Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses


PPE's advanced interdisciplinary courses (PPE 4500+) are the highest level classes offered by the program for our majors. They offer advanced students a quasi-graduate environment inviting students to the frontiers of research. Classes are taught by interdisciplinary instructors, on interdisciplinary topics, reserved for PPE majors, and capped at 25 students. All PPE majors must take one to complete the major.

Note that you can take several of these courses to count towards your theme.

Course Goals

  1. Students should be able to accurately and clearly summarize a scholarly article. This requires basic understanding of the article's field, as well as the ability to write or speak clearly.

  2. Students should be able to raise and evaluate arguments on both sides of issues that an author has raised.

  3. Students should be able to criticize, without being unfair, without setting up straw men, and without neglecting possible counter-arguments to the criticism.

  4. Students should be able to give a presentation, effectively using visual aids as appropriate.

  5. Students should be able to synthesize readings into a position and defend that position against possible objections. They should know how to search efficiently for relevant literature.

Apart from our 4500+ Capstone courses, we also offer PPE 4000 courses, which are very small research-based seminars, capped at only 6 students. Topics change every year, depending on the projects and interests of our post doctoral researchers. Please see below, or check Path@Penn, for 4000 courses taught in the current semester.


Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses, Spring 2023

PPE 3950-001 Center for Social Norms & Behavioral Dynamics Research Seminar (SNBD Researchers)

Field Work

This “research seminar” takes its model from the Penn Independent Study and pairs interested students with researchers at the Center for Social Norms & Behavioral Dynamics sited here at Penn. SNOBED fellows work with organizations across the world to identify, measure, and influence norms and behaviors at scale. PPE majors will be paired with SNOBED-affiliated researchers and faculty and work as junior research fellows, learning fundamental approaches and the basics of research methods in the day-to-day environment of an active research center with mentors working on cutting edge research. Examples of current projects include: research on poverty in the US funded by the Templeton Foundation; on toilet use and sanitation in India funded by the Gates Foundation; and on corruption in Nigeria and Colombia funded by Chatham House and USAID.


PPE 4000-301 Research in PPE: Corruption and Development (Patel)

W 3:30 - 6:30 PM

This course will cover a range of topics related to the political economy of corruption and development. We will consider theoretical, empirical, and normative issues related to the failures and successes of social, political, and economic institutions around the world (with an emphasis on the Global South). Specific questions we may consider include: What, if anything, is wrong with corruption? How do some markets (such as vote markets) operate despite seemingly insurmountable transaction costs? What is the relationship between formal and informal institutions, and what role does the character of such institutions play in the determination of social and political outcomes? We will use core concepts from PPE to evaluate and answer these questions.


PPE 4000-302 Research in PPE: Research Transparency, Reproducibility and Basic Data Analysis in R (Lahiri)

M 12:00 - 3:00 PM

Crises of replication and reproducibility are replete across the social sciences. At the core of these problems is a system of knowledge generation that incentivizes opacity, researcher degrees of freedom, and questionable research practices. In this small research group, we will discuss a series of issues related to research transparency and reproducibility in the social sciences. We will also learn basic data preparation, management, and analysis in R (no previous experience with R is assumed). This will allow us to implement transparent and reproducible coding practices using RStudio and RMarkdown, the latter of which will allow us to produce fully formatted journal-ready manuscripts in pdf form directly from R. Those with current research projects are encouraged to bring them to class so we may implement them in R and write the reports in RMarkdown. Time permitting, we may also touch on the use of Git and Github for version control, and the use of Overleaf for manuscript preparation. Pre-requisites: At least an introductory statistics course at the university level; A laptop with sufficient hard drive space to download and run R, RStudio, RMarkdown.


PPE 4000-303 Research in PPE: Toward Cooperative Altruism (Cordero)

R 12:00 - 3:00 PM

Cooperative altruism is the motivation to satisfy the needs of other sentient beings in situations in which one cannot accomplish this goal on their own. If we are to overcome the challenges of the 21st Century, from climate change to global poverty, we must better understand this motivation and the actions that arise from it. Students enrolled in this Research in PPE course will apply tools from economics and psychology, including models of decision making, game theory, experiment design, and data analysis. The course will also function as a practicing `cooperative altruism lab’, in which we will work together on a project to benefit members of our community.


PPE 4601-301 Social Policy Capstone: Business Ethics (Patel)

R 3:30 - 6:30 PM

This capstone seminar will cover a range of topics related to the ethical issues surrounding businesses and the markets in which they operate. We will consider the basic theories and principles of business ethics, as well as empirical and normative issues related to various markets. Specific questions we may consider include: What is a just distribution of income and wealth? Are markets in specific goods (e.g., kidneys, child labor, reproductive labor, etc.) morally impermissible? If so, why? What, if anything, is wrong with corruption? Are sweatshops wrongfully exploitative? We will use core concepts from PPE to evaluate and answer these questions.


PPE 4700-301 Economics Capstone: Fairness & Altruism (Cordero)

M 3:30 - 6:30 PM

This course is designed to be an integrative experience, drawing on knowledge from economics and psychology to understand the role of fairness in behavior. Each week students will lead the discussion on 2-3 research papers spanning topics in the literature such as: moral motivation, moral constraints on markets, giving justly, managing self-image, risk and fairness, fairness across cultures, social dilemmas, social norms and taboos. Assessment is based on participation in class discussion, a class presentation, and a final paper in which students will propose an original empirical study or theoretical model connected to one of the semester’s topics.

Pre-requisite: PPE 3001 (formerly PPE 311).


PPE 4700-302 Economics Capstone: Experimental Economics: Foundations, Design, and Analysis (Cordero)

T 3:30 - 6:30 PM

This course will provide an introduction to the use of controlled experiments in the study of economic behavior. We will survey some of the recent literature, focusing on topics that are relevant to our lives and our own economic interactions - such as, decision making under risk, trust, cooperation, contributing to public goods, and helping others. Students will learn the foundations of the use of experiments in science; they will learn how to critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of various experiment methods; how to design experiments to obtain high-quality and informative data that can be used to test economic theories or reveal new patterns of economic behavior; how to analyze and interpret these data; and how to effectively communicate their insights. The course will culminate in each student designing their own experiment to investigate an economic behavior of their choice.


PPE 4800-301 Psychology Capstone: Theories of Behavior Change (Lahiri)

T 12:00 - 3:00 PM

This course will provide a bird’s-eye view of key theoretical approaches to behavior change across a variety of social and behavioral science disciplines. In particular, we will draw upon the fields of psychology, anthropology, economics, public health, and communications, as well as emerging fields and efforts to integrate theories. This will not be exhaustive of all theories in the field, but will provide you with a wide conceptual tool belt with which you can begin to approach complex systemic issues for which urgent evidence or action is needed. This course emphasizes the application and integration of theories across multiple socio-ecological levels of behavioral influence to real-world behavior change problems.


PPE 4950-301 PPE Capstone: Research Methods (Marcon)

W 12:00 - 3:00 PM

This course is aimed at understanding how to do research in the interdisciplinary methods of PPE. Whether it is a scientific paper, a thesis proposal, a research statement for grant or fellowship applications, or a report for a public or private employer engaged in any type of research, it is essential to know all the steps and the elements to make the final manuscript captivating and exhaustive. In this course, among other things, you will be learning (i) how to choose a topic of your interest, (ii) how to formulate specific research questions, and (iii) what tools you can use to turn your initial idea into a well-structured written production. This course is strongly encouraged for juniors intending to pursue the Senior Honors Thesis track in PPE and upperclassmen in PPE with serious research aspirations here at Penn and beyond. While the final project in this course will depend on the individual student's purpose for taking this methods seminar, this course will fulfill the capstone requirement in the PPE major. Interested students must apply.


Previous Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses