Introduction to Psychology

From Freud to fMRIs, explore the fascinating world of psychology and its complex history-and gain a few tips to improve your mindset and optimize your life.
Introduction to Psychology is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 12.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive; well organized; well presented This course delivered the goods. It addresses why I would call "all those mainstream psychological and social science memes" that you would have run into watching science documentaries and popular TV shows as part of a well organized and comprehensive curriculum in introductory psychology. The course is anchored on the curriculum, which ensures that concepts are introduced at the "right time", all major theories explaining the phenomena being discussed are laid out in advance, and only then "conclusions" are drawn based experimental finding. All of this will improve on your understanding of what you are likely to be hearing in the popular media, especially about the "sexiest" subjects. I found the professor as intellectually honest as I could have expected given what I would assume would have been her priors and biases. In fact, I would trust her -- and hereby encourage her -- to devote a unit discussing the "replication crisis in the social sciences" and framing the limits of her comfort with explanations that are based on social experimentation. (To be clear: she did occasionally address challenges to experiments, when she felt it was warranted. But if she addressed the issue as a general challenge to the field, upfront, I am sure she would earn a lot of plaudits.)
Date published: 2021-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great overview to Psychology I am taking course on The Great Courses that I did not have the time (or inclination) to take in college. Psychology is one of those that I would have taken had I been given more time. Well, now that I am retired...time is not the issue. Anyway, I am loving this course and the professor. She presents things so clearly and at a level that a total novice, such as myself, can understand. Lots of examples and lots of real world application. I am really learning, and even retaining, a lot. I've recommended this course to friends as well. This would be a wonderful refresher course for those that took Psych in the 70s, 80s, 90s or even 00s since it is completely up to date. The professor cites studies and new ways of looking at psychology that are super recent. Overall a Great Great course.
Date published: 2021-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Fascinating course. Well organized. Well presented. The professor clearly knows her stuff. If it wasn't for that unwarranted 1 star review below this would be 4.9/5
Date published: 2021-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential Foundation I've now finished all 36 lectures. They went by very quickly and I really enjoyed each one. I think these lectures serve as a solid foundation for the psychology field. First off, I really like the lecturer, Dr. Sanderson. She has a stage presence and excuses confidence, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the subject. No teleprompter needed. I like how she weaves in personal anecdotes, both personal and professional, and in a way that does not distract from the material. It is an intro course. And I have seen quite a few other courses in this category. As a result, quite a few of the studies she talks about were already brought up. However, others were new to me. So I think this course walks that fine line between familiar and unfamiliar. Another course by this professor would be more than welcome.
Date published: 2021-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exellent Presenter, Very Good Basic Course I'm enjoying the course, even though I was hoping for more clinical content. The instructor is very engaging, although (in my opinion) it would be nice if she would occasionally smile. She is, rather, intense, and even when she cites a humorous story or personal experience, she shows very little emotion. Although it doesn't, significantly, detract from the information presented, a course in psychology could be a bit more enjoyable. I, still, would recommend this course to others who are interested in the subject.
Date published: 2021-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable and valuable. Highly recommended I strongly recommend Dr. Sanderson’s course. She was engaging, informative and at the same time entertaining. Dr. Sanderson will keep your attention even during the drier subject matter. Her passion for the field and knowledge of the subject matter is extraordinary. And for that I give her course the highest possible rating: 5. However, two points worth noting for future editions/updates which would benefit the course. 1. For an introduction to psychology course Dr. Sanderson provided little history on the evolution of psychology. Throughout the course she mentioned many of the great theorists and researchers that shaped the field, but the course lacked linear historical depth from the great western philosophers through Freud to the modern day. A single lecture on the topic, at or near the beginning, would enhance the overall course. 2. Albeit not intentional on the part of Dr. Sanderson, lecture #20 on eyewitness testimony and false confessions needed some revision. The first section on eyewitness testimony was solid. The second section on false confessions had some materially inaccurate information. Dr. Sanderson noted a couple high-profile false confession cases, while she specifically mentioned and attributed false confessions to the Reid technique (a technique used my many criminal investigators throughout the U.S.). There is a body of literature, generated by a handful of scholars, which asserted the Reid technique contributed to false confession. However, the actual data to support such conclusions within that body of literature is absent. The lack of scientific validation is one of the major reasons the Courts have routinely not admitted or strictly limited testimony from the above handful of scholars in cases where the defendant later disputed the confession. However, contrary to what the Reid critics have asserted, when used appropriately (in strict accordance with the Reid guidelines), there is a strong statistical argument that the Reid technique produces valid confessions (the cases Dr. Sanderson highlighted in her lecture did not involve interrogations that fell within the Reid guideline standards). As evidence for the validity of the Reid technique, the most up to date and comprehensive information on false confessions were collected by members of the National Registry of Exonerations. Gross and Possley (2016) explained that members with The National Registry of Exonerations collected data on 1,810 exonerations in the U.S. from 1989 through to mid-June of 2016, which is all the known exonerations from that period. In that approximate 27-year span, 227 of the cases involved false confessions or 13 percent of the total number of exonerations. Most of the people who offered false confessions suffered from intellectual disabilities or mental illness and/or were juveniles. Notably, only 15 of the false confessions were provided by adults without intellectual disabilities or mental illness. It is unclear from the data what percentage of the false confessions involved the appropriate use of the Reid technique on the part of the investigator. However, the interrogation examples noted by Gross and Possley, which led to false confessions, fell outside acceptable standards of the Reid technique. Most importantly, the number of known false confessions offered by competent adults over the 27-year period, as noted in Gross and Possley (2016), is so low as to be statistically insignificant in context with the total number of felony criminal convictions over that same period (which is approximately 27 million). Hence, although false confessions are certainly an issue within the criminal justice system, the total numbers of false confessions, in context with the total number of felony convictions, are extremely low. The total number of false confessions that involve the Reid technique are unknown, but statistically insignificant. Again, the above two critiques are minor and detract little from the overall excellent course. Gross, S., & Possley, M. (2016). For 50 years, you’ve had “the right to remain silent:” So why do so many suspects confess to crimes they didn’t commit? Retrieved from
Date published: 2021-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ideal Old TGC Meets New TGC I loved everything about this course, including that Prof. Sanderson takes us on a real systematic deep dive into the practice and applications of psychology. Her personal stories are endearing and always relevant. Her marshaling of a wide array of research from subfields is impressive. And her mention of applications to your daily life are truly helpful. And she’s not afraid to take her own field’s practitioners to task when covering things like the replication crisis. Bravo.
Date published: 2021-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not what I was expecting But still great! I was expecting talks about therapy and in fact it is about the human mind and how it work. Liked it so much that assisted the whole 36 lectures. :-)
Date published: 2021-05-11
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From Freud to fMRIs, explore the fascinating world of psychology and its complex history-and gain a few tips to improve your mindset and optimize your life.


Catherine A. Sanderson
Catherine A. Sanderson

I’m here to take you through the scientific study of all the mental processes and behavior that make up psychology.


Amherst College

Catherine A. Sanderson is the Poler Family Professor of Psychology and the chair of the Department of Psychology at Amherst College. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Stanford University and master’s and doctoral degrees in Psychology from Princeton University.

Catherine’s research has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. She is the author of four college textbooks, including Real World Psychology (with Karen Huffman), and two trade books: Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels and The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity. In 2012, she was named to The Princeton Review’s list of America’s Best 300 Professors.

Catherine speaks regularly for public and corporate audiences on topics such as the science of happiness, the power of emotional intelligence, the art of aging well, and the psychology of courage and inaction. She has been featured in numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA TODAY, The Atlantic, CNN, and CBS Sunday Morning. She also writes a blog for Psychology Today called Norms Matter that examines the power of social influence on all aspects of our lives.

By This Professor

Introduction to Psychology


Psychology, You, and Your World

01: Psychology, You, and Your World

Your survey begins with an introduction to the field of psychology and an overview of the major ideas of the field, examining how modern psychology is practiced now versus in the past, and why it is so fascinating. Find out what psychology is—and is not—and get a sense for how findings from psychology can influence how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

29 min
How and Why Psychology Matters

02: How and Why Psychology Matters

Psychology has the power to provide answers to important questions about human nature. Investigate the real-world impact of psychology and the methods psychologists employ to understand the world. You’ll look at the role of observation, as well as challenges of bias in psychological experiments. Then get a taste for how nature and nurture affect our behaviors.

30 min
Positive Psychology: A Science of Happiness

03: Positive Psychology: A Science of Happiness

“Positive psychology” is a relatively new field that emphasizes the value of positive emotions such as joy, satisfaction, and happiness—in other words, mental wellness. Uncover the elements of positive psychology and how 21st-century psychology offers strategies for increasing your well-being.

29 min
Your Brain: A User’s Guide

04: Your Brain: A User’s Guide

Thanks to modern genetics research and imaging techniques, our understanding of the brain is more powerful than ever. Delve into the secrets of this mysterious organ with an insightful tour based on the field of neuroscience that helps us understand not only the functions of the brain, but also learning, behavior, and development.

31 min
Your Nervous System, Hormones, and Behavior

05: Your Nervous System, Hormones, and Behavior

Continue your study of the human hardware with a survey of the nervous system. Zoom in on neurons and explore the ways neurotransmitters connect your mind to your body. Then review a variety of neurochemicals and hormones that are responsible for everything from our mood to our body’s growth and decline. Close with a study of stem cells.

32 min
Understanding and Managing Stress

06: Understanding and Managing Stress

One fundamental aspect of stress is that different people respond to similar events in different ways. To understand why, Professor Sanderson examines the nature of stress—in relationships, in work, and in the environment—and shows how stress can be helpful (e.g., fight or flight) or harmful (e.g., PTSD). See how to better manage your stress.

31 min
Sensation: How You Gather Information

07: Sensation: How You Gather Information

“Sensation” refers to the physical input we receive from the environment;“perception” is the process by which we make sense of this input—how the brain organizes and interprets these inputs. Delve into the field of “psychophysics” to examine the link between physical stimuli and psychological experience.

31 min
Perception: Illusions and Interpretations

08: Perception: Illusions and Interpretations

How we perceive the world is often driven less by our objective reality than by psychological factors that influence our interpretation of the world. Understanding this key idea—that we interpret the world—is the subject of this lesson. Professor Sanderson takes you through an eye-opening world of illusions, gestalts, and subliminal messaging.

31 min
Pain and Placebos

09: Pain and Placebos

Our experience of pain is heavily influenced by psychology; so this lesson examines how we perceive pain—and what we can do about it. Learn about the peak-end theory of experience, as well as techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback to treat pain. You’ll also reflect on the effect of placebos.

32 min
Attention, Sleep, and Dreaming

10: Attention, Sleep, and Dreaming

Humans experience numerous states of consciousness, from focused attention to autopilot to dreaming. Sleep, in particular, offers intriguing insights into the relationship between our brains and consciousness. Here, you will analyze our mental processes during sleep and some of the theories to explain what’s going on when we dream.

30 min
Consciousness Modified: Drugs to Mindfulness

11: Consciousness Modified: Drugs to Mindfulness

There are extreme ways to alter consciousness, but as you will find out in this lesson, there are plenty of ordinary ways to change how you think and increase mindfulness. Delve into the human mind as modified by stimulants, depressants, hypnosis, meditation, and more.

32 min
Performance Psychology in Sport and Life

12: Performance Psychology in Sport and Life

One recurring theme of this course is how psychology can help you improve your life, and this is arguably no more apparent than in the world of sports. How do athletes get into the flow? How can you optimize your performance? Studying “drive theory” can help you on the field, in the office, and everywhere else, as well.

31 min
Cognitive Development across the Lifespan

13: Cognitive Development across the Lifespan

We are all familiar with the way learning grows exponentially in childhood and then slows as our brains become more fixed in adulthood. But of course, learning and mental growth can continue across your lifetime. Here, investigate the states of cognitive growth in children, and then turn to strategies to change your perspective on aging.

28 min
How Language Develops and Why It Matters

14: How Language Develops and Why It Matters

One important component of mental development is our acquisition of language, both verbal and written. Walk through the building blocks of learning a language, from phonemes and morphemes to grammar and semantics. Then consider what it takes to be bilingual and what people who speak multiple languages can tell us about the human mind.

29 min
Attachment Bonds from Infancy to Adulthood

15: Attachment Bonds from Infancy to Adulthood

Continue your study of human development, beginning with the way infants form attachments in the first few weeks of life. Explore the relationship between children and their parents, and the role of the environment on development in childhood and adolescence.

29 min
Moral Development and Situational Ethics

16: Moral Development and Situational Ethics

What do you do when you witness bad behavior? Do you stand up to say something, or do you remain silent? This lesson examines what researchers in psychology say about how people approach moral decisions—and why they choose to act. Survey models and theories of moral development.

28 min
Learning: Conditioned, Reinforced, Observed

17: Learning: Conditioned, Reinforced, Observed

“Learning” refers to a relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience, and psychologists have three distinct theories to explain how humans learn: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning and modeling. Unpack these theories and see them in action.

28 min
Memory and Forgetting

18: Memory and Forgetting

We may think of memory as a video of things we have experienced, but in reality, memory is a constructive process, meaning that we organize, shape, and even change information as we store it. In this lesson, Professor Sanderson delves into the types of information processing in our brains and the way memories are constructed.

29 min
Problem-Solving and Errors of Thinking

19: Problem-Solving and Errors of Thinking

Psychologists describe thinking as forming concepts to organize our world, solve problems, and make judgments and decisions. In some cases, our thinking strategies can pay off, but errors in thinking can lead us astray. Discover some new ways of approaching problems to help you think more clearly and make better decisions.

29 min
Psychology of Eyewitnesses and Confessions

20: Psychology of Eyewitnesses and Confessions

The implications of psychology—our faulty perceptions, slippery memories, and more—can have serious repercussions for ourselves and the world at large. Consider what happens if an eyewitness to a crime identifies the wrong person? How easy is that to do, and how can law enforcement guard against it? Take a look at the legal implications of psychology.

29 min
Intelligence and Creativity

21: Intelligence and Creativity

How do you define intelligence and creativity? And how can they help us manage our environment and achieve greater success? Here, Professor Sanderson explores the multifaceted dimensions of intelligence and shows you techniques to help you improve your natural creativity.

31 min
Emotional Intelligence and Success

22: Emotional Intelligence and Success

One dimension of intelligence is your emotional intelligence—your awareness that emotions can drive behavior, coupled with an ability to manage emotions. Find out how you can increase your emotional intelligence, improve your relationships and social skills, and work more effectively under pressure.

29 min
Adversity and Resilience

23: Adversity and Resilience

Life inevitably comes with challenges, and some can be quite extreme—job losses, serious injuries, the loss of a loved one. But people have the remarkable ability to adapt to adversity and even to potentially find something positive developing from even the most dire life events. This lesson reflects on “resilience” and how we can cultivate our inner strength.

28 min
Motivation: Eating, Sex, and Achievement

24: Motivation: Eating, Sex, and Achievement

Motivation refers to the set of factors that activate and direct our behavior, usually toward a goal. Here, you will survey a range of theories for what motivates us, and how understanding motivation can help in all sorts of ways. Reflect on diets, dating, and “lighting a fire in your belly” to achieve more in life.

29 min
Emotions: Why You Feel

25: Emotions: Why You Feel

Dig into the murky world of emotions as well as the physical reactions they cause—a racing heart, expectant thoughts, and a smile or tears. Positive psychology offers numerous lessons on how to think about emotions and improve happiness, from maintaining strong friendships to the way we express our feelings.

28 min
Attraction, Love, and Lasting Relationships

26: Attraction, Love, and Lasting Relationships

Building close relationships is fundamental to human life, and, therefore, central to psychology. In fact, our relationships are the single best predictor of our happiness. Let’s dive into the world of love and marriage, beginning with the dynamics of attraction and ending with the secrets of a successful relationship.

30 min
Strategies of Persuasion

27: Strategies of Persuasion

Why is effective persuasion so powerful? Understanding the process by which someone’s attitudes or behavior are influenced by other people can make you a great salesperson or a savvy consumer—but there is a dark side in the form of cult behavior. Find out what psychology tells us about how to win friends and influence people.

31 min
Conformity, Social Loafing, and Obedience

28: Conformity, Social Loafing, and Obedience

Psychology is about the individual’s mind, but it is also the study of how groups behave. After all, humans are social beings; we want to fit in and be liked. In this lesson, you will learn when we conform, when we avoid socializing, the pros and cons of group behavior, and how to resist mindless obedience to authority.

32 min
Stereotypes and Aggression

29: Stereotypes and Aggression

Humans are quick to form stereotypes—overgeneralized beliefs about a particular category of people—and we use stereotypes to guide our behavior, for better or worse. Here, reflect on the pernicious consequences of stereotyping and its relationship to aggression. From social identity to racism, examine the tribal aspect of humanity.

31 min
Altruism: Origins and Opportunities

30: Altruism: Origins and Opportunities

Shift your attention to a more positive aspect of human nature—our capacity for altruism. What causes some people to act selfishly, whereas others step in to help, even to their own detriment? Here, Professor Sanderson takes you into the world of evolution, empathy, decision-making, and more.

28 min
Explaining Personality

31: Explaining Personality

We tend to characterize ourselves and others according to our personality traits, such as being introverted or optimistic. Where do these traits come from? And are these patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions relatively stable? In this lesson, you will learn about scientific theories of personality and whether change is possible.

32 min
Demystifying Psychological Disorders

32: Demystifying Psychological Disorders

More than half of Americans will experience a psychological disorder at some point in their life, and virtually all of us have some symptoms of mental illness. Examine the categories of psychological disorder, where they come from, and what we can do about them. From anxiety to schizophrenia to ADHD, consider the range of disorders.

33 min
The Epidemic of Mood and Anxiety Disorders

33: The Epidemic of Mood and Anxiety Disorders

Continue your study of psychological disorders with a deep-dive into mood and anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and more. Survey the latest theories that underlie these conditions, as well as available treatment options.

32 min
Understanding and Overcoming Addiction

34: Understanding and Overcoming Addiction

Round out your study of psychological disorders with a lesson on the nature of addiction. Whether it is a nasty cigarette habit or a substance abuse problem to surfing the internet, the term “addiction” refers to the condition of engaging in compulsive activities, when those activities result in harmful consequences. Investigate treatment options.

32 min
Ways Therapy Works

35: Ways Therapy Works

How does therapy work? Common (mis)conceptions of therapy can often be very simplistic, but this form of treatment is much more varied and complex than many realize. Explore a host of therapies from psychoanalysis to behavior and cognitive therapies and more to get a better understanding of how they work.

29 min
Mindset, Health, and General Well-Being

36: Mindset, Health, and General Well-Being

We have seen how perceptions influence the way we view the world. In this final lesson, dig into the research that shows how perceptions influence our health and well-being. Put everything you have learned together to see how stress, thinking patterns, mindset, exercise, and close relationships all affect how you think about yourself—and the world.

27 min