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OL 101: My Course Help offers Quick Start Guides, an FAQ, and other information to help you navigate this site.

For quick resolution to technical or administrative issues, please Contact Our Support Staff rather than your instructor.

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Required Textbooks

  1. Passer, M. W., and R.E. Smith. Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behavior. 5th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2010. ISBN 978-0073532127

This course preview outlines the details of this online course. For more information on taking this course, please send an e-mail message to our support staff at UW offices are closed on these holidays.

Course Preview
  • 13 lessons
  • 4 online activities
  • 4 short written assignments
  • 2 examinations

You have your own reasons for taking this introductory course in psychology. Since this is a general introduction to psychology, it can satisfy many different needs. This course will provide you with a general understanding of the field of psychology, and is intended to introduce you to current research, theories, and questions that psychologists have asked and are asking. The questions are as broad as human nature, and the methods used to research them are equally as varied. You will find that many questions remain unanswered, and that interesting issues researched for decades still elude a definitive answer—which is one reason psychology is challenging. Your own effort and thought are critical in forming meaningful syntheses of the material you will study.

This is a survey course and a prerequisite to more advanced psychology courses. You will be exposed to many topics in this course, but these topics will not be explored until all questions about them are exhausted. You will also be presented with the methods used by current researchers, but only introduced to some of the complexities of those methodologies. This course may well stimulate as many questions as it provides answers; I would consider such an outcome successful!

In this course, you will be asked to view narrated PowerPoint lectures, watch video clips, read the required text, and complete eight activities/assignments. If you complete all of these requirements as described, you will receive a solid introduction to the general field of psychology. I hope the course will prepare and stimulate you to take advanced courses in psychology and to pursue related reading from your developing interest in the area. Finally, this course may provide you with a new and different angle from which to view yourself and your everyday behaviors.

Approaching the Course

I suggest you survey the material you will be studying, by scanning the table of contents of your book now. As you proceed through the course, the syllabus will direct you to study every chapter of the book in sequence (with the exception of chapters 3, 9, and 10, which are not included as required reading). A preliminary overview will let you see titles of chapters about which you may already have some knowledge, as well as uncover some topics you might be surprised to find in a psychology text.

Psychology: More than Therapy

When you think of psychology, you may, like most people, think of the work of professional counselors and clinical psychologists who help people through difficult times by means of various therapies, or who treat people with serious mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. You'll find, however, that only chapters 15 and 16 ("Psychological Disorders" and "Treatment of Psychological Disorders") of your textbook are devoted to such issues. The rest of the text is devoted to understanding the reasons for normal human reactions: how people learn and think; the human development process from infancy to elder years; and human aggression and altruism, intimacy, and self-reflection. These and many other topics presented in the text are regular, human functions. It is because these activities are central to human functioning that they attract the attention of psychological researchers.

Course Goals and Objectives

The purpose of the class is to introduce you to the many sub-disciplines that make up the field of psychology, with a particular emphasis on the study of human thought and behavior. In this course, you will be exposed to psychological theories and research on a wide variety of topics including the biological bases of behavior, cognitive processes, human development, and emotion. You will also learn about the application of psychological principles and research to real-world problems such as measuring personality and treating mental illness.
This course has several goals. First and foremost, it is designed to introduce you to the broad range of topics examined by psychology researchers. At the end of this course, you'll be familiar with the topics psychologists study, the methods they use to investigate these issues, and the theories they have developed to explain their findings. You'll also have a better understanding of yourself and of the behavior of others.

Students who complete this course will be able to

  • identify the different subfields within psychology and understand how they explain behavior;
  • identify the different research methods used to study behavior and recognize their strengths and weaknesses;
  • evaluate research within and outside the field of psychology;
  • distinguish among the different types of psychological disorders and treatment options; and
  • relate the findings of psychological research to their daily lives and to important issues in our society and the world at large.

About the Online Environment

Your online course offers several advantages to the traditional classroom, including the comprehensive Online Student Handbook, the ability to communicate electronically with your instructor, and links to a rich array of online resources.

Online Student Handbook

This handbook answers questions about your online learning course, such as how to purchase your text, obtain a transcript, and get technical help if you need it. The handbook also provides additional resources, such as how to order books or journals from the library and how to study for an online course.

Communicating with Your Instructor and Student Peers

  • Online forums allow you to communicate with other currently enrolled students. You are encouraged to use the general discussion forum to exchange ideas, resources, and comments about your course work with other students in this course. You can also use this forum as "office hours." You are encouraged to ask questions about the material, should you need clarification about a concept. Many students are likely to have the same questions as you, so it would be beneficial to everyone in the class to ask questions no matter how trivial you may think they are.
  • If you have questions about your grades, or of another personal nature, you can email the course account to communicate with your instructor and teaching assistant directly. You will receive a response to such queries within 24 hours.

UW Library Services

As an online student, you have access to a wealth of Web resources compiled to provide fast, easy access to information that supports your online learning experience. Organized by subjects, UW Library Services links you to sites with help for writing and research, study skills, language learning, and library reference materials. All links have been assessed for credibility and reliability, and they are regularly monitored to ensure their usability.

Academic Honesty

The online environment poses special challenges to academic integrity. Sharing answers is a violation of the University code of academic conduct, and anyone suspected of violating this code will be referred to the office of academic affairs. Read the UW statement on Academic Honesty:

The midterm and final exams will be administered at the Seattle campus of the University of Washington, at a designated time and place. The exams will be proctored, and you will be asked to turn in your exam and answer form before you leave. The exams will not be returned to you. Your scores will be posted on the course Web page. If you would like to go over your exam to see what you missed, you are encouraged to e-mail the course account to schedule an appointment with your instructor or TA.

Course Overview

This course consists of thirteen lessons (each roughly corresponding to an assigned chapter in the textbook) and two examinations.

Required Materials

  • Passer, M. W., and R.E. Smith. Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behavior. 5th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2010. ISBN 978-0073532127

About the Lessons

Each lesson consists of a reading assignment from your textbook (Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behavior), and two or three narrated PowerPoint lectures.

Some lessons require you to either complete an online activity or complete an assignment that you will be expected to turn in. The due dates for these activities are shown in the course calendar. The activities are worth 5 points each, whereas the assignments are worth either 7 or 8 points each.

Some lessons also contain links to video clips, which complement the lesson topic. I recommend you watch the video clips before you listen to the relevant lecture, as the lecture will make reference to these clips. Alternatively, you can pause the lecture during the appropriate time to watch the video clip. After you watch the clip, simply resume watching the lecture.

Lesson 1: History of Psychology and Research Methods

In chapters 1 and 2 of your text, the authors provide a general introduction to psychology and discuss the scientific approach to understanding human behavior. In chapter 1, they define the field and summarize how different psychological perspectives view behavior. In chapter 2, they consider what it means to study behavior "scientifically" and describe various methodologies that approach the study of psychology. It is important to understand these methods; you will find evidence of them throughout the book, as the authors present the results of research that support the various theories and ideas that practitioners in the field consider.

Lesson 2: Brain and behavior

Lesson 2 is the only lesson that extensively covers physiological factors related to human behavior. This area of psychology is important, and its importance has increased in the field within the last ten years because of various breakthroughs in understanding the brain and the biological factors that affect emotions, cognition, and behaviors. The information in chapter 4 is important for a complete picture of what affects human behavior. The "Research Close-up" section is engaging, because it talks about the split hemisphere of the brain. This research has found its way into popular literature within the last decade, and it may have been overemphasized; its findings are not as definitive as they have been described. The treatment that the authors give it is appropriate.

Lesson 3: Sensation and Perception

Lesson 3 focuses on the ways we become aware of our environment. In chapter 5, the authors talk about the most rudimentary, genetically inherited systems that allow us to sense our world. Their discussion of sensation concentrates on the five senses and explains the physiology behind each of them. I do not expect you to memorize all the aspects of our sensing apparatus, but you should understand how it functions in our normal sensate states, as well as the problems people might experience with each of the five senses. I think you'll find the "Applying Psychological Science" section interesting; it discusses the advances that have been made in restoring lost functions. The discussion on perception, in the second part of chapter 5, makes it clear that our experience and expectations frame how we judge the reality around us, sometimes even distorting the sensations we receive. The way we perceive our world determines how we relate to it.

Lesson 4: States of Consciousness

Lesson 4 focuses on the different states of consciousness, with a primary emphasis on the most obvious change in consciousness: sleep. Although you should read the entire chapter for this lesson, you will only be tested on the first part of the chapter. You will not be tested on the sections about drug-induced states or hypnosis.

Lesson 5: Learning

The information on conditioning and learning you will encounter in lesson 5 is important to your study of psychology. In the last thirty years, this one area has perhaps received more attention than any other single topic within the field. Scientific manipulation of the conditioning process has been carefully studied and now is well articulated. The authors of your textbook frequently point out the implications of the fact that humans as well as animals can be conditioned. It is important that you understand the difference between classical conditioning and operant reinforcement or conditioning. Classical conditioning is associated with the name of Pavlov, and I think everybody has a basic understanding of what it is—but usually this understanding is not systematically organized. Classical conditioning, although well publicized, actually has fewer implications for changing people's behavior than operant reinforcement. Operant reinforcement works on the basic principle that people seek rewards and attempt to avoid unpleasant situations throughout their lives. If you look at some of your basic daily duties (such as going to work, housekeeping tasks, or paying your bills), you can probably see that you are motivated by operant reinforcement to perform them. In this lesson you will also learn about how evolutionary and cognitive factors influence conditioning and be introduced to the key elements and some applications of observational learning.

Lesson 6: Memory

Memory is something we also take for granted; while sometimes it befuddles us when certain ideas, notions, or experiences seem to elude our ability to recall them, we nonetheless live our daily lives always influenced by memories of our past experiences. Like the conditioning process, memory has been carefully dissected and studied under the scientific lens. Study chapter 8 with an eye to using the information and the tricks of improving memory throughout your own academic studies. You will find The "Applying Psychological Science" section at the end of this chapter very useful in this regard. Whether we like it or not, our demonstration of what we have learned in school depends on an effective memory.

Lesson 7: Motivation and Emotion

Obviously, we do not live by our cognition alone; our emotions, perhaps more than anything else, set us aside as a distinct species. In fact, many people believe our behavior is directed more by our emotional reactions than by our rational, conscious thought processes. That may be why the authors include the ideas of motivation and emotion in a single chapter. In lesson 7, we will explore the biological, psychological, and environmental factors involving motivation and emotion, and discuss links between our motives and emotions.

Lesson 8: Development over the Life Span

In the readings for this lesson (chapter 12), the authors talk about the developmental span of the human being. Fifteen years ago, you would have found only the section on early childhood development in introductory books, because researchers then concentrated their efforts on these stages of development. This was due partially to the work of two primary theoreticians, Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget, who emphasized the importance of the early years of development in framing the way people would behave throughout their lives. Within the last ten to fifteen years, perhaps influenced by the theories Erik Erikson and Roger Gould, many researchers have discovered the importance of development throughout our lifespan. This emphasis has also been influenced by our "aging population" and expanded years of life expectancy. This lesson will cover development throughout the life span, beginning with the abilities that children have at various stages and ending with the major developmental changes that occur in adolescence and adulthood.

Lesson 9: Personality

Personality theories are critical to our holistic view of human nature and behavior. Up until this lesson, the various parts of psychology that you have been studying are exactly that: parts of the puzzle. Motivation, emotion, cognition, sensation, and conditioning are all critical parts—but only parts—of the human equation. Personality theorists attempt to put everything together in one conscious, consistent, and logical picture of human behavior. You may be awed at the magnitude of such an effort; scholars are too. They do not agree about which theory is correct. Perhaps bits and pieces of each of them are correct; if someone could integrate all of them, we would have a good image of how humans develop and behave. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet, so we see various approaches discussed in this chapter and in the field.

Your textbook presents the key critical thinkers in this area in chapter 13. The trait approach, psychoanalytic theory, the behavioristic theory, and humanistic theory constitute the principal schools of thought about personality development. Each school includes theoreticians who clearly differ on various points, but these major schools of thought are the basic lenses through which researchers conduct their studies.

Lesson 10: Health and Well-being

Stresses and hassles are a reality for everyone. As a student, you face a variety of stressors: studying for multiple exams in the same week, juggling studies and a full-time job, dealing with a hectic family life, or getting along with a difficult roommate. Some people suffer from stress-related problems, such as insomnia and high blood pressure. Others try to escape stress by turning to alcohol or other drugs. People can deal with stressors in either positive or negative ways; unfortunately, many of us don't cope with stress effectively. In chapter 14, you'll encounter a new area of psychology—health psychology—and the concept of stress. In this chapter, the authors examine the nature of stress, discuss how to cope with it, and look at the interrelationship between health and stress. They also look into how learned skills and personality work together to influence the ability to cope with stress in day-to-day life.

One of the most exciting new developments in psychology is the effect of stress on the immune system. Health psychology can begin to identify the behavioral factors that put us at risk of illness, and suggest behaviors that promote health. While the evidence is still being gathered, it seems clear that people under prolonged stress are susceptible to various physiological problems, and even perhaps more vulnerable to such things as a simple cold or a flu virus. Hopefully, you will use the information presented in this lesson to help you learn how to effectively deal with your own stress, and as such lead a happier and healthier life.

Lesson 11: Psychological Disorders

Lesson 11 focuses on abnormal psychology, which deals with abnormal symptoms and behaviors. These arise from problems in the developmental processes as described by some theoreticians. Today, we put much more emphasis on the physiological roots of abnormal behavior than in previous decades. This is partially because of the breakthroughs in our understanding of the physiological basis of many abnormal behaviors. Given these breakthroughs, there is a greater emphasis on medical approaches to treatment. Although it is helpful for individuals to interact with therapists, discussing the problems in their lives that contribute to their abnormal behavior, medical treatments have shown dramatic and much quicker success than most therapies. The optimal treatment seems to be a combination of medication and continual therapeutic contact, especially to alleviate some of the more extreme problems that this lesson discusses. Chapter 15 of your text discusses the basic classifications of abnormal behavior and their possible causes. You will probably find the material in this chapter interesting. Remember, however, that the bulk of psychology is devoted to studying normal human behavior; devoting only this one chapter—or one-seventeenth of your text—is an appropriate emphasis for abnormal behavior.

Lesson 12: Treatment of Psychological Disorders

In this lesson, you will be introduced to various therapies for treating psychological disorders; most of these are directly traceable to the schools of thought that spawned them. There is, for example, a psychoanalytical approach, a behavioristic approach, and a humanistic approach to therapy. Many therapists today are trained in a variety of schools of thought and approaches, so they can use what is most appropriate for each individual they encounter. For example, some problems, such as chronic fears, may be best countered by the desensitization process, which depends primarily on behavioristic principles for its effectiveness. Shyness, on the other hand, might best be dealt with by a humanistic approach, since this is intended to instill a sense of self-worth. Techniques like the token economy (in which the entire environment is set up to shape people's behavior) rely on behavioral principles, and are effective for some antisocial or asocial behaviors. Many students ask, "But which is the best therapy?" I believe that this question has no simple answer. The best approach clearly depends on the types of problems the therapist is encountering. We can see the efficacy of personality theories when therapies based on their principles are effective. Without the theories, we would not have the applications the therapies represent.

Lesson 13: Social Thinking and Behavior

In lesson 13, we will discuss social behavior. The information here comes from social psychological research, which includes studies on how we form attributions and impressions, what factors influence conformity, obedience, and group behavior, and what causes attraction, prejudice, prosocial behavior, and aggression. One of the best known research experiments in all of psychology is the Milgram study (conducted in the 1960s), which tested the influence of authority on behavior. The study's results were shocking: they seemed to indicate that most of us would succumb to what we perceived as legitimate authority, even to the extreme of electrocuting a perfect stranger. Do you think there were artifacts in this experiment that caused the startling results Milgram reported, or do you believe that human nature is easily coerced by leaders? This is a critical question for understanding how society functions and how whole nations may seem to turn from cultured to savage societies. This lesson will closely examine the behavior of groups and the influence of social factors on the individual.

About the Exams

There will be two examinations—a midterm and a final. You will have 90 minutes to complete each exam. Exams will cover information in the readings, lectures, and video clips.

  • Both the midterm and the final will have 50 multiple choice questions and will cover all material from the lectures, video clips, and the required reading.
  • The exams will be non-cumulative. That is, the midterm exam and will cover lessons 1 through 6, and the final exam will cover lessons 7 through 13.
  • You will have 90 minutes to complete each exam. Please arrive on time to take your exams. Students who arrive more than 20 minutes late will not be allowed to take the exam.
  • Bring a mark-sense form (Scantron) and a #2 pencil to each exam.
  • Students are not permitted to make up exams except in the case of extreme circumstances (such as serious illness, accident, and so on) or a University sanctioned activity. Written proof from a physician, or other documentation, will be required. To qualify for a make-up exam, you must notify your instructor either prior to the exam (highly preferable) or within 24 hours of the scheduled test. If you are granted permission, you must complete the makeup exam within one week of the scheduled exam. The make-up exam will include a combination of multiple choice, short answer, and fill-in-the-blank questions. NOTE: The final exam cannot be given at an earlier date or time!

About the Assignments


You must complete all assigned activities and exams before you can receive a final grade for the course.

You can access the online activities and short written assignments from the My Course Web page. Please read the instructions carefully before you begin. These activities are designed to help you understand and apply the issues discussed in the lectures. After you complete the online activities, you will be redirected to a survey. In order to receive credit for a particular activity, you must complete its related survey. At the end of the survey, you will receive a confirmation code. Be sure to retain that code to varify that you completed the activity. Please contact your instructor or TA immediately if you are not redirected to the proper survey.

You'll find submission instructions in each assignment.

Evaluation and Grading

8 Activities/Assignments


Midterm Exam


Final Exam




Percentage (points)


Letter Grade

Percentage (points)


Letter Grade

95% (142 points)



76% (114 points)



94% (141 points)


75% (112 points)


93% (139 points)



74% (111 points)


92% (138 points)


73% (109 points)



91% (136 points)


72% (108 points)


90% (135 points)


71% (106 points)


89% (133 points)



70% (105 points)


88% (132 points)


69% (103 points)



87% (130 points)


68% (102 points)


86% (129 points)



67% (100 points)


85% (127 points)


66% (99 points)



84% (126 points)


65% (97 points)


83% (124 points)



64% (96 points)


82% (123 points)


63% (94 points)



81% (121 points)


62% (93 points)


80% (120 points)


Note: Please be aware that 0.7 is the lowest
passing grade
used at the University of Washington.
Any grade below
that is a 0.0 (the grades 0.1 to 0.6
are not used at the UW).

79% (118 points)



78% (117 points)


77% (115 points)


Study Tips

In general, for online courses there can be a limited amount of personal interaction between you and other students in the class, and between you and the teaching staff (the instructor and the TA). However, the exact amount of interaction you experience depends on you. To make this a rewarding learning experience I strongly encourage you to make this course as interactive as possible; that is make use of the various discussion forums available to you and ask as many questions about the material as you can. This type of interaction will help clarify any misconceptions you may have about the material. Ultimately, however, your success in this course will depend primarily on self-discipline and the amount of effort you put into your assignments and study time.

When approaching a new lesson, begin by reviewing the appropriate material in the course overview to get a feeling for the topic you will be studying. I recommend doing the required reading before going over the lecture material. After you have completed the assigned reading and lectures, then tackle any assignments that might be associated with that lesson. The assignments are designed to help you apply the material you have learned in a given lesson.

I also recommend using the supplementary material that comes with your textbook. Your textbook comes bundled with Connect, a highly interactive online learning management system. It includes may features that will help you study more efficiently, including practice tests. This would be particularly useful in studying for your exams. To help narrow your focus on what material to study for the exam, use the objectives at the end of each lesson as a study guide.

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