Undergraduate Program


Psychology as a scientific discipline aims to describe, understand, and predict the behavior of living organisms. In doing so, psychology embraces the many factors that influence behavior - from sensory experience to complex cognition, from the role of genetics to that of social and cultural environments, from the processes that explain behavior in early childhood to those that operate in older ages, and from normal development to pathological conditions. The Psychology Department at Berkeley reflects the diversity of our discipline's mission covering 5 key areas of research: Behavioral Neuroscience; Change, Plasticity & Development; Clinical Science; Cognition, Brain, & Behavior; and Social-Personality Psychology. Despite the existence of these specialization areas, our program learning goals focus on fostering methodological, statistical and critical thinking skills that are not tied to any one particular content area in psychology but are relevant for all of them.

Most of our program level goals are introduced in Psych 1 (General Psychology), which is the only lower division psychology course that is a prerequisite for the major. These goals are extended and reinforced in a majority of the upper division "core" courses. These include Psychology 101, Research Methods, required of all majors and our "decade" courses that survey the major fields of psychology: 110: Biological Psychology; 120: Cognitive Psychology, 130: Clinical Psychology, 140: Developmental Psychology, 150: Personality Psychology, 160: Social Psychology. Our program is designed to ensure that all students gain broad exposure to the field of psychology. In addition, students are encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of at least one major content area in psychology.

Below we give more detailed information about each goal and the courses that fulfill them.

Program Level Goals for Psychology Majors

  1. Define basic concepts that characterize psychology as a field of scientific inquiry; and appreciate the various subfields that form the discipline as well as things that differentiate it from other related disciplines. Develop an understanding of the central questions, issues in contemporary psychology.
  2. Be familiar with the range of methods used to investigate psychological questions.
  3. Develop skills to critically evaluate the presentation of scientific ideas and research in the popular media.
  4. Develop competence in reading and evaluating original scientific papers.
  5. Become familiar with the basic concepts of statistics and develop skills in evaluating information from a statistical perspective.
  6. Develop and articulate, both orally and in written form, a testable hypothesis, or an argument drawing from an existing body of literature.
  7. Develop competence in interpreting graphical data to understand what is being compared/manipulated (independent variables) and what is being measured (dependent variables).
  8. Be familiar with the history of psychology as a field and different theoretical and empirical frameworks that have defined and shaped the field.
  9. Apply a psychological principle to an everyday problem; or take an everyday problem and identify the relevant psychological mechanisms/issues.
  10. Develop a deeper understanding of one of the major content areas of psychology (i.e., Social/personality, Developmental, Clinical, Cognitive, Biological).
  11. Develop an understanding and an appreciation of how social (e.g., environmental/cultural), and biological (genes, hormones) factors jointly shape human behavior.
  12. Develop an awareness of the importance of science to humanity while recognizing its limits (i.e., some scientific knowledge is culture specific and may not applicable to the human condition universally)

Program Level Goals Summary Grid by Type of Course

Goals (correspond to above #s) Lower division prerequisite (Psych 1) Upper division 'core' courses: 101, 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, 160 Upper division electives & seminars Honors seminar
1. Basic concepts, subfields, and central issues in contemporary psychology Introduce Reinforce Reinforce  
2. Methods used to investigate psychological questions Introduce Reinforce Reinforce  
3. Critical evaluation of scientific ideas and research in the popular media Introduce Reinforce Reinforce  
4. Competence in reading and evaluating journal articles Introduce Reinforce Reinforce Reinforce
5. Basic concepts in statistics; skills in evaluating information from a statistical perspective Introduce Reinforce Reinforce  
6. Hypothesis generation Introduce Reinforce Reinforce Reinforce
7. Interpreting graphical data Introduce Introduce Reinforce Reinforce
8. History of psychology and its schools of thought Introduce Introduce Reinforce  
9. Application of principles to everyday problems Introduce Introduce Reinforce  
10. In-depth knowledge in one major content area of psychology   Introduce Reinforce Reinforce
11. Role of social and biological factors in human behavior   Introduce    
12. Understanding the limits of psychological science     Introduce  

Evaluation of Program Level Goals

The primary capstone experience for our most committed majors is the honors program. Honors students are expected to integrate, apply, and extend the knowledge they have learned to a psychological problem in a specific content area. The evaluation of the honors thesis by faculty is the primary way in which we evaluate the attainment of our program level learning goals. The thesis is read by the supervising faculty member and a second reader, assigned by the Department Chair.

The psychology department is in the process of developing several additional routes for evaluation. One is an exit survey to be completed by our graduating seniors to assess whether they perceive their education in the major to have fulfilled these goals. In this exit survey, we would also assess students' first-hand experience in conducting psychological research through the honor's program and/or other research opportunities (e.g., Psychology 99 or 199), focusing on the perceived usefulness of these experiences.

Second, because research methods and statistics are such an integral part of the major, the department is considering a longitudinal assessment of the value of Psychology 101 in terms of its impact on their understanding of material in subsequent courses. We know many students find Psychology 101 challenging; what we also want to know is if the value we ascribe to that course is experienced pedagogically in future semesters.

Third, we are developing ways to formally evaluate the impact of Psych 101 and research experience (via Honor's thesis or 199 credits) on performance outcomes such as GPA, and success in getting into graduate school.