally, throughout this course we will discuss mental illness. Now, towards the end of the class I want to devote a full week to discussing major disorders like depression and anxiety, because of their profound social importance. Such disorders are reasonably common in college students. Many people in this room are currently suffering from a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder or both, and I won't ask for a show of hands but I know a lot of people in this room are on some form of medication for this disorder. And we'll discuss the current research and why people get these disorders and what's the best way to make them better.
But I also have a weakness for the less common mental disorders that I think tell us something really interesting about mental life. So, when we talk about memory, for instance, we'll talk about disorders in memory, including some disorders that keep you from forming new memories as well as disorders of amnesia where you forget the past. And these are extraordinarily interesting for all sorts of reasons. Early in the course, in fact I think next week, we will discuss, no, later on in the course, in the middle of the semester, we will discuss an amazing case of Phineas Gage.
Phineas Gage was a construction worker about 100 years ago. Due to an explosion, a metal pipe went through his head like so. Miraculously, he was not killed. In fact, his friends — it went through his head, went — ended up 100 feet away, covered with brains and blood. And Phineas Gage sat down and went, "uh, oh." And then on the way to the hospital they stopped by a pub to have some cider. He was not blind, he was not deaf, he was not retarded, but something else happened to him. He lost his sense of right and wrong. He lost his control. He used to be a hard-working family man. After the accident he lost all of that. He couldn't hold a job. He couldn't stay faithful to his wife. He couldn't speak for five minutes without cursing. He got into fights. He got into brawls. He got drunk. He lost his control. He ended up on a circus sideshow traveling through the country with the big steel pipe that went through his head. And this is again an extraordinary example of how the brain can give rise to the mind, and how things that go wrong with the brain can affect you in a serious way.
We'll discuss cases of multiple personality disorder, where people have more than one personality. And also, discuss the debate over whether such cases are true or not; whether they could be taken as a real phenomena or a made-up phenomena, which is — there is a matter of a lot of controversy. And then, we'll even discuss some rarer cases like Capgras syndrome. Capgras syndrome is typically – there's hundreds of cases, not many – hundreds of cases. It's typically the result of some sort of stroke, and what happens to you is very specific. You develop a particular delusion, like it's getting dark [lights dim in the room, laughter follows]. And the delusion is that the people you love the most have been replaced. They've been replaced by aliens or robots [lights go on] – thank you – by Martians, by CIA agents, by trained actors and actresses. But the people — But the idea is, the people you care for the most you believe are gone. And this could lead to tragic consequences.
Capgras syndrome is associated with a very high level of violence. One man in Australia a couple of years ago was under the delusion that his father was replaced with a robot and cut off his head. A related disorder involving the very same parts of the brain is called Cotard's syndrome. And Cotard's syndrome is you believe that you're dead; you are persuaded that you're dead. You're walking around. You know you're walking around. And you know that there are people around, but you think that you're dead. And what's striking about these is — it's not — these are not just sort of big, screwy problems of messed up people. Rather, they're located — they're related at a pinpoint level to certain parts of your brain. And we're going to talk about the best modern theories as to why these syndromes occur.
Now, the reason to be interested in them, again, is not because they're frequent. They aren't. And it's not because of some sort of gruesome, morbid curiosity. Rather, by looking at extreme cases, they can help us best understand normal life. Often by looking at extremes it throws into sharp contrast things we naturally take for granted. The issue of psychopathy, of people who, either due to brain damage or because they are born that way, have no moral understanding, can help us cope with questions of free will and responsibility; of the relationship or difference between mental illness and evil. Multiple personality cases force us to address the question of what is a self. To what extent are all of us composed of multiple people, and to what extent are we a single unified person over time? Cases like Capgras are important because they tell us about how we see the world. They tell us for instance that there is a difference between recognizing something in the sense that you could name it, and knowing what it is. And so, by studying these abnormal cases we could get some insight into regular life. So, that's the end of the illustration of the example topics. The syllabus lists many more.
I'll end by telling you that there's a lot of stuff that we'll be talking about, that I want to talk about, that I am not expert in. And fortunately, there is a community at Yale of the best scholars and teachers on the planet. And so, it would be a shame for me not to use them to cover some of these issues. And so, I'm going to include four guest lecturers. The first one is Dr. Marvin Chun who teaches the Introduction to Psychology course in the fall and is my competition. And he's going to give an amazing lecture on cognitive neuroscience, especially the cognitive neuroscience of faces. Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema is the world's authority on depression, and in particular, on sex differences and depression, and she's going to talk about this towards the end of the course. Kelly Brownell is going to talk — is head of the Rudd Center, focuses on obesity, eating disorders, dieting, and he'll talk about the psychology of food. And finally, Dr. Peter Salovey, Dean of Yale College, is going to come to us on Valentine's Day and tell us everything he knows about the mysteries of love. All of these details are in the syllabus and I'll stick around and answer questions. Hope to see you next week.
[end of transcript]