Psychology course in college. (Illustration by Eri Iguchi, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

Why You Should Take Psychology Courses in College

Even if it's not your field of study, taking one of these classes will help you gain a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.
January 7, 2021
6 mins read

Well-known psychologist Sigmund Freud once said, “We are what we are because we have been what we have been, and what is needed for solving the problems of human life and motives is not moral estimates but more knowledge.” In this statement, Freud pinpoints the significance of psychology in unraveling the mysteries of the mind and solving issues in the human world.

Psychologists study the conscious and subconscious dynamics that influence individuals and society as a whole. As a psychology student myself, I believe my studies in psychology tremendously benefit my understanding in nearly all of the other classes I have taken in college, including courses in economics, humanities, art, music and even physical education. As one of the most commonly offered areas of study at most colleges, I feel it should be one of the core or even prerequisite classes for any further studies in other disciplines.

Knowledge of psychological theories and methodology can help students form a solid foundation for approaching all other subjects. Psychology as a discipline provides a lens through which we can examine the intricacies of ourselves and our environment.

One of the key assumptions of economics is that people are rational in the sense that individuals tend to act in ways that will maximize practical outcomes. Studies in psychology guide us to see more clearly why the absolute ratio emerges and lasts. Once we better understand this underlying assumption that can be explained by psychology, we can absorb the economic theory more efficiently and organically.

Furthermore, psychology is an indispensable component to achieving a holistic understanding of the economic world. The absolute ratio hypothesized by economists does not seem to hold up in the human world because people, under most circumstances, are irrational and have more values to care about beyond mere pragmatism. If humans were perfectly rational, some hotly debated topics such as environmental, social and corporate governance factors wouldn’t be issues in the first place.

You may argue that all of these human values beyond practicality still do not deviate from the fundamental assumptions of economics because they ultimately serve the “absolute ratio” of human beings. However, how could we know whether or not they ultimately serve the “absolute ratio” without understanding which psychological forces are at play?

By studying psychology, you can accelerate your learning process, as psychology hands you the secrets behind the learning mechanisms of our bodies and brains. It is no secret that they are the most critical channels to receive external stimuli and facilitate the learning process. This knowledge could substantially benefit our studying efficiency by informing us of the ways in which our bodies and brains work, thereby helping us to strategize our optimal study plan.

For example, I learned from my psychology of learning course that there are two thinking patterns for learning: focused thinking and diffuse thinking. When I am effortfully solving a quantitative problem, focused thinking is activated and my prefrontal cortex is powering the process. On the other hand, if I were to get stuck, I could enhance my problem-solving efficiency by relaxing, walking around and activating a diffuse pattern of thinking instead.

Since diffuse thinking patterns are enabled and governed by other parts of my brain, these different areas would act as my tired prefrontal cortex’s teammates and solve the issues that it left behind. With this knowledge in mind, I find it easier to create the most optimal study strategies for myself and optimize the efficiency of my brain.

Having an understanding of psychology can also enable each of us to master our emotional experiences and to live highly fulfilling lives. Psychology can guide us in learning about the fundamentals of the emotional constructs in our lives, such as stress, curiosity and anger. It can help us to identify the pros and cons of these emotions and learn how to better cope with them in order to maximize our life satisfaction.

The experience of being a college student can be overwhelming; it involves a complex transition process from adolescence to adulthood, which takes — but also cultivates — a tremendous amount of maturity. The principles we learn from psychology could substantially benefit the monitoring process of our emotions.

For example, after taking a course in psychology, students will understand the elevating effect that exercise and meditation can have on mood and will be more motivated to keep similar healthy habits in their lives.

These routines will help students stay emotionally balanced and academically successful. Emotions are largely determined by our biological mechanisms; therefore, understanding these mechanisms would greatly help each of us eliminate the undesirable influences of some likely temporary negative emotions so that we can find and maintain a more positive outlook on life.

Furthermore, psychology facilitates our understanding of ourselves and our needs in life. Author Gilbert K. Chesterton once said, “One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.” Psychology helps us zoom in on the “self” deeply submerged in our subconsciousness — how it develops, why it exists and where it wants to go.

Beyond any practical value, the journey of self-discovery is already satisfying in and of itself. Without doing sufficient work toward self-exploration and self-awareness as first steps, it may be hard for a person to achieve self-actualization. Achieving a state of self-actualization, as described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is to achieve the highest level of psychological development, in which one’s full personal potential is realized.

Last but certainly not least, through my study of psychology in college, I learned about the importance of gratitude. Simply by “counting our blessings” and cultivating gratitude, we can decrease the level of cortisol in our bodies and our stress levels. Thanks to psychology, as I began to actively practice gratitude, I marveled at the magic of genuine passion and its ability to fuel my mood, increase my work efficiency and heighten my overall life satisfaction.

With my knowledge of psychology, I have gradually begun to see my own complex “self” come to light: my dreams, my demands, my struggles, my uniqueness, my values and — most importantly — the understanding of myself.

Benjamin Chen, Columbia University

Writer Profile

Xiaobin (Benjamin) Chen

Columbia University
Economics and Psychology

Benjamin Chen is an economics and psychology student at Columbia University. He is always motivated to innovate and change the world for the better. He is driven and guided by values, principles and love.

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