Psychology in the classroom

As a psychology teacher, it seems really easy to use the exact stuff we're learning to push or pull the class a certain way. Whether it's Operant Conditioning, Classical Conditioning, Social Imitation, or just Cognitive Dissonance, you use these psychological tenets to your advantage. Over the course of this piece, I'm going to attempt to highlight as many examples as I can. This will entail describing the context of the characteristic and then analyzing its purpose and relation to psych. 

bathroom policy in regards to conditioning and norms

As a psychology teacher, it seems really easy to use the exact stuff we're learning to push or pull the class a certain way. Whether it's Operant Conditioning, Classical Conditioning, Social Imitation, or just Cognitive Dissonance, you use these psychological tenets to your advantage. Over the course of this piece, I'm going to attempt to highlight as many examples as I can. This will entail describing the context of the characteristic and then analyzing its purpose and relation to psych.

There are certain psychological tenets that you use in your classroom. A lot of the characteristics of psychology we’ve learned is that it’s subconscious under the radar in the way that the people being influenced don’t even know it. I always think back to the second day of class and the ‘magical place’ bathroom speech. Right of the bat you classically conditioned the class with positive punishment in order to decrease the behavior of kids going to bathroom in the class. It worked for the most part, but there were still a few times people would go to the bathroom.

 To push it even further, every time someone went to the bathroom during class, you’d push the magical journey joke even more so classmates would sort of associate going to the bathroom with being made fun of (in a playful way). Overtime, less and less people went to the bathroom in the middle of class as compared to my other classes. This is pretty amazing to me because peer judgement and other natural ways of discouraging behavior are so much more powerful than unexcused absences or tardies. Rather than punish using concrete things like tardies, the opinion of  other’s is much more important to us in highschool. This idea could be used further in homework and other educational needs, as others opinions are so important to us in high school. If instead of getting a bad grade, students let group members down, I have a feeling there would be a stronger work ethic in education.

Amount of bathroom trips over a 15 day period

This is just a visual representation of the amount of bathroom trips over a 15 day period to support my claim that your strategy works.

Jokes in class and how it they apply to Classical Conditioning

Often in class there are moments where you display clear sarcasm in order to get a point across. Whether the moment is in relation to class material or not, the constant suggestion through jokes is basically classical conditioning. The benefit of a joke is that people gain a positive feeling after laughing, so anything you say involving a joke will have a positive connotation in a persons head. In each individual circumstance, it may seem like jokes are kind of light and meaningless, but overtime they start to create conditioned responses within students. 

For example:

"Yeah the modeling agency called last week, I gotta fly out and do a quick shoot for them"

Unconditioned Stimulus: Joke

Unconditioned response: Laugh/Enjoyment

Conditioned Stimulus: Joke

Conditioned Response: Eventually making the person truly believe what the joke was in reference to.

While we may not feel like this is true, classical conditioning is mostly a subconscious reaction. Regardless of whether you think you believe in the results of this stimulus, your behavior is going to change based on your new perceptions that were subconsciously conditioned. 

Another example of this is calling out certain classmates at certain scenarios, based on their relation the the scenario given. Even though I may not find certain un-named private kids snobby, the constant conditioning of private school kid -- forgot handout/on laptop/etc does actually effect my behavior whether I like it or not. 

These examples really highlight the power of classical conditioning. Often in psychology, if we know about the effects of a certain theory, then we can change our behavior. However, classical conditioning is based on subconscious responses and behavior, something we can't always control.

Mr. B's Homework Policy 

Over many journal entries, I've talked about importance of homework. However, in contrast to my opinions about it, homework is often looked at as I complete this assignment for this grade, and that's why I do it. Even though I think Mr. B's HW policy fulfills a good purpose from my point of view, I find that through poor operant conditioning and methods of punishment  it doesn't motivate constant completion. Here's why.

There are a couple aspects of effective punishment. Effective punishment is strong, consistent, inescapable, and immediate. From just a purely evaluation standpoint, the HW policy fails at a couple of these elements of punishment. As a result, the bad behavior and habits in students stay because they're not being decreased by the operant conditioning of punishment. For example, if a student hasn't done the HW, the can "share" it with you on googledocs, know that you won't actually check it, and then hand it in a day late for full credit. If there is going to be an extrinsic reward (the grade) for doing the work, then students will find methods like this rational and truthful even though they may be pretty deceitful and dishonest.

Personally, I don't find anything wrong with this. The decreased extrinsic motivational importance of homework as a result of the more laid back policy creates a more intrinsic motivation or enjoyment with material, something I find extremely beneficial. 

Another small psychology trick used in regards to homework is the raising of 95s to 100s. It's obvious that this is just positive reinforcement: Do all the homework and hand it in on time and you get an increased grade. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't actually do all that much for your letter grade. However, when the brain hears that nice 100, it gains a certain extrinsic motivation, but one that's stronger than most others. The strength of the motivation is correlated to the importance of the reward, and in this case, the reward feels like a very strong encouragement to do all of the homework. 

Social Norms in the Classroom

Through any social group, there come to be these social norms which implicitly imply how an individual is supposed to act given a situation. Based on the teacher and the classroom dynamic, nuanced social norms are often developed over the course of a class. Going back the bathroom example, it's almost the norm to stay the entire class and not go to the magical place because you associated going their with shame etc., causing people to subconsciously inhibit negative body language towards people who go to the bathroom. I wouldn't say this is a full on social norm in our classroom yet, but it definitely decreases the amount of people that go the bathroom. 

What's cool about social norms is that they are often more powerful than extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Often, we care more about what other people think/respond then we do about our own thoughts or an external reward. As a result, intangible methods of enforcement like the one you use for the bathroom are much stronger than a strict system like limited number of trips per quarter. To me, it's clear that we care more about how other peers perceive us than how the teacher identifies us, causing a change in behavior.

Psychelite as a Cult and a self fulfilling prophecy

Through many social studies classes, a certain group of students get very connected through constant studying and cooperative work. Last year, it felt like the Constitutional Law kids were in their own cult to the point of it being brought up in every conversation or discussion. However, these cults were not teacher induced, but created by the difficult subject-matter. In the case of psychology class, you create a cult through many layers of behavior. 

As mentioned before, the constant berating jokes about how psychology is better than all other social studies classes etc. conditions people to like it more over time and also creates a sef-fulfilling prophecy after the students inherently believe it is the best social studies class. It's hard to quantify, but the constant joking about the psychology clan really does lead to its creation. I'll list off a couple soft examples of this in relation to cults.

Milieu Control: Bathroom policy: must stay in the room and listen to our leader. Strict policy towards computers because they are a portal to the outside world. 

Mystical Manipulation:  Psychology is on another level of social studies because it truly applies to how we make decisions in our day to day life.

Confession: Public jokes about the tendencies of certain students, also Mr. B's group therapy sessions which inhibit student confession responses.

Aura of Sacred Science: Typically standard in all classrooms: what the teacher says, goes. 

Loaded Language: Again, jokes inhibiting responses through relatively funny behavior which includes loaded language. 

The effect of this is it creates a certain dynamic within the classroom between students and the teacher. Cults are so powerful because they are also very involuntary. Much of cult behavior is just the response to a given norm or idea within that distinct group, which defines what the cult is. Whether we realize it or not, we might be a part of several cults. I know for sure that CC Swim and Dive is a cult and they have no clue.

Concrete Examples of Psychology in the Classroom

Most of the stuff before this was more analysis based, so here are a couple concrete examples of psychology in the classroom.

Music playing at the beginning of class:  Much like casino's, operant conditioning. Instead of bell-food, bell-food, it's psych-music, psych-music, eventually causing a positive connotation for psych.

Reinforcement of Class Participation: I've noticed that you always encourage people to participate and when they do, comment on how great their point was regardless of it's validity, which is Skinner's favorite: positive reinforcement.


I'll add more as I think of them.


Through this analysis of our classroom and it's psychology, I've really understood that psychology is connected. While social norms may not be connected to  something random like the Asch experiment, most psychological theories are interconnected or work together with one another to produce a way of thinking about life. Social norms affect behavior and intrinsic motivation while being created by classical conditioning which is connected to behavioral psychology so on and so forth. While I'd like to map this out, the connections just too complicated to draw let alone conceptualize.

Even though I didn't get to do a couple experiments like I wanted to (these are going to take time), I'll work on them throughout next semester even though I'm not in senior psych and the class is full (hint hint, I have G off)

However, I have a separate proposition for you. If I can videotape myself memorizing a shuffled deck of cards successfully in an hour and write a 2-3 page paper describing how, can I skip the midterm?

Whenever you decide, shoot me an email at so I can work on the skills over break

Thanks for reading, and may the force be with you.