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Psych Students Take Curriculum to New Heights

After successfully completing King School's most challenging psychology course, a group of juniors found themselves wanting more. Determined to delve deeper, they approached their psychology teacher, Paul Snyder, with a bold proposition: an independent study that would push them beyond the existing curriculum. 

Following their intellectual spark, the students embarked on a journey of deeper exploration and self-directed learning, tackling fascinating topics such as the mysteries of insomnia, the intricacies of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the persuasive power of propaganda. 

On January 25, four of those students, now seniors, presented in the Post-AP Psychology Special Projects Research Colloquium, the first of two such colloquiums. The event was a triumph of perseverance that gained traction last May when the juniors initiated research that would push the King psychology curriculum to a more advanced level than ever before.

“It was the first time that there had been juniors in AP Psychology, and many of us were interested in continuing our research during our senior year,” said Josephine Marra ’24. “We realized we all wanted to pursue different interests, so we decided to explore the idea of independent research projects.” 

“Throughout the second semester, each one of them asked me if I taught any other courses or if I had any ideas about more psychology opportunities for them as seniors,” said Snyder. “It was very exciting.” 

Guided by former Academic Dean Ted Parker and Chair of the Social Sciences Department Tom Zoubek, Snyder developed a framework for 'Post AP Psychology Special Projects at King School.’ Students hoping to continue their studies were invited to submit research proposals last spring. Once approved, they conducted research through the summer and into the current school year. Snyder worked to create options that would meet the students' different interests.

“Psychology is the study of behavior,” said Snyder as he introduced the colloquium. “Research is discovery. Discovery about the world we live in. Discovery about the people around us. Discovery about ourselves. Let’s see what they discovered.”

The event featured Libby Rattner ’24 presenting research on insomnia, Abby Seeberger ’24 and Morgan Hils ’24 discussing their collaboration in studying obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Josephine detailed her examination of persuasion as it is applied to propaganda.

As Josephine reflected on what she learned, she underlined the importance of using critical thinking when consuming information, especially with the dawn of artificial intelligence.

“Doing this project allowed me to research something that I was interested in, and it opened my eyes to how information was used to manipulate people throughout history,” said Josephine, who studied World War II posters, deep-fakes of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the leveraging of emotions over logic. “I now view all information with a different lens, and I try to see why the source chose to present information in a given way.”

The second colloquium will feature the five remaining students who led the efforts to add an independent study to the psychology curriculum. Leina Wyatt ’24, Catie Harvey ’24, Sylvia Freidenrich ’24, Ava Frascarelli ’24, and Matthew Graham Brown ’24 will have the opportunity to present their work in April.