PSYCHOLOGY IN PUBLIC POLICY
Jean Liu, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Social Sciences Division and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School
A common critique of psychology education is that students who do not pursue graduate school leave college with disparate facts regarding human behaviour.
It is common for students who have taken 1-2 psychology courses (and even for those who have majored in psychology) to report having little recollection and practical usage of psychology content post-college. One problem is that psychology is usually taught as a basic science, and students don’t get enough experience applying psychology to optimise outcomes.
Based on these observations, I used the TIG to develop a “psychology in public policy” lab module in Semester 2 of AY 2016/2017. Using the TIG, I invited experts to convene at Yale-NUS for extensive discussions on creating a new syllabus from scratch. I hosted Dr Martin Day, formerly a professor at the Harvard Department of Psychology and now an Assistant Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland (Canada), to help design the syllabus of the course. He had previously taught a similar course, titled ‘How to Nudge’, at Harvard, and his time in Singapore was very productive. He also met with both economics and psychology students, and attended the capstone economics class with Dr Guillem.
Eventually, we designed a course that allow students to run real-life randomized trials where psychology principles are applied to resolve issues raised by local government (in the Singapore Town Councils).
The course is the only one of its kind in Singapore, and addresses the above need amongst college graduates of psychology to find ways to make the discipline of psychology applicable to their careers. In the class, students had the opportunity to test theoretical hypothesis, collect data through fieldwork and analyse the findings. The class aimed to equip students with the skills to apply psychology to policymaking. For their final presentation, the students also presented their findings to representatives from the various agencies such as the town councils and the Ministry of Water and Environment Resources. The presentations demonstrated the potential that behavioural insights had for future policy making by these stakeholders.
Students have shared that the experiential component of the class made the class material more interesting. In light of the positive response to the class by both students and external stakeholders, I will continue to teach this class with new opportunities. More government agencies have expressed an interest in what the students are doing, so future iterations of the class would hopefully offer a greater variety of projects.