The concepts of normality, abnormality, and psychopathology; symptom syndromes; theory and research in psychopathology and psychotherapy.
Psychology 162-001: Abnormal Psychology
Mon. & Wed. 2:00 –3:30
Stiteler Hall, Room B6
Professor: Dr. Ayelet Meron Ruscio
Office Hours: Tue. 10–12 and by appointment
Office: Solomon Labs, Room C17
TA: Eranda Jayawickreme
Office Hours: Wed. 10–12 and by appointment
Office: 3701 Market Street, Room 207 (2nd floor)
Note. The best way to reach each of us is by e-mail.
This course is designed to introduce you to psychopathology, the scientific study of abnormal
behavior. The course provides a broad survey of mental disorders, with an emphasis on the major
forms of mental disorder found in adults. The focus is on describing the clinical presentation,
prevalence, course, and outcomes of these disorders, and on highlighting what we currently know—
and do not know—about the causes of these disorders. Although you will learn about the
treatments that are effective for particular disorders, the main focus will be on the disorders
themselves, rather than on the process of psychotherapy. The course emphasizes a scientific and
critical thinking approach to the understanding of abnormal behavior. You will be encouraged not
only to learn what clinical scientists have discovered so far about the nature of mental disorders, but
also to grapple with some of the controversial issues and unresolved questions that psychologists
face as they seek to better understand, prevent, and alleviate psychological suffering.
Goals of the Course
By the end of the course, you will develop an appreciation for the following:
1. The challenges inherent in defining abnormality, and in deciding where to draw the line between
normality and disorder.
2. Historical and contemporary explanations for abnormal behavior, with an emphasis on how
psychological, biological, and social factors interact to produce and maintain mental disorders.
3. The continually evolving nature of our understanding of psychopathology, and the methods that
clinical scientists use to advance knowledge about mental disorders and to develop new and
4. Controversies over how mental disorders should be represented, defined, and organized within
the formal classification system—and why this really matters.
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5. The challenges involved in assessing and accurately diagnosing mental disorders, and the tools
that professionals have developed to facilitate these tasks.
6. Descriptions of the main forms of abnormal behavior found in adults, including the prevalence,
symptoms, clinical course, risk factors, and best-available treatments for these disorders.
7. Current controversies and unresolved questions in the field of abnormal psychology. The aim is
not only to familiarize you with these controversies, but to challenge you to think critically
about them and to consider their implications for clients, the public, and the field.
8. Emerging trends in the study, assessment, and treatment of psychopathology, with an emphasis
on questions and technologies that are generating particular excitement in the field.
I will make every effort to share my knowledge and passion for this subject matter with you, to
answer the questions that you raise, and to be available for out-of-class discussion. In return, you
will be responsible for doing the assigned readings before each class, coming to class prepared to
learn and think about the material, and asking me or your TA about any aspect of the reading or the
class that is unclear to you.
Getting Help in the Course
There are several resources available to help you achieve these learning goals: the Blackboard
website for this course, your teaching assistant (TA), and your professor.
For questions about assignments, policies, upcoming events (e.g., exam review sessions), and other
course details, please check Blackboard first (https://courseweb.library.upenn.edu/). We will be
using the Blackboard site to share documents, information, and answers to frequently asked
questions with you.
We are fortunate to have a TA to help with technical and logistical problems to ensure that the class
runs smoothly. If you are having difficulties with Blackboard, please contact the TA. Please also
direct any questions about the extra credit assignments to the TA. The TA is available to clarify
material from lectures or readings, to go over exams and assignments with you, and to discuss study
strategies that will help you get the most out of this course.
My role as your professor is to help you understand the course material and successfully apply the
concepts that are presented in the lectures and readings. I would enjoy speaking with you about any
questions, thoughts, or interests that you have, and encourage you to take advantage of office hours
to discuss the course material throughout the semester.
There are two required textbooks for this course, available at the Penn Bookstore:
Butcher, J. N., Mineka, S., & Hooley, J. M. (2007). Abnormal Psychology (13th ed.). Boston:
Pearson/Allyn & Bacon. (ISBN: 0-205-45942-0)
Brown, T. A., & Barlow, D. H. (2007). Casebook in Abnormal Psychology (3rd ed.).
Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. (ISBN: 0-534-60586-9)
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Additional required readings will be available electronically on the Blackboard website for this
course (https://courseweb.library.upenn.edu/) under the link for Course Documents. Readings will
be posted as they become available.
Course Outline and Attendance Policy
A tentative list of dates and topics appears at the end of this syllabus, including the reading
assignments to be completed before each class. Classes will clarify and build upon—but by no
means replace—the readings. Therefore, to do well in and get the most out of this course, it is
essential that you both (a) do the required reading before each class and (b) attend all class sessions.
If you do miss a class session, it is your responsibility to get lecture notes and class announcements
from another student in the class.
In order to enhance your learning and make the best use of our time in class, PowerPoint slides for
the day’s lecture will be made available on Blackboard before the beginning of class. You are
encouraged to print the slides and to bring them with you to class to facilitate note taking. Please
note that exam questions about material presented in class will go beyond the brief outline that is
included in the slides. Therefore, you should treat the slides as a starting point for your note taking,
rather than as a complete record of class material that you are expected to know for exams.
Course Requirements and Grading
Exams. There will be three closed-book, non-cumulative exams designed to assess your knowledge
and understanding of the concepts covered in this course. Each of the three units of the course will
be followed by an exam emphasizing content specific to that unit. Questions will be drawn both
from the readings (40%) and from material covered in class (60%). Because the first unit of the
class is shorter than the last two, it will count less heavily toward your final grade. Exams are your
opportunity to demonstrate your understanding and application of the information presented in the
course and will collectively constitute 85% of your course grade (25% for Exam #1, 30% for Exam
#2, and 30% for Exam #3).
Media Critiques. To engage your critical thinking skills, you will be asked to read and evaluate
media stories about topics in abnormal psychology. This assignment will enhance your awareness
of how mental disorders and their treatment are portrayed to the public and will challenge you to
become a more thoughtful, informed consumer of reports about these topics. During the course of
the semester, you will identify 5 recent media reports focusing on psychopathology (e.g.,
posttraumatic stress disorder in Iraq War veterans) or psychotherapy (e.g., prescription of
antidepressant drugs for children). You will use a form (available on Blackboard) to summarize
and critically evaluate points raised in each media report. The media critiques are your opportunity
to demonstrate critical thinking and will collectively constitute 15% of your course grade.
Your Total Score for the course is a weighted average of the three exams and the media critiques
The following cutoffs will be used to determine your final course grade:
A+ 97 – 100
A 93 – 96.9
A- 90 – 92.9
B+ 87 – 89.9
B 83 – 86.9
B- 80 – 82.9
C+ 77 – 79.9
C 73 – 76.9
C- 70 – 72.9
D+ 67 – 69.9
D 60 – 66.9
F 0 – 59.9
For example, if your Total Score is 92.5, you receive an A- for the course. In borderline cases (e.g.,
a Total Score that is within 1% of the next higher grade) where exceptional effort and improvement
have been demonstrated, the higher grade may be assigned.
You may earn up to 5 points of extra credit by completing one of the following optional
assignments. Points earned will be added to your final score on Exam #3. Extra credit assignments
are due on April 28 (the last day of the class) and will not be accepted after this date. Important
additional information about each extra credit option will be posted on the course Blackboard
website early in the semester.
1. Research participation. This option provides the chance to become more familiar with the
methods of psychological research by participating in up to 4 hours of research within the
Psychology Department. For each study in which you participate, you will complete a form
(available on Blackboard) that asks you to describe and evaluate key aspects of the study. As the
number of studies is limited, students choosing this option are encouraged to begin their
research participation early in the semester.
2. Research paper. This option provides the chance to learn about cutting-edge research in the
field of abnormal psychology by reading recently published articles in the top journal in the
field, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. You will read 3 related research articles that interest
you, then write a 5-page, double-spaced paper that evaluates and integrates their findings.
3. Case Study paper. This option provides the chance to deepen your understanding of a particular
mental disorder by reading a firsthand account of someone living with this disorder. You will
read one book (from a list posted on Blackboard) that focuses on a disorder that interests you,
then write a 5-page, double-spaced paper that applies concepts learned in class to better
understand the case presented in this book.
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Additional Course Information
Course announcements. Important course announcements will be posted periodically on the
Blackboard website for this course or e-mailed to you through Blackboard. Please check
Blackboard and your e-mail regularly to ensure that these announcements reach you in time.
Disability accommodations. Students who have a disability and are in need of reasonable
accommodation in this course should contact the Office of Student Disabilities immediately. This
should be done well before the first exam.
Make-up exams. Please speak with me as far in advance as possible if you will be unable to take an
exam at the scheduled time. In the interest of fairness to other students, I will consider rescheduling
your exam only if you contact me as soon as possible and can prove an emergency (e.g., serious
illness, family emergency). Before making up an exam, you will be expected to offer written
documentation (e.g., doctor’s note) corroborating your reason for missing the exam.
Media Critiques deadline. Media critiques are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated in
the Course Outline. You will have nearly three months to complete these critiques, and I encourage
you to work on these throughout the semester as you come across relevant media stories in your
daily life. In order to ensure fairness to other students, allow us enough time to comment on the
large number of media critiques, and enable us to apply consistent grading standards to all critiques,
late assignments will not be accepted.
Grade queries. Students are encouraged to meet with the TA or the professor to review their exams
and receive an explanation for incorrect answers. If you believe there was an error in the scoring of
your exam or media critiques assignment, or if you have concerns about a particular exam question,
please submit a query in writing (e-mail is fine) to the TA within 1 week of receiving your grade.
The query should describe why you believe an error was made and request that your exam or
assignment be re-graded. Please note that we will re-grade your entire exam or assignment, and that
it is possible that your grade will decrease rather than increase.
Academic dishonesty. Incidents of academic dishonesty will be dealt with harshly. Students who
cheat on an exam or assignment, plagiarize others’ work, submit essentially identical assignments to
more than one course without prior permission, or otherwise violate the university’s Code of
Academic Integrity (see www.vpul.upenn.edu/osl/acadint.html) can expect a failing grade for this
course. All violations will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct. Please review the Code
and ask me if you have any questions about my expectations or about how the guidelines apply to
An important caveat. It is often tempting for people to start diagnosing themselves and/or their
friends and family when they learn about the criteria for different mental disorders. Please
remember that diagnoses should be made by professionals with the appropriate training, and that
many people can show some characteristics of a disorder without experiencing clinically significant
distress or impairment. If you wish to seek a clinical evaluation, or would like counseling, please
contact professional mental health services such as the university’s Counseling and Psychological
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TENTATIVE COURSE OUTLINE
Wed., Jan. 16 Course Introduction and Goals ---
Mon., Jan. 21 NO CLASS – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ---
Wed., Jan. 23 Defining Abnormality Chapter 1 (pp. 2-14)
Mon., Jan. 28 Causes and Treatments of Psychopathology I Chapter 2
Chapter 3 (pp. 57-62)
Wed., Jan. 30 Causes and Treatments of Psychopathology II Chapter 3 (pp. 63-96)
Mon., Feb. 4 Classifying Psychopathology Chapter 3 (pp. 97-105)
Chapter 4 (pp. 107-130)
Wed., Feb. 6 Detection, Assessment, and Diagnosis Rosenhan (1973)
Mon., Feb. 11 Studying Psychopathology and its Treatment Chapter 1 (pp. 15-25)
Wed., Feb. 13 EXAM #1
Mon., Feb. 18 Stress and Adjustment Chapter 5
Bolton et al. (2004) (optional)
Wed., Feb. 20 Anxiety Disorders Chapter 6 (pp. 179-204)
Cases 2, 3
Mon., Feb. 25 Anxiety Disorders Chapter 6 (pp. 205-222)
Cases 1, 5
Wed., Feb. 27 Mood Disorders (Unipolar) Chapter 7 (pp. 225-252)
Mon., Mar. 3 Mood Disorders (Unipolar) Andrews (1996)
Wed., Mar. 5 Mood Disorders (Bipolar) Chapter 7 (pp. 253-277)
Jamison (1995; excerpt)
Mar. 10 & 12 NO CLASS – Spring Break ---
Mon., Mar. 17 Schizophrenia and Psychosis
Chapter 14 (pp. 489-510)
Sheehan (1982; excerpt)
Wed., Mar. 19 Schizophrenia and Psychosis Chapter 14 (pp. 511-528)
Mon., Mar. 24
Dissociative Disorders Chapter 8 (pp. 295-309)
Ofshe & Watters (1996; excerpt)
Wed., Mar. 26 EXAM #2
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Mon., Mar. 31
Chapter 11 (pp. 371-388)
Wed., Apr. 2
Personality Disorders Chapter 11 (pp. 388-409)
Mon., Apr. 7
Disorders of Childhood
Chapter 16 (pp. 557-579)
Wed., Apr. 9
Impulse-Control Disorders Safer (2000)
LeFever et al. (2003)
Media Critiques due
Mon., Apr. 14
Substance Use Disorders Chapter 12
Case 14 (optional)
Wed., Apr. 16
Eating Disorders Chapter 9 (pp. 311-333)
Cases 10, 11
Mon., Apr. 21
Wed., Apr. 23
Sexual Variants and Disorders Chapter 13
Case 12 (optional)
Mon., Apr. 28 Conclusions and Future Directions Widiger & Samuel (2005)
Extra Credit due
EXAM #3: May 9 (12–2 PM)