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10-31-1997

Clarkson Psychology Students Take Their Learning Outside The Classroom

Students will have the opportunity to submit their projects to an undergraduate conference to be held in the spring at SUNY Potsdam. This will allow for experience in the professional realm, as well as offering a wider audience for the findings of these students.

The class will present their final projects on Thursday, December 11, from noon to 5 p.m., in the Educational Resources Center on Clarkson's campus. Students will be on hand to explain the findings and answer any questions. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Contact Professor Georgina Hammock at 268-7933 for more information.

A group of students enrolled in the Experimental Psychology course at Clarkson University are being given the opportunity to prove to themselves that what they're learning really does have an application in the real world. These 16 students are spending the semester learning how to design, implement and interpret the results of psychology experiments -- by running their own.

Many psychologists believe that experimentation is one of the most crucial aspects of the science of psychology. "The heart of psychology is knowledge about behavior and mental processes," says Professor Georgina Hammock, who teaches the course. "That knowledge is gained through the research process."

Hammock has two main goals in teaching the course. First, she wants her students to know how to use the research techniques often employed by psychologists. Knowing how to correctly perform experiments and interpret findings will allow psychologists, both amateur and professional, to expand on previous findings and share new information with the widest audience possible.

Second, Professor Hammock hopes that students of this course will leave as more critical consumers of information than when they arrived. "Society throws information at us at an incredible pace," she says. "From 'quit smoking' and AIDS awareness campaigns to TV commercials, we are constantly being bombarded with information." After taking this course, students should be able to start asking questions about the nature of this information: whether the sample studied was applicable to their own situation, whether the study was properly designed, and whether the data was correctly interpreted. In general, students of this course should be able to better interpret which information is appropriate, and which is not accurate or significant.

The 16 students in the class have been split into eight pairs, each of which has selected a topic of interest and started designing a relevant experiment based on that topic. Topics being studied this semester are: attitudes about unhealthy behaviors, personal and relational happiness, helping behaviors, coping with success and failure, exercise and mood, first impressions, career expectations, and personality and alcohol use.

The pairs have to follow traditional scientific procedure from start to finish. First, they define their areas of interest, and look at previous research surrounding these topics. Next, they state a hypothesis – an educated guess about why something happens the way it does, or a prediction of how a behavior will respond to a certain stimulus. Then they need to develop a research strategy that will effectively test the hypothesis.

Hammock stresses that the sheer volume of work that the students put forth for this class too often goes unrecognized. In her introductory speech for the class, she warns, "This is a four-credit class; most are only three. I'm going to be making you earn that extra credit hour." When the course was started at Clarkson, the students presented their findings only to each other during class time. Hammock feels that it's important that more people see the results of all the effort the students put forth.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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