Psychology 4180: Critical Thinking in Psychology

2017 - 2018

General Description

The basic skills required to gather, interpret, and critically evaluate research findings in Psychology are discussed and developed in the first part of the course. Emphasis is placed on evaluating research studies based on key criteria, such as, construct validity, internal and external validity, and statistical validity. These concepts are discussed and applied to both correlational and experimental studies and to both qualitative and quantitative studies. In addition, students acquire hands-on experience forming arguments regarding psychological topics.

As the course progresses, students apply their critical thinking skills in various scenarios. Students present the results of primary source research articles in a manner appropriate for the general public - for example, preparation of an evidence-based report for teachers on the validity of learning styles or an evidence-based report for lawyers on the reliability of eyewitness testimony. The actual topics explored are discussed in class and online and are mutually agreed upon by the students and the Course Director. Students also critically evaluate the validity and accuracy of current media reports about psychological findings.

Skills emphasized in the course include:

  • Locating research articles on emerging trends and demonstrating critical thinking about research findings in Psychology.
  • Critically assessing the methodology used to address specific research questions.
  • Effectively interpreting results from reported research and from the application of simple statistics.
  • Evaluating the credibility of scientific evidence and differentiating it from scientific conjecture.
  • Communicating, in writing and orally, the methods, results, and conclusions of research studies in lay terms.
  • Critically assessing and communicating, in writing and orally, the validity and accuracy of media reports about psychological studies


Ron Sheese, Course Director

Susannah Mulvale, Teaching Assistant


  • Attendance (10%)
  • Weekly exercises (10%)
  • Project 1 (15%), October 18. Comparison of a popular article with its academic source.
  • Project 2 (15%), December 6. Critique of a psychology research article
  • Project 3 (25%), February 21. Critique of a set of related psychology articles
  • Project 4 (25%), April 9. Plain-language recommendations regarding an applied psychology issue.


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Brookfield, S. (2011). Five critical intellectual traditions. In Chapter 2 of Teaching for Critical Thinking, 30-52.

Capehart, J. Engber interview. Midday on WNYC.

Chatfield, T. (2017). 10 Commandments for Critical Thinking.

Cranney, J., & Dunn, D. (2011). The psychologically literate citizen: Foundations and global perspectives. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (page 34 – tip sheet handout)

Dixon, J., Durrheim, K., & Tredoux, C. (2005). Beyond the optimal contact strategy: A reality check for the contact hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60(7), 697-711.

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Kahne, J. & Bowyer, B. (2017). Educating for democracy in a partisan age. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 3-34.

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Liu, F., Sulpizio, S., Kompetpanee, S., & Job, R. (2017). It takes biking to learn: Physical activity improves learning a second language. PLoS ONE 12, e0177624.

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