Psychology 4990G-001


If there is a discrepancy between the outline posted below and the outline posted on the OWL course website, the latter shall prevail.


Selected topics of current interest in Psychology.

Prerequisites: Psychology 2820E, or both Psychology 2800E and 2810, plus registration in third or fourth year Honours Specialization in Psychology or Honours Specialization in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Other Psychology students and Psychology Special Students who receive 75% in the prerequisite courses may enroll in this course.

Unless you have either the prerequisites for this course or written special permission from your Dean to enroll in it, you may be removed from this course and it will be deleted from your record. This decision may not be appealed. You will receive no adjustment to your fees in the event that you are dropped from a course for failing to have the necessary prerequisites.

Antirequisite: Psychology4991G if taken in 2016/17

Antirequisites are courses that overlap sufficiently in content that only one can be taken for credit.  If you take a course that is an antirequisite to a course previously taken, you will lose credit for the earlier course, regardless of the grade achieved in the most recent course.

3 seminar hours, 0.5 course


Instructor: Erin Heerey
Office: SSC 6324
Phone number: (519) 661-2111 ext. 86917
Office hours: By appointment

Lecture: TBA
Lab: TBA

Lecture classes: These classes will consist of (a) a short lecture on the weekly topic, (b) discussions of readings and other materials and (c) student/instructor-led learning exercises.
Lab classes: These classes will focus on in-depth discussion of weekly topics, debate, critical analysis of relevant readings and student/instructor-led learning exercises. Additionally, we will discuss questions you may have about the weekly readings or other course requirements.

If you or someone you know is experiencing distress, there are several resources here at Western to assist you.  Please visit: for more information on these resources and on mental health.

Please contact the course instructor if you require material in an alternate format or if you require any other arrangements to make this course more accessible to you. You may also wish to contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at 519-661-2111 ext 82147 for any specific question regarding an accommodation.


There is no textbook for the class. Instead, a list of required readings will be posted separately to the OWL site.


The goal of this course is to help students understand how social influences alter decision-making processes at a number of levels.



Learning Outcome

Learning Activity


Depth and Breadth of Knowledge.

Describe, identify and explain the social factors that influence human decision-making in a variety of contexts.


Lecture; Readings; Class discussion



Exams, Blogs, Class participation

Application of Knowledge.

Articulate the above concepts when critically evaluating research and building persuasive arguments in this area.



Lecture; Class discussions


Exams, Blogs, Class participation


Application of Methodologies.

Explain how social influences lead to decision outcomes and apply these ideas to social decisions.



Lecture; Readings; Class discussion


Blogs, Participation, Group presentation

Communication Skills.

Communicate ideas clearly and concisely, in language accessible to intelligent non-experts (oral and written formats).



Blogs; Class discussion



Blogs, Participation, Group presentation

Awareness of Limits of Knowledge.

Describe and explain the limits of research conclusions in the context of methodological practices within the field.



Lecture; Class discussions


Exams, Blogs, Class participation

Autonomy and Professional Capacity.

Develop the ability to critique others’ writing politely and professionally and to work as part of a team



Blogs; Intervention development


Blog commentaries, Group presentation


Although the Psychology Department does not require instructors to adjust their course grades to conform to specific targets, the expectation is that course marks will be distributed around the following averages:

70%     1000-level and 2000-level courses
72%     2190-2990 level courses
75%     3000-level courses
80%     4000-level courses
The Psychology Department follows the University of Western Ontario grading guidelines, which are as follows (see ):

A+  90-100      One could scarcely expect better from a student at this level
A    80-89        Superior work that is clearly above average
B    70-79        Good work, meeting all requirements, and eminently satisfactory
C    60-69        Competent work, meeting requirements
D    50-59        Fair work, minimally acceptable
F    below 50    Fail

Please note that I do not make grade adjustments (e.g., applying a bell curve to the distribution of marks on an exam or paper). In addition, I cannot adjust marks on the basis of need (e.g., because a certain mark is necessary to get into a particular academic program).


EXAMS (40%)

There will be two exams. The first exam (20%) is scheduled for Monday, February 13 and will cover the readings and topics assigned to that point and all material covered in lectures and in the labs. The second exam (20%) is scheduled for Monday, April 3. Both exams will include 40 multiple-choice questions and will be administered during the lecture (see schedule below). The exams will also include a short take-home essay (500 word maximum) in which you, for example, critique one of a selection of relevant papers using the information you have learned in the class (and elsewhere) or read a description of an experimental method and speculate about the outcome of that experiment based on what you have learned during the term. Information and marking criteria for these papers will be provided in advance. The take-home essay is (obviously) “open book,” meaning that you may use information from the readings, lecture notes, internet, etc., as you write. The multiple-choice portion of the exam will be taken in class. You will have the full class period to do the exam (110 minutes). You may bring one sheet of paper (letter sized; you may use both sides) with any notes you wish written/printed on it to help jog your memory for the course information. The multiple-choice questions (which will not be drawn from any test bank) are designed to test your understanding of the course material at a deep level. That is, a study strategy involving rote memorization of material will not help you to get a high grade on the exam. Rather, you should conceptualize each item as an individual decision and approach it from the background of the course material. Focusing your revision of the course material on understanding the concepts and information we discuss and the relationships between topics will help you to make the best decisions on the exam.


Each class participant will be required to blog about the course material on a weekly basis (starting in week 3 with no requirement for posting during weeks with exams or the reading week; worth 30%). You can think about each blog post you write as a “thought paper” on the topic for that week (your blog each week should be 200 to 500 words – this number is quite flexible). Your blog may therefore comment on, criticise or otherwise expand upon the ideas we work on each week. Although your post must be related to the general topic each week, you have free license to make your blog, including the material you choose to discuss, your own. That is, you may use the readings/lecture material as a guide for your blog, or you may take your blog post in your own direction entirely.

If you already host a blog, you may host your topics on your own page in a separate thread. Alternately, you may choose your own host program (e.g., the instructor recommends or, which allow you to create a blog for free; however, you may choose any host you wish so long as you use a unique thread for this class). The blog post will be due (posted to your site for public viewing) at the start of the lecture each week. There is no requirement that your blog take a formal scientific tone or be in APA style. However, you should certainly give credit where credit is due and reference others’ work as necessary (a hyperlink to a research paper or an author’s website is a good tool for this). Your writing should be accessible to smart non-academic audiences so please avoid jargon as much as possible.

You will also be asked to participate in a discussion of sorts using this forum. That is, you should post commentary on at least three of your classmates’ blogs per week (worth 15%). A list of all class-members’ links will be available on the OWL site to facilitate this process. Please focus your commentary on debate or ideas (remember to be respectful of people in your posts – you may criticize/critique ideas but not people). Comments should be 50 to 150 words (again this number is flexible) and will be due each week at the start of the discussion section. Blogs/commentaries will be marked on a basic scale (discussed in the first discussion period). Your lowest blog score and your lowest commentary score will be dropped from the grade calculation.


Each class participant will be assigned to a group of 3 to 4 students and asked to design a social intervention for improving decision-making. Your intervention may target individual or group behaviours but it should be broadly relevant to the class material. The material you have learned about in class should be applied to the target behaviour(s). Together with your group you will develop your intervention in three parts. These should include some background on the target behaviour (what it looks like; when it occurs; who does it, etc.), a description of the intervention (including a review of the relevant research literature to examine its theoretical basis), and a plan for how you would test the effectiveness of the intervention (note that you will not actually apply the intervention). You will then present your idea to the rest of the class in the context of a 15-minute presentation during the last Monday or Thursday class of the term (randomly assigned). All group members will be expected to contribute equally to the development of the intervention and presentation of the work.


Participation is critical to class discussion. There will be opportunities (beginning in week 2) to engage in discussion in every class period. Participation will be marked using the following 5-point scale: 5 points (attended the full class session and participation added significant value to group discussion); 4 points (arrived late or left early by at least five minutes but participation added significant value to group discussion); 3 points (attended the full session and participated at a peripheral level); 2 points (arrived late or left early by at least five minutes and participated at a peripheral level); 1 point (attended any portion of the class but did not actively participate); 0 points (did not attend). Your lowest participation score will be dropped from the grade calculation. If you need to miss more than one class session, please see the instructor.

University regulations permit deadline extensions only for legitimate medical or compassionate reasons.






Readings are listed by number in “Reading List.pdf” (all PDFs available on OWL)


January 8 (Lecture)

January 11 (Lab)


Orientation and overview

Decision-making basics

1, 2, 3


January 15

January 18


Theories of decision-making

4, 5


January 22

January 25


Cognitive factors

6, 7


January 29

February 1


Emotional factors

8, 9


February 5

February 8


Interpersonal influences

Exam review

10, 11, 12


February 12

February 15


EXAM 1 (20%)



13, 14


February 19

February 22


Reading week (No class)




February 26

March 1


Competition, cooperation & altruism

15, 16, 17


March 5

March 8


Moral behaviour

18, 19


March 12

March 15


Nudging behaviour

20, 21, 22


March 19

March 22


Interpersonal negotiation



March 26

March 29



Exam review



April 2

April 5


EXAM 2 (20%)

Group Presentations



April 9


Group Presentations



7.0   CLASS SCHEDULE (see above)


Students are responsible for understanding the nature and avoiding the occurrence of plagiarism and other scholastic offenses. Plagiarism and cheating are considered very serious offenses because they undermine the integrity of research and education. Actions constituting a scholastic offense are described at the following link:

As of Sept. 1, 2009, the Department of Psychology will take the following steps to detect scholastic offenses. All multiple-choice tests and exams will be checked for similarities in the pattern of responses using reliable software, and records will be made of student seating locations in all tests and exams. All written assignments will be submitted to TurnItIn, a service designed to detect and deter plagiarism by comparing written material to over 5 billion pages of content located on the Internet or in TurnItIn’s databases. All papers submitted for such checking will be included as source documents in the reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to the system. Use of the service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between Western and

Possible penalties for a scholastic offense include failure of the assignment, failure of the course, suspension from the University, and expulsion from the University.


Western’s policy on Accommodation for Medical Illness can be found at: 

Students must see the Academic Counsellor and submit all required documentation in order to be approved for certain accommodation:


Office of the Registrar web site:

Student Development Services web site:

Please see the Psychology Undergraduate web site for information on the following:

- Policy on Cheating and Academic Misconduct
- Procedures for Appealing Academic Evaluations
- Policy on Attendance
- Policy Regarding Makeup Exams and Extensions of Deadlines
- Policy for Assignments
- Short Absences
- Extended Absences
- Documentation
- Academic Concerns
- 2017 Calendar References

No electronic devices, including cell phones, will be allowed during exams.