Social Psychology and Film

PSY392F Honors Only

Spring Semester 2006


Instructor: Professor Kipling Williams

Office: PSYC 2166
Phone: 494-0845
Class Meetings: Tuesdays, 6:00pm - 8:50pm in PRCE 277
Office hours: Thursdays, 9:30am - 12:00pm
or by appointment

Download Syllabus



Readings: Assigned readings can be downloaded from this page (see below).

Aims: In this course, we examine current cutting-edge theory and research in experimental social psychology and use popular (and some that are not so popular) films to assist in provoking thought and analysis of the theory and research. This course is different from most. I’m not interested in how well you remember material, but I am interested in how well you think and in how well you articulate your ideas.

Structure: Each week, readings (journal articles, chapters) will be assigned. We will view a film that has some conceptual relation to the reading topic. Your thought paper, due at 4pm the day before the class meeting, should be sent to me within an email. Your paper should support a thesis of your choice (I will be giving you advice as to how to write your papers). These papers can be no longer than 500 words in length. Late papers will not be accepted. You will receive feedback and a score for each paper (0-10) by class time, where we will discuss the papers and the film. New readings will be assigned, another film viewed, and so on. For a sample paper, click here.

Grading: I will grade each paper from 1 (not so good) to 10 (excellent). Although thirteen papers and films will be assigned, you are only required to write six of them. If you write seven or more papers, the six papers with the highest scores will be counted. Whether you write the paper or not, you are expected to read the assigned paper(s), view the film, and take part in the discussion. Class participation will be taken into account for borderline grades. Course marks will be based on the five papers (80%), and attendance/class participation (20%).

Purdue's standard grading policy will be used to assign final letter grades:

100 - 90%
89 - 80%
79 - 70%
69 - 60%
< 60%

Purdue Student Code of Honor: Know it and follow it. For your own sake, do your own work. Plagiarism is a serious offense, and is easily detectable with the advent of search engines. Here is a useful website to understand the definition and issues surrounding plagiarism:

Exemptions: Some films contain nudity, offensive language, and/or violence. If you feel that a selected film is personally objectionable, then please see me about selecting an alternative film (and you can view this on your own).


Date Reading Film
Jan 10 Organizational meeting  
Jan 17

MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. (2003). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and somatic pain. Psychological Bulletin.

Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302, 290-292.

ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990) C-158m. D: Jane Campion. A: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, Iris Churn.
Jan 24
No class
No class
Jan 31 Florian, V., Mikulincer, M., & Hirschberger, G. (2002). The anxiety-buffering function of close relationships: Evidence that relationship commitment acts as a terror management mechanism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 527-542. AI (ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE) (2001) C-145m. D: Steven Spielberg. A: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, William Hurt
Feb 7

Greenwald, A. G. (1980). The totalitarian ego. American Psychologist, 35, 603-618.

RASHOMON (1950) B/W-85m. D: Akira Kurosawa. A: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura
Feb 14 Snyder, M., & Stukas, A. A. (1999). Interpersonal processes: The interplay of cognitive, motivational, and behavioral activities in social interaction. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 273-303. BEING THERE (1979) C-130m. D: Hal Ashby. A: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden
Feb 21 Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (2002). Self and social identity. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 161-186. EUROPA EUROPA (1990) C-112m. D: Agnieszka Hollan. A: Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, René Hofschneider.
Feb 28 Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. Maxims or myths of beauty? Meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 390-423. SHREK (2001) C-88m. D: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson. V: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Mar 7 Penner, L.A., Dovidio, J.F., Piliavin, J.A., & Schroeder, D.A. (2005). Prosocial behavior: Multilevel perspectives. Annual Review of Psychology. HOTEL RWANDA (2004) C-121m. D: Terry George. A: Don Cheadle, Nick Nolte, Xolan Mali, Desmond Dube, Hakeem Kae-Kasim, Fana Mokoena.
Mar 14
Spring Break
Mar 21 Hewstone, M., Rubin, M., & Willis, H. (2002). Intergroup bias. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 575-604. AUSTRALIAN RULES (2002) C-95m. D: Paul Goldman. A: Nathan Phillips, Luke Carroll, Lisa Flanagan, Tom Budge
Mar 28 Steele, C. (1997). A threat is in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613-629. THE BELIEVER (2002) C-98m. D: Henry Bean. A: Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Billy Zane, Theresa Russell
Apr 4 Dovidio, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (2004). Aversive racism. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol.36 (pp. 4-56). NY: Academic Press. CRASH: (2004) C-122m. D: Paul Haggis. A: Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser.
Apr 11 Wood, W. (2000). Attitude change: Persuasion and social influence. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 529-570. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957) B/W-95m. D: Sidney Lumet. A: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb.
Apr 18 Fitness, J. (2001). Betrayal, rejection, revenge, and forgiveness. In M. R. Leary (Ed.), Interpersonal rejection (pp. 73-104). LANTANA (2001) C/B&W-121m. D: Ray Lawrence. A: Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong
Apr 25 Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27-51. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE 1975) C-125m. D: Michael Moore. (Documentary) A. Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Matt Stone.


How to Write Your 500 Word Thought Papers

I realize that 500 words may seem unreasonably restricting to you, preventing you from adequately expressing your ideas. In scientific journals, psychology included, writing is necessarily concise. Specific page restrictions are enforced. Redundancy, flowery writing, and ambiguity are to be edited out. This is a difficult exercise. Your first draft for each paper will probably be 3-4 pages long. (if, on the other hand, you’re having a difficult time coming up with 500 words, then you may not be putting enough thought into your ‘thought’ papers).

You will then go through a thorough editing stage. Ask yourself these questions: Is this sentence necessary? Is this word necessary? Can I combine these two sentences? Am I straying from my main thesis?

  1. State your thesis early and explicitly. Underline it, so I know where it is (or put it in ALL CAPS).

  2. Do not settle for a wishy-washy thesis. Be brave enough to take a stance and argue for it. Avoid the obvious (i.e., this movie is a perfect example of this phenomenon). I am looking for clever insights.

  3. Select a thesis with a narrow focus. It should be in some way an extention of the reading (not the movie). Critically analyze the reading. Take issue with the theory, the generalizations, or the way the idea was tested. Use the movie to help come up with your idea or to help illustrate your point.

  4. Do not necessarily select a thesis that is the central focus of the movie or the reading. It could be a tangential issue that piqued your interest.

  5. Support your thesis with persuasive arguments based upon examples from the reading and the movie.

  6. Use each paragraph to make a point that will provide strength to your thesis. The point should be clear and the paragraph should be organized around it.

  7. Avoid quotes, especially long ones.

  8. Define important or esoteric terms. Do not assume I know what you are talking about.

  9. Remember that spelling, grammar, sentence structure and organization ARE important and figure into the grading.

  10. Do not end your paper with a platitude.

Other tips:
Some students need an introductory sentence or two to get the ball rolling, but these sentences can often be discarded before submitting the final draft.

Often students talk about more than one thesis, which always results in a lower grade. There is not enough space to write and defend more than one thesis within the 500-word limit. Choose your most provocative and well-argued thesis, and use the entire paper to elaborate upon it.

I cut-and-paste your paper into a word document, and the first thing I do is get a word count. If your paper is over 500 words, I stop reading after I reach the 500th word. Seriously. So, you should do a word count before submitting it., and make sure it is no more than 500 words.

Ideally, your paper will lead me to generate a testable hypothesis. Keep that goal in mind. If you have room, suggest one yourself.


Social Loafing Meta-Analysis paper (Karau & Williams, 1993)

Williams & Sommer PSPB 1997 Social Ostracism paper


Cyberball Finger