The Term Paper

The term paper in this class will involve the application of social psychological principles to a real-world problem. The paper will follow what some people describe as a "convergent" research style. In this approach, multiple ideas, theories, research findings, etc. are used to explain one set of phenomena. The paper must focus on social psychology in the American tradition. Personality psychology is closely linked to social psychology, so personality concepts can be employed; however, a paper that focuses completely on personality would not be appropriate.

For example, how do we explain the Holocaust using psychological social psychology? Several social influence theories could be used to explain the obedience of the thousands of Germans who participated in the event. Helping theory might be used to understand the cases in which people helped rather than hurt the victims. The many theories of prejudice could be used to understand the development and persistence of anti-semitism in Central Europe. Attitude theory could look at the relationship between anti-semitic attitudes and actual behaviors.

Both current and historical problems can be used as the focus of the paper. The problem of choice should not be one that has been treated in the textbook. For example, the text has some material on "helping in emergences" in which this type of analysis has been done already.

Your task is to:

1. Identify a social problem or event that seems open to social psychological analysis.

2. Use the text as a starting point to identify social psychology ideas that can be applied.

3. Look for journal articles on the issue of interest in order to (a) learn more about the issue and (b) see how others have tried to explain it

4. Look for journal articles that seem to have used social psychological ideas to explain the phenomenon.

5. Write a really brilliant paper that carries out the analysis.

The paper should include a clear description of the problem, and then should analyze it in a carefully organized manner. It is important to show how the social psych ideas apply appropriately.


The body of the paper should be about 2000 words, as counted by the word count tool in your word processor."Body" refers to the main text, excluding title pages, absract, and references. This is the standard for all undergraduate term papers in the School of Psychology.

You should include 5 or more references from primary source such as journal articles, chapters in books, and monographs. Textbooks may not be used as sources, but could be useful in getting started. Popular magazine articles (Newsweek) will not be counted, but can be used as sources if they are helpful. Internet sources may not be used, but you may use journals that are online, and online journals. (The former are paper journals that are not also available online; the latter are new journals only published online.)

The paper must be in APA format.

Turn in:

  1. A hard copy (printed copy) of the paper by the deadline
  2. A computer file that includes the entire paper
  3. A receipt indicating that you have submitted the paper to TurnItIn.

Forensic Psychology, Criminology, and Criminal Justice papers not allowed

Forensic psychology is a derivative of several fields inside and outside of psychology, including social psychology. Although many forensic psychology topics are close to socal psychology, for this class they will not be allowed as paper topics. You must stay within social psychology and topics covered in this class.

Question: Why 2000 words? What if I can write a good paper in 1000 words?

Answer: Social science topics do not have clear boundaries, and even if you define your topic very narrowly, it will have an enormous degree of depth that is far beyond the scope of an undergraduate term paper. Therefore, a 3000 word requirement allows you to have a sense of how far you need to go with the topic.

Question: How do I know if I have plagiarized my paper?

Answer:Please see the links to plagiarism policies, below. Generally anything you write must be in your own words, and anything that someone else has written must be in quotation marks with page numbers cited.

Plagiarism... very bad. Expect an "F" at best. Please see the following materials on plagiarism:

Statement on Plagiarism

Document on Plagiarism (PDF)

Please keep all of the articles, papers, and notes on which your term paper is based until the beginning of the following semester. You may need to produce these materials in case we challenge the authenticity of your paper. The burden of proof is on you to show that you wrote the paper, not on the faculty to prove that you did not.

Schedule: You must write a 200-word summary of your paper idea by the 12th week of classes so I can discuss the idea with you. I can give you references and suggestions.


The holocost (see above)
Israeli-Palestinian conflict (other other many conflicts)
Attitudes and voting behaviors concerning affirmative action, welfare
Purchasing habits
Effects of media on social behavior
Recycling and environmental-friendly behavior
Internet interaction, relationship development, cybersex
Interractial relationships
Social psych approaches to psychotherapy
Abortion attitudes
Authoritarian personality and political behavior
Conspicuous consumption in the 'burbs
Terrorism - causes, consequences

Social Psychology Main Page