Psychology is often a fascinating subject for high school students if teachers can connect the material in the text book to everyday human behavior. Allowing your class to conduct several supervised experiments throughout the year will keep them interested and engaged. Active learning aids comprehension and retention of complex psychological principles. Students also enjoy discussing the meaning and significance of their research findings.
The Stroop Effect
The Stroop effect is defined as the interference of the reaction time for certain tasks. One of the most widely known experiments used to demonstrate the Stroop effect is reading color names. On a sheet of paper, list five to 10 simple color names written in that actual color. For example, the word "red" would be written in red ink, and "black" in black ink. On another sheet of paper, write five to 10 simple color names in different colors. For example, write the word "red" in blue ink, and "green" in yellow ink. To demonstrate the Stroop effect, record the time it takes test subjects to recite the color of the words. The Stroop effect will show that it takes much longer for the brain to process colors when the ink color doesn't match that of the word.
This is a very simple experiment that can be conducted with the whole class at one time. Have students hypothesize and decide if they believe that color can have an effect on memory. Compose three different lists of 12 words each that are not mentioned regularly in conversation. Using an overhead projector, write the first list of 12 in black ink. Allow students to study the list for one minute and then attempt to recall all the words on the list. The second list will have 12 different words, 11 of them written in black ink and one in red. Have the students study the list for one minute and then attempt to recall all the words again. The last list will have six words written in black ink and six in red ink. Again, allow the students to study the words for one minute before being asked to recall them all. Use the students' recall lists to decide whether or not color had any bearing on their ability to recall the words.
Stereotyping and Prejudice
Cut out two pictures of female models from a magazine. Both models should have similar expressions on their faces, but one model should be very thin while the other is curvy and full figured. Divide the class by gender and give each student a questionnaire to answer about the models they just viewed. The questionnaire should ask questions such as: Which model is healthier? Which model looks happier? Which model is more attractive? Which is wealthier? Discuss the results with your class and decide if weight had any bearing on the students' perception of the models. You may want to modify the activity by instructing students to find plus-models in a typical magazine. Then discuss cultural notions of femle beauty.
Rules and Gender
This experiment will test whether gender has any bearing on adherence to instructions or rules. The activity will take a bit of preparation and should last for at least two days. Place a wooden or cardboard box in a high traffic area of the school, such as a main hallway or the cafeteria. Place a large sign near the box stating very clearly, "Do Not Open." Use a video camera to record the box and count how many times a student or teacher opens the lid. Discuss and record the results to decide whether gender plays a part in following instructions.