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Course Description
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Myth and Method in Psychology 1LIB430
University of Westminster
London, England

Subject Area(s) Level(s) Instruction in Credits Contact Hours Prerequisites
Liberal Arts and Sciences 200 English 4 50 N/A

Evidence and belief, probability and coincidence, paranormal cognition, astrology, dreaming, meditation, and hypnotism.

To provide students with an understanding of the approaches and methods involved in the scientific investigation of psychological phenomena.
To evaluate the scientific evidence for beliefs which are widely accepted by the general public, such as beliefs in paranormal phenomena.

By the end of the class, it is intended that students should be able to:
1. evaluate critically the evidence for a range of popular beliefs in psychological phenomena;
2. discuss some of the issues surrounding the area of psychological phenomena and demonstrate an awareness of the key concepts and research findings;
3. demonstrate an understanding of the factors that lead to popular acceptance of unsubstantiated phenomena.

1. Introduction to the Philosophy of Science
Belief versus evidence. What differentiates science from non-science? Western
v Eastern systems. Psychology and religious belief. Probability and coincidence.
2. States of consciousness
Dreaming, hypnotism, drug states, meditation, subliminal perception, lie detection.
3. Paranormal cognition
ESP, clairvoyance, precognition, PSI phenomenon.
4. Alternative personality theories and prediction
Astrology, graphology, palm-reading.
5. Alternative medicine and therapies
Psychological aspects of alternative therapies. Healing, acupuncture, homeopathy, biofeedback.

Lectures will be used to introduce selected concepts covered on the course, and will provide an overview of each area and the approaches and methods employed in the scientific investigation of the topic. Seminars will provide the opportunity for students to work in small groups, designing and carrying out experiments, and taking part in discussions. In many cases the topics concern phenomena widely accepted by the public, but whose scientific validity remains open to challenge. Both lectures and seminars will therefore involve a critical review of the scientific evidence for these phenomena, and a general consideration of the application of scientific method.

The essay requires students to develop the skills necessary to access academic information, through books, journals, CD-ROMS, the Internet and other sources.
The MCQ tests knowledge, albeit fairly superficial, of the variety of themes covered by the lecture and seminar material. The students will need a broad working knowledge of the topics under discussion.

Assessment will be based on two components:
Essay (60% of the overall class mark),
MCQ (40% of the overall class mark).

Essay: Assessment guideline
The essay topic may be any area of your choosing which is loosely covered by the class and approved by your seminar leader. Essays must take a psychological (ie scientific) approach to the topic. You should evaluate the area chosen by reference to the research literature. Criticality is an essential facet of the writing. Word length should be no more than 2000 words.

MCQ: Assessment guideline:
50 multiple choice questions taken from the material covered in the lectures and seminars to be completed in 45 minutes.

You are encouraged to read as widely as possible. There is not one source that includes all of the topics covered by this class so it will be necessary to consult a number of sources.

Book recommended for purchase
Roberts R & Groome D (2001). Parapsychology: The Science of Unusual Experience. London: Arnold.
Other indicative reading
Coleman A (1995). Controversies in Psychology. London: Longman.
Blackmore S (1996). In Search of the Light: The Adventures of a Parapsychologist. New York: Prometheus Books.
[Please note that these sources are provisional and are subject to change]

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