PSYC 4541 Special Topics in Psychology – Social Science: Pandemic Psych and Wellbeing

Instructor Contact

Dr. Amanda L Mahaffey


About the course

This course explores the scientific study of the human response to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic- from emotional and societal vulnerability- to obstacles such as conspiracy theory and misinformation- to building individual and collective wellbeing during pandemic.

Course Overview:

This course begins with an overview of the psychology of pandemics pre-Covid. We will discover all the things none of us knew we should have learned already, before the current pandemic arrived. We will then turn to exploration of vulnerability. Who is most vulnerable, physically, emotionally, and psychologically? And what societal systems are most vulnerable to breakdown during this pandemic? Then we will turn our attention to the obstacles keeping us from doing our societal best- from conspiracy theory to politics to the common biases of the human mind. Then finally we will focus on the scientific study of wellbeing, flourishing, happiness, and positive psychology during the time of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic with an emphasis on the greater good- community, communal wellbeing, and how we can help others thrive during this time. We will read a book on the psychology of pandemics and dissect media representation of the psychology of life during the pandemic, listen to podcasts, and review new evidence as it comes out. We will finish the semester with proposals of concrete solutions to building collective wellbeing during pandemic.

This course will overlap with my Psychology of Happiness special topics course, but with a whole new perspective of life during pandemic. This course is equally suited to students who have taken that course and those who have not.


Prerequisites for this class are PSYC 1001 and PSYC 2111 or 3111 (minimum grade C-). Restricted to students with 57-180 credits (Junior or Senior) Psychology (PSYC) majors only. Please contact Dr. Mahaffey if you do not meet these requirements.

Discussion Outline:

Module 1: Intro to Pandemic Psychology: What none of us knew we should have learned already

Module 2: Vulnerability: Who/what is most at-risk emotionally/vulnerable to societal breakdown

Module 3: Obstacles: What keeps us from doing our societal best by this pandemic

Module 4: Wellbeing: How can we thrive through this pandemic and find the silver linings

Course Objectives

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of psychological processes, as they apply to life during pandemic
  2. Analyze conventional evidence of pandemic psychology as it applies to the current pandemic
  3. Understand the basic assumptions, principles and concepts of positive psychology
  4. Investigate positive psychology phenomena as they apply to life during pandemic
  5. Critically evaluate positive psychology theory and research as it applies to life during pandemic
  6. Apply positive psychology approaches to help others individually and collectively thrive during pandemic
  7. Practice the ability to reason critically and scientifically about psychological research findings from an empirical orientation, citing original theory and evidence
  8. Apply scientific evidence to build a social change plan to improve collective wellbeing during pandemic, and present it to the class

Required Reading/Watching/Listening

  1. Taylor, Steven (2020). The Psychology of Pandemics. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Available in paperback for $29.95 or on kindle for $19.99. Available through CU bookstore or on Amazon at this link
  2. The Greater Good Science Center and their Guide to Wellbeing During the Coronavirus
  3. The Atlantic Magazine Guide to Understanding COVID-19
  4. Scientific American Magazine special coverage on Coronavirus
  5. New York Times Coronavirus Live Updates
  6. Social Distance Podcast from The Atlantic
  7. At a Distance Podcast from Colorado Public Radio
  8. Scientific journal articles, Popular media articles, news reports, videos, empirical journal articles, etc., to be assigned by me or shared by fellow students on an ad-hoc basis.


Discussion Participation in Module 1   25%

Discussion Participation in Module 2   25%

Discussion Participation in Module 3   25%

Discussion Participation in Module 4   25%

Total     100%

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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado