College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Department of Psychology

Liberal Arts Statement

The Department of Psychology endorses the core values of a liberal arts education, as articulated by Butler's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Core Values Statement, and is committed to fostering their expression within the department and throughout the university. Several of the core values are particularly relevant to the department's mission within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In the following sections, we quote those specific values from the statement and describe how they serve as the foundation of our didactic and scholarly endeavors.

"The liberal arts' basic and historic purpose is at once to teach us to think for ourselves…Liberal arts education is restless. It takes nothing for granted. It scrutinizes truths of every sort…. It teaches us to set out a case or hypothesis or argument; to evaluate the rigor of others' arguments".
From Introductory Psychology to our senior-level seminars, our courses are designed not just to transmit the knowledge and experiences necessary to pursue a career in psychology, but to instill the capacity to engage in critical thought. Although stimulating critical thinking can be accomplished in many ways, because we are a scientific discipline, we rely primarily on the teaching of the scientific method to achieve this goal. As part of this process, our students are taught how to use different theoretical perspectives to formulate empirically testable questions, learn how to apply different methodological approaches to the design of studies and data collection, receive training in the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, and acquire considerable experience in interpreting results and drawing appropriate conclusions. In short, starting in their very first psychology course, our majors learn how to carry out scientific research. As our students progress through the curriculum, they are repeatedly challenged to refine and hone their critical thinking in the context of the scientific process. Along the way, they not only develop their own ability to conduct empirical investigations, but also acquire the expertise to critique the investigations of others and to weigh the merits of others' claims from a scientific perspective. Throughout their undergraduate career, our students are encouraged to apply their critical thinking skills whenever they encounter new information, particularly when claims are made regarding the behavior, thinking and emotions of human beings, the primary subject matter of psychology.

"To undertake occupations useful to ourselves and others… to tackle and solve increasingly difficult and challenging problems…to foster in us compassion and respect for those whose lives we share in our own communities and around the world."
Although not all psychology majors pursue careers in counseling and clinical psychology, which focus on reducing psychopathology and emotional distress, the majority of our students seek such positions after graduation. Those who do not follow the clinical route typically pursue career paths that involve the application of psychological principles to solve problems in other fields, such as medicine, law, business, government and education. Although many of our students undertake the major with the eventual goal of entering into an occupation that involves helping others, becoming a psychology major means acquiring unique insights into the situational and dispositional forces that drive human behavior, thinking and emotion. Increased understanding of the universals underlying the human condition, in turn, tends to promote compassion for others and an increased sense of responsibility for the welfare of those both similar and dissimilar. In short, the study of psychology, by its very nature, not only provides students with knowledge that can be used to improve the well-being of others but also the desire to do so.

"To write clear, concise prose; to speak privately in conversation, publicly in discussion, and formally in speeches; to judge one's audience and regard one's own words through the eyes and ears of others; to learn proper ways of integrating and citing the words and thoughts of others into one's own work"
One of the most critical skills that a psychologist can possess is the ability to communicate effectively. Psychology majors are constantly required to hone their oral and written communication skills through a variety of mechanisms. Most coursework, especially our upper-level classes, emphasize written papers and oral presentations of highly sophisticated material. Many psychology majors also present research at local and national level conferences, which provides valuable experience relevant to the dissemination of scientific findings. Moreover, because psychology often operates in conjunction with and at the intersection of other disciplines, our students must also become adept in communicating our discipline's principles and theories to others with little or no understanding of psychology. This requirement, while challenging, serves to help our majors adopt the perspective of others and further refines their communication skills.

"As students of the liberal arts, we do these things as part of a community with venerable roots; a community still evolving in space and time; a community of thought, imagination, value, labor, and action."
Finally, as a department, we strive to convey to our students the role that psychology plays in the larger liberal arts community. Because psychology is a relatively young science, having only recently passed the century mark, we tend to emphasize our connections to the disciplines from which we emerged, biology and philosophy, as well as the more recent connections we have forged with medicine, public health, education, political science, religion, business, communications, mathematics, economics, anthropology, computer science, and sociology, among others. Modern psychology often draws inspiration from these fields. The investigations we undertake as a result not only advance psychological science, but provide empirically derived insights that benefit any discipline where behavior, cognition or affect is a target of inquiry. By consistently emphasizing the many ways in which psychology intersects with the liberal arts, we hope to foster in our students an appreciation of the greater scholarly community to which we all belong, to which we all contribute and from which we all benefit.