Ling Gao

Nearly 500 students packed into the Sterling Law Building auditorium to look at psychological studies, listen to TED talks and tap their feet to Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” as part of “Thinking,” this semester’s most popular undergraduate course.

Taught by psychology professor Woo-Kyoung Ahn, the course teaches students about the psychology behind theories of higher-level reasoning, such as decision-making, judgement, rationality and moral logic. “Thinking” began as a small seminar, but two years ago Ahn decided to offer the class as a lecture so that more students could access the course material.

“When I taught this course in a large lecture course at the 100 level for the first time, the most common positive comments that I got was that it was so applicable to real life situations and they could just use whatever we learned in this course all throughout their lives,” Ahn said. “Then what tends to happen in this course is that after the class, they tend to tell their friends about it. And so the word kind of spreads out.”

During the hour-and-15-minute-long lectures on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, Ahn uses visual aids and humor to keep students engaged in the material.

She said she recognizes comedy as a valuable tool in keeping students attentive –– a lesson learned after she sat in on a course taught by President Peter Salovey soon after she began at the University.

“About once every six minutes, he did a joke or anecdote or an experimental demo or a participation moment and things like that,” Ahn said. “It’s much better if they hear it from some other voice with a different sense of humor, so I try to incorporate all that.”

Ahn’s class differs from other Yale courses through its nontraditional setup.

It features a lecture lasting for most of the class and ends with a 10-question quiz, testing students on material covered from the class.

“It’s definitely a different format and a different feeling because you can come into the class without any preparation,” Python Chen ’23 said. “You do your preparation during the class by listening to the lecture.”

Chen said he prefers this method of learning, which consists of focusing entirely during class, rather than spending a few hours on homework every night. Chen and other students in the class said outside work is minimal relative to their other courses. Although the class is not being offered next year, Chen said he would definitely recommend this class to other students when it returns in 2021.

Addison Beer ’23 said he was initially drawn to “Thinking” due to its positive reviews. He says he and his peers enjoy the class because it is relatable.

“It’s something that applies to everyone. We all think, and we all make decisions,” Beer said. “So, even if you just take a few things from the course, it is something that could change the way you go about your daily life, whereas other classes might not have that kind of impact.”

Similarly, Alan Gao ’23 said he encourages students to take “Thinking” if given the chance.

“Professor Ahn is awesome. She’s a great lecturer, the workload is very doable and it’s just very interesting,” Gao said. “It’s really affirmed my interest             in psychology.”

Ahn has worked as a professor at Yale since 2003.

Zully Arias | zully.arias@yale.edu