Psych Courses Draw Full Houses

‘Positive Psych’ attracts likes sof this Ec major: 'It'll help me be a better person'

Two psychology courses taught by the same lecturer rank among the top three most popular courses this semester.

Lecturer on Psychology Tal D. Ben-Shahar ’96’s Psychology 1504, “Positive Psychology,” tops the list with an enrollment of 842 students, and his new course, Psychology 1508, “The Psychology of Leadership,” is third with 512 students.

According to other enrollment figures from the Office of the Registrar’s website, Social Analysis 10, “Principles of Economics,” remains the second most popular course this semester with a total of 688 students.

The number of students enrolled in “Positive Psychology” more than doubled this year. Ben-Shahar said, “The Cue Guide” probably contributed to the sudden popularity of the course.

“Students said they felt that the class contributed to their lives in a meaningful way,” he said. “They found it interesting academically, but they also found that it could help them lead more fulfilling lives.”

“Psychology of Leadership” evolved from a seminar Ben-Shahar taught on leadership last year.

A veteran of the Israeli army and an intercollegiate squash champion, Ben-Shahar said “Positive Psychology” is the class he would have wanted to take as an undergraduate.

“I ask myself in particular what I would have wanted to know, what would have benefited me,” he said. “That’s how I construct the class.”

After Ben-Shahar graduated from the College, he studied in Cambridge, England on a Harvard-Cambridge fellowship and then returned to Harvard to obtain a Ph.D in organizational behavior.

“He teaches psychology differently from a lot of other psychology professors,” said Kim Chen ’08, who is in “Positive Psychology.”

“He tries to take these concepts and make you apply it to your own life,” she said.

Students said the television clips Ben-Shahar shows in lecture make the content of the course more applicable to everyday life.

“I draw on many psychologists, including Seinfeld and Karen from ‘Will and Grace,” Ben-Shahar joked.

Christina L. Adams ’06, a government concentrator, said she is taking “Positive Psychology” for professional reasons.

“I decided it was a good idea to examine from an academic perspective what it is that creates happiness and causes positive emotions so that in my career, I will know what perspective to have and how to approach things,” she said.

Scott D. Alpizar ’09, an economics concentrator, said he is taking the course for more personal reasons.

“It’ll help me be a better person,” he said.

Life Sciences 1b, “An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolution,” is the fourth most popular class this semester with 420 students.

With 334 students, Science B-62, “The Human Mind,” has the fifth-highest enrollment.

—Staff writer Johannah S. Cornblatt can be reached at jcornbl@fas.harvard.edu.