Comps Objectives

The psychology department integrative exercise (“comps”) is designed to provide psychology majors with a capstone experience to their psychology coursework. Students graduating with a degree in psychology have the opportunity to demonstrate and apply their mastery of content and skills they have acquired in the psychology curriculum through independent work during their senior year.

Capstone Seminars

During the fall term of the senior year, students enroll in a capstone seminar (PSYC399, 6 credits). The seminars focus on a current hot topic in psychology or around the work of a particular psychology researcher. Throughout the seminar, students read and discuss primary literature related to the theme(s) of the course. As part of the course, students submit a critical analysis of a set of primary sources related to a topic in the course (approx. 15-20 pages). In addition, students should have a concrete plan for expanding and revising their paper. Capstone professors give feedback to students about their writing, the content of their critical analysis, and the scope and feasibility of proposed future directions throughout the fall term.

Students will register for one of three capstone seminars (most years) via the regular registration process. [Note: the OCS Prague cross-cultural psychopathology seminar counts as a capstone seminar for seniors on the program.]

Capstone Seminar Descriptions (2024-2025)

Psych 399: Social Influence
Professor: Sharon Akimoto

We see many examples of social influence in our world today: peer pressure, influencer marketing, social media, FOMO, advertising campaigns, religious recruitment, collective action, etc.  In this comps seminar, we will explore several ways in which psychology helps us to understand how and why people are influenced by others.  We will explore a variety of psychological mechanisms through discussion of primary research and review articles.  You will also choose and explore a topic of your own related to social influence, to develop into your comps project. The seminar will include discussions of assigned readings as well as guidance in developing your comps project, with greater time spent focusing on the latter toward the end of the term.  In light of the topic, I strongly encourage group projects. Students will spend time both in and out of the classroom sharing ideas with peers and exchanging formal and informal peer reviews.  

PSYC 399: Psychology’s Credibility Revolution
Professor: Julia Strand

Psychology and other sciences are in the midst of what has been referred to as a “replication crisis” or a “credibility revolution.” Prominent failures to replicate published findings, cases of misconduct, and the growing realization about rates of false-positives in the literature has caused many to re-examine how research is designed, analyzed, and reported.

In this seminar, we will explore the factors that contribute to false positives in the literature, including questionable research practices like p-hacking and selective reporting, flexibility in measurement, publication bias, and the incentive structure of science. For the comps paper, students will choose an area of interest and evaluate it through the lens of this discussion. Along the way, we’ll also discuss the strategies being used to improve the discipline and how to apply them to your own research and consumption of science.

PSYC399: Sex, Gender, the Brain and Society
Professor: Sarah Meerts

Society, including the scientific community, has historically sought to identify definitive biological characteristics that enable binary categorization of individuals into male or female sex. Chromosomes, genes, hormones, genitals and gametes are all variables that have been used to identify sex and therefore assume gender. Recognition that sex is not binary, static, or even strictly biological—along with findings that the variables used to categorize sex aren’t necessarily consistent with one another—has raised questions about why sex categorization exists, who it serves, and what biases have driven contemporary conversations about when to use sex categorization.

In this seminar, we will read literature from many different branches of psychology (biological, social, cognitive) to consider the issue of sex and gender and to relate the neurobiological underpinnings of sex to the experience of sex and gender and to investigate the consequences of categorizing individuals by sex.

The Comps Paper

In the winter term, students enroll in the integrative exercise (PSYC400, 3 credits). During this term, students independently revise and extend the fall term paper, integrating the feedback from their faculty advisor. Based on this work, students submit a final comps paper (approx. 20-25 pages) that makes original contributions to the field of psychology through critiquing existing psychology primary sources, applying empirically-supported psychological theories to new questions, generating potential applied guidelines, and/or proposing new theories or empirical studies based on published theories and empirical research. Final comps papers will be due by midterm Winter term.

The final comps paper should not exceed 25 pages or 7500 words in body text (the beginning of the introduction to the end of the conclusion), whichever is shorter. Any exception to this must be approved by petition to and subsequent approval of the Psychology Department.

This work is also presented at a psychology conference, either on or off campus (e.g., SuperFriday, MUPC, MidBrains, or a national conference).

Exemptions

Students wishing to complete an alternative comps project (e.g., empirical research project, service learning project) need to demonstrate independence and background knowledge in the suggested research area and must have faculty support for the project. They must submit a petition (2-3 pages, double-spaced) to the department chair by the end of the second week of spring term of junior year. The petition should include a written proposal for the proposed comps project, a proposed timeline for the project with deadlines, and a description of the format for the final scholarly product. We recommend conferring closely with a potential faculty advisor(s) when conceiving and writing the proposal.

Petitions will only be approved if they meet the following criteria:

  1. Enthusiastic faculty support for the project;
  2. Student knowledge of relevant background theories and research, sufficient for the student to independently proceed with additional exploration;
  3. Student familiarity with proposed research methods, either through literature or first-hand experience;
  4. A demonstrated history of independent work and motivation;
  5. Strong writing ability, and
  6. The research proposal is well-grounded in existing psychological theories and literature.