When I started researching colleges during my last months of high school, I thought psychology was simply something that involved a notepad and a couch. But by March of my first year of college, I went into my advisor’s office and officially became a psychology major. The biggest motivation for this choice was the introduction to psychology course I took my first semester.
As at many other colleges in the nation, my introductory psychology class was the biggest on campus, fulfilling an elective requirement for many students and laying the foundation for psychology majors. What made that introductory psychology course a great experience for me, one that cemented my choice in a major, was how interactive the instructor made it.
One activity my professor used was a decision-making experiment. Nine dots in a three-by-three pattern were written on the board. Using four straight lines, without lifting the chalk between lines, we were to connect all nine dots. Some students already knew how to do it from being shown previously, but most did not. When one girl tried, she failed miserably. Our cognition had fooled us by not thinking outside the three-by-three box, making us unable to solve the problem. That activity made me want to learn more about the field of psychology.
A meaningful blend of classic psychology videos with comical ones also gave me a look at both the science of psychology as well as its personality. Philip Zimbardo’s “Stanford Prison Experiment” still haunts me, as do Milgram’s experiments on obedience. What captured my interest in social psychology was a video on Solomon Asch’s social influence theories. In the video, a man enters an elevator. Because the other passengers faced backwards, he faced backwards as well. That video showed both the authority and humor of psychology in an interesting manner.
What makes a psychology course great is different from what makes a calculus course great. A great introductory psychology course should convey the field’s historical innovations and modern dilemmas as well as its marvels and mysteries to the students. The study of the human mind is never complete, and this constant ambiguity should be stressed to make the course fascinating.
My introductory psychology course was great because I could relate what I learned to my everyday life. Psychology makes the familiar mysterious and the mysterious familiar. Talking and listening to our family and friends may seem simple, but there is a complex process of interpreting hidden behaviors, meanings and contexts of words. Likewise, solving problems might seem a complex process, but it all comes down to a few simple mnemonic strategies. I might not be able to recreate classic Asch or Milgram experiments, but they continue to inspire me to learn more about human behavior.
Introductory psychology courses have much potential to educate, to reveal, and most importantly, to inspire. I have adopted psychology and the journey toward human understanding as my lifelong pursuit, and this decision is a direct result of my introductory psychology course.