Fall, 2021, PSC 001-001

Overview and Goals

You may “think” you know yourself (or maybe you don’t…) – in any case, after this course, you will know a lot more about how your brain and mind work, and the forces that shape your thoughts and behavior, from the basic biology of your brain up to the social interactions that shape you in myriad powerful ways, and everything in between. In short, this will be the most important class you’ll ever take, because knowing how the human mind works underlies almost everything of importance in our world.

This class takes a “radical” new approach, by providing a comprehensive, principled understanding of how the mind / brain works, based on only 3 core principles: Compression, Contrast, and Control (the 3 C’s). We’ll see how these principles emerge from the neuroscience of the brain – the deep integration of neuroscience and psychology is major feature of our approach, which is increasingly reflected in the field as a whole. Then we’ll apply them to everything from perception to personality, covering all of the major findings discussed in standard textbooks.

Due to this integrative, principled approach, this is a more difficult version of an introduction to psychology than most! If you are only taking this course because it is supposed to be easy and you are only vaguely interested in the material, you might want to find a different course. If you are willing to commit to spending the necessary effort to actually read the textbook and attend the lectures, you can acquire a deep understanding of yourself and other people that may stick with you for the rest of your life! See below for a way to support your commitment (or not – your choice!).

The actual conduct of research in psychology and neuroscience raises a number of important issues in critical thinking, and how the methods of science can be applied to test hypotheses about how the brain/mind works. These lessons apply broadly across many disciplines, and provide an important broad foundation for the rest of your college career and beyond.

COVID-19 Issues

  • You must wear a mask. I will not start the lecture if there are any unmasked individuals, who will be asked to put on a mask or leave the lecture hall. The TAs will have extra masks available if you forgot yours. Please see: https://campusready.ucdavis.edu for campus policies.

  • The course is designed to accommodate any level of in-person participation, so you will still be able to access all of the relevant information and take quizzes and tests even if you have to quarantine or catch the virus. So, Please do not come to the lecture if you are feeling any symptoms and instead access the relevant online materials listed at the top of the syllabus.

  • Please do not email us if you are not able to come to class for any reason – with a class of this size, we are unable to track attendance and it is really up to you to manage your responsibilities and use the recorded lectures when you cannot attend the live class.

  • More generally, keeping our campus healthy takes all of us. You are expected to follow university public health requirements and pursue personal protection practices to protect yourself and the others around you. These include:

    • Participate in the university’s daily screening process: Everyone must complete a Daily Symptom Survey to access a university controlled facility.
    • Participate in the university’s testing program: All students are required to participate in the COVID-19 Testing program as required by their vaccination status – every four days for unvaccinated students and every 14 days for vaccinated students. You may test more frequently.
    • Wear a well-fitted face covering that covers your nose and mouth at all times. Everyone is required to wear face coverings indoors regardless of vaccination status. If you see someone not wearing a face covering or wearing it incorrectly, then kindly ask them to mask up.
    • Monitor the daily potential exposure report. Every day the university will update the potential exposure report with building and some classroom information and the dates of exposure.
    • Assist in the contact tracing process. If you’re contacted by a case investigator, it means you have been identified as a close contact, please respond promptly. You must assist with identifying other individuals who might have some degree of risk due to close contact with individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Grades (what you need to do)!

This is a 4 credit-hour course, meaning that you should expect to spend around 12 hours per week on the class, including time spent reading the textbook (required!), attending lectures (4 hours), and taking quizzes and exams (done outside of class). As noted above, this class is more difficult than a typical intro-psych course, and will require a greater investment of time and effort to get a good grade! Unlike in high school, you are individually responsible for managing your time and making sure you get everything done by the deadlines — this class presents an opportunity to learn many important things, but it is entirely up to you whether you take advantage of this opportunity or not.

Your grade will be based on four components according to the following percentages:

  • Midterm Exams: 30% Two multiple-choice midterms, conducted online through Canvas. They have 33 questions and you have 1 hour (60 minutes) to complete the test.

  • Final Exam: 30% Includes some cumulative questions, multiple-choice, conducted online through Canvas

    • Both midterms and final are available for multiple days on Canvas, but must be completed IN ONE SESSION of 60 minutes – they cannot be started and stopped multiple times. Please plan accordingly. The midterms have 33 multiple choice questions, similar to what you see on the quizzes. The questions appear one at a time in random order (with random order of answer options), and you cannot go back to earlier questions. Canvas provides a detailed log of all activity during the test, which can be checked to determine any suspicious activity, or in the case of reported technical issues. As these are tests of what you’ve learned in the course, obviously, you are not allowed to use notes or the book for the midterms and final. To be clear, you do not need to take the final at the date/time assigned for this class – you have a range of days that will be announced when they finally tell us when grades are due.
  • Chapter quizzes: 30% Due on Tuesdays by 4pm PT every week before class (recommend doing earlier!!), through canvas – open book, untimed – this is a major place where a little bit of diligence can really improve your grade! Everyone should be able to get high scores on this by reading the textbook and carefully answering each question. You are even allowed 2 attempts and the highest of these two is counted. Answers to quizzes are avail for study on the Thursday after the class – this is the single most important way to prepare for the exams!

  • QOTW: 10% due Monday by 10pm PT every week. (1 can be dropped/excused) question-of-the-week (QOTW) submissions are your chance to create a multiple-choice question for the entire class to answer and discuss during lecture. These are submitted in the canvas system, and again are a very easy source of points for you. They can be any kind of interesting question, from a survey about the behaviors or beliefs of your peers, review of key points in the class, or other novel questions related to the topic of the week. You can also include a link and brief summary to news stories about scientific findings relevant to the topic of the week, that would be useful to discuss. Try to think of what would make the discussion the most interesting to you, while also being highly relevant to the topic.

Extra Credit for Extra Commitment

As we will learn in the course, establishing and maintaining goals, and motivation in general, is the most important ingredient in academic and overall life outcomes. Thus, you have the opportunity to earn (or lose) extra credit by making, and keeping, commitments to various important steps that can greatly enhance what you get out of this course, and help you deal with the increased difficulty of the material. If you do not choose to engage in these additional goal-setting steps, you can still get whatever grade you earn according to the above required elements, but almost certainly you will get less value out of this educational opportunity than if you do decide to engage. The choice is yours. Here’s how it works:

  • At the start of the class, you write a brief statement of your overall goals for what you hope to learn from this course, and how it might fit in with your larger overall goals for college and your life thereafter. Then, you select up to 3 specific goals from among a set of 5 options, which you commit to achieving in the course. These options are as follows (with the reporting content shown in parentheses):

    • Thoroughly reading and reflecting on the assigned textbook chapters every week (report on your reactions to the content and what thoughts you had about how it applies to your life, etc).
    • Attending as many lectures as you can, and engaging full attention to the lectures (report on your thoughts and questions about the lecture, and what you would have said if you were to participate in discussion – 2 weeks excused to allow for illness etc).
    • Participating in class discussions (report on what you said – 3 weeks excused to allow for illness and lack of opportunity).
    • Exploring additional reading and research on class-related topics (report on these).
    • Providing detailed comments on how to improve the textbook, to benefit future classes (the comments).
  • For each goal that you commit to, you will have to fill out a report every week on exactly what you have done toward achieving this goal (as noted above), along with reflections on how this has affected your overall learning experience in relation to your initially-stated goals. These do not need to be overly long or detailed, and are largely synonymous with the activity itself. These reports will be evaluated by the TAs, and must be submitted by the deadline each week to receive credit (one week may be dropped except as noted above). This continued engagement with your goals throughout the quarter is especially important, because people usually start out with a lot of positive motivation and engagement, but have difficulty sustaining that in the face of everything else that happens. Doing it weekly helps establish a routine schedule for completing all of your required work.

  • If you have demonstrated continued engagement with your selected goals, then you earn 2% extra credit per goal, for a total of 6% maximum possible extra credit (i.e., no more than 3 goals will be credited). However, if you do not demonstrate continued engagement, you lose 1% per goal. This asymmetry in gains and losses reflects the greater psychological power of losses, known as loss aversion, which we will learn about in the course. The use of both carrots and sticks is useful for fully engaging your motivational system.

Grading Policy

Grades are not curved; they are based on percentages (note: Canvas truncates points, so a 92.9 is still an A- for example):

  97-100 A+    87-89 B+   77-79 C+   67-69 D+
  93-96  A     83-86 B    73-76 C    63-66 D
  90-92  A-    80-82 B-   70-72 C-   60-62 D-

In addition, you cannot pass the course without completing the Research Participation Requirement described in the next section.

Finally, please do not email me asking for extra credit outside of what is specifically outlined above – I absolutely will not make any exceptions to the above grading policy – with a class of this size, it is impossible to accommodate any special cases. Everything you need to do can be done with considerable timing flexibility. It is a good idea to do things sooner rather than later so if something happens, you won’t have to worry about taking a quiz or test – what a pleasant feeling that will be ;)

Research Participation Requirement

See this website for all the relevant information.

IMPORTANT: email spcoordinator@ucdavis.edu for ALL questions related to sona and experiments! If you email me, I will just forward it to them anyway, so save us both the extra step!

All students enrolled in this course are required to gain experience with the scientific and experimental aspects of psychology. This requirement may be filled in any combination of two activities: by participating in laboratory experiments in psychology; or by writing papers. You must complete a total of 6 credits (roughly 6 hours) through any combination of these two activities.

Students who do not complete the required 6 total credits will receive a grade of incomplete for the course, until they complete the course.

The research requirement does not affect your grade in this class, at all! It only affects whether you get your grade!


Every week you have to read the textbook chapter(s) and take the quiz on canvas, due before class on Tues, and submit QOTW by Mon 10pm.

Wk Date Chapter, Topic Test
1 23 Sep Introduction, Syllabus
2 28, 30 Sep Ch 1, 2: Intro and Science & Subjectivity
3 5, 7 Oct Ch 3: Neuroscience
4 12, 14 Oct Ch 4, 5: Consciousness etc & Perception Midterm 1 (Ch 1-5)
5 19, 21 Oct Ch 6: Learning, Motivation
6 26, 28 Oct Ch 7: Memory
7 2, 4 Nov Ch 8, 9: Thinking, Control, Language Midterm 2 (Ch 6-9)
8 9, 11 Nov Ch 10: Personality & Social (11th is Vet. day holiday)
9 16, 18 Nov Ch 11: Origins: Evolution, Development
10 23, 25 Nov Thanksgiving break
11 30, 3 Dec Ch 12: Disorders & Treatment
Final (Ch 10-12, cumulative), Dec 6-10