Fall, 2006


Professor:       Joan Ostrove

                        Olin-Rice 325





Office hours: Wednesdays, 1 – 4 p.m., or by appointment


Class description and overview:


            Health psychology is a relatively new and fast-growing field that is broadly concerned with two main issues:  1) the ways in which psychological factors and experiences (such as stress, personality patterns, discrimination, etc.) affect physical health; and 2) the psychological effects and meanings of being ill.  We will use a combination of readings including original research articles, theoretical essays, and first person accounts as a basis from which to explore the field of health psychology.  As an advanced class, the course will function as much as possible as a seminar, in which we will have the chance to discuss the course material in depth and to grapple with many interesting issues raised by this field:  What exactly is “health?” What are the connections between the mind and the body? How does our membership in different social groups affect our health?  Why do some people get sick and others stay well?  How do our behaviors affect our health and why are they so hard to change (we’ll spend a lot of time on this one as it is the focus of a semester-long project; more on this below)?  What is it like to be a patient? A doctor?  How do societal ideas about illness and disability affect us?  No doubt there are many more provocative questions that I haven’t thought of, that each of you will raise and all of us will discuss as we proceed through the course.

            This course is also intended to look at health and health psychology in context.  We will learn about how culture shapes our ideas of health, and how systems of discrimination based on class, race, and gender affect health.  You will have a chance to apply and enhance what you’re learning in class through a variety of assignments/activities that will be described below, including a small group project focused on health behavior change that will run throughout the entire semester.


Requirements and expectations:


·         Participation:  It is one of your primary responsibility to come to class prepared, having read and thought about the readings for the day/week.  Participation may mean a lot of different things – sharing your ideas and thoughts; listening well to others’ ideas; asking questions; connecting the course material to issues in your life or the lives of other people you know, and/or to issues on campus and in the world, etc. 

·         Reaction paper: This is an opportunity for you to think “on paper” (1-2 pages) about one or more of the readings for the week (that is, for the week they are due, not about the readings from the previous week).  This is a chance for you to engage with the material that you’re reading and let me know what you think about it.  It’s also intended to give you a “head start” for sharing your ideas in class, so please feel free to raise the issues that you’ve written about in the context of the class discussion.  Reaction papers/questions will be graded on a “check-plus” / “check” / “check minus” basis, with “check-pluses” reserved for particularly thoughtful work.  They are due in class on the days noted on the syllabus.

·         Discussion questions:    Each of you will (twice over the course of the semester) submit two thoughtful and provocative questions to me that will help guide our class discussions for the day.  This is your chance not only to focus on what you think is interesting about what we’ve read for class, but also to raise questions and complications about the course material.  Please hand in your typed discussion questions (either via e-mail or under my office door) absolutely no later than 5 p.m. on the Monday before the class for which you prepared them.

·         Short essays:  You will have the opportunity to respond to essay questions twice during the course of the semester, and will be expected to submit a 3-4 page response to each question.  Essay questions will be distributed approximately two weeks before they are due.

·         Health behavior change project:  This semester-long, small group project is described on a separate handout.




Percentage of final grade



   Reaction papers


   Discussion questions

2.5% each time


15% each

   Health Behavior Change poster


   Health Behavior Change Project



Course policies:


·         Academic integrity:  I expect each of you to follow the college’s guidelines regarding academic integrity, outlined in the Student Handbook.  Please talk to me if you are not clear how these guidelines apply to the course.  I will report any suspicion of academic dishonesty to the Dean of Academic Programs.  Academic dishonesty will result in at least a failing grade on the assignment, and a second instance of dishonesty will usually result in a failing grade in the course.

·         Late work:  You may not receive extensions on work in the class, except in the most extraordinary circumstances (in which you will need documentation from the Dean of Students Office or Health Services).  Work that is turned in late for any other reason will have a third of a grade taken off for each day that it is late (e.g., a B+ would become a B if you hand in work any time after the exact time that it is due – the “day late” begins immediately after the time the assignment is due).  Reaction paper/discussion questions that are handed in after Monday at 5 p.m. will be graded down (that is, a “check” would become a “check-minus”)

·         Incompletes:  I will only grant incompletes under extraordinary circumstances that occur in the second part of the semester.  This will not include being really busy at the end of the semester.

·         Written assignments:  Please type, double-spaced with 12-point font, all of your written assignments for this course.  Please do not use margins that are larger than 1 inch – all around.  Don’t use smaller margins, or smaller font, either – length is not necessarily strength!

·         Grades:  Grading guidelines are explained on the last page of the syllabus.

·         Accommodations for students with disabilities:  I will provide any reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities that will assist in making this course accessible and will provide an optimal educational experience for everyone. I will expect to receive documentation from the office for students with disabilities about the kinds of accommodations that you require.  Please speak to me at the beginning of the semester so that we can make an effective plan.


Book (available at textbook store in Lampert):

Conner, M., & Norman, P. (2005).  Predicting health behaviour (2nd edition).  Buckingham, Great Britain:  Open University Press.



Most articles are available as full-text, downloadable readings via Macalester’s library system.  Articles in bold on your list of readings (pp. 5-6 of the syllabus) are available through PsycARTICLES.  PsycARTICLES provides full-text versions of articles from journals published by the American Psychological Association. 


If you don’t already know how to get to PsycARTICLES, here are some instructions: 

  • start on the library website
  • go to online indexes (hyperlinked here, if you want to use my website to get there and skip the first step)
  • find PsycARTICLES (under “P”) and go from there

You can search PsycARTICLES to find the exact reading on the syllabus; I’d recommend an author search using the last name of the first author, limiting the year to the exact year of publication.  The article I’ve assigned should be the only, or one of very few, articles that satisfies the search.


Articles with an asterisk (*) in front of them are also available on-line, but you have to search for them by going to the journal directly (under journal finder via the library website), searching for the journal (either Annual Review of Psychology or Annual Review of Sociology, in this case), then finding the right volume, the exact article, etc.


I strongly recommend that you take some time at the beginning of the semester to download all of the articles that you’ll need for the semester and create a set of hard-copy readings for yourself right away.  “Technical difficulties” will not be a good excuse for not having done the readings when they are due…


All other readings are available through the psychology department office (except for the Baker reading, also available via the web, with instructions below).



Tuesday Topics/Assignments

Thursday Topics/Assignments


9/7:  Intro to course and each other


9/12: Health and illness – Social constructs?

Read:  Lupton

RP #1 due

9/14: Intro to semester-long small group project on health behavior change

Read:  Conner & Norman, Chapter 1

9/19: What is health psychology?

Read:  Taylor (1990); Baum & Posluszny

9/21: Intro to semester-long small group project on health behavior change, continued

9/26:  SES and health

Read:  Adler, et al.; Ostrove, et al.

9/28:  SGR* – Models of health behavior change

10/3:  SES, race, gender, and health

Read:  Williams & Collins; McIntyre & Hunt

10/5:  SGR – Models of health behavior change, continued

10/10:  Stress and health

Read:  Sapolsky; Cohen et al.

RP #2 due

10/12:  SGR – Health behaviors (proposal due)

10/17:  Stress and health

Read:  Clark et al.; Guyll et al.

10/19:  Gathering data about health behaviors

10/24:  Responses to stress

Read:  Taylor, Klein, et al.: Norton, et al.



10/31:  Personality and health

Read:  Taylor, Kemeny, et al.; Peterson et al.; Kubzansky et al.

11/2:  SGR – Previous research on health behaviors

11/7:  Health, illness, healthcare – Personal perspectives

Read:  Lorde; Remen; Samuels

RP #3 due

11/9: Designing interventions (theoretical background due)


11/14: Guest – Dr. Ewa Peczalska:  Working with patients with chronic illness

11/16: SGR – Your research on health behaviors

11/23: Social constructions of illness and disability

Read:  Wendell; Mairs


11/28:  The Human Genome Project and the future of health

Read:  Baker; Dillard et al; Marteau & Lerman

RP #4 due

11/30:  SGR – Your intervention and assessment proposals

12/5:  Health psych and public health – Examples from HIV/AIDS

Read:  Bryan, et al.; Gonzalez et al.; Specter



12/7:  SGR – Your intervention and assessment proposals, continued

12/12:  Guest – Kevin Winge

Read:  Winge



*SGR:  Small group reports



Adler, N. E., Boyce, T., Chesney, M. A., Cohen, S., Folkman, S., Kahn, R. L., and Syme, S. L. (1994).  Socioeconomic status and health:  The challenge of the gradient.  American Psychologist, 49, 15-24.


Baker, C. Your genes, your choices:  Exploring the issues raised by genetic research.  (This is a website reading, accessible through the syllabus on my website -- just click right on the book cover, or go to Table of Contents, and read each of the “chapters”)


*Baum, A., & Posluszny, D. M. (1999).  Health psychology: Mapping biobehavioral contributions to health and illness.  Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 137-163.


*Bryan, A., Robbins, R. N., Ruiz, M. S., O’Neill, D. (2006).  Effectiveness of an HIV prevention intervention in prison among African Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians.  Health Education & Behavior, 33, 154-177.


Clark, R., Anderson, N. B., Clark, V. R., & Williams, D. R. (1999).  Racism as a stressor for African Americans:  A biopsychosocial model.  American Psychologist, 54, 805-816.


Cohen, S., Frank, E., Doyle, W. J., Skoner, D. P., Rabin, B. S., Gwaltney, J. M. Jr. (1998).  Types of stressors that increase susceptibility to the common cold in healthy adults.  Health Psychology, 17, 214-223


*Dillard, J. P., Carson, C. L., Bernard, C. J., Laxova, A., & Farrell, P. M. (2004).  An analysis of communication following newborn screening for cystic fibrosis.   Health Communication, 16, 195-205.


Gonzalez, J. S., Penedo, F. J., et al. (2004).  Social support, positive states of mind, and HIV treatment adherence in men and women living with HIV/AIDS.  Health Psychology, 23, 413-418.


Guyll, M., Matthews, K. A., Bromberger, J. T. (2001).  Discrimination and unfair treatment:  Relationship to cardiovascular reactivity among African American and European American women, Health Psychology, 20,  315-325.


Kubzansky, L. D., Sparrow, D., Vokonas, P., & Kawachi, I. (2001).  Is the glass half empty or half full?  A prospective study of optimism and coronary heart disease in the normative aging study.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 63, 910-916.


Lorde, A. (1990).  Living with cancer. In E. C.  White (Ed.).  The black women’s health book:  Speaking for ourselves (pp. 27-37).  Seattle, WA:  Seal Press.


Lupton, D. (2000).  The social construction of medicine and the body.  In G. L. Albrecht, R. Fitzpatrick, & S. C. Scrimshaw (Eds).  The handbook of social studies in health and medicine (pp. 50-63).  London:  Sage.


Macintyre, S., & Hunt, K. (1997).  Socioeconomic position, gender and health:  How do they interact?  Journal of Health Psychology, 2, 315-334.


Mairs, N. (1996).  Waist high in the world:  A life among the nondisabled.  Boston:  Beacon Press, pp. 19-39.


*Marteau, T. M., & Lerman, C. (2001).  Genetic risk and behavioural change.  British Medical Journal, 322, 1056-1059.


Norton, T. R., Manne, S. L., Rubin, S., Hernandez, E., Carlson, R., Bergman, C., & Rosenblum, N. (2005).  Ovarian cancer patients’ psychological distress:  The role of physical impairment, perceived unsupportive family and friend behaviors, perceived control, and self-esteem, Health Psychology, 24, 143-152.


Ostrove, J. M., Adler, N. E., Kuppermann, M., & Washington, E. (2000).  Objective and subjective assessments of socioeconomic status and their relationship to self-rated health in an ethnically diverse sample of pregnant women.  Health Psychology, 19, 613-618.


Peterson, C., Seligman, M. E. P., & Valliant, G. E. (1988).  Pessimistic explanatory style is a risk factor for physical illness:  A thirty-five-year longitudinal study.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 23-27.


Remen, R. N. (1996).  Kitchen table wisdom:  Stories that heal (pp. 44-45, 51-54).  NY:  Riverhead Books.


Samuels, E. (2003).  Excerpts from Body of mind:  A mother-daughter love story (memoir in progress).  Women’s Studies Quarterly, 31, 190-193.


Sapolsky, R. (1998).  Immunity, stress, and disease.  In Why zebras don’t get ulcers:  An updated guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping (pp. 126-158).  NY:  W. H. Freeman.


Specter, M. (2001, December 17).  India’s plague.  The New Yorker, 74-85.


Taylor, S. E. (1990).  Health psychology:  The science and the field.  American Psychologist, 45, 40-50.


Taylor, S. E., Kemeny, M. E., Reed, G. M., Bower, J. E., & Gruenewald, T. L. (2000).  Psychological resources, positive illusions, and health.  American Psychologist, 55, 99-109.


Taylor, S. E., Klein, L. C., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Fernandes-Taylor, S. (2003).  Affiliation, social support, and biobehavioral responses to stress.  In J. Suls & K. A. Wallston (Eds).  Social psychological foundations of health and illness (pp. 315-331).  Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing.


Wendell, S. (1996).  The rejected body:  Feminist philosophical reflections on disability.  NY:  Routledge, pp. 11-33.


Wenge, K. (2006).  Excerpts from Never give up:  Vignettes from Sub-Saharan Africa in the age of AIDS.  Minneapolis, MN: Syren Book Company.


*Williams, D. R., & Collins, C. (1995).  U.S. socioeconomic and racial differences in health:  Patterns and explanations.  Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 349-386.


Grading Guidelines


I will use the following guidelines when I assign marks to your reaction papers:  In general, a reaction paper that is turned in on time, is thoughtfully and clearly written, and is related to the assigned reading(s) for the day will receive a “check.”  I mostly just want to know what you think and want to give you a chance to express your views in this kind of informal but regular format.  I will reserve “check plus” for the occasional reaction paper that is particularly outstanding – super thoughtful, provocative, particularly well-written…  Papers that do not relate at all to the readings will receive a “check minus”, as will late reaction papers.  It is much better to turn in a reaction paper late, however, than not to turn it in at all…


Below are the guidelines I follow when assigning grades to papers.  I use plusses and minuses when the work falls in between the qualities associated with each letter grade.  Grades are based both on content and on writing style.  I encourage you to ask for help from me, the MAX Center, or any other reasonable source if you’d like assistance with writing.  Please acknowledge resources you use in a footnote to your paper.


“A” grades are assigned to outstanding papers.  These papers reflect a deep engagement with ideas, insightful analysis, and excellent mastery of the material from the course.  Argumentation is logical and coherent, as well as well-documented.  The paper addresses all aspects of the assignment fully and clearly.  Finally, these “A” papers are well-written with respect to style and grammar.


“B” grades are assigned to papers that demonstrate good mastery of the material, are coherently written, and that contain some insightful ideas.  Sometimes “B” papers contain some really good ideas, but do not carry out arguments as elegantly as they could.  Other times all of the aspects of the assignment are there, but the ideas are not particularly innovative.


“C” grades are given to papers that do not adequately cover the assignment, demonstrate that the material was not fully understood, and/or have problems with writing style.  Sometimes “C” papers have some really good parts, mixed in with some parts that seem like they were not well-thought out.  Papers with consistent grammatical or stylistic problems may receive a “C.”


“D” grades are assigned to papers that have serious problems – parts of the assignment are totally missing or are really incomplete, the writing is full of errors, the material was seriously misunderstood. 


“NC” grades are hardly ever given if a student has put even some work into the paper/essay.  However, if the content is totally irrelevant, or the writing is such that it is simply impossible for me to follow the arguments, then I would assign a failing grade.