PSYCHOLOGY 4521-002, Fall, 1999 

TPCS-CRITICAL THINKING (intelligence, learning disabilities, and other issues)

In Muenzinger Room E411A, 12:30 - 3 Monday


Professor: Richard Olson

Office: D451B Muenzinger. Phone: 492-8865.


Office Hours: 10-11 AM T & W, or by apt.


Required Texts:

Keith Stanovich, How to Think Straight about Psychology (1998).

Brent Slife, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Psychological Issues (1998).


As in most of the Critical Thinking sections offered by the Psychology Department, the content of this section (002) will be partly influenced by the Professor's area of expertise and research. Prof. Olson is Associate Director for the Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities that is funded by the National Institutes of Health. His main research focus is on genetic and environmental factors in the development of reading disabilities (dyslexia) and related language skills. Genetic/biological influences are evaluated through the comparison of identical and fraternal twins, chromosome linkage analyses, and brain scans. Environmental influences are studied through the use of computer-based remediation programs in the Boulder schools. Prof. Olson will lecture on these topics and special readings will be assigned in the area. We will also consider the controversial role of genes and environment for individual differences in a broader range of behavioral domains. For example, we will discuss the provocative assertions in the new book by Judith Harris, "The Nurture Assumption" (Why children turn out the way they do: Parents matter less than you think and peers (and genes) matter more.) See for a very interesting web page on this book.

A second goal of the course is to review and discuss some basic problems that confront the broad science of Psychology. We will be guided in our review by Keith Stanovich's book How to Think Straight about Psychology. This book addresses a number of issues that are critical for understanding the distinctions between the scientific discipline of Psychology and the more widely known Psychology as represented in the popular media. As Stanovich notes, "Psychology, probably more than any other science, requires critical thinking skills that enable students to separate the wheat from the chaff that accumulates around all sciences." All too often, our content courses in Psychology fail to teach the fundamental scientific principles needed to evaluate the claims of both academic and popular psychologists. These fundamental principles, if learned well, may be more useful in later life than much of the specific content that is taught in psychology courses.

A third goal of the course is to conduct a series of dialogs on controversial issues in psychology, initially between two debaters and then with the whole class. Our second text, Taking Sides, edited by Brent Slife, provides readings on a broad range of controversial issues in psychology. Articles will be selected from this collection based on student interests. The opposing positions will be discussed in relation to scientific principles discussed in the Stanovich book.

The fourth goal of the course is for students to develop, write, and present a paper on a topic reflecting their specific interests in psychology. The selection of the topic and development of the paper will be done in close consultation with the Professor during the first half of the semester. Oral presentations will be given during the second half of the semester.


The weekly three-hour meeting is unusual for undergraduate lecture courses, but is common for graduate-level seminars that require substantial student participation in class presentations and discussions. This class will more closely follow the graduate seminar model. There will be some lectures by the professor, but the majority of the class time will involve students in debates and in discussion. A high level of student preparation for and participation in each class is essential for this format to work. Its benefit will be a better understanding of the course content than in the more passive lecture format. Lecture courses more commonly follow the "banking model" wherein course content is deposited in the student, to be withdrawn at exam time (and often lost after that).


Be there or be square! Missing one class is equivalent to missing a whole week! Be sure to discuss absences with the professor before you miss a class. Since the benefits of the class derive from your active participation, it is not really possible to make it up by doing the readings and studying someone's class notes.

Be on time and hang in for the duration. We will usually have two short breaks during the seminar that may vary in their timing depending on the course of discussion and presentations. Please do not disrupt the class by arriving late or leaving early, unless you have discussed your special needs with the Professor before hand.

Weekly papers. Every week will include some sort of reading and written assignment (usually one page in length) to be handed in at the beginning of class. This will include your reactions to special readings, assignments in the Stanovich book, and the debate topics.

Midterm exam. In the middle of the term, there will be an one-hour written exam covering some major points from the Stanovich book and lecture topics.

Final paper and presentation. A final paper of 7-15 pages on a topic in psychology of special interest to the student will be developed in consultation with Dr. Olson. This paper will count for 30% of the final grade. Each student will give a class presentation related to their paper. The presentation will count for 10% of the final grade.


Aug. 23:

A. Instructor introduction, course introduction, student introductions and pictures.
B. Student views on the meaning of "intelligence".
C. Intelligence as defined by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Adults (WAIS).
D. Discussion with twin tester Sherri Ruggiero from the CLRDC.

 Assignment for Aug. 30:

1. For each of the 18 issues in Slife, check yes or no as your immediate answer to the posed question. Then, rank the seven issues that are of greatest interest to you for class debate.

2. Read the Preface sections for both the Stanovich and Slife texts. Briefly summarize Stanovich's view of the relation between popular and scientific psychology, and Slife's views on the ability of psychology to address many fundamental issues through scientific methods.

3. Read chapters 1 and 2 in the Stanovich book (pp. 1-36), and be prepared to discuss the major points raised in those chapters.

Aug. 30:
I. History of Intelligence Tests, up to Wechsler.
II. How to think straight about psychology, pp. 1-36.
III. Course organization and introductions.

Sept. 6:
Labor Day holiday, no class

Sept. 13:
I. Choice and scheduling of debates
II. IQ: G vs. separate factors.
III. How to think straight about psychology.

Sept. 20:
I. Is homosexuality genetically determined? Ellery Fink yes, Adam Kohn no.
II. Genetic and environmental etiology of individual differences in IQ.

Sept. 27:
I. Ambiguity in behavioral science and what to do about it.
II. Do evolutionary and genetic factors determine sexual behavior? Ruthie Sherrod yes, Julie Kennedy no.
II. Thinking straight about psychology.

Oct. 4:
I. Does viewing television increase a child's aggression? James Kim yes, Jessica Gallegos no.
II. Placebo effects.

Oct. 11:
I. Are children of divorced parents at greater risk? Leah Wasicka yes, Jenny Davenport no.
II. The genetics and microbiology of individual differences in IQ.
III. Testimonials, the P.T. Barnum effect, Correlation and Causation (ch. 5)

Oct. 18:
I. Are memories of sex abuse always real? Andrew Bloom yes, Dan Laughlin no.
II. Review of issues in IQ and Stanovich for midterm.

Oct. 25:
I. Mindy Checkon's report on self esteem and alcohol abuse.
II. Are there valid reasons for physician assisted suicide?
III. Midterm exam on issues in IQ and Thinking Straight about Psychology

Nov. 1:
I. Jess Gallegos' report on Howard Gardner's 7 intelligences and their use in education.
II. Julie Kennedy report on standardized testing.
III. Is pornography harmful? Tara Levin yes, Andrew Hartigan no.

Nov. 8:
I. Adam Kohn's report on medical use of marijuanna.
II. Does religious commitment improve mental health? Boe Hayward yes, Stephanie Miller no.
III. Katie Winter's Report on NMDA

Nov. 15:
I. Ruthie Sherrod's report on birth order effects.
II. Steph Miller's report on chronic fatigue syndrome.
III. James Kim's report on testimony effects
IV. Does abortion have severe psychological effects? Melinda Checkon yes, Raeann Yount no.

(No class meeting on Nov. 22)

Nov. 29: Reports
1. Matt Lockwood
2. Leah Wasicka
3. Tara Levin
4. Andy Hartigan

Dec. 6: Reports
1. Elery Fink
2. Reann Yount
3. Boe Hayward
4. Dan Laughlin

Dec. 14, Tues. 3:30-6:30,
1. Jamie Barringer
2. Andy Bloom
3. Jenny Goebel

Final papers are due

Pizza party