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Instructor Class Description

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Nancy J Kenney
PSYCH 357
Seattle Campus

Psychobiology of Women

Physiological and psychological aspects of women's lives; determinants of biological sex; physiological and psychological events of puberty; menopause; sexuality; contraception, pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation; role of culture in determining psychological response to physiological events. Offered: jointly with GWSS 357.

Class description

Psychobiology of women is the study of the way in which physiology and behavior interact in women's lives. This course concentrates on those aspects of physiology which delineate women from men (mostly reproductive endocrinology) and which play a major role in women's lives. It deals not only with the ways in which physiology affects behavior but also with the often less thought about ways in which behavior affects physiology. The first section of this course is designed to establish a basic foundation of understanding of women's anatomy and physiology. Heavy emphasis is placed on the role of hormones in women's lives. The course assumes that the students have limited or no background in biology at the outset but progresses in its discussion to include complex interactions between various hormonal systems important to female functioning. The second section of this course is an exploration of the physiological and behavioral changes associated with major events or experiences in women's lives. Some of these events are ones which all women experience like puberty (Why does it happen? When does it happen? and How do girls react to the changes in their bodies?), the monthly cycle and its relationship to behavior (we live it, we have a love-hate relationship with it, it's blamed for all women's problems, why), and menopause ( it has an even worse image than the monthly cycle because it combines being a woman with getting older - two strikes). Others events discussed are optional, i. e., they may or may not be experienced by a given woman. These include pregnancy (a major secretive cult of womanhood), contraceptive use (how do those things work?, what's available? and what do they do to a woman's body and behavior?), abortion (what are the physical and psychological aftereffects?). Others events discussed are experienced by some women but should be understood by all people. These include infertility (a growing problem), PMS (lots of press but what is it really and do most women really have it) and lesbianism (sexuality of women in general is a very poorly understood and ignored topic). In each of these cases, the course concentrates on the physiological causes or effects of the event and examine, as much as possible, the behavioral implications of the event.

Student learning goals

1. to develop a working knowledge base related to female anatomy, physiology, endocrinology and the ways in which these system interact with women’s behavior that will stay with you long after this class is over (assessed by course tests)

2. to understand how science and politics interplay in research on women’s biology, psychology and biopsychology (assessed by classroom discussions and paper)

3. to understand the biological and psychological correlates of various segments of women’s lives from puberty to menopause. (assessed by course tests)

4. to formulate written and oral arguments based on scientific evidence (assessed by discussion participation and paper)

5. to listen to beliefs and opinions of individuals who both agree and disagree with your own perspective in a respectful and considered fashion and expend effort to understand the multiple viewpoints that are all supported by current evidence (assessed by discussion participation)

General method of instruction

Course meets 4 hours per week for lecture and 1 hour per week for discussion. During lectures, students are highly encouraged to ask questions or to comment on course material.

Discussion section meetings immediately preceding tests are used for review of material. Remaining section metings are used to discuss current social issues relevant to course material. To prepare for these discussions, students are asked to prepare brief papers in which the student briefly discusses her/his own opinion on the issues at hand and then attempts to argue for the opposite position. During some quarters, this course can also be taken with a Service Learning Option. In this case the student registers for a volunteer placement in a service site selected for this course. The student agrees to spend 2 to 4 hours per week at the site during the academic quarter. Service-Learning tutors work with the students to help them relate class meterial to their placement site.

Recommended preparation

This course is intended for students with little or no background in psychology, women studies or biology. Exposure to any of these fields at the introductory level would be helpful but is not necessary.

Class assignments and grading

There is typically no textbook for this course. All readings are available on electronic reserves. Amount of reading is very light early in the quarter and increases for the second half of the course. Each student prepares a formal 3-4 page review paper on one of the topics covered in discussion section. These papers are based on a series of articles provided on the topic and on one additional scholarly paper related to the issue that the student must locate her/himself.

Course grade is based on test scores, papers on discussion topics, quick quizes that occur sporadically in lecture and participation in discussions. 2 midterms and 1 final are given. Grades are based on the percentage of total possible points earned on the exams with individuals earning 96% or more of the possible points receiving a grade of 4.0. Course grades decline by 0.1 for every 1% below 96%. Additional credit may be earned for participation in service learning.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
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Last Update by Nancy J Kenney
Date: 09/23/2008