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Graduate Student Handbook

Doctoral Program in Social Psychology  

Department of Psychology
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
New York University

The Social Psychology program at New York University offers training in the psychological theories, principles, and research methods relevant to understanding the behavior of individuals and groups in social and organizational contexts. Students are exposed to a broad range of scholarship in social psychology, and receive research training that will enable them to become independent contributors to the field. What distinguishes our program from many others is the combination of quality and breadth. With twelve core faculty and a number of affiliated faculty, our program is acclaimed for its cutting-edge research on a wide range of topics in the following areas:

In addition, there is a burgeoning interest and presence in Social Neuroscience. In this growing field, research within the Program examines: the neural mechanisms underlying activation and control of racial bias; interactions with hormones and health (David Amodio); social effects on neural processes of fear learning (Elizabeth Phelps, in the C&P area ). Several other faculty in the Program collaborate on various other social neuroscience projects, and the Psychology Department hosts a Social Neuroscience Speaker Series. The Psychology Building houses facilities for fMRI, EEG/ERP, TMS, eye-tracking, and other psychophysiological methods.

Graduate studies in the Social Psychology Program at NYU means being part of an unusually active research culture. We share well equipped laboratories, and we promote 'open door' relationships between professors and students. Although students typically have a primary home in one professor's laboratory, we require that students work with at least one other faculty member to promote breadth of training in a variety of methodological approaches and research issues. Our goal is to prepare students to be highly competitive in the job market for the type of career they seek, and we are proud of the steady success of our students over the past 15 years in obtaining academic positions at the best research universities as well as important teaching colleges.

The NYU social program has a history of a special communal, cooperative spirit, with very high morale among the students. A core component of this community is the weekly brownbag seminar, where students and faculty share their recent findings and research plans with the rest of the group. Students can bring this forum special expertise that they obtain in NYU’s programs in quantitative, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, which supplement the core curriculum in social psychology.

Academic Requirements

A total of 72 credits are required for the PhD degree. Credits are earned through coursework, research seminars and independent study over a five year period. A minimum of 24 credits must be earned through coursework with grades of B or higher. Typically, students register for 9-12 credits (either course or research credits), with the central coursework in the first 2 years of study. The minimum number of credits a student can take in a semester is 6.

All students have a faculty advisor. This is the faculty member who is the primary research mentor for the student. All students are required to work in more than one lab during their graduate career, i.e., with at least one other faculty member in a research collaboration. Students are also encouraged to seek advice from the program coordinator about courses and degree requirements.

Course Requirements


There is no single prescribed program for the PhD in social psychology. Each student’s program is designed to fit his or her interests, needs and background. The curriculum’s structure comes from a specification of certain distribution requirements that promote expertise and also breadth.

Required Distribution of Courses

The social psychology Ph.D. curriculum specifies the distribution of 8 courses. Other courses that students take are electives and should be chosen in consultation with their advisors or sponsors. These may be structured courses, reading courses or research courses.

Students are required to take one course from two of the four core areas of the program: (1) social cognition; (2) motivation and self-regulation; (3) relationships, personality and social development; and (4) organizational processes (A listing of courses is provided below.) In addition, students are required to take one additional course of their choice in any of these areas, reflecting their interests.

To ensure a broad exposure to psychology and other related fields, students are required to take one course outside of the NYU social program. This course can be in another area within the psychology department (those offered in Cognition and Perception); in another Department, such as Economics, Sociology, Philosophy, Political Science, or Neural Science in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, or at the Stern School of Business (e.g., in Organizational Behavior) or the Steinhardt School of Education (e.g., in Applied Psychology); or elsewhere (e.g. through the Inter-university Doctoral Consortium).

A fifth content course is required, and this requirement may be fulfilled by registering for a core social psychology course, or a relevant course outside of the NYU social program (such as those mentioned in the preceding paragraph.)

Students are also required to take a three-course methods and statistics sequence including Research Methods I, and the Statistics courses of Intermediate Statistics and Advanced Statistics (either ANOVA or Regression). Although not required, many students take additional statistics and methods courses such as Psychometrics, Structural Equation Modeling, Analysis of Change and Research Methods II.

Further Study

After completing the required courses, each student’s program is individually tailored to take maximum advantage of course offerings in areas relevant to his or her selected areas of interest. While a minimum of eight courses is required, many students take additional courses in social psychology and related fields. Some also choose to minor in another subfield of psychology, such as developmental, quantitative, or cognition and perception. Arrangements can additionally be made for students to take courses in other universities that participate in the New York City Inter-University Consortium, including Columbia, Princeton, and CUNY.

Other than through coursework, the remaining points may be earned through a combination of reading courses (G89.3305/3306), pre-dissertation research courses (G89.3303/3304), or dissertation research courses (for those who have passed their proposal hearing: G89.3301/3302). No more than 12 points may be taken in each of the last three categories. Each student’s program of study must receive the approval of his/her advisor each semester.

Research Requirements

Research Training

Students are expected to work actively in the laboratory group of at least one NYU social psychology faculty member during all terms in residence. Although most students have a single primary placement, all are required to work with at least one additional faculty member during the five years of their training.

Brown Bag Seminar

All members of the program are expected to participate in the weekly Brown Bag seminar. The seminar meets informally, over lunch, and is a forum for presenting current and planned research. Each student is required to present on his or her research once a year. The seminar is a key component of student training over the five years of doctoral study.

Second Year Paper

Students are required to complete a Second Year Paper consisting of a formal write-up of the primary research project from their first two years of doctoral training. When approved, this paper satisfies the requirements for the Masters Degree. Although filing the paperwork for the Masters Degree is not required, completing the Second Year Paper is a program requirement. The Second Year Paper is due at the end of the Summer of the 2nd year, as the student’s 3 rd year is about to begin. This project is done in collaboration with one or more faculty members and the write up of the project is done in conjunction with the student’s research advisor.

Third Year Paper

Students are also required to submit a Third Year Paper, which is a theoretically motivated, integrative literature review that is guided by a coherent set of theoretical purposes or questions. It covers at least two relevant research literatures and is organized along the lines of an article in Psychological Bulletin or Personality and Social Psychology Review.  The paper extends well beyond the scope of the two or three lines of research in which the student is engaged and is on a topic of the student's choosing. It can be started as soon as the student formulates and writes a proposal for the paper’s content and substance (developed in conjunction with one or more faculty in the program), which is then approved by a Third Year Paper Committee in the program.  The proposal is due at the end of Fall of the 3 rd Year. The proposal is a one-page single-spaced abstract that states the theoretical purposes of the work and the empirical literatures the student intends to review. The proposal will be evaluated in terms of whether or not it (a) is guided by a theoretical purpose that is coherently laid out; (b) is integrative in nature, by bringing together two or more different literatures; and (c) has scholarly merit. The Third Year Paper itself is 35-45 text pages (not including references). The completed paper is due the first week of September of the fourth year. It is independent of the Second Year Paper, although the papers can be in related domains, if desired, and they can be supervised by the same research advisor, if desired. This requirement serves the function of a comprehensive examination.

The Third Year Paper Committee: (a) is appointed by the program; (b) implements this program requirement; (c) evaluates and approves or disapproves paper proposals; (c) assigns readers for each completed paper based on faculty expertise (one of whom may be the student’s research advisor).

Doctoral Dissertation

In consultation with a faculty advisor, students select a dissertation topic, develop it, and prepare a dissertation proposal. The proposal should provide a rationale for the importance of the research problem or issue, provide an overview of the literature in which the contribution of the research would be situated, present the theoretical rationale, purposes, and hypotheses of the research, and provide a detailed description of the methods and analyses of the proposed dissertation studies, as well as its likely implications. The proposal must be approved by a three-member dissertation committee in a formal proposal hearing. Students are advised to start thinking about prospective dissertation topics early in the doctoral training. Students should plan to complete their dissertation proposal and defend that proposal by the end of the fourth year of study, if not earlier.

Students should bear in mind that the dissertation is expected to be a major piece of independent research by the candidate. Although interaction between the candidate and his/her dissertation committee is expected and desirable, the student takes the lead on this research and the committee serves mainly in an advisory and evaluative capacity. The dissertation should be submitted by the end of the 5 th Year. After the dissertation has been completed, it must be defended in an oral examination before the three-member dissertation committee supplemented by two additional committee members designated as readers. Students typically register for two semesters (6 points) of dissertation credit during their fifth year of doctoral study while conducting their dissertation research and writing their dissertation.

For more information about the dissertation process, see the Psychology Department’s document, Dissertation and Graduation Procedures for Doctoral Students.

Teaching Requirements and Assistantships

Students are appointed to teaching assistantships for a minimum of two and a maximum of five semesters during their graduate school tenure. A teaching assistantship involves assisting a faculty member with his/her instructional activities. Teaching assistantships are a source of valuable experience in presenting ideas to others, and form an integral part of doctoral education.

Training Sequence

In their first two years, students focus on mentored research projects and coursework. Over this period they complete their eight required courses. With the exception of research methods and two statistics courses, all of which must be taken in the first two semesters, students are free to fulfill their course requirements in any order they wish, typically enrolling in three courses a semester.

During the second year, students work on the Second Year Paper, and during the third year they work on the Third Year Paper (see above)

Students spend their third, fourth and fifth years taking additional coursework, as desired, and focusing primarily on their research activities, culminating in their doctoral dissertation research.

At the end of the first semester of their third year, they also propose their Third Year Paper (an integrative literature that combines differing literatures and addresses a coherent set of theoretical questions), which is then due in final form the first week of September of the fourth year.

Students should aim to prepare and defend their dissertation proposal not later than the end of their 4 th year, and to complete their dissertation toward the end of their 5 th year.

Students are guaranteed full financial support for five years of doctoral study.

General Requirements for the Doctorate at NYU

The graduate school of Arts and Science home page provides information about transfer credits and other general requirements for the doctorate at NYU. It is expected that students will fulfill the course requirements, complete the doctoral research and defend the thesis within five years.


Areas of Concentration:

Social Cognition and Attitudes

  • Person Perception (G89.2286)
  • Social Judgment and Decision Making (G89.2282)
  • Social Neuroscience (G89.3404)

Motivation and Self-Regulation

  • Self-Regulation (G89.3393)
  • Social Psychology of Self Control (G89.3394)

Relationships, Personality and Social Development

  • Social Development (G89.3214)
  • Social Cognitive Processes in Personality (G89.3405)
  • The Relational Self (G89.3406)
  • Person Perception Processes in Dyads (G89.3393)

Groups, organizations, and societies

  • Social Power (G89.3400)
  • Psychology of Justice (G89.2258)
  • System Justification Theory (G89.3404)
  • Cooperation in Groups (G89.3405)
  • Law and Social Science (G89.3405)
  • Psychology and Design of Legal Institutions (G89.3405)
  • Psychology of Agreement (G89.3405)
  • Political Psychology (G89.3399)

Examples of Advanced Electives

  • Theories in Social Psychology (G89.2216)
  • Prejudice (G89.3401)

Methods and Statistics Courses

Methods Courses

  • Research Methods in Social Psychology I (G89.2217)
  • Research Methods in Social Psychology II (G89.2217)
  • Math Tools for Cognitive Science and Neuroscience (G89.2211)

Statistics Courses

  • Intermediate Statistical Methods (G89.2228)
  • Advanced Regression Models (G89.2229)
  • Advanced ANOVA Methods (G89.2239)
  • Multivariate Statistics Analysis (G89.2244)
  • Psychometric Theory (G89.2243)
  • Structural Equation Modeling (G89.2247)
  • Analysis of Change (G89.2248)
  • Simulation and Data Analysis (G89.2233)

Our Faculty

David Amodio
Susan Andersen
Peter Gollwitzer
Madeline Heilman
John Jost
Gabriele Oettingen
Elizabeth Phelps (Primary appointment in C&P)
Diane Ruble (Emeritus)
Patrick Shrout
Yaacov Trope
Tom Tyler
Jim Uleman
Tessa West

Social Program, NYU
November 2008