Spring 2014

Psychology of Good and Evil

Listed in: Psychology, as PSYC-248


Catherine A. Sanderson (Section 01)


The topic for this proseminar (which is one of four similar proseminars offered across the College) changes year to year. In 2012-13, the proseminar in Psychology will be on Good and Evil.

Proseminars are designed to give students the knowledge and the intellectual and technical skills necessary to do advanced research and writing in their major.  They are most suitable for junior majors who are considering writing a senior honors thesis, and for senior majors, who are not writing a thesis, but who would like to have the experience of writing a significant paper in the discipline.

Across all subfields of psychology, researchers have examined the fundamental question of what drives behavior. Two particular types of fundamental behavior of great interest to psychologists and lay people alike are prosocial behaviors (those that help others) and evil behavior (those that harm others).  Why do even infants show a preference for people who engage in cooperative behavior?  What leads people to fail to give help in emergencies, even in cases in which are life-threatening?  What drives some people to help others--even at great personal cost--and others to ignore those in need--or, worse yet, deliberately harm others?  Why does harming one person to help many others feel different--and even appear different in the brain--than standing by and watching harm occur to others?

In this seminar, we will examine both historical and current research across all of the fundamental areas in psychology--biological, developmental, social--on the role of multiple factors (e.g., genetics, environment, social, cultural) in driving both good and evil behavior.  Students will gain skills in understanding the various methods used to test empirical questions in psychology, reviewing and interpreting research studies, and creating and testing their own research question that builds on prior research in a novel way.

Open to juniors and seniors, but priority in admission will be given to junior majors who are considering writing a senior thesis and to senior majors who have opted not to write a thesis. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester.  Professor Sanderson.

If Overenrolled: Priority given to seniors and majors with junior psychology majors having top priority.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014