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Essay Topic Ideas for a Course in Psychology

The realm of academic psychology includes abnormal, biological, cognitive, developmental, personality, and social psychology. Then there's also clinical, counseling, educational, forensic, health, occupational, child, and sports psychology. Beyond that, consider the less common types, such as evolutionary, military, prison, and even paranormal psychology, to name just a few.

More general or introductory type psychology courses tend to cover even wider ranges of subjects. Needless to say, selecting a topic for your psychology essay may present you with some tough decisions. You may choose to write about a particular popular issue, profile some important psychologist, or present your understanding of an experiment. Whatever you choose, it's important to present an outline of your ideas - or at least a thesis - to your instructor before you dive completely into the project. Getting his or her feedback during the early stages could save you lots of headache in the long run, and he or she could provide you with some useful tips to help you on your way.

Here are some topic ideas to consider for general psychology course essays:

Using the general adaptation syndrome, illustrate the body's reaction to a stressor, such as a death in the family.

The manner in which people react to stress, whether it's a real stress or one that they've imagined, can be divided into three stages, known as the general adaptation syndrome: alarm, resistance, and recovery (or exhaustion). What are some of the mechanisms and anatomy involved with the shock and anti-shock stages of the alarm phase? As the body begins to cope with the stress during resistance, what are some of the chemicals that can be affected? How might the stressor manifest itself in the latter stages of reaction? Be sure to consider the physical and psychological effects as well as any possible behavioral reactions.

Argue for or against the concept of a midlife crisis.

As people come to consider their own mortality, whether as a result of age or some stressor, a small percentage may experience what is traditionally known as a "midlife crisis". Briefly discuss some of the characteristics of the crisis as well as common causes. What factors (age, race, personality type, etc.) seem to play significant rolls? Can people experience similar crises during other stages in life besides midlife? How does popular culture treat the notion of a midlife crisis? Be sure to back up your argument with current information.

Discuss some steps parents can take to cope with the empty nest syndrome.

A parent's feeling of loneliness or uselessness often comes about as a result of their children leaving home for the first time. What are some of the symptoms of the empty nest syndrome (depression, sense of rejection, anxiety) and what are some healthy ways to deal with the symptoms? Discuss coping mechanisms and ways to reduce the level of stress as children leave home for the first time. Are there reasons to rejoice during this stage in life? Consider the ways different cultures and societies view the act of children leaving home, and discuss what we can learn from them.

Contrast the stages of childhood development as described by Jean Piaget.

As children go from infancy to the teenage years, they progress through the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operations state, and formal operations stage. From birth to age two, why can't children perceive the world outside of their own point of view (in other words, how is the sensorimotor stage different from subsequent stages)? What causes this egocentric view to change during the second stage? As children begin to develop the capacity for abstract thought, how does this prepare them for adolescence and later adulthood?

Discuss the way gender identity and roles influence our behaviors.

The concept of the "nuclear family" of the mid-twentieth century has evolved greatly. How do these roles change? How do people learn to accept and assimilate to such rolls? Illustrate some examples of gender-based stereotypes that have changed over times, such as clothing, careers, relationships, etc. How does socialization instill gender-based ideas in people, and are there any significant cognitive differences between males and females?

Compare and/or contrast some of the ways people acquire and learn.

Your essay should mention some of the basic theories of how we learn about the world around us, i.e., classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social learning. What were some of the relevant experiments (such as Pavlov's work) that gave concrete evidence that behavior can association with certain stimuli are tied together? How can modeled behavior be powerful in prompting a behavior, and what kinds of verbal and symbolic modeling also affect learning? How do reinforcing, rewarding, and punishing affect the likelihood of a particular behavior to reoccur or diminish?

Argue that a person's psychological faculties are universal, or that they are learned.

Some would say that people are for the most part biologically similar, and so differences due to cultural differences are not important; therefore, people's cognitive abilities are mostly similar. On the other hand, some would argue that the most important determinant of human mental capacities and behavior are learned, especially through external social and cultural influences. How does place and time affect - or do they not affect - our psychological makeup? Be sure to back up your argument with data and relevant studies.

Discuss how cognitive-behavior therapy can be used to treat a particular psychological condition.

The idea that we can change thinking in order to affect behavior is the general premise behind cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). Choose a specific application, such as depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue, etc., and discuss how CBT is used to address it. How are patterns, thought processes, and beliefs challenged or replace in order to instill more beneficial ones in individuals? Be sure to give specific examples in terms of the different phases (that is, assessment, reconceptualization, skills acquisition, skills consolidation, maintenance, and follow-up) of CBT. What goals would be important to set in order to change the behavior, and how can the person's interpretation of the situation be made more realistic?

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