Course code:



IM - Introductory/Intermediate

Lab fee:


Humans have an inherent need to make sense of their lives.

Their search may be simply to improve everyday experience or it may involve a life-long quest for meaning and wisdom. Nonetheless, in every age, they have found written advice to address these perennial needs: ranging from the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible, through Marcus Aurelieus’ Meditations and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance to the ever-popular, self-help book. In the past half-century of the New York Times’ Best Sellers List, there has usually been one or more popular psychology books on the list. Hundreds of millions have been sold and read. Some focus on how to improve relationships, raise children, or build wealth; others promise ways to discover happiness, expand memory, or find a deeper self. Their authors may be serious scholars, well-known psychologists, insightful leaders, or shallow self promoters.

The purpose of this course is to critically examine the literature of popular psychology: to explore why people are or are not so drawn to this literary genre and to analyze its deeper psychological significance. A further goal is to evaluate how and when they do work or why they don’t. These questions will be guided by an in-depth evaluation of the implicit structure of each book, as well as a comparative mapping of it within the theories and methods of professional psychology.

In order to investigate a broad cross-section of styles and themes, we begin with several ‘classic’ popular books as a common foundation. Thereafter, we move on to more varied approaches within small groups and individually.

Evaluations will be based on participation in class discussions, several short papers, shared book reviews, and final paper comparing popular and academic psychology.




Always visit the Registrar's Office for the official course catalog and schedules.