Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

How Beliefs Create Reality

Please note: As of 2/14/22, PSYCH 20N fulfills WAY-SI.

This seminar will take an interdisciplinary approach to exploring how subjective aspects of the mind can fundamentally change objective reality. Over the course of the quarter, you will be challenged to think critically about research from psychology, sociology, and medicine, which suggests that what we think, believe, and expect plays a significant role in determining our physical health, performance, and well-being. We will explore research on how mindsets about nutrition, exercise, and stress can alter the body's response to those phenomena. We will also uncover how social interactions with friends, family, colleagues, and the media influence the perceived quality and impact of art, music, and fashion. And you will learn about the neurological and physiological underpinnings of the placebo effect, a powerful demonstration of expectation that produces real, healing changes in the body. Finally, you'll have the opportunity to consider real world applications in disciplines including policy, business, medicine, academics, athletics, and public health, and the ethical implications of those applications. Throughout the seminar what's crucial is that you participate actively and keep an open mind. The final weeks of class will be dedicated to studies or interventions designed by you and aimed to further explore the course material.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Alia Crum

Alia Crum is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. Her research focuses on how changes in subjective mindsets—the lenses through which information is perceived, organized, and interpreted—can alter objective reality through behavioral, psychological, and physiological mechanisms. She received her B.A. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. from Yale University and completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia Business School. To date, her research has won several awards including the National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award and publicity in several popular media including the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and in the New York Times Magazine's 2007 Year in Ideas.