Chair, 2014-15: Shelly Dickinson, conditioning and learning, behavioral neuroscience

Faculty, 2014-15: Scott Boyd, industrial and organizational psychology; Grace Cho, developmental psychology (on leave); Rachel Clark, biopsychology; Dana Gross, developmental psychology; Maya Hamilton, sport and exercise psychology; Charles W. Huff, Jr., social psychology, social and ethical issues in computing; Anna Johnson, developmental psychology; Molly Kodl, clinical psychology; Jeremy Loebach, cognitive neuroscience; Donna McMillan, clinical and personality psychology; Gary Muir, neuroscience, spatial cognition; M. Minda Oriña, social psychology; Jessica Petok, cognitive neuroscience, aging; Mark Sundby, counseling psychology; Carlo Veltri, clinical psychology; Howard I. Thorsheim, neuroscience of the active brain and mind, neural networks, and social ecological systems

The Department of Psychology is committed to maintaining a rigorous academic curriculum within a supportive community structure. It seeks to address broad questions posed by a liberal education and specific concerns of individual students. St. Olaf College’s mission statement provides a framework for curriculum, personal development, and community relations. Because life is more than facts and theories, the Psychology Department encourages students to be “responsible citizens dedicated to service,” as well as scientific “seekers of truth.”

Psychology courses contribute to general education by fulfilling both foundation studies (ORC and WRI) and core studies (HBS, EIN, IST and SED, MCD, MCG). They introduce the disciplinary knowledge that nurtures growth and behavioral change while providing background for advanced study. Psychology contributes to majors in social work and nursing, to concentrations in environmental studies, family studies, Asian studies, linguistic studies, neuroscience, and women’s studies, and to the psychology core of the social studies education major.

Psychology majors are prepared for graduate and professional programs in psychology, medicine, law, physical therapy, social work, nursing, and ministry and for entering positions in business, government, or industry.


The Department of Psychology follows the American Psychological Association’s guidelines of “synthesizing the natural and social science aspects of the discipline, in part, by requiring students to take courses in both knowledge bases.” Thus both interpersonal and investigative skills are enhanced. Students benefit from research in the library, laboratory, and field, as well as from internships. Through course structure and faculty diversity, the department challenges students to think critically and creatively as they investigate ways in which animals, especially humans, adapt to their environment through biological, social, emotional, spiritual, perceptual, behavioral, linguistic, and cognitive processes.



Psychology majors are required to take 11.00 courses to complete the major. The major consists of 10.00 courses in the Department of Psychology and 1.00 course in statistics.

The requirements fall into five categories: foundation courses in the major, content core courses, level III capstone courses, elective courses in the department, and a general education requirement for the major.

Foundation Courses in the Major

The following two foundation courses:

  • Psychology 125: Principles of Psychology
  • Psychology 230: Research Methods in Psychology
Content Core of the Major

Two courses from the natural science content core:

  • Psychology 235: Sensation and Perception
  • Psychology 236: Conditioning and Learning
  • Psychology 237: Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology 238: Biopsychology

Two courses from the social science content core:

  • Psychology 241: Developmental Psychology
  • Psychology 244: Psychology of Personality
  • Psychology 247: Psychopathology
  • Psychology 249: Social Psychology
Level III Capstone Courses

Two of any level III courses except Psychology 394: Internship, which does NOT count toward the level III requirement. Only one Psychology 396 or 398 may fulfill the level III requirement.

General Education Requirement for the Major
  • An introductory course in statistics that emphasizes descriptive statistics and hypothesis testing: Statistics 110, 212, 214, or Economics 263
Elective Psychology Courses
  • Two additional psychology courses

Distinction in the major is awarded based on a portfolio that the major submits to the department for evaluation. The submitted portfolio consists of:

  • The major’s course transcript and psychology GPA
  • An annotated history of relevant experiences, written by the student
  • The candidate’s personal statement
  • A major paper

Further detail about the distinction process and the portfolio can be found on the Department of Psychology Web page.


The Psychology Club, open to all students interested in psychology, is an active organization on campus, as is Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology. Together they offer group activities of psychological interest. Psychology majors are eligible for affiliate membership in the American Psychological Association and to receive its publications and announcements.

Special study programs include the social studies education program with a major in psychology and internship programs to pursue special areas of interest in the field.

Research groups in the department allow students to participate in a research program associated with a faculty member. Participation in these research groups allows students to learn how research is done in psychology, to practice skills they will need in graduate school and other employment, and to begin the process of becoming a psychologist. Often the research done in research groups is presented at national and regional conferences and published in professional journals.

Departmental honors and awards include the Gordon Allport Award granted each spring to the junior whose aspirations are in basic sympathy with Allport’s views and who has made efforts to develop his or her own talents, interests, and personality toward fulfilling his or her individual potential. A Psychology endowment fund provides funding for equipment and supplies for students undertaking research in the department.

recommendations for graduate study

Students who wish to attend graduate school are encouraged to consult with the psychology faculty to plan a course of study appropriate to their interests.


125 Principles of Psychology

This course examines the basic principles and methods of psychological science from an evolutionary and cultural perspective. Students use critical thinking skills to examine fascinating topics: dreaming, cultural influences, identity, learning, thinking, and the biology of behavior. Applying basic research methods, students act as skeptical scientists. This course applies to almost any career choice in today's world and provides insight into self and others. Offered each semester. Counts towards exercise science major.

220 Socioemotional Development in Cultural Context

This course explores children's socioemotional and self development in cultural context. Students examine larger theoretical frameworks and developmental patterns concerning socioemotional development, paying special attention to the various familial and cultural contexts that lead to the creation of individual selves and cultural beings. Some of the questions the course explores include: How do children become emotional beings? How do cultural factors shape our sense of self and identity, our motivations, and interactions with others? Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered during Interim.

221 Menacing Minds

Psychopaths, blazing a path of disregard and devastation through life, are a chilling example of the darker side of humanity. Students critically compare psychopathy as protrayed in the popular media to psychology's theoretical and empirical understanding. They explore questions such as: What are the hallmark characteristics of a psychopath? Where can psychopaths be found? What causes psychopathy? Students also examine the question of what the existence of psychopathy means for the rest of us. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered during Interim.

222 Psychology of Hearing

How do we hear? What do we hear? How do we know? This course examines the perception of the acoustic world through our sense of hearing. Topics include the structure of sound itself (acoustics), how sound is encoded and processed by the brain, and how we come to understand sound as something beyond a physical stimulus (representation, meaning, and interpretation). Additional topics include speech perception, music, hearing loss, and cochlear implants. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125 recommended. Offered during Interim.

223 Exploring India: Human Development in Cross-Cultural Context

This course explores childhood and family life in modern India through site visits, observations, lectures, and readings, addressing questions such as: How does India's unique history and culture, population growth, and economic development affect parenting practices, children's self-concept, relationships, and education? How do adolescents in India understand and experience gender roles and the transition to adulthood? How do Indian psychologists and social workers integrate traditional and contemporary approaches in this religiously and linguistically diverse nation? Prerequisite: PSYCH 125 or ASIAN 121 or FAMST 232 or FAMST 242 or permission of the instructor. Offered every 3-4 years during Interim. Counts toward women's and gender studies major and concentration.

224 Community Applications of Psychology

This course integrates on-campus classroom activities with service-learning placements in and around Northfield. Scholarly readings, classroom discussions, and assignments highlight the unique theoretical perspectives, skills, and methodological approaches that psychologists use to address social problems and community needs through research, practice, and policy. Students' on-site experiences and observations provide opportunities for the application of previous coursework as well as guided reflection and exploration of goals for personal and vocational development. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered periodically.

225 Psychophysiology

Learn to use methods of 21st-century neuroscience to study current questions about mind-body relationships. Psychophysiology, an area of cognitive neuroscience, reveals new insights about cognition and emotions by measuring accompanying changes in physiological activity such as brain waves, heart activity, and facial muscle movements. Students work in teams to gain hands-on laboratory experience and training in principles and techniques of electro-encephalography, electro-cardiology, and electromyography. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered periodically during Interim. Counts toward biomedical studies (for students through class of 2016) and neuroscience concentrations.

227 Environmental Psychology at Rocky Mountain National Park

This course investigates the human relationship with the natural world, examining ways in which the natural environment is important psychologically to human beings. Integrating aspects of theoretical and empirical psychology, environmental studies and literature, we explore meanings, values, and questions such as: How are we affected by nature? What affects people's attitudes and behaviors toward the environment? How do we respond to environmental challenges? How does the field of psychology address the natural world? Prerequisite: PSYCH 125 or ENVST 137. Offered during Interim. Counts toward American studies major and environmental studies major (all tracks) and concentration.

230 Research Methods in Psychology

This course prepares the student with tools for understanding how research studies in psychology are conceptualized, designed, carried out, interpreted, and disseminated to the public. Use of library and Internet resources, ethical guidelines in the conduct of research and the skills of good scientific writing are emphasized. Students work independently and in small groups to design and conduct their own research projects. The course includes lecture and laboratory work. Prerequisites: PSYCH 125, and STAT 110 or STAT 212, 214 or ECON 263. Offered each semester. Counts toward environmental studies major (social science track) and statistics concentration.

235 Sensation and Perception

This course offers the opportunity to study our senses and sensibilities -- sensations of cold, tenderness and pain, perceptions of movement, pitch, symmetry, and color. Students participate actively in psychophysical, physiological, and perceptual laboratories and classes on vision, audition, somesthesis, and the chemical senses. The course includes lecture and laboratory work. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered annually. Counts toward neuroscience concentration.

236 Conditioning and Learning

How do psychologists characterize the most basic aspects of the learning process? While some emphasis is on analysis of the behavioral viewpoint (Pavlov, Skinner), students also examine the ways current investigators apply these basic principles to problems in other fields. These include behavioral therapy for a variety of psychological disturbances, research on the neurobiology of drug reward, and analysis of consumer behavior. The course includes lecture and laboratory work with nonhuman animals. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125 or BIO 125. Offered annually. Counts toward neuroscience concentration.

237 Cognitive Psychology

Focus includes information processing, learning and remembering speech, artistic, musical and athletic performance, invention and other forms of creativity. Students unlock the mind's mysteries using state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation, developing cognitive science knowledge and research skills. The course includes lecture and laboratory work. Prerequisite:PSYCH 125. Offered annually. Counts toward neuroscience concentration.

238 Biopsychology

How do biological factors influence fundamental aspects of psychology and behavior? In this course, students learn about relationships between the brain and behavior and use neuroanatomical, physiological, and biochemical levels of analysis to understand basic behavioral processes and systems, including sensation, movement, emotion, sleep and arousal, hunger, motivation, learning, and psychopathology. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125 or BIO 123, 125, or 227 or CH/BI 227. Offered each semester. Counts toward neuroscience concentration.

241 Developmental Psychology

This course helps students better understand human development from the moment of conception and across the life span. The course focuses on biological and environmental factors that shape human development. Major changes in physical, cognitive, personality and social development are discussed. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered each semester. Counts toward nursing, social work, and women's and gender studies majors and educational studies, family studies, and women's and gender studies concentrations.

244 Psychology of Personality

Students examine theories of normal personality development in an effort to understand the factors that shape personality. Is personality biologically determined? Is it a result of interpersonal experiences, learning and reinforcement? Are other factors involved as well? Students investigate prominent personality theories and research and their conceptualizations of this fundamental aspect of human experience. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered annually.

247 Psychopathology

Why are certain experiences or patterns of behavior considered psychologically "abnormal?" Students investigate a wide array of psychological disorders, including anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Students examine models used to conceptualize abnormal behavior, as well as current evidence and theories regarding the etiology and treatment of these important and sometimes devastating disorders. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered each semester.

249 Social Psychology

Why are people prejudiced and how can we reduce prejudice? Why do people help others? What is self-esteem and how do we defend it? How does romantic attraction develop? What are emotions and how do they influence us? In this introduction to the ways people interact and think about each other, students design their own theories of social behavior. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered annually.

250 Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Students apply psychological facts and principles to the problems that permeate business and industry. Topics include organizational structure, personnel management, employee-supervisor relationships, job satisfaction and motivation, communication and leadership. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered anually.

251 Sport and Exercise Psychology

This course examines the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals in the context of physical activity and how psychological factors affect and are affected by involvement and performance in sport and exercise. Student study theory and research as well as apply principles of sport psychology, drawing from the fields of both psychology and kinesiology. Students explore current issues as well as major topics in the area, such as motivation, leadership, and team dynamics. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125. Offered periodically.

294 Academic Internship

298 Independent Study

This opportunity to investigate in depth a topic of interest, typically culminating in a library research-based paper, is strongly recommended as preparation for PSYCH 398. Prerequisite: PSYCH 125, at least three courses in the department, and permission of instructor; PSYCH 230 is strongly recommended. Offered each semester.

336 Neuroscience of Addiction

This seminar explores current knowledge of mechanisms involved in behavioral responses to drugs of abuse at the systems, cellular, and molecular levels. The action of stimulant drugs, alcohol, and the opiates on reward pathways are discussed in terms of behavioral neurobiology, pharmacology, and gene expression. Consideration is given to the role of environmental cues and stress in relapse to drug-seeking both in animal models and human studies. Prerequisites: PSYCH 230, plus PSYCH 238 or NEURO 239. Offered alternate years. Counts toward neuroscience concentration.

338 Neurobiology of Psychopathology

With recent advances in neuroscience, we can now describe the biological correlates of many psychological disorders, including schizophrenia, depression and anxiety disorders. In this discussion-based course, students use published research findings to examine the connections between the symptoms of these pathologies and changes in brain neurobiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Prerequisites: PSYCH 230, PSYCH 247, plus PSYCH 238 or NEURO 239. Offered alternate years. Counts toward neuroscience concentration.

339 Cognitive Neuroscience

Cognitive neuroscience investigates the biological bases of higher order cognition and complex human behavior (or more simply put, how the brain enables the mind). Discussion topics include the methodologies of cognitive neuroscience, perception, attention, learning, memory, language, executive function, emotion, development, social cognition, and consciousness. Prerequisites: PSYCH 230, or PSYCH 238 and NEURO 239. Offered annually. Counts toward neuroscience and linguistics concentrations.

341 Infant Behavior and Development

This seminar explores current research and theory, practices, and policies regarding child development from birth to age three. Students learn about prenatal development, birth and the newborn, physical development, the infant-caregiver relationship, infant cognition, and language development. Students also consider evidence about childcare, early intervention, and the influence of media and interactive toys designed for very young children. Cross-cultural comparisons highlight issues of diversity. Prerequisite: PSYCH 230 and PSYCH 241. Offered most years.

342 Positive Psychology: The Science of Optimal Human Experience

This seminar investigates "the good life," exploring what psychology can tell us about human flourishing and psychological well-being. Empirical evidence is examined to understand some of the best aspects of life, such as the function of positive emotions, the role of traits in well-being, sources of meaning and life satisfaction, and character strength and virtue. Personality and sociocultural factors are emphasized in this exploration of the positive potentials of human life. Prerequisites: PSYCH 230, plus PSYCH 244 or PSYCH 249. Offered most years.

344 Personality Assessment

In this course, students explore methods that psychologists use to develop meaningful, nuanced understandings of individual persons. The richness and complexity of personality is seen as students get first-hand experience interviewing a hired subject, interpreting personality tests, analyzing personal narratives, and applying theories and concepts used in personality and clinical psychology. Integrating information about unique personal history, personality dynamics, and life story, students learn to develop coherent conceptualizations of the signature-like features of another's personality. Prerequisite: PSYCH 230 and PSYCH 244 or permission of instructor. Counts toward psychology major.

350 Parenting and Child Development in Diverse Families

This course explores research on parenting and child development across a variety of alternative family structures and sociocultural contexts, including families with primary caregiving fathers, divorced and remarried parents, and gay and lesbian parents. Students discuss similarities and variability in development across families, and unique challenges that "nontraditional" families may confront. Students examine and bridge the empirical literature with popular culture and media portrayals of families. Prerequisite: PSYCH 241; PSYCH 230 is recommended. Offered most years. Counts toward women's and gender studies major and educational studies, family studies, and women's and gender studies concentrations.

375 Clinical and Counseling Psychology

This course examines several major theoretical perspectives on psychotherapy. Students review empirically supported treatments for specific clinical disorders, as well as "nonspecific" factors that affect the therapeutic process. Students explore ethical and legal challenges related to psychotherapy delivery, as well as multicultural and other diversity issues. Course format is primarily discussion-based. This course is open only to juniors and seniors. Prerequisites: PSYCH 230, plus PSYCH 244 or PSYCH 247. Offered annually.

378 Health Psychology

What is the mind-body connection? This course explores the major issues, theories, and interventions in health psychology. Students review evidence for the impact of psychological and behavioral factors on the immune system and health. Psychosocial approaches to the major diseases, their rationale, and the evidence supporting these interventions are examined. Prerequisite: PSYCH 230, plus PSYCH 244 or PSYCH 247. Offered periodically.

390 Issues in Psychology

Seminars allow in-depth study of particular themes or topics in psychology. Prerequisite: PSYCH 230. See department Web site for descriptions and additional prerequisites. Offered most years. May be repeated if topics are different.

391 Topics:

Sample Topic: The Psychology of Good and Evil

Why do we feel it is important to judge behavior as morally good or bad? How do we make these judgments? What makes it possible for people to commit acts of extraordinary heroism or evil? Good answers to these questions require knowledge of philosophical and theological ethics and of the empirical work on moral action and judgment. Students read both and ask how they do (and should) inform each other. Prerequisite: PSYCH 230 and at least two level II psychology courses, or permission of the instructor.

394 Internship

395 Advanced Research in Behavioral Neuroscience

A wide array of techniques is used to answer fundamental questions about how the brain and nervous system work in the expression of behavior. Through readings, discussion, and hands-on laboratory experiences students examine various research methods in behavioral neuroscience, considering the strengths and weaknesses of each. Emphasis is placed on ethical considerations of animal research and the application of basic science data to human problems. Topics may include feeding behavior, drug-seeking, and pain perception. Prerequisites: PSYCH 230, plus NEURO 239 or PSYCH 238. Counts toward neuroscience concentration.

396 Directed Undergraduate Research

This course provides a comprehensive research opportunity, including an introduction to relevant background material, technical instruction, identification of a meaningful project, and data collection. The topic is determined by the faculty member in charge of the course and may relate to his/her research interests. Prerequisite: determined by individual instructor. Offered based on department decision. Depending on course topic, may count toward the neuroscience concentration. May be offered as a 1.00 credit course or .50 credit course.

398 Independent Research

Students have the opportunity to work in depth on a research project of interest under the supervision of a member of the psychology department faculty. Prerequisite: STAT 110, STAT 212, STAT 214 or ECON 263; PSYCH 230; four additional courses in the department; and permission of instructor. PSYCH 298 is strongly recommended. Offered each semester. Depending on course topic, may count toward the neuroscience concentration