Sunset Psychology

If you do an introductory psychology degree (which I absolutely recommend), chances are you will have a section on sensation and perception. If you do your psychology degree at Melbourne (which I of course also recommend!) chances are you'll have to write an assignment on sensation and perception which involves watching a sunset and reflecting on the experience.

Back when I was in first year, I did the sunset assignment, and this year, as a first-year tutor (how time flies!) I am marking the sunset assignments. The overall aim is not for the students to write a scientific treatise on the visual system; rather, it's to get them to interpret and communicate their experience of seeing.

So far, what they've written (and I've read) has been amazing. So great, in fact, that sometimes I forget about the marking, and just read. Thus it was Monday afternoon, after I got to the end of a particularly poignant story, that I looked out the window and discovered that the afternoon had slipped me by - it was suddenly evening, and the sun was setting. After a grey Melbourne day, the clouds had cleared and the sky was getting a chance to show off its true colours - green, yellow, speckled with pink clouds, and constantly changing - and so, inspired by my students, I decided to head homeward while it was still light, and I could watch the day slip into night from the tram.

Great in theory; terrible in practice. It was rush hour. There were no seats. I couldn't see the sunset, I could only see the various shades of dark, autumny, coats, scarves and jumpers layered in front of me. Even when I did catch glimpses of the windows, the lights inside the tram were reflected back at me, obscuring any view of the outside world. Though that's probably an effect I could have introspected on for the assignment (were I writing, rather than marking), instead I turned my gaze to a different part of my psyche, and spent most of the trip thinking about how studying psychology has changed my perception of the world. Particularly my view of other people, broadly - I wouldn't be able to say whether it's for the better or for the worse, but the process itself is definitely positive.

Previously, when I've thought about how psychology has changed my world, I've thought mostly about social psych and moral psych - the fields with which I am the most familiar. Today's experience got me thinking more about cognitive psych, and from there, even more broadly (vaguely) and philosophically - doesn't your world change just that little bit every time you learn something new? Or, for that matter, every time you do something new? Meet someone new?

Pretty trite perhaps, so before this gets too out of hand let's link out to two completely different, but sort if related, things. This song has a lyric about "each one had a role in this" in reference to all the people in one's life, which I really like. (The rest of it is pretty sappy and romantic, so ignore that. ;) )More scientifically, this paper is about learning, and the rewards of insight. Not such a bad thing to be addicted to?


The photo is the view from the 12th floor of the psychology building. Told you you should study at Melbourne. :)


Hanne, this was a great post! Really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing. I loved the sunset assignment too. And I totally agree - studying psychology really has changed the way I understand the world, myself, and other people. And it is so rewarding to gain new ways of making sense of our world.


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