An Innovative Approach to Psychology

May 10, 2022

Introduction to Psychology (PSY 113) at Grinnell takes an unusual approach to the study of psychology. Of course, you will study the principles of psychological science and inquiry. But as part of the required lab portion of the course, you will also spend time in Grinnell’s Preschool Laboratory learning how to conduct research and gaining firsthand knowledge of child psychology.

Grinnell operates a highly regarded preschool program for children ages 3–5 to serve families in the community. This program gives preschoolers the benefit of a well-balanced curriculum and many enriching activities. The preschool is part of the psychology department and serves as a research facility that also allows psychology students and faculty to engage actively in field research. 

Professor Chris Ralston says that in this course, which emphasizes theory, research, and application of skills learned, you’ll learn to think like a psychologist. You will discover how to ask good questions (as all Grinnellians do) about the cognitive, behavioral, and social processes you study. You will learn to turn these questions (and the answers) into productive hypotheses and theories and to evaluate research evidence. Ralston says that when students think like psychologists, they become stronger students and stronger citizens of the world. Importantly, students will come to understand psychology from different perspectives and approaches, and how psychologists describe, predict, and explain behavior.

Students often report that they enjoyed the class; they frequently identify the Preschool Lab as one of their favorite labs. Many have gone on to choose psychology as their major. The variety of topics covered in the course keeps it interesting. As a bonus, some of Ralston’s students end up working at the preschool.

PSY 113 is a foundational course and a prerequisite to all additional psychology classes in the major. It can be a path to upper-level studies and a career in the field. As a PSY 113 student, you will build basic research skills in experimental, correlational, and observational methods and designs, says Ralston. You will draw upon these skills in higher-level psychology courses. If you plan to go to graduate school in psychology, this course will help you develop a strong track record of hands-on research.

This innovative course takes an interdisciplinary approach because psychology incorporates many different academic applications. Studying psychology at the introductory level will allow you to make connections in areas such as biology, chemistry, sociology, anthropology, economics, and many other disciplines, Ralston says. By focusing on different ways of thinking, PSY 113 demonstrates the liberal arts ideals that Grinnell is founded upon and grants students invaluable skills. In this well-rounded course, you will be encouraged to develop critical thinking skills, a sense of social responsibility, clear communication skills, and an understanding of diverse perspectives.

Learn more about studying psychology at Grinnell

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