The Psychology of (Self)-Improvement

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
23 February 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

So-called pop science, and in particular "self-help" sections in book stores are growing at fast pace. But is the information provided always grounded in psychological theory and supported by enough empirical evidence? This module combines all areas of psychology to explore research around psychological (self)-improvement.

Utilising Essex Psychology staff expertise, this module will unravel popular topics around improvement by exploring the theories and empirical evidence underlying popular beliefs.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To enable students to understand and explain the role psychology plays in providing evidence for the study and practice of personal development.

  • To provide students with an understanding of how psychology research can be used effectively outside of academic contexts (e.g., coaching; human resources)?

  • To enable students to develop an understanding of how different sectors learn from psychological research and how psychology graduates can apply their knowledge beyond academia.

  • To introduce students to the different ways in which the psychology of “(self)-improvement” can be approached through the use of existing evidence and tools from a variety of psychology fields (e.g., motivation; emotion; education; social psychology; cognitive psychology; neuroscience) and how this knowledge can be integrated to practice.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to

  1. Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the psychology of (personal) development.

  2. Demonstrate the ability to apply knowledge from the psychology of self-improvement, to issues outside of academia.

  3. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the distinction between empirical evidence and popular beliefs around self-improvement.

  4. Demonstrate a critical understanding of how methods from different fields of psychology can be combined to form an interdisciplinary understanding of personal development.

  5. Evaluate how research on psychology of improvement can inform real-world issues.

Module information

This module will cover the breadth of the discipline to address questions such as: Why do we procrastinate and how do we stop? What causes insomnia and how do we sleep better? Why is it so difficult to break bad habits and how can we achieve it nevertheless? How can I improve my self-esteem? What causes anxiety and what are techniques to calm our mind? Why are stereotyping and prejudice so prevalent and how can we help to reduce them? Different personalities, different behaviours – how do you identify what your individual needs are?

Questions such as these will be addressed by critically examining underlying research evidence and carefully looking at tools that have been proposed to be useful to answer these questions in the public and clinical domain. To help strengthen your ability to translate psychological research into real-world practices, you will also be provided with a work-based learning opportunity by critically appraising existing practices in organisations.

The module's precise content will vary from year to year, but the lectures will be focused on answering fundamental questions in psychology of self-improvement such as those outlined in the module description. Lectures will be focused on answering one popular belief around psychology, such as those outlined in the module description. If and when applicable, tools used outside academia will be tested and evaluated (e.g., personality questionnaires; techniques to calm anxiety; techniques to better sleep).

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • 10 x 2-hour Lectures
  • One x 2 hour tutorial to discuss the critical review essay assignment

The lectures will focus on answering big questions from different psychology fields in the context of (self) improvement. Each question will be addressed by providing background knowledge of the research area before focusing in on specific research findings and practical tools used. Students will be encouraged to participate in lectures though discussion groups, asking questions, and also through the use of digital interactive platforms. This will ensure that the learning environment is inclusive for all students. Discussion forums on Moodle will provide an additional platform for students to seek additional support and to identify areas that need further explanation.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Critical Appraisal    100% 
Exam  Main exam: In-Person, Open Book (Restricted), 60 minutes during January 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: In-Person, Open Book (Restricted), 60 minutes during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
60% 40%


Coursework Exam
60% 40%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Nikhila Mahadevan, email:
Nikhila Mahadevan



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 10 hours, 10 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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