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Minor Questions about Research Methods.

The academic major was born in the late 1800's and became a requirement at many American colleges and universities by the early 1900's, as a system that balanced concentrated and distributed learning overtook a largely elective system that preceded it (Rudolph, 1977). Introduced at about that same time, academic minors provided focused study without the same depth as the chosen major. On some campuses (fewer than one in four), the minor has since risen to a requirement while remaining an option on many campuses--and entirely absent on others (Rudolph, 1977).

After more than a century, relatively little scholarship has examined the minor. Many histories of higher education devote no attention to the topic, and research related to academic minors is uncommon. Stache, Perlman, McCann, and McFadden (1994) collected surveys from nearly 300 hundred departments that offer a psychology minor program. From their survey findings, they made recommendations on program structures, the need for stated values and goals, how to address enrollment issues, and the need for assessment on what values/skills students seek from a minor in psychology. Despite this comprehensive assessment of the current standing of psychology minor programs, academicians and researchers have since seemed unmoved. Instead, the past two decades have been remarkable for the new attention and energy devoted to the undergraduate major in psychology.

The psychology major is one the most sought-after major programs in American higher education; in the most recent academic year for which statistics are available, 2014-2015, 117,600 bachelor's degrees were awarded in psychology (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). Still, until recently, the American Psychological Association (APA) devoted most of its evaluative efforts and guidance to post-baccalaureate programs. APA work related to undergraduate programs had been "inconsistent and uncoordinated over the years" (Norcross, Hailstorks, Aiken, Pfund, Stamm, & Christidis, 2016, p. 90). That appears to be changing, as twice in the last decade, the APA has published Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (APA, 2007, 2013). These guidelines, however, provide only a singular, passing mention of the minor.

Reporting on the Undergraduate Study in Psychology, which is a large-scale initiative to establish a database on undergraduate curricula and outcomes, Norcross et al. (2016) provided the most up-to-date, though limited, overview of the psychology minor. They found that the vast majority of undergraduate departments of psychology offer a minor, typically comprising approximately eighteen credit hours. Decades earlier, Stache et al. (1994) found that among psychology minor programs at that time, 20% required statistics and 18% required research methods. It is unclear why some minor programs have a research-focus, while many do not. Their data led them to conclude that "we suspect that few departments have ever defined their goals for the minor" (p.72).

The purported neglect of developing goals for the minor runs counter to the APA's guidance:

"Current best practices in higher education rely on setting clear expectations for student learning, aligning curricula with these expectations, assessing student attainment, and using assessment results to effect changes that promote more efficient and effective student learning." (APA, 2013, p. 102)

The purpose of the current pair of studies was to 1) estimate the extent to which psychology minor programs currently have easily ascertained goals and 2) to assess the perspectives of students and faculty regarding a research-focused versus interpersonal-focused psychology minor.



The fifty flagship state universities were assessed to determine whether a minor in psychology was offered. The College Board defines flagship universities as being "... the best-known institutions in the state, were generally the first to be established, and are frequently the largest and most selective, as well as the most research-intensive public universities." The universities have an average of 24,272 (SD=12,786) undergraduate students with an average psychology program size of 1049 (SD=442) students. Two independent observers gathered information about the universities and their respective psychology programs via their official websites when available, otherwise by directly contacting the programs. The observers shared 100% consensus for all information gathered.

Each psychology program website was analyzed to determine if the program offered a minor in psychology. If a minor was offered, we collected general information about the minor requirements, specifically if the minor had a research methods and/or lab requirement. In addition, each website was assessed to determine if any minor program goals or outcomes were provided on any of its pages. If a minor and/or requirements could not be located on the psychology program website, the program was contacted directly to obtain the missing information. In each of these instances, the program did not offer a minor in psychology. Because the focus of the project was on the public availability of minor program goals and outcomes on program websites, we did not directly contact programs concerning whether their minor programs had any official corresponding goals or outcomes.


Of the fifty flagship universities, 80% (40) offered a minor in psychology. This closely corresponds to the findings by Norcross et al (2016), who reported that 86% of the schools within their sample offered a minor in psychology. Within our sample, of those 40 schools that offer a minor, 47.5% (19) had a research methods course or laboratory course requirement. Only one of the universities had a corresponding lab component to their research methods course. Learning goals or expected outcomes could not be located for any school's minor in psychology program. However, given that our data are limited to the online material that could be easily accessed by students, it is possible that goals exist for some minor programs that have chosen not to publicly present them.



The final sample included 97 undergraduate students (64 identifying as female and 33 identifying as male) completing an introductory psychology class at a university in the upper-Midwestern United States and 40 psychology faculty (26 identifying as female and 14 identifying as male) from universities around the state of Wisconsin. The mean age of the students was 21.02 years (SD = 4.59), and the median college teaching experience for the faculty was 12 years. Participants provided informed consent and all were knowledgeable of the purpose and details of the experiment.

Data were gathered via an online experience (programmed in Qualtrics) that included an evaluation of a "proposed academic minor," features of which were experimentally manipulated. Specifically, participants were asked to review a set of learning goals and curriculum requirements of a proposed minor. Participants were shown only one set of learning goals that was randomly paired with a program requirements list that featured either "Research Methods in Psychology" or "Psychology of Adjustment" as the title for PSYC 230.

For each participant, one of two versions of the learning goals was randomly paired with one of two versions of the curriculum requirements to produce the "proposed minor." The Learning Goals were either research-focused or interpersonal-focused, and the curriculum was listed with and without research methods required. Example stimuli of the proposed minors are shown in Figure 1.

Participants evaluated features of the proposed minor via singular scale items related to attractiveness and difficulty. Using a scale from 1 ("Strongly Disagree") to 5 ("Strongly Agree"), participants responded to a statement related to attractiveness ("If I had the opportunity, I would seriously consider taking this proposed minor as an undergraduate student") and a statement related to difficulty ("This proposed minor looks like it would be harder than most minors").

All participants in the final sample passed a validity check related to knowledge of the proposed curriculum. Participants were asked to identify "Which of the following courses was NOT one of the required courses for the proposed minor you just examined?" and "Which of the following was NOT one of the learning goals for the proposed minor you just examined?" Participants who responded incorrectly or chose "I don't know" for either question were considered to have not passed the validity check.


Students. Random assignment produced four groups of students, not differing significantly in age (F (3, 93) = .86, p = .47) or GPA (F (3, 93) = .40, p = .76). Two 2 X 2 ANOVA's were performed with Program Goals (Research-Focused and Interpersonal-Focused) and Curriculum (With Research Methods and Without Research Methods) as factors. Main effects for Program Goals and interactions were nonsignificant, but significant main effects emerged for the Curriculum factor in one analysis. A curriculum without research methods was perceived as being a more attractive personal choice for a minor (F (1, 93) = 6.64, p< .01, n2 = .07) but was not perceived as a significantly more or less difficult minor (F (1, 93) = .42, p = .52).

Faculty. Results for the faculty members, who were similarly randomly assigned to the 2 x 2 conditions, were the opposite of the results from the students. Significant main effects emerged for the Curriculum factor, such that a curriculum with research methods was perceived as being a more attractive personal choice for a minor (F (1, 36) = 6.72, p< .02, [[eta].sup.2] = .15) but was not perceived as a significantly more or less difficult minor (F (1, 36) = 1.64, p = .21).


An absence of guidance and dearth of research leaves unanswered many questions about the academic minor in psychology. The APA's guidelines for undergraduate education mention the minor in one sentence, mistakenly suggesting an equivalence between the minor and an associate's degree with an emphasis in psychology (in fact, the associates degree, unlike the minor, includes only lower-level courses). Stache et al. (1994) surveyed psychology departments and found no evidence of goal-driven, purposefully-assessed, and regularly reviewed minor curricula. In the more recent broad survey of departments (Norcross et al., 2016), only the prevalence and size of the minor was addressed. The purpose and nature of minors in general are so vague that educational historian John R. Thelin concluded that academic minors are "premature and overrated" (Slatalla, 2008).

Our first study found that, among the 50 flagship universities, a majority offered a psychology minor but fewer than half of those minor programs required a research methods course--findings consistent with the scant extant research. Demonstrating little progress over the last two decades, no programs publicly declared specific goals or learning outcomes for the minor.

Through factorial ANOVA's in the second study, we evaluated faculty and student perceptions of minor curricula and goals. Students and faculty appear to differ in their thinking about the psychology minor; students favor an emphasis on interpersonal skill development, while faculty favor an emphasis on research skill development. This discrepancy between faculty and students could reflect a desire by faculty to move away from what Stanovich (2010) called the "Freud Problem" in which the lay public associates psychology with Freudian theories, which many psychologists consider to have been scientifically debunked. Instead, faculty trained in psychology tend to emphasize the value of learning the scientific nature of psychology (Ciarocco, Strohmetz, & Lewandowski, 2017) and prefer grounding the minor in research methods. Additionally, faculty alone were sensitive to the match between listed goals and curriculum; this is perhaps due to their professional experience with program development.

Our student data coincide with previous research showing students prefer courses with a human-interest focus over a research focus, with a majority (75%) reporting their interest was neutral or worse for research courses (Rajecki, Appleby, Williams, Johnson, & Jeschke, 2005). In addition, students often report elevated levels of anxiety while taking methods courses (Onwuegbuzie & Wilson, 2003). Thus, hesitation surrounding a minor containing a research methods requirement may reflect anxiety about the course material.

Each study in this pair features limited samples, and the effect sizes for the statistically significant findings were small. Flagship universities, in the first study, provide a geographically diverse, easily accessed sample - but these relatively large, state universities are not necessarily representative of the many institutions with diverse sizes and natures. The second study features samples that provide adequate power, but that are geographically limited. Future research needs to employ more diverse samples, both to ensure representativeness and to allow for the examination of the potential influence of various institutional and personal characteristics.

The decision regarding inclusion/exclusion of research methods is influenced by both philosophical/aspirational and logistical considerations. Research methods courses prepare students to read, think, and write effectively- particularly as consumers of psychological science. Faculty devoted to the science of psychology, naturally tend to perceive research methods to be a core element in any curriculum labeled "psychology."This sentiment is echoed by Dunn et al. (2010) who urge not only inclusion but also early timing of the course.

Logistically, however, inclusion of a research methods requirement could result in an enrollment bottleneck for many departments. Given the immense and growing popularity of the major, managing course seats and staffing courses will be a challenge to be met. This could be further exacerbated by a potential bump in minors from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) update which includes a new section on Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (AAMC, 2014). That significant addition to the MCAT is liable to drive increased interest in the psychology minor as preparation for the gateway test (Mitchell, Lewis, Satterfield, & Hong, 2016). Perhaps more than ever, the minor program needs defined goals, a curricular structure consistent with those goals, and initiation of the assessment/refinement cycle.

Given the importance of the ultimate use of education (see Dunn et al, 2010), departments may benefit from including students on curriculum committees charged with development of the psychology minor. Our results suggest that students are approaching the minor in psychology from a different perspective than faculty.


American Psychological Association (APA). (2007). Guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychological Association (APA). (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Washington, DC: Author.

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). (2014). The official guide to the MCATexam (MCAT2015; 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Ciarocco, N.J., Strohmetz, D.B., & Lewandowski Jr., G.W. (2017). What's the point? Faculty perceptions of research methods courses. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 3(2), 116-131.

Dunn, D. S., Brewer, C. L., Cautin, R. L., Gurung, R. R., Keith, K. D., McGregor, L. N., Nida, S. A., Puccio, P., & Voigt, M. (2010). The undergraduate psychology curriculum: Call for a core. In D. F. Halpern, D. F. Halpern (Eds.), Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline (pp. 47-61). Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.

Mitchell, K., Lewis, R. S., Satterfield, J., & Hong, B. A. (2016). The new Medical College Admission Test: Implications for teaching psychology. American Psychologist, 71(2), 125-135.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Undergraduate degree fields. Retrieved from

Norcross, J. C., Hailstorks, R., Aiken, L. S., Pfund, R. A., Stamm, K. E., & Christidis, P. (2016). Undergraduate study in psychology: Curriculum and assessment. American Psychologist, 71, 89-101.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J. & Wilson, V. A. (2003). Statistics anxiety: Nature, etiology, antecedents, effects and treatments - A comprehensive review of the literature. Teaching in Higher Education, 8, 195-209.

Rajecki, D., Appleby, D., Williams, C., Johnson, K., Jeschke, M. (2005). Statistics can wait: Career plans, activity, and course preferences of American psychology undergraduates. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 4, 83-89.

Rudolph, F. (1977). Curriculum: A history of the American undergraduate course of study since 1636. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Slatalla, M. (2008, April 20). What's your minor? The New York Times. Retrieved from guidance.html

Stache, C., Perlman, B., McCann, L., & McFadden, S.(1994). A national survey of the academic minor and psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 21, 69-73.

Stanovich, K. (2010). How to think straight about psychology, 10th ed. Harlow, Essex: Pearson.

The College Board. Tuition and Fees at Flagship Universities of Time.Retrieved from -flagship-universities-over-time.

Bethany S. Jurs

Transylvania University

Timothy K. Daugherty

Missouri State University

Mya Bowen

Transylvania University

Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: Dr. Bethany Jurs, Department of Psychology, Transylvania University, 300 North Broadway, Lexington, KY 40508.
FIGURE 1 Stimuli for 2 (Focus of Learning Goals) x 2 (Focus of
Curriculum) ANOVA.



The Minor in Psychology is designed to help students achieve
specific learning goals. Through coursework in the minor
program, students will:

1. Demonstrate effective interpersonal communication skills,

2. Recognize, understand and respect individual differences

3. Develop insight into their own and others' behavior, and they
will apply effective strategies for self-management and


1. Demonstrate knowledge in content areas of psychology,

2. Understand and apply basic research methods in psychology, and

3. Use critical thinking, skeptical inquiry, and, when possible,
The scientific approach to solve problems


DESIGNATOR   TITLE                     CREDITS

PSYC 101     Introductory Psychology   3
PSYC 230
PSYC 250     Development Psychology    3
PSYC 305     Social Psychology         3
PSYC 320     Abnormal Psychology       3
PSYC 463     Seminar Psychology        3

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Author:Jurs, Bethany S.; Daugherty, Timothy K.; Bowen, Mya
Publication:North American Journal of Psychology
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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