Course: PSY252
Instructor: Shelton
F 2013

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

The scientific study of social behavior, with an emphasis on social interaction and group influence. Topics covered will include social perception, the formation of attitudes and prejudice, attraction, conformity and obedience, altruism and aggression, and group dynamics. The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the field of social psychology. The course is structured so as to enable students to draw connections across units, particularly in the second half of the semester. The main themes of the course are social cognition, interpersonal perception, cognitive dissonance, persuasion, social norms, conformity and obedience, prejudice, aggression, altruism, relationships, and emotions. Throughout, the intersections between social psychology and health, education, and the law are also discussed. Lectures focus on the principles and classic studies from the textbook. One or two studies are assigned each week to be read before precept. Precepts focus on breaking down the individual components of the studies and discussing their broader implications. For example, the preceptor may ask for the study’s purpose, hypothesis, methods, results, limitations, and conclusions. The course has two exams, weekly forum posts, one group presentation, and one longer paper due on Dean’s Date.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

The textbook includes many studies that are never mentioned in lecture or precept, but lectures give a sense of which material should be the focus while reading the textbook. While the details of these studies will not appear on exams, reading about them will help you understand and remember the principles that came out of them. Precepts may at first be intimidating for students who have never taken a psychology course. The best way to prepare for precept is to practice reading psychology studies. They all follow a similar format but are impossible to “just skim” because they are very technical. For many students, PSY 252 will be their first course at Princeton that assigns studies with the reading, so the more exposure you can get in advance, the more comfortable you will feel participating in precept.

Learning For and From Assignments

Many students are caught off guard by the difficulty of the midterm. The questions are very specific and require an in-depth understanding of the lecture material, parts of the textbook, and the precept readings. One way to prepare for exams many students have found successful is to review the material in chunks. For example, remind yourself of the definition of a principle, such as the “Fundamental Attribution Error,” in conjunction with a relevant, illustrative study, such as Jones & Harris (1967). This is an effective way to prepare because it will ensure that you understand the application of the principle. Furthermore, short answer questions on the exams may ask you to define a principle and then summarize one or two studies that support it. The final paper assignment asks you to design an intervention, such as posting a message in a particular spot around campus that will have the most salience and effectiveness in getting students to recycle more, with reasoning based on principles learned in the course. This is a challenging assignment so it is worth jotting down any ideas that you come up with throughout the semester.

External Resources

It may be useful to make flashcards with the terms from the textbook to prepare for exams. Flashcards may be made electronically at

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Many students expect PSY 252 to be easy because the principles are “commonsense.” While some of the results of the studies will seem obvious to you, possibly because of hindsight bias (which is covered in the course), other findings will surprise you and change how you view yourself and your relationships. The relevance of the course content to your own life will be clear and you may even find yourself wanting to bring up the studies in everyday conversation.
Social Psychology

Add a Strategy or Tip