Psychology Comps (Class of 2019)

Comps Objectives

The psychology department integrative exercise (“comps”) is designed to provide psychology majors with a capstone experience to their psychology coursework. Students graduating with a degree in psychology have the opportunity to demonstrate and apply their mastery of content and skills they have acquired in the psychology curriculum through independent work during their senior year.

Capstone Seminars

During the fall term of the senior year, students enroll in a capstone seminar (PSYC399, 6 credits). The seminars focus on a current hot topic in psychology or around the work of a particular psychology researcher. Throughout the seminar, students read and discuss primary literature related to the theme(s) of the course. As part of the course, students submit a critical analysis of a set of primary sources related to a topic in the course (approx. 15-20 pages). In addition, students should have a concrete plan for expanding and revising their paper. Capstone professors give feedback to students about their writing, the content of their critical analysis, and the scope and feasibility of proposed future directions throughout the fall term.

Students will register for one of three capstone seminars (most years) via the regular registration process. [Note: the OCS Prague cross-cultural psychopathology seminar counts as a capstone seminar for seniors on the program.]

Capstone Seminar Descriptions (2018-2019)

Psychology 399.01

Human Aggression

This capstone seminar will explore multiple facets of human aggression, including violence against individuals, group violence, and emotional/relational aggression, among others.  We will consider biological, psychological, and cultural dimensions of this topic.  As part of this course, students will submit a substantial paper covering a specific question within the broad domain of human aggression.


Psychology and Social Media

This capstone seminar will investigate the myriad ways in which human behavior is affected by electronic communication and social media.   We will consider answers to the following questions through reading primary research and discussion: How do people communicate differently via electronic means?  Does always being electronically connected to others affect our attention, memory, and decision-making?  How is social media used to persuade?  How can mental health be impacted by social media?  Students will submit a substantial paper addressing a related research question about the intersection of psychology and social media.

Psychology 399.03 The Replication Issue in Psychological Research

This capstone seminar will review and consider contemporary discussions of the need for rigorous replications of major findings in psychological research. We will read about the “replication crisis” in psychology and other sciences, and about proposed and active responses to this situation. Seminar members will then take a major individual research finding in psychology of interest to them, trace how that finding has been cited in other sources, and evaluate how sound the research foundation is for the finding. Students will each submit a substantial paper reviewing the literature on their chosen finding in light of replicability discussions and standards.


The Comps Paper

In the winter term, students enroll in the integrative exercise (PSYC400, 3 credits). During this term, students independently revise and extend the fall term paper, integrating the feedback from their faculty advisor. Based on this work, students submit a final comps paper (approx. 15-20 pages) that makes original contributions to the field of psychology through critiquing existing psychology primary sources, applying empirically-supported psychological theories to new questions, generating potential applied guidelines, and/or proposing new theories or empirical studies based on published theories and empirical research. Final comps papers will be due by midterm Winter term.

This work is also presented at a psychology conference, either on or off campus (e.g., SuperFriday, MUPC, MidBrains, or a national conference).


Students wishing to complete an alternative comps project (e.g., empirical research project, service learning project) need to demonstrate independence and background knowledge in the suggested research area and must have faculty support for the project. They must submit a petition (2-3 pages, double-spaced) to the department chair by the end of the second week of spring term of junior year. The petition should include a written proposal for the proposed comps project, a proposed timeline for the project with deadlines, and a description of the format for the final scholarly product. We recommend conferring closely with a potential faculty advisor(s) when conceiving and writing the proposal.

Petitions will only be approved if they meet the following criteria:

  1. enthusiastic faculty support for the project;
  2. student knowledge of relevant background theories and research, sufficient for the student to independently proceed with additional exploration;
  3. student familiarity with proposed research methods, either through literature or first-hand experience;
  4. a demonstrated history of independent work and motivation;
  5. strong writing ability, and
  6. the research proposal is well-grounded in existing psychological theories and literature.