All 25,000+ entries of the American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology are now freely available online.
You may just want to let your students know that this resource exists and may be more trustworthy than other sources of definitions for psychological terms students find through a Google search.
If you’re looking for a different way to start your Intro Psych course, you can ask students to hop on their web-enabled device and browse this dictionary looking at words that begin with the first initial of their first name and the first initial of their last name. (If they have more than one first or last name, they can choose which initials they use.)
Students will then choose one word from each section. If their first and last initials are the same, they will choose two words from that section and read the definitions. Students will share what they found with one or two other students. As a group, students are to identify the most interesting term the members of their group found, and then, looking at the table of contents for your textbook or the list of topics in the syllabus, guess where that concept could be covered in the course. Walk around to each group, answering any questions students may have.
Finally, ask each group to report out to the class. What term did they choose? What is the APA dictionary definition (display it via instructor’s computer)? Why did they choose it? And where in the course do they think it best fits? If this will be a concept covered in the course, you can talk more about it and whether the group was right in guessing where it will be covered. If it’s not a concept that will be covered, you can say in what kind of course it would be covered, e.g., a graduate course on statistics.
A student has my initials, S and F.
Skimming the S section, the student picks schadenfreude, “the gaining of pleasure or satisfaction from the misfortune of others.”
The student shares these with their group, and the group selects schadenfreude as the term they found most interesting. A volunteer from the group would define the term, explain why the group chose it, and guesses that the concept would be covered in the disorders chapter. A response from the instructor could be:
Doing this is not a sign of a psychological disorder, but is a very common experience. There is an ingroup/outgroup component to this – concepts we’ll talk about in the social psychology chapter. Have a favorite sports team? Your team and the fans of your team are one of your many ingroups. That makes other teams and their fans one of your many outgroups. Have you ever felt joy when your team’s rival did poorly? That’s schadenfreude.
Skimming the F section, the student picks face recognition, “the identification of a specific face. A specialized face-recognition region in the temporal lobe has been demonstrated by brain imaging; injury to this region results in such deficits as prosopagnosia, a failure to recognize previously familiar faces.”
If the group selected face recognition as the term they found most interesting, again, a volunteer from the group would define the term, explain why they chose it, and, this time, the group guesses that face recognition would be covered in the neuroscience chapter. A response from the instructor could be:
Indeed, we will be talking about this in the neuroscience chapter. Not only do some people have prosopagnosia – face blindness – but some people are the exact opposite: super recognizers. Super recognizers can remember faces extremely well, so well that they can look at faces in poor-quality video, remember those faces, and spot those faces in a crowd. You’ll be reading an article on that, and you’ll have the opportunity to take a test to see if you are a super recognizer (short test embedded in this article; longer test). (Note: this might not be a bad time to introduce students to the concept of the normal curve where those with prosopagnosia are in one tail, super recognizers are in the other, and most of us somewhere in between.)
Concepts you’ve never heard of?
With over 25,000 terms in this dictionary, it’s likely that students will come up with something you’ve never heard of. Now is a good time to practice the humility that’s necessary when teaching Intro Psych. Students generate a lot of questions in this course. The chances that they will ask something you don’t know about is very likely. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” If it’s in the area of something that you do know, add what you do know.
If students chose from the S section, for example, sangue dormido, “a culture-bound syndrome found among inhabitants (indigenous and immigrant) of Cape Verde. Symptoms include pain, numbness, tremor, paralysis, convulsions, stroke, blindness, heart attack, infection, and miscarriage.” Since this is a concept I’ve not heard of, I would say something like
I’ve never heard of that, but if we covered it, it’d probably be in either the social psychology chapter or the psychological disorders chapter. “Culture-bound” means that this is something that is only seen in this or similar cultures, but not anywhere else. (In the displayed definition, since “culture-bound” is a link, I’d click through on that, and then probably click through on some of the other culture-bound syndromes listed within that definition.)
Through this activity, students will get a sense of how broad of a field psychology is and how much area the Intro Psych course is going to cover, and you will learn a bunch of new concepts. What’s not to love about that?