The field of psychology can be defined as the scientific study of behavior, mental processes, and their physiological underpinnings.
The Psychological Science curriculum at Vassar is extraordinarily broad and deep, supported by a faculty whose areas of expertise encompass the full spectrum of academic psychology—cognition and perception, social and personality theory; developmental, experimental, behavioral, and clinical psychology, statistical methodology, and experimental design; health psychology; individual differences; cross-cultural psychology; sports psychology; and genetic and comparative psychology. Members of the department are also actively involved in the Program in Neuroscience and Behavior, an interdisciplinary program that applies the perspectives and research methodologies of biology and psychology to the study of the brain and behavior.
At all levels, students have opportunities to work closely with faculty on significant research. Some current areas of faculty research include positive emotions and coping, psychology in the law, brain development and behavior in adolescence, personality disorders and interpersonal processes, behavioral neuroendocrinology and gene expression, and knowledge and cognition in humans and artificial agents, to name a few.
About the Department
According to An Administrative History of Vassar College 1861–2003, the first classes on the subject of mental processes were offered by the Philosophy Department under the name “Mental Philosophy” beginning in 1865. Psychological Science became a department in its own right in 1911 under the guidance of Margaret Floy Washburn, the first professor of Psychological Science at Vassar, the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in psychology in the U.S., and also the first woman in the U.S. to establish a psychological laboratory. Over the course of her Vassar career (1903–1937), Washburn mentored 177 students and oversaw 69 published studies.
While the scope of the Psychological Science Department has increased exponentially since Washburn’s time, the department’s emphasis remains on scientific research and the methods by which it is carried out. The major is structured in such a way as to require students to become familiar with a variety of subfields within the discipline while also allowing opportunities to achieve depth and to conduct research in particular subareas.
The department is headquartered in New England Building, recently renovated from the studs out as part of the college’s Integrated Science Initiative. The newly designed space includes state-of-the-art laboratories for research in physiology, neurochemistry, and experimental learning, as well as an electrophysiology suite and observation/testing suites with sophisticated audio and video recording equipment for the study of personality and social behavior.