22 video lessons combine interviews with leading experts and researchers; computer graphics and animation; and real-life case studies.
Psychology touches virtually every aspect of our lives. Many of its current themes can be traced back to questions that have confronted scholars throughout history. But today the study of behavior, thoughts and feelings is bolstered by new scientific tools and approaches. As a result, the field is expanding in directions that would have been unheard of just a few decades ago, providing us with new insight into the magic of the mind.
It’s our nature to ask questions about ourselves and the world around us. But finding answers requires more than intuition and common sense. This lesson asks the question–Does happiness lead to good health?–and then probes for answers using the multiple methods at a researcher’s disposal: case study, survey, naturalistic observation, correlational studies and controlled experiments.
“Everything psychological, is ultimately biological,” says author and researcher David Myers. This lesson plunges into the expanding field of neuroscience and the biology behind behavior, exploring how areas of the brain and brain chemistry can alter mood and cognition. Pioneering researchers discuss their role in the first split-brain surgeries, and a 20 year-old stroke survivor receives a breakthrough treatment to regain use of his affected arm.
Mark Newman and Gerald Levey are identical twins, separated at birth. They share the same genes, but were raised by different parents in different environments. Studies of separated twins and adopted siblings are providing insight into the relative impact of genetic and environmental influences, and the extent to which variation among individuals can be attributed to their differing genes. As molecular geneticist Robert Plomin explains, DNA studies are pointing to the fact not one, or five, but hundreds of genes each contribute a small amount of the variance for any one trait.
If genes are the canvass, is environment the brush that strokes the color and detail of who we are? This lesson surveys the nurture portion of the human equation by examining the influence of the prenatal environment, peer groups, and the power of culture. Differences in the White, Latino, Asian, and African American cultures are explored in depth, as well as how prejudices and stereotypes shape our attitudes.
With the microscopic union of sperm and egg, the delicate process of human development begins. From conception to infancy and childhood, this lesson examines the physical, cognitive, and social changes during the early stages of life. Developmental psychologists debate findings from the Yale Infant Cognition Lab that asserts babies’ abilities to add and subtract.
While adolescence is the time we form identity and establish independence, the adult years are marked by important life events, and an expansion of the self. Gerontologist James Birren and his Guided Autobiography participants are the case study for this lesson, demonstrating that social and cognitive development does not end in the elder years. As author David Myers says, “From womb to tomb, we are always in the process of becoming.”
A solitary figure walks on the beach at dawn. Although he is alert to his surroundings, his sensory systems take in only a fraction of the energy that envelops him. That which does reach the receptor cells is captured and converted into signals that can be recognized by the central nervous system. The ultimate destination for these signals is the cerebral cortex. Tom Albright, Christof Koch, Gilles Laurent, and others examine the ways sensory receptors take in stimuli as well as how the brain processes and ultimately translates these signals into useful information.
To construct the outside world inside our heads requires us to select, organize, and interpret sensations, transforming them into perceptions that create meaning. With sensory overload, what slips through to the final translation? Daniel Simons and Anne Treisman illustrate how change blindness and selective attention can impact interpretation. Such clues as figure-ground, segmentation, and grouping; depth perception and motion allow us to decipher sensory input with a degree of confidence. But just how the brain merges all of these various inputs into a coherent whole is a question researchers are still struggling to answer.
Of all the topics in psychology, there is none more vigorously debated than consciousness. In this lesson, researchers in neuroscience debate the mystery of consciousness and investigate the dimensions of awareness, circadian rhythms, as well as sleep and dreams. Sleep disorders are also discussed, including recent discoveries about narcolepsy, and the canines that suffer from this mysterious disorder.
With neurons in the brain continually associating one event with another, it’s no wonder neuroscientist Michael Merzenich describes what’s in our head as “a learning machine.” This lesson delves into the multiple ways humans and animals learn, with case studies on classical and operant conditioning, as well as Albert Bandura’s work on pro-social observational learning.
Is memory reliable? Why is it that we remember where we were on 9/11, but not the day before? These questions and others are tackled by leading memory researchers who discuss topics such as encoding, storage, and retrieval of memory. Demonstrations of short-term memory are also presented and renowned researcher, Elizabeth Loftus, explains her role in debunking the phenomenon of repressed memories.
The most concrete evidence of our ability to think is our use of language. This lesson explores both topics. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman discusses his research in cognitive psychology, and linguist Noam Chomsky, along with others, explains the principles of language acquisition. Susan Curtiss tells the gripping story of “Genie” – a young girl who did not learn language due to the neglect and abuse of her parents.
What is intelligence? Can the standardized exams of today actually measure it? This lesson presents several theories of intelligence, often examined by the researchers who created them. Topics include triarchic theory, multiple intelligences, and emotional intelligence. The nature/nurture influence on intelligence is also explored, as well as the phenomenon of stereotype threat.
Our desire to lose weight is often no match for the pull of a cheeseburger. It’s no wonder our minds and appetites are in a constant battle for the driver’s seat! This lesson explores multiple elements of psychological motivation, including hunger for air, eating disorders, the desire for sex, and the need to belong. Other important topics include sexual orientation, motivation in the workplace, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow.
Emotions chart the landscape of life—the highs, the lows, and the periods in between. Paul Ekman, Dacher Keltner, Bob Levenson, and others pre-eminent in the field examine the distinguishing characteristics of emotion and probe such long-debated issues as: which comes first, physiological arousal or emotional experience; the relationship between thinking and emotion and the measurement of emotion; the impact of culture and gender on emotion, even the question of what is or is not a basic emotion. Anger, forgiveness, and happiness are explored in greater depth.
If a stressful day can make us sick, how does stress get under the skin? This lesson seeks answers, exploring various topics of health psychology, including the fight-or-flight response, lymphocytes, cytokines, heart disease, and the psychosocial lure of cigarette smoking. Cancer survivor, Cindy Lauren and her support group are a window for discussion of important issues such as control, social support, resilience, and the search for meaning.
The classroom avenger on a deadly rampage, couples who discover their incompatibility after marriage, recruiters seeking applicants with a rare combination of traits—all reflect the range of issues that fall within the scope of personality. This episode looks briefly at personality from traditional perspectives before focusing on contemporary research: the big five personality traits, personality inventories, and Albert Bandura’s social-cognitive perspective. The program continues to probe the dimensions of just who we are by looking at studies of the self and self-esteem with Hazel Markus, Claude Steele, and other prominent psychologists.
Samuel Barondes, author of Better than Prozac characterizes psychological disorders as “exaggerations of what we all experience.” But these disorders that fill hundreds of pages in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual… make life more challenging for our neighbor next door and across the world. This episode looks at the incidence and symptoms of anxiety disorders, in all of their many variations, and personality disorders.
David Myers refers to depression as the “common cold of psychological disorders.” This episode looks at the two major categories of mood disorders—depression and bipolar disorder—and at the cluster of psychoses known as schizophrenia. The very personal experiences of psychologists Kay Redfield Jamison, author of The Unquiet Mind, and Stephen Hinshaw, author of The Years of Silence are Past, adds a significant dimension to the experience and understanding of these illnesses.
Until recent decades, little was known about how to treat psychological disorders. People who were seriously disturbed were hidden away or confined to institutions, and treated in ways that look appalling by today’s standards. This episode looks intently at both psychological and biomedical therapies, and combined approaches that are proving successful in the treatment of mental illnesses. The role of the therapist and the support of community and family are key ingredients in long-term recovery efforts.
People interacting with people (individually and in groups or as friends, or sometimes foes) is a fascinating and never-ending source of study material for social psychologists. This episode explores social thinking, social influence, and social relations of both the antisocial and pro-social varieties. Why do people do what they do? What kinds of force does a group exert? And how can cooperative efforts and improved communication begin to chip away at the antagonisms built by years of aggression and conflict?
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