So, I’ve taken A LOT of courses throughout my 3+ years at Glendon.

Most of these courses have been in Psychology, Linguistics, Philosophy, etc. and each one has been valuable in enriching not only my academic life but also my personal life.

Even though I’ve enjoyed some courses more than others, I really value the knowledge that I’ve acquired from all of them in their own unique ways.

Here are some that I’d like to share with you today:

CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY

When we’re born, we are thrust into a certain culture. Culture affects how we view the world in so many ways. For example, the Müller-Lyer Illusion was once thought to be universal. However, it was soon found that this illusion only exists in cultures where there are a lot of buildings with corners, such that of Western, North American cultures.

Muller-Lyer-2
Müller-Lyer Illusion.

When they showed the illusion to several African tribes, they found that the illusion didn’t persist. In fact, most of the tribespeople saw the lines are identical in length right away. One of the biggest issues in psychological studies is that the vast majority of the participants are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic): a very limited and non-representative sample of the human species. Cultural psychology does not intend to disprove well-known psychological theories, but rather, it aims to contextualize these effects.

Lesson: Be mindful of some of the biases you may have as a result of the culture(s) you grew up in. Instead of immediately judging those who grew up in a culture different from yours, try to understand why they may behave that way in terms of the way they were raised and the circumstances in which they grew up. You may learn a thing or two. Not everyone experiences the world the same way. 

LANGUAGE ENDANGERMENT

A language is more than just a form of communication. Each language carries a unique cultural heritage and is what binds many communities together. When we lose a language, we lose important information with it, such as key terms pertaining to local flora and fauna. Language endangerment is even said to be tied with the current loss of biodiversity all over the world.

Lesson: Languages, especially minority ones, are dying at a rapid pace all over the world. Passing down your heritage language to the next generation is crucial. 

VARIETIES OF ENGLISH

In this course, I learned about the many different dialects, registers, and varieties of English and how each are valid in their own way.  The English language that we know today has evolved over the course of more than a thousand years. There have been many attempts throughout its long history to standardize the language and dictate how people should and ought to use the language “properly”.

This course was truly eye-opening as it contradicted a lot of what I was previously taught in language classes. Truthfully, I will admit that I used to be a snob when it comes to proper grammar and using slang that I deemed uncouth to my ears. I would cringe every time I heard something a long the lines of “I seen” and “I could have went” instead of “I’ve seen” and “I could have gone”.

I still cringe a little when I hear those terms, but then I remind myself that I make different kinds of mistakes too and that as long as I can understand what they were trying to say, is it really that much of a problem? Not to mention the fact that certain groups face discrimination and prejudice because society views their register as improper and wrong, when in fact, they are just as systematic as what we deem to be the correct usage of a language.

Besides, language is fluid and what is considered “right” or “wrong” inevitably changes according to the whims of time and society at large.

Lesson: Embrace the many different varieties of a language. This is a sign of the language’s vitality, reflecting the creative ways in which we use it. LOL amirite??? Yeah…anyway. 

SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

This is one of my favourite courses as it touches on topics which I find most interesting: conformity, aggression, altruism, group dynamics, sexual attraction, relationships, etc. I also find that this class is very straightforward in terms of relating it to your day-to-day experiences.

One experiment that you may be familiar with is the (in)famous Milgram experiment, which studied how people respond and obey authority figures – inspired by how many people were complicit to the horrific acts of the Holocaust. The alarming results show that most people (who are ordinary and are not evil) will succumb to the orders of an authority figure no matter how cruel the orders are, such as being ordered to give electric shocks to another participant (who was actually a confederate and was in cahoots with the experimenter), in this case.

You may have also heard of the Stanford prison experiment led by Dr. Zimbardo which studied the psychological effects of power and being assigned into a role. Participants were randomly assigned to either be a prisoner or a police officer. What ensued in the following weeks involved immense cruelty such as psychological abuse and harassment inflicted on the “prisoners” by the “police officers”, who seemed to have embraced their roles very quickly. As you can imagine, this experiment went too far and had to be stopped earlier than intended.

Lesson: Your environment and circumstances affect you much more than you think. It’s important to critically question why someone might to something that is seemingly against their conscience and what is deemed socially acceptable. There’s never just one easy answer. 

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