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The APA Introductory Psychology Initiative

Introductory Psychology Initiative

Why does the Introductory Psychology course matter?


Millions of students

As noted in the BEA working group report, there are between 1.2 and 1.6 million undergraduate students who take introductory psychology each year (Gurung et al., 2016).

Featured Course

A featured course

The course is featured in nearly every psychology program (Norcross et al., 2016), and it is now a part of other disciplinary plans such as medicine (Mitchell, Lewis, Satterfield, & Hong, 2016).


Need for outcomes and assessments

In addition, the 2016 Survey on Undergraduate Study in Psychology focused on introductory psychology and the findings from this research supported the need for core learning outcomes and more assessments for the Introductory Psychology course (Pfund, Norcross, Hailstorks, Stamm, and Christidis, 2018).

Strengthen the delivery and assessment of psychology

A meaningful framework

New resources

Overview for the Initiative

The call for a focus on Introductory Psychology has its origins in the 2008 APA National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology (“ Undergraduate Education in Psychology: A Blueprint for the Future of the Discipline ”, Halpern, 2010) and the resulting quality principles for undergraduate education (APA, 2011). While a recommendation from the “Puget Sound Conference” included modeling the introductory psychology course to mirror the major (Dunn et al., 2010), there was insufficient information, nor any discussion on how Introductory Psychology could be strengthened.

In the years since the 2008 conference, the APA BEA appointed two BEA working groups focused on introductory psychology, e.g., the BEA Working Group Report on Strengthening the Common Core of the Introductory Psychology Course (PDF, 220KB) and the BEA Working Group on Assessing Introductory Psychology (PDF, 388KB) . These initiatives resulted in a set of key recommendations for future work on introductory psychology (APA 2014; APA, 2017), and a major article on the topic was published in the American Psychologist ® special issue on undergraduate education (Gurung et al., 2016).

In 2016, APA sponsored the Summit on National Assessment of Psychology held at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. This summit was an invitational conference that brought together 45 experts in educational assessment to develop an online, searchable database of assessment tools based on the “APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major: Version 2.0”. Project Assessment is an online library that features assessment tools that are aligned with the learning goals and outcomes described in the “APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major: Version 2.0” (PDF, 447.03KB) . Project Assessment also showcases a limited number of assessments for the Introductory Psychology course. In addition, Project Assessment features resources and strategies that support the challenges of program level assessment at the associate and baccalaureate levels. For example, one of the working groups focused on AA Integration and proposed some strategies for introductory psychology assessment. Other related work includes a joint APA Div. 1 and Div. 2 task force which examined certain issues (i.e., content) in General Psychology (Dutch, 2017).

In 2017, APA funded a Summit on High School Psychology Education at Weber State University where the assembled educators recognized a strong need to better align the teaching of high school psychology with recommendations for strengthening the college Introductory Psychology course (Gurung et al., 2016). There is a clear need to build on this firm bedrock.

Transforming Introductory Psychology

Full report and recommendations

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Introductory Psychology is one of the most popular college courses around. But it’s also one of the hardest to teach. Each year, more than a million students embark on the journey to understand the hows and whys of human thought and behavior.

Select recommendations from the IPI Working Groups

Student learning outcomes (slo) and assessment.

IPI proposed a set of Introductory Psychology Course Student Learning Outcomes (PDF, 40KB) that can serve as a meaningful framework for selecting and organizing course material. Instructors are encouraged to use the pedagogical practice of Backward Design to construct their course. Specifically, instructors should:

The Integrative Themes are focused on students’ ability to:

Assignments like this sample Integrative Themes assessment (PDF, 63KB) can be used to assess learning outcomes. Please considering browsing the Project Assessment (PASS) database for other assignments and assessments that may be relevant to your course. Teachers may also be interested in the TIP Northwest 2021 Teaching Activities that are organized by theme and pillar with directions for implementation.

Course Models and Design

Instructors are encouraged to use the Pillar Model , consistent with the APA Board of Educational Affairs Working Group on Strengthening the Common Core of the Introductory Psychology Course (PDF, 221KB) , shown below.

Consistent with these recommendations, instructors should:

Learn more about how the IPI recommendations have been incorporated into a syllabus for Introductory Psychology. With thanks to Regan A. R. Gurung and Erin Hardin, instructors can view two sample syllabi:

APA IPO SLOs Including Integrative Themes

Teacher Training and Development

Training opportunities that help instructors apply best practices in teaching to the content and themes of Introductory Psychology are needed to fully implement the IPI vision.

Student Success and Transformation

Instructors are encouraged to design and teach Introductory Psychology using methods that illustrate key Integrative Themes.

For example, to demonstrate Theme F: “Applying psychological principles can change our lives, organizations, and communities in positive ways,” instructors can:

Course Design Institute

The APA Center for Education in Psychology sponsored a free multi-session virtual course design institute (CDI) to help Introductory Psychology instructors integrate recommendations from APA’s Introductory Psychology Initiative into their course. These videos from the CDI share some of the key presentations from this event. 

To learn more about undergraduate education at APA, please visit the Associate and Baccalaureate Education section. Also, join our CABEducators listserv  or our newly established listserv for Introductory Psychology Instructors to stay connected. 

Presentations about adopting the IPI recommendations

Mini Lecture on Stress and Health in the Introductory Psychology Class

In this mini lecture, Danae Hudson, PhD, of Missouri State University discusses the physiological and psychological components of stress (and how COVID-19 has affected that), the effects of stress on health, and stress management techniques. In this lecture, Hudson shares ideas for weaving in some of the recommendations from the APA Introductory Psychology Initiative.

Sample Multiple Choice Questions for Stress and Health (PDF, 96KB)

Video: Targeting Difficult Concepts in Stress and Health

2021 Psychology One Conference

Presentation by Melissa Beers, PhD, The Ohio State University

Workshop: Now what? A process for starting to adopt the APA’s IPI recommendations in your class.

2021 Teaching Introductory Psychology Northwest Conference

Presentation by Bridgette Martin Hard, PhD, Duke University

Help Students see the Bigger Picture: An Integrative “Themes” Approach to Teaching Introductory Psychology

TIP Northwest 2021 Teaching Activities Access 31 complete activities, organized according to Theme # and Pillar. The activities have a description, directions for implementation, notes to the instructor, and additional resources. These activities are released with a CC-BY-SA license. You may download, share, and modify these activities with attribution to the original team.

Stay informed

Join our mailing list and receive updates on the APA Introductory Psychology Initiative. Please include your name and academic institution in your email.

Introductory Psychology Initiative teams


Introductory Psychology Initiative Co-Chairs

SLOs and Assessment

American Psychological Association

Apa education directorate, apa committee on associate and baccalaureate education.

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Chapter 1. Introducing Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior . The word “psychology” comes from the Greek words “psyche,” meaning life , and “logos,” meaning explanation . Psychology is a popular major for students, a popular topic in the public media, and a part of our everyday lives. Television shows such as Dr. Phil feature psychologists who provide personal advice to those with personal or family difficulties. Crime dramas such as CSI , Lie to Me , and others feature the work of forensic psychologists who use psychological principles to help solve crimes. And many people have direct knowledge about psychology because they have visited psychologists, for instance, school counselors, family therapists, and religious, marriage, or bereavement counselors.

Because we are frequently exposed to the work of psychologists in our everyday lives, we all have an idea about what psychology is and what psychologists do. In many ways I am sure that your conceptions are correct. Psychologists do work in forensic fields, and they do provide counseling and therapy for people in distress. But there are hundreds of thousands of psychologists in the world, and most of them work in other places, doing work that you are probably not aware of.

Most psychologists work in research laboratories, hospitals, and other field settings where they study the behavior of humans and animals. For instance, my colleagues in the Psychology Department at the University of Maryland study such diverse topics as anxiety in children, the interpretation of dreams, the effects of caffeine on thinking, how birds recognize each other, how praying mantises hear, how people from different cultures react differently in negotiation, and the factors that lead people to engage in terrorism. Other psychologists study such topics as alcohol and drug addiction, memory, emotion, hypnosis, love, what makes people aggressive or helpful, and the psychologies of politics, prejudice, culture, and religion. Psychologists also work in schools and businesses, and they use a variety of methods, including observation, questionnaires, interviews, and laboratory studies, to help them understand behavior.

This chapter provides an introduction to the broad field of psychology and the many approaches that psychologists take to understanding human behavior. We will consider how psychologists conduct scientific research, with an overview of some of the most important approaches used and topics studied by psychologists, and also consider the variety of fields in which psychologists work and the careers that are available to people with psychology degrees. I expect that you may find that at least some of your preconceptions about psychology will be challenged and changed, and you will learn that psychology is a field that will provide you with new ways of thinking about your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

This collage contains pictures of a man doing a handstand on a beach, a man playing guitar with two friends, two men having a conversation, two women smoking at a table, and two old men and a woman sitting on the side of a building.

Psychology is in part the study of behavior. Why do you think these people are behaving the way they are?

Introduction to Psychology by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Chapter 8: Learning

Exercises: Read & Learn

Exercises: Watch & Learn

Consumer Behaviour: A Primer  : A brief overview of schedules of reinforcement with examples.

Video 8.1:  Consumer Behaviour: A Primer ( uploaded by Gail Tom.

Learning Negative Reinforcement vs. Punishment  provides a clear description of the difference between negative reinforcement and punishment.

Video 8.2 : Learning Negative Reinforcement vs. Punishment ( uploaded by ByPass Publishing.

Crash Course in Psycholocy #12  is an animated look at Bandura’s bobo doll study.

Video 8.3 : The Bobo Beatdown; Crash Course Psychology #12 ( uploaded by CrashCourse.

Confused Conditioning: Classical and Operant : This video outlines the difference between classical and operant conditioning.

Video 8.4:  Confused conditioning: Classical and operant by Jeffrey Stowell ( uploaded by American Psychological Association.

Exercises: Watch & think

Two short videos, the first showing how to use operant conditioning to train a rat to play basketball, and the second showing a rat basketball game!

Video 8.5: Rat Basketball Tutorial, ( uploaded by natasebem.

Video 8-6:  Rats Playing Basketball (championship game) ( uploaded by Richmond Times-Dispach.

Exercises: Do & Think

Video 8-7:  Forget Big Change, Start with a Tiny Habit ( uploaded by BJ Fogg at TEDtalks.

2. Or perhaps you’d rather change your pet’s behaviour?  There are numerous programs showing how to use operant conditioning principles to teach a dog some tricks …. but here’s what you can do with a goldfish – How To Play With a Goldfish!  (

3. If you enjoy playing video games pick a favourite game and see if you can identify the ways in which the developers use reinforcement to encourage you to keep playing.  Can you think of some ways in which a teacher could use the same tactics to encourage students to study more?

4. Clearly, some things are most easily learned via observation.  You should be able to demonstrate this by comparing how quickly two friends can perform the same task (building a small Lego model perhaps or drawing a specific pattern) if you let one of them see you performing the task but give the other one written instructions …… you will probably find it challenging to even produce written instructions which are sufficiently detailed!

American Psychological Association. (2012). Video game design and development. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2014, December 10).  Confusing conditioning: classical and operant.  [Video File]. Retrieved from

BBC iPlayer Radio. (2015, August 19).  BF Skinner and superstition in the pigeon.  Retrieved from

The British Psychological Society.  Research Digest. (2016).  Rats can be trained to perform search and rescue missions.  Retrieved from -search-and-rescue-missions/

ByPass Publishing. (2013, October 24).  Learning negative reinforcement vs. punishment [Video File]. Retrieved from

CBC News. (2017). Rats sniffing our landmines speed up process of a land mind free world. Retrieved from

CBC News. Marketplace. (2017).  ‘We’re designing minds’: Industry insider reveals secrets of addictive app trade. Retrieved from

Crash Course. (2014, April 28). The Bobo Beatdown – Crash Course Psychology #12 [Video File]. Retrieved from

GailTom1. (2011, September 2). Operant Conditioning: Schedules of Reinforcement  [Video File]. Retrieved from

How to play with a gold fish. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Natasebem. (2008, June 1). Rat basketball tutorial [Video File]. Retrieved from

Richmond Times. (2010, April 1). Rats playing basketball (championship game) [Video File]. Retrieved from

TedxTalks. (2012, December 5). Forget big change, start with a tiny habit: BJ Fogg at TEDxFremont [Video File]. Retrieved from

Introduction to Psychology Study Guide by Sarah Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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5 Activities

Exercises: Read & Learn

Exercises: Watch & Learn

Myths about Psychology, Debunked explores some of the enduring myths in psychology

Video 1.1:   10 Myths about Psychology, Debunked. ( Uploaded by Ben Ambridge for [email protected]

Nature vs. Nurture : For a clear introduction to the debate

Video 1.2: Nature vs. Nurture   ( ) uploaded by PsychU  

Exercises: Do & Think

American Psychological Association. (2018).  Science of Psychology. Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (2018).   Hindsight Bias in Psychology. Retrieved from

Etchells, P. (2017, February 20). Fake news and neurobabble: how do we critically assess what we read. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Gallego-Romero, I. (2017, April 11).   The battle between nature and nuture.  [Video file]. Retrieved from

Greer, M. (2005). When intuition misfires . Retrieved from

Jarrett, C. (2014, September 19). The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published. Retrieved from

Rathie, S. (2017, July, 20).  The power of framing: It’s not what you say, but how you say it. The Guardian . Retrieved from

Street, W. R. (2018).  A daily history of events in the history of psychology. Retrieved from ~warren/calendar/datepick.html

Introduction to Psychology Study Guide by Sarah Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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    The APA Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI) presents a focused look at the Introductory Psychology course given the ramifications that course learning outcomes, assessment and design could have for learning, general education, the major and the public face of psychology.

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    Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. The word “psychology” comes from the Greek words “psyche,” meaning life, and “logos,” meaning explanation. Psychology is a popular major for students, a popular topic in the public media, and a part of our everyday lives.

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