Why do people do what they do? Do animals think and remember? How do people cope with prejudice and discrimination? What happens to our memories as we age? How do babies learn about their world? How do individuals’ personalities differ? How do people adjust and adapt to new cultures?
These are some of the questions engaging the faculty and students in the Psychology Department at Whitman College. Our department offers a wide range of courses and research laboratories designed to give students both theoretical and practical knowledge about the exciting discipline of psychology. We designed our comprehensive curriculum to achieve three types of learning: first, students acquire basic understanding of concepts, principles, theories, conventions, vocabulary, and the models of psychology; second, students practice and refine skills to perform rigorously and cogently in quantitative analysis, writing, speaking, theoretical integration, personal growth, application and group process; and third, students develop interdisciplinary perspectives and understanding of how psychology is similar to and different from other disciplines, particularly its closest neighbors – philosophy, biology, and sociology.
Our program teaches psychology as a science, but we also teach psychology in its practical applications for improving human welfare. Our requirements include an introductory survey course, several methods courses, a field study experience, a senior capstone course, a seminar and laboratory course, and a thesis. Many elective courses in psychology are also offered each semester including abnormal, aging, cognitive, counseling, cross-cultural, developmental, gender, health, learning, personality, physiological, sensation/perception and social.
An important aspect of our program is the senior year experience. Seniors complete a thesis, an original research project accompanied by an oral exam. Students may choose to complete an empirical or theoretical thesis project. They also take a senior capstone course that examines the theoretical, historical, and ethical issues of central importance to the discipline, and situates their thesis project in the context of the larger discipline. Seniors in our program experience a strong sense of community as they work on their theses and major exams.
Whitman’s Psychology Department has well-equipped animal and human laboratory facilities for undergraduate teaching and research. Our comparative psychology lab allows students to investigate behavior and cognition in pigeons and rats. Human laboratory facilities include an infant development laboratory and a cognitive aging laboratory. In addition, there are multiple rooms available for studies involving human participants, testing, and other laboratory exercises.
Psychology majors in our department have published their research in numerous journals. In addition, our students have an enormously successful record of presenting their research at regional professional meetings, where their papers are accepted in a blind peer review process. Many of Whitman’s psychology majors go on to graduate school and have reported that they appreciate the rigorous training that our program provided them, particularly the senior thesis experience.