Experimental Psychology

(Course website: http://teaching.psychol.cam.ac.uk/)

Experimental psychology is one of the more popular choices for IB and gives an overview of a broad range of subjects. There are 3 lectures and 2 two hour practical sessions each week.

The lectures introduce many aspects of psychology, giving a taste of a variety of topics. In Michaelmas you will learn about psychophysics (from a physical event to its psychological perception), attention, learning (Pavlov’s dogs and Skinner), memory and higher functions including executive functions (Phineas Gage) and consciousness. In Lent term the course moves on to the psychology of language and rationality (judgments and decision-making), as well as covering developmental psychology (the development of consciousness from birth to adulthood) and abnormal psychology. Finally, in Easter term you will be lectured by John’s own psychology DoS on IQ and social psychology. The lecture notes are excellent although in some cases you may find that the order of information doesn’t quite match the slide order.

The practical sessions will reinforce this material, and will have you in the lab carrying out a variety of experiments including some of those mentioned in the lectures. You will be given the opportunity to write a lab report for some of these sessions and will be required to pass at least 1 write-up from each of 5 sections to avoid negative marking of 1.5% per fail (although it is very difficult to fail these, particularly as if your first attempt does not pass, you will be given the chance to make corrections and resubmit). Most write-ups will require the use of specific statistical tests which you will be taught in stats workshop practicals. Each statistical test is usually taught in the same week as the practical you will need to use it for.

Overall the workload is relatively easy to keep up with. Weekly supervision work tends to consist of an essay, reading or revision. For the write-ups, it’s advisable to do the first of each section early on to give you a better selection of back-up plans if it does fail – the free time you’ll have later on if it doesn’t is definitely worth it.

At the end of the year you will take 3 exams – 2 essay and short answer question papers and 1 practical paper in which you will design an experiment and use some of the statistical tests you learned in the practical sessions. There will be a reasonable choice of questions in each exam. The range of subjects the course covers is too broad to be covered by a single textbook but the flexible exam structure means you can read around the topics that interest you most.

In many studies you will learn about, the evidence is based on statistics, and many find the lack of solid evidence off-putting. However, if you can get over this fact, Experimental Psychology is well worth considering if you are interested in psychology or neuroscience.

The Natural Sciences Society of St John's College