Eaton, J. and Uskul, Ayse K.
Using The Simpsons to teach social psychology.
Teaching of Psychology, 31
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We examined students' perceptions of the effectiveness of clips from the popular animated television show The Simpsons in illustrating key concepts in social psychology. Students rated the clips favorably and reported that the clips helped them understand the material better and apply social psychological concepts to real-life situations. In addition, students' exam performance was significantly better on clip-related questions than nonclip-related questions. These find-ings suggest that television clips can facilitate the learning process. Many instructors have found that showing all or part of popular films during class can increase student learning, in-terest, and enjoyment of key concepts by helping them make the connection between abstract theories and real-world ex-amples (e.g., Badura, 2002; Boyatzis, 1994; Gee & Dyck, 1998; Kirsh, 1998; Raingruber, 2003; Roskos-Ewoldsen & Roskos-Ewoldsen, 2001). One disadvantage of using fea-ture-length films is that they take up a significant amount of class time (Roskos-Ewoldsen & Roskos-Ewoldsen, 2001). An alternative to showing feature-length films is to use parts of a single television series to illustrate various key con-cepts throughout the course. In our undergraduate social psy-chology course, we showed clips from the animated television series The Simpsons to illustrate key social psychological con-cepts. We chose this particular cartoon for several reasons. First, we predicted that many students would be familiar with the show, which has been on television since 1989 and is also in syndication. Even if they did not watch the show, it was likely that students would be familiar with the characters and premise. We hoped this familiarity would decrease the set-up time for individual clips. Second, we expected that students had not thought about this particular show in an academic or critical way before. By examining social psychological concepts in novel ways, we hoped to increase students' learning (Kirsh, 1998; Mathis & Tanner, 1991). Third, the cartoon provides a humorous look at various social situations. We hoped that the clips would make students laugh and have fun while helping them see the concepts depicted in more-or-less realistic situations. Research has shown that students respond to cartoon humor in a generally positive way (Lowis, 2002). In addition, the research on mood and learning suggests that positive moods are positively associated with cer-tain kinds of learning (e.g., Ashby, Isen, & Turken, 1999; Fiedler, Nickel, Asbeck, & Pagel, 2003). After identifying clips from the second season of The Simpsons (Groening, 2002; available on DVD) that could effectively illustrate key social psychological concepts (a complete list of which is available from the authors), we selected five of the most appropriate to show in class: one general clip depicting many different possible social psychological phenomena to present on the first day of class to generate discussion and four depicting specific concepts to present throughout the course (see Table 1). The length of each clip ranged from approximately 4 to 7 min. We were careful not to have clips from The Simpsons every class, partly because we did not want to overuse the technique and partly because we wanted to show other films and film clips. During the first lecture, we told students that they were to watch a short video clip and their task was to identify any possible social psychological phenomena in the clip.
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