I have just completed 6 weeks of Social Psychology class with University of Wesleyan, conducted by Professor Scott Plous. It was one of the most enlightening and entertaining class I have attended. I know, I say that for almost all the classes I had signed up at Coursera, that’s why I am a Coursera addict. Study and learning at Coursera is so fun.
Social Psychology is the scientific study of how people think about, influenced and relate to one another. The class offers studies on persuasion, obedience, conformity, group behaviors, prejudice, interpersonal relationships, helping, conflict resolution and life satisfaction. It was not an easy class, with almost 5 peer assessments (one a week) and a final examination at the end of 6 weeks. To achieve a certificate of accomplishment like mine above, one has to score a total of 70 marks. You need 90 and above for a certificate with distinction, a very high bar which 18% out of 8000 who completed all the assignments achieved it, and 80% earned a certificate. (I may be wrong but I think initial sign up was 200k students, so drop out rate is high as well.)
Having had some experience studying Psychology when I took the course A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behaviour (by University of Duke’s Dan Ariely) (https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/irrationally-yours/) made this course a little easier to understand, as I had studied numerous psychological experiments and interpretations. While the other course was on Behavioural Economics and the way we spend money, this course was more on why we behave the way we do and believe the things we believe.
Psychologists have identified many biases which I have fun identifying with so much so that my friend Bee is afraid I am psychoanalyzing her with every sentence she sprouts – among them Confirmation Bias (tendency to search for, interpret and remember information in a way that confirms one’s perceptions.); Hindsight Bias (‘I knew it all along!’) to name a few.
Another topic we learned about is obedience to authority, initiated by psychologists who were victims of holocaust, who wondered why people blindly obey authorities. If you don’t think you would be one who blindly follow orders, watch this video and think again.
One reason this course is interesting is because there is a lot of relevance to our lives. Another reason is Prof Scott incorporates many wonderful videos to make the learning interesting and practical to self growth.
One topic I thought was highly relevant is group behavior. When we stereotype people into groups, there is a tendency to behave in an in-group or out-group bias. Learning about the Abilene Paradox and deindividuation were worrying such that I made my kids watch the videos as well.
One of the objectives of this course is to bring awareness to our behaviors, such that we could lead a more compassionate life, which was one of the projects given. The Day of Compassion (DOC) is a day set to the students which we have to behave as compassionately as possible on this day, and then write down our experience. The best essay wins the writer the chance to Stamford University to meet Dalai Lama next year.
Taking a class in Coursera is only fun when you ‘meet’ other classmates and involve in group discussions in the forum or Facebook. I had the opportunity to meet my four other fellow classmates on Goggle Hangout to discuss on prejudice and sexism. The Singapore group on Facebook was also a fun lot.
Taking Coursera classes adds knowledge and actually makes me grow as a person, since I am doing all humanity class. I guess that’s why the study of humanity should be greatly encouraged.