Controversial Topics in Psychology
Psy 3690, Internet
Summer 2012

Instructor: Jeffrey R. Stowell
Office Room:  1055 Physical Sciences
Office Phone: 581-2279 (Office)
Home Phone: 217-348-6286 (Home) or 217-512-0521 (Cell)
Textbook Web Site:
Office Hours: Monday 11-1 pm. I check my email daily, except for Sundays. If you email me during the week, expect a reply within 24-48 hours. Feel free to call me at home if needed. After June 6, I will not be on campus and you should try to reach me at my home or at my cell phone number.

Are you prepared to take an internet class? I recommend you take a survey to find out. If you have any questions about anything, please ask!

Teaching Philosophy

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled" --Plutarch

Course Materials

Slife, B. (2012). Taking sides: Clashing views on psychological issues, (17th ed.): McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
Stanovich, K. (2007). How to Think Straight About Psychology, (8th ed.): Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA.

Catalog Description

Exploration of special interest or controversial topics in psychology. [See specific topics below]

Course Objectives

Guidelines for Studying and Test Taking


Announcements to the class are posted in WebCT under the link "Announcements." A green asterisk next to the link means there is an announcement that you have not read yet.

Course Requirements

How to think straight about psychology:

The first and last part of the course is based on the textbook "How to think straight about psychology" and includes a summary of important points that will contribute to your ability to think critically about the issues we will discuss. Narrated PowerPoint lectures on this material are available for viewing from the "Learning Modules" link on the course home page. Although specific readings from this book are not required, I highly recommend you use it as a reference for greater understanding of the material that is summarized in the narrated PowerPoint lectures based on this book. The first quiz, based on these lectures, is worth a substantial number of points. Some of the quiz questions will test your ability to apply the critical thinking skills learned from these lectures.

Learning Modules

For each learning module, there are learning objectives that will help you prepare for the quiz questions. If you know the answers to these questions, you should do well on the quizzes. (You do not need to turn in your answers to these learning objective questions.)

Issue Analyses (Discussions)

The controversial issues are those on which experts disagree, with reasonable arguments for both sides. Thus, there is no "correct" answer for any of these issues. Clearly, your values, beliefs, and religious or political views will play a role in which side you take. Your analysis of each issue that you post to the discussion board should meet or exceed the following criteria:

  1. A paragraph or two summarizing the main points from the textbook (or other sources). A conversational presentation of the position in your own words will be preferred to just copying what was in the textbook.
  2. Three or more statements evaluating one or both sides of the issue. This is where you would explain the strengths and weaknesses of the different arguments. Your training from the first module "How to think straight about psychology" should give you the critical thinking skills that will help you evaluate the issues (e.g., problems with falsifiability, operational definitions, reliance on testimonials, overinterpretation of correlational data, multiple cauastion, etc.).
  3. You should include 2 or more outside sources on the topic (not from the textbooks), which can be from journal articles, web sites, or other sources. You should cite these sources whenever you use information from them and provide the citation in the (Author, Year) format. Include the list of references at the end of your analysis.
  4. A brief summary (at least several sentences) of your own opinion about the issue.
  5. The total length of your discussion post should be between 250-350 words.

Special Issues: Some of the issues will be based on reading articles that are you can get from Booth Library e-reserve. Search for the course: PSY 3690-1 and use the password: js3690-1. Other special issue readings will be linked directly from the learning module for the special issue.

Grading rubric for Issue Analysis:

Issue Rubric

Class Participation

To encourage class participation, 50 points (12.5%) of your final grade will come from interaction that you have with other students in the class. For each quality reply to another student's discussion message, you will earn 5 points. Thus, to earn the full participation points, you will need to make a total of 10 replies throughout the course to other students' discussion postings, before the last day of class. You are welcome to comment on more than 10 postings and I encourage you to do so. Your replies should be several sentences long, be stated in a supportive manner, and can contain questions for further clarification, alternative viewpoints, and your own personal interpretations of the topic. These 10 participation posts should be spread out over at least 3 different discussion topics.

Appropriate network etiquette should be followed at all times. Messages that are deemed inappropriate may be deleted.

Rules of Respect

The classroom is meant to be a learning environment for the instructor and students. However, learning is inhibited when there is a lack of respect for one another's individuality as well as for the class as a whole. The following are rules will help establish an encouraging classroom environment suitable for sharing ideas and learning.


Research Paper

You will write a research paper on the controversial topic of your choice. Obviously there are many more controversial issues than what we will cover in this class. This is an opportunity for you to explore a topic of your interest and to demonstrate your ability to write a persuasive paper based on findings in the literature.

View the grading rubric


Here is an example of an "A" paper on treating pain using hypnosis by a former student, Jennifer Jackson. Her paper is longer than the current requirement, but illustrates what a good paper looks like.

You will submit an electronic copy of the research paper through a link in WebCT to, a plagiarism detection web site. I use this web site primarily to help you learn how to properly cite your sources and to ensure that you do not quote extensively. A short period of time after you have submitted your paper to, you will have access to a report that shows you which part of your paper has text that is common to other sources. Of course, if you're using a quote from somewhere or have used the same reference as someone else, this will show up as duplicated text. I am not concerned about this as long as you have cited the source properly (Author's last name, Year of publication, and page number if quoting). You can submit multiple drafts of your research paper prior to the due date to see how you're doing. Only the most recent draft that you submit is saved.

Requirements and Grading

Assignment Points
Issue Analyses (10 issues X 20 points)
Class Participation on Discussions
Research Paper

Reading Schedule, Important Dates

Warning: this course is only 8 weeks long instead of 16 so it goes quickly! Don't get behind. Due dates apply to the quizzes and, where relevant, the issue analysis. Please note this schedule is subject to change. 

Lecture Topic Issue Due Date
How to think straight about psychology (Stanovich book with PowerPoint lecture)   May 21
Is Homosexuality Biologically Based? 2 May 24
Memorial Day Holiday   May 28
Does Teaching Scientific Determinism Lead to Bad Behavior? 6 May 31
Education and IQ Special issue June 4
Do Online Friendships Hurt Adolescent Development? 8 June 7
Can Positive Psychology Make Us Happier? 9 June 11
Is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) a Real Disorder? 12 June 14
The Ashley Treatment Special issue June 18
Does Facebook Have Generally Positive Psychological Effects? 13 June 21
Should Psychologists Abstain from Involvement in Coercive Investigations? 16 June 25
Does the Evidence Support Evolutionary Accounts of Female Mating Preferences? 17 June 28
Course Summary (Stanovich book with PowerPoint Lecture)   Jul 2
Research Paper Due   July 6

If you have a documented disability and wish to receive academic accommodations, please contact the coordinator of the Office of Disability Services (581-6583) as soon as possible.

Academic misconduct

Cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic misconduct will not be tolerated.  Academic misconduct will result in appropriate disciplinary action according to university guidelines.