Question 1: In what ways has the material you have learned so far begun to change your understanding and/or expectations of psychology?
Before beginning Psychology 100, I had never taken any sort of psychology course before and I honestly had a very limited knowledge of what psychology is and how it is used. Of course, I produced mental images of a patients lying on couches telling psychologists about their troubled childhood whenever I would think about psychology, yet somehow I knew that could not be all there was to psychology. I came into Psychology 100 expecting to be taught tedious research methods and study great research finds that defined psychology as the discipline that it is today. After the first few class periods, I found that this class was going to be very different from what I thought it would be. The first thing that completely violated my expectations for the class came right after the initial introduction chapter, and that was the neuroscience aspect of the class.
I am a biology major and anything to do with biology and the functioning of our bodies immediately draws my interest. Learning about the biology and chemistry of the brain was fascinating. It was not what I expected to be studying so early on in the class and I feel as this changed my view of psychology. Instead of seeing psychology as only a therapy method and abstract practice, I now understand that psychology is a broad science that is based on biological research and that psychology explains much about what we are and how we function. I was very impressed at how the material delved deeply into the neuroscience aspect of psychology. I feel that studying neuroscience so early on in the course is what made me the most interested in psychology.
Another aspect of the course that I thoroughly enjoyed was the sections on sensation and perception. Learning about how we see, hear, and experience our environment showed me how much I did not understand about how our senses work. Coming to understand the difference between the physical world and how we perceive the world was an eye-opening experience for me. We often take our sensory perceptions for granted without considering the vast complexity of each individual system and how our brain processes all the incoming information and organizes it into a neat, effortless experience. I have also come to understand some of the limits to human perception. This is something that I was not very aware of and grasping this concept is important for understanding myself and learning to relate to others.
Question 2: What were some of the most significant or surprising things you have learned in the first half of our course? Why were these things so significant or surprising?
One of the most significant concepts I learned during the first half of the course was the findings on split-brain patients who had their corpus callosum severed to reduce epileptic seizures. I was surprised by the fact that so much regulated damage could be done to the brain without massive impairment to brain activity. The research on split-brain patients clarifies a lot of what is known on the differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. For example, the fact that split-brain patients are not able to verbally communicate information collected and processed in the right hemisphere, correlates very precisely with the knowledge that Broca’s area, an area of the brain dedicated to fluent speech production, is isolated on the left frontal-cortex. Without being able to send messages to Broca’s area, the separated right hemisphere cannot verbally communicate. Learning about this concept is very fascinating, but what is more significant is the fact that we were able to view videos of an actual split-brain person. Being able to personally observe the research findings helped me to consolidate the concept and better understand a little of how a split-brain person experiences the world.
David Eagleman’s research on the subconscious was another concept that I found to be very interesting and significant. He brings out the fact that many people erroneously assume that the conscious mind is at the center of thought and cognitive reasoning. When we make decisions, it is easy to believe that conscious thought is privy to the decision-making process, but Eagleman explains that this belief is untrue and that decision-making takes place in the subconscious. He portrays the conscious mind as a billboard of sorts that displays simplified headlines of the complex programs that are running in the subconscious. He also explains that in many situations, we are unaware of the reasons why we make certain decisions. We are unaware because the conscious mind does not keep track of the subconscious’ processing. This is significant for me because I personally experience many situations where I make choices based on subconscious processing and am unaware of why I feel more inclined to take one option over another for no apparent reason.
Question 3: Discuss two or three things that we are doing in class that are helping you to learn the material and discuss two or three things from the class that we could change or do better to help you learn the material.
This class includes a good amount of reading. Not too much reading, but definitely enough to require a good two hours or so everyday to be able to cover all the readings. As a result of that, the most difficult aspect of the class is the need to retain all of the information from the text-book. What is most helpful in this regard is talking over the material during class. Even though the reading answers most of the questions one might have on the subjects, going over the important topics very effectively ingrained the material into my memory. It is very helpful when examples are brought up in class to illustrate concepts and stimulate discussion. Disagreements in class or small differences in opinion that are argued out help me to remember information better and grasp at the larger concepts as opposed to just definitions.
Another aspect of the class sessions that help me to retain information is listening to Radiolab segments or other scientific discussion programs that discuss the material that was just studied. These especially help me to remember information and put the psychology concepts into a real-life context. When these study aids are used in class, I generally feel more comfortable with the material and more confident when it comes to taking quizzes and exams. Listening to such discussions helps much in the same way that TED talks do. Listening to or watching talks really help to clarify the information already obtained in the reading. An example of this was the TED talk by Beau Lotto on optical illusions and the evolutionary programs demonstrated by how the brain processes visual information. Lotto’s talk did not only present research findings, but he also demonstrated them using tricks and illusions which supported his argument and gave the viewer something intriguing to think about. I find these forms of dynamic learning are the most effective in getting the point across and helping me maintain information in a deeper way.
Another learning method I found very helpful was creating concept maps for the chapters on sensation and perception. The action of building the concept map was what I found most interesting. When I studied to material for the first time, I saw how the information in each section related to each other and I had an understanding of that section. When I began working on the concept maps though, I began to see how sections, or parts of sections, related, and I was able to connect concepts between sections I thought did not relate very much. Learning information in this way is a form of elaborate encoding. Instead of trying to learn all the little bits of information separately, I was able to connect topics and learn the information in a deeper way. Learning in this way should make the information easier to recall because learned concepts will act as memory cues for other learned concepts.