While psychology has changed and advanced in the last decade, an educational resource used by thousands of psychology teachers to give students a broad overview of the field has remained the same--until now.
The popular 26-episode "Discovering Psychology" video series and telecourse, produced in 1990 by television station WGBH in Boston has been revamped to include new historical footage, new interviews with cutting-edge researchers and three new episodes--applied psychology, cognitive neuroscience and cultural psychology. The updated version will be ready for distribution this fall.
Original series host Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD, APA president-elect, says the series' face-lift is well-timed.
"A couple of years ago, people started telling me and e-mailing me that, while they still loved the series, it was starting to age," says Zimbardo, who also hosts the updated series.
The format of each episode--a mix of classic principles of psychology and recent theories--will remain the same, assures Zimbardo, but outdated or questionable material has been cut to highlight contemporary research findings. For example, a large section on multiple-personality disorder in one episode has been trimmed to make room for a segment on a recent case study of a paranoid schizophrenic. And three outdated episodes from the original series--"In Space, Toward Peace," "A Union of Opposites" and "New Directions"--have been cut to make room for the three new episodes.
What's more, the updated version has a coordinating textbook, study and faculty guides, and a Web site, www.learner.org, that offers deleted scenes and further information on research featured in the series.
New and improved
The first of the new topics in the series, "Cognitive Neuroscience," will explore cutting-edge research on brain-imaging, technological advances in fMRI and show innovative ways brain-imaging research can be used, such as visualizing the brain basis of dyslexia. The episode includes interviews with eight cognitive neuroscientists, including Stephen Kosslyn, PhD, of Harvard University, Nancy Kanwisher, PhD, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who discusses her work on facial recognition, and Mahzarin Banaji, PhD, of Yale University, who features her research on prejudice formation. John Gabrieli, PhD, of Stanford University, served as the scientific consultant on the episode.
The centerpiece of the episode is the story of Phinneas Gage, the railroad worker who in the 1800s underwent a dramatic personality change when an explosion caused an iron rod to impale his brain, damaging his frontal lobe.
"Gage's case is a classic example," says Zimbardo, who is featured with Gage's preserved skull and the original iron rod on the video. "It was the first time psychology could correlate changes in brain structure with behavior."
Another new episode, "Cultural Psychology," features interviews with psychologists of various cultural backgrounds, including Joseph Trimble, PhD, James Jones, PhD, Ricardo Munoz, PhD, and Kaiping Peng, PhD. Interviews will focus on emerging issues of diversity, how cultures construct individual differences, beliefs, values and emotion, and ways to increase access to people of different cultural backgrounds. Stanford University's Hazel Markus, PhD, the scientific consultant on the episode, will discuss her seminal work on the influence of culture on a person's thoughts and feelings.
Zimbardo hopes the video will "help mainstream cultural psychology into introductory psychology." He will host a screening of these two new videos at APA's Annual Convention in San Francisco, Sunday, Aug. 26, at 3 p.m.
A third new program, "Applying Psychology in Life," shows how psychological research is applied to real-world issues such as conflict resolution, communication in space, interpreting legal testimony from children and treating sleep disorders. James Maas, PhD, and Stephen Ceci, PhD, of Cornell University, and Jared Curhan, PhD, of Stanford University, are among the researchers featured on the episode.
James Madison University psychology professor Jane Halonen, PhD, predicts this episode will be particularly helpful in the recruitment of psychology students.
"Students are very interested in the uses of psychology," says Halonen, an advisor on the updated version. "They want to know what they are going to do with this field,"
Already a classic
Not to say the original series hasn't been an effective recruitment tool in itself. Indeed, the series and telecourse have taught hundreds of thousands of high school students, college students and adult learners about psychology. "Discovering Psychology" has been translated into 10 languages, and more than 300,000 students have received introductory psychology credit for the telecourse. For the past three years, the series has been broadcast to 58,000 schools in the U.S. through the Annenberg/CPB free satellite channel.
It's popularity and influence can also be measured by the countless calls, letters and e-mails from fans of the series Zimbardo has received since it debuted in 1990.
When the correspondence began to urge for an updated version, Zimbardo presented the idea to WGBH staff, who were interested, and the original funder, Annenberg Foundation, agreed to support the update.
For the original project, APA was invited to appoint an advisory board to assist the producers. An advisor on the original version, retired University of Colorado at Boulder professor of psychology Michael Wertheimer, PhD, thinks the series has changed people's misperceptions about psychology and what psychologists do.
"I have the highest respect for this series, and I hope they continue to update it every five or 10 years for the next 100," he says. "It's a wonderful way to give psychology away--one of the best ways to do it."
Taping for the updated portions began in December and ended in May. The series will be marketed internationally and will likely air on PBS in late September or early October, says Harlan Reiniger, producer of the updated version.
While new and old segments are similar in style, viewers will notice subtle differences in the new portions, says Reiniger, who also worked on the original series. "Technology has improved, so the look is a little more sophisticated for the new programs."
Exceptionally keen viewers may also notice a difference in host Zimbardo in the first video, "Past, Present and Promise," the only video where Zimbardo appears then and now.