PSYC 405
Why Do We Believe What We Believe? Fall 2020
Division II
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Class Details

As scientists, we aspire to hold beliefs that are based in evidence. As humans, however, we are likely to embrace beliefs influenced by a variety of social, historical, cultural, political, racial and religious factors. In this class, we will explore the question of why we cling to certain beliefs, even in the face of significant contradictory evidence. For example, what assumptions do we make about strangers and why are we so convinced these assumptions are correct? How does our culture affect our parenting choices and why do we hold them so fiercely? What assumptions do we make about the nature of memory and are these assumptions valid? Are there “defensive moves” that we make when we are challenged racially, even when we are committedly antiracist? And, if so, why? In class, we will explore source material from popular culture: books, films, podcasts and popular press articles, and we will examine claims made about different belief systems. We will then critically evaluate these claims by exploring the available empirical psychological evidence. The format of this class is student-led discussions.
The Class: Format: seminar; My goal is to conduct as many of our classes in-person as reasonably feasible. Students who are on-campus will be encouraged to attend the seminar in person. Those who are unable to attend in person will join remotely. Students will be required to meet with me in small groups prior to leading discussions to review their discussion plan. These meetings will occur in person or remotely, depending on scheduling availability.
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 2680
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Students will be required to develop and lead rigorous generative discussions with their classmates several times during the semester. In addition, students will be expected to actively participate in discussions and to write three 5-7 page position papers.
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: senior Psychology majors
Distributions: Division II

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