Instructions for Psychology 101 Papers


          Your paper should be at least two type-written pages in length, double spaced, with standard one-inch margins, standard fonts (“Courier New” or “Times New Roman”), with numbered pages, and with a separate title page that includes the title of your paper, your name, and your student ID number. In your paper you are to apply a certain area of psychological theory or research (e.g., research on brain injuries and behavior) to you own life and life experiences.  For example, you might attempt to explain a real-life event in your life (how you developed a fear of flying) using principles of classical conditioning (i.e., when you were a child, flying was associated with terrible experiences of turbulence and motion sickness).  You must turn in a draft of your paper by the due date listed in you course syllabus, and then turn in a revised version, based on the written feedback you receive on your draft, by the last day of class (the last instruction day, not the day of the final exam!).  You must attach your original draft when you turn in your second, revised paper.  Your paper grade will consist of the average of the points you receive for the draft (1 to 20 points) and of points you receive for the final paper (1 to 20 points).  Papers will be graded both on content and writing quality.  Please read the “writing pointers” sheet, posted on my web page, which describes some common writing problems in student papers.  You should carefully read this sheet and work hard to avoid the listed writing problems.



Papers Must Be on One of the Following Topics:



          My Experience with Brain Injuries and Their Psychological Consequences.  This paper should describe your personal experience with a brain injury – for example, your grandfather’s stroke or your friend’s brain injury after a car accident.  The goal is to describe the brain injury and its psychological and behavioral consequences.  Incorporate findings of psychological research on the brain, its function, and the effects of injuries to parts of the brain such as language centers, the frontal lobe, the cerebellum, the right versus left hemisphere, etc.


          My Experience with Psychological Medication: What Happened to (Me/my Best Friend/my Mother) after He/She took (Prozac/lithium/neuroleptics/etc.).  The goal here is to describe a personal experience with someone you know who has taken psychological medications.  Questions you could address: Was the psychological diagnosis appropriate?  What the prescription appropriate?  Did the drugs work?  Did the drugs have unpleasant side effects?  What was the outcome of the drug therapy – e.g., was it successful?  Is the person still on the medication?  Was the drug therapy accompanied by other kinds of counseling and therapy?   Relate your account to research and theory on the treatment of mental illness.


          My (Airplane/dog/spider/height) Phobia: How Classical Conditioning Helps Explain My Fear.  This paper should describe a strong fear or phobia you have.  Analyze the origins of your fear and try to explain it in terms of classical conditioning.  This paper should include a brief description of classical conditioning and the major terms used in classical conditioning (e.g., CS, US, CR, and UR, generalization), and it should apply these terms and concepts to your example.  Do you think classical conditioning provides a complete explanation for your fear?  Does classical conditioning theory suggest ways you might reduce your fear?


          When I Was So Angry I Could Have Killed the Person: The Relevance of Three Theories of Emotion.  Describe your experience of anger and apply three theories of emotion to your experience: the James-Lange theory, the Cannon-Bard theory, and the Schachter-Singer two-component theory of emotion.  Which theory do you think best describes your experience of anger?  How well do theories of emotion apply to this very intense emotion?  Do any of these theories of emotion help you to understand better you own experience of anger?  Does anger share features with other strong emotions, such as fear, falling in love, etc.?  Do the various theories of emotion offer any practical advise about how people can reduce their anger in stressed situations?


          Theories of Development:  Pick one of the following theories of developmental stages – Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, Piaget’s theory of stages of cognitive development, Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory – and apply it to your own development.  In this paper you need to briefly describe the devopmental theory you choose and its terminology, and you need to apply the theory to you own life.  For example, if you chose to apply Freud’s psychosexual stage theory to your own life, you would describe events that occurred in the oral, anal, and phallic stages of your life and analyze how these events may have influenced your adult personality.


          Using Freudian Theory to Explain my Dreams.  This paper should apply Freud’s theory of dreams to some of your own dreams.  If you choose this topic, you might want to keep a dream diary for a week or so (keep a pad of paper near your bed and record all the dreams you can remember as soon as you wake up.)  In this paper you must briefly explain and describe Freud’s dream theory (e.g., the function of dreams as wish fulfillments, the manifest and latent content of dreams, the dream “censor”) and try to analyze your own dreams in terms of Freud’s theory.  Discuss how well Freud’s theory applies to your dreams.  Do you think there are other theories that better explain the content of your dreams?


          Analyzing my Moral Behavior in Terms of Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Reasoning.  Page 22 of you text describes Kohlberg’s theory of stages of moral development.  In this paper you should present and analyze Kohlberg’s theory and decide what stage of moral reasoning you are currently at.  You might discuss examples that illustrate various stages of moral reasoning you displayed as a child.  What do you think are the origins of your moral beliefs and principles?  What led you to progress from one stage of moral reasoning to the next?  Do you think you behave consistently or inconsistently in relation to moral behavior (e.g., do you never tell lies, or do you sometimes tell lies?  Do you never cheat or sometimes cheat?)  How does Kohlberg’s theory apply to these questions?


          Analyzing my Masculinity (or Femininity) in Terms of Trait Theory and Social Learning Theory: Am I Consistently Masculine (or Feminine)?  In this paper you should describe and analyze your masculine and feminine behaviors (e.g., your hobbies, your abilities, your style of grooming and dress, the way you move your body and your nonverbal behaviors, your ways of interacting with friends, family members, and boyfriends/girlfriends).  Apply trait theories and social learning theories of personality to your M/F behavior.  Do you think you show consistent traits of masculinity or femininity – e.g., Are your masculine or feminine behaviors consistent over time and across situations?  Or, do you think your masculine and feminine behaviors vary a lot depending on the situation you’re in and the people you are with?  Do you think that you can be both masculine and feminine, or are these two kinds of behavior mutually exclusive?  What do you think the origins are of your masculine and feminine behaviors – e.g., do these behaviors result from genes, hormones, brain differences between men and women, imitating your parents, modeling your friends, imitating celebrities in movies and TV, or what?


          My Experience with Mental Illness.  In this paper, you should describe someone you know well (yourself, a family member, a friend) who has suffered from mental illness (e.g., depression, panic attacks, phobias, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia).  What do you think are the causes of the person’s mental illness?  How much do you think the person’s mental illness resulted from biological factors (genes, brain chemistry), and how much do you think it resulted from the person’s environment (e.g., parental rearing, life stresses, a terrible loss such as a death in the family or the breakup of a relationship).  Did the person receive counseling or therapy?  Was it effective?  Relate your account to research on mental illness and its treatment.


          My Experience with False Memories.  Give a personal example of a false memory – e.g., when you remembered incorrectly an important fact, when you or another gave false testimony in a criminal case or during a school incident, when someone falsely accused you of a crime or a misdemeanor, etc.  Why do you think the false memory occurred?  Relate your example to research on memory.  Is memory an “exact picture” of what happened in the past, or do we all, to some extent, reconstruct our memories.  Do you think we believe people’s memories (for example, eyewitness testimony in court cases) more than we should, given the fallibility of human memory? 


          My Experience with Intelligence Tests.  Describe a real-life example of when you or another person (a brother, sister, or a friend) took an intelligence test (at school, for a job application).  Do you think the test was fair?  What does it mean for such a test to be “fair”?  Was the person who took the test misclassified (e.g., as “retarded” or not very bright) as a result of the score he or she received?  Did the test results lead to a destructive “self-fulfilling prophecy” that influenced the person -- for example, the results influenced teachers’ behavior toward the person or undermined the person’s self-esteem an led him or her not to work hard in school?  Can intelligence test results sometimes have positive effects – e.g., leading teachers to provide more challenging instruction to “gifted” students?  How much do you think people are “born with” their levels of intelligence, and how much do you think intelligence is affected by people’s environments?  Do intelligence tests measure “innate” intelligence, or do they measure the effects of the person’s environment (e.g., whether or not you grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood).   Relate your personal account to research on intelligence and theories of intelligence, and briefly describe the history of intelligence testing.


          My Defense Mechanisms.  Apply Freud’s theory of defense mechanisms to your own thought processes and behavior.  The goal here is to describe what a defense mechanism is and to describe a number of Freudian defense mechanisms (e.g., repression, projection, reaction formation, denial, sublimation), and then apply them to your own behavior.  Why do you think you engage in the defense mechanisms that you do?  How did these defense mechanisms develop?  Why do you prefer certain defense mechanisms over others?  Are you always aware of your defense mechanisms, or do you sometimes need other people to point them out to you?  Are there positive as well as negative defense mechanisms?  Can defense mechanisms have both good and bad consequences?  Is it possible for a person to live without defense mechanisms?


          A Real-Life Example of my Conformity (or Obedience, or Compliance).  This paper should describe a real-life example when you conformed (behaved like others because of pressures from them), obeyed (followed others’ instructions or commands, perhaps even when the instructions or commands were immoral), or complied with another’s request (e.g., gave money to a no-good friend or to a questionable door-to-door solicitor).  Describe how social pressures operate and how other people sometimes can get you to do things you don’t want to do.  Relate your example to social psychological research on conformity, obedience, and/compliance.  What are ways to resist unfair pressures to conform, obey, or comply?


          Applying the Fundamental Attribution Error and the Actor-Observer Bias to Myself.  Pages 286 and 287 of the text describe research on attribution – how we try to explain the causes of our own and others’ behavior.  The Fundamental Attribution Error refers to people’s tendency to explain others’ behavior too much in terms of their internal traits, and not enough in terms of situational factors (such as social pressures).  The Actor-Observer Bias refers to our tendency to explain our own behavior differently from others’ behavior (for example: “I failed the test because of stresses in my life.  However, my friend failed the test because she’s not very bright.”)   Give some real-life examples of the Fundamental Attribution Error and the Actor-Observer Bias in you own life.  Relate these examples to social psychological research on these topics.


          The causes of “evil.”   The textbook and lectures discuss Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments (described in the Social Psychology chapter), in which ordinary people obeyed “evil” commands and delivered painful electric shocks to innocent victims simply because the experimenter told them to do so.  Describe a time in your own life (or in the life of someone you know well) when you (or the other person) behaved in an “evil” way.  What do you think was the cause of the evil behavior?   Was it something inside the person (his/her personality traits, bad genes, weak superego), or was the evil behavior caused by the person’s enviornment (a bad upbringing, bad social influences, etc.).  Is evil behavior ever purely a function of just the person or just the situation?  Whatever explanations you offer for your own evil behavior (or that of a close friend or family member), would you use the same explanations to account for “evil” behavior in the world at large – e.g., men who rape women, corporate officers who steal money from workers and stockholders, genocides, people and corporations who destroy the environment and pillage the planet?


          Sexual orientation and its causes.  Describe someone you know (e.g., yourself, a friend, a family member) who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  In your opinion, what influenced this person’s sexual orientation to develop as it did?  Relate your discussion to the nature-nurture debate in psychology.  Do you think sexual orientation (being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual) results from biological factors (e.g., genetics, prenatal hormones, brain chemistry and structure), or does it result from environmental factors (the way our parents treat us; childhood experiences)?  Are both nature and nurture important?  Are we “born” heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual?  Can we “choose” to be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual?   Do you think that gay/lesbian/bisexual people differ from heterosexual people in ways other than their attractions to men or women? – for example, do they differ in personality, nonverbal behavior, grooming?   If so, why?  Again, relate this to possible causes and theories of sexual orientation.


          Analyzing my Personality in Terms of the Nature-Nurture Debate.  Describe your personality, for example, in terms of the Big Five personality traits.  How much do you think your traits results from nature (i.e., genetics, heredity) and how much do you think they results from nurture (how you were reared, your environment).  Issues you might consider: How similar is your personality to your parents’ personalities and to your siblings’ personalities?  Why are you similar or dissimilar to your close family members in personality?  Apply behavior genetic research on personality to your discussion of your own and your family members’ personality traits.


          Applying Memory Research to Studying.  How do you study for school and for tests?  Can you apply research and theory on memory (e.g., research on mnemonics, state-dependent memory, order effects, chunking of learned materials) to your study habits?  Have you unknowingly already used certain memory principles when you studied in the past?  Can memory research help you to study more effectively in the future?  Give examples of memory principles you have used when studying and learning material in various classes.