Kim Ferguson (Kim Johnson)

Roy E. Larsen Chair in Psychology

BA, Knox College. MA, PhD, Cornell University. Special interests include cultural-ecological approaches to infant and child development, children at risk (children in poverty, HIV/AIDS orphans, children in foster care and institutionalized care), health and cognitive development, and development in African contexts. Areas of academic specialization include infant categorization development and the influences of the task, the stimuli used, and infants’ culture, language, and socioeconomic status on their performance; infant face processing in African and American contexts; and relationships between the quality of southern African orphan care contexts and child outcomes. SLC, 2007–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Psychology

Advanced Research Seminar

Intermediate , 3-credit seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

In this seminar, students will gain valuable research experience through a weekly meeting focused on research methods, research ethics, and contemporary research questions and approaches; a weekly lab meeting with one of the faculty members leading the research seminar; and individual and group conference meetings with faculty supervisors on a regular, as-needed basis. The seminar component will include readings on, and discussions of, research methods and ethics, both broad and specific to the research in which students are involved, as well as the discussion of contemporary research articles that are relevant to student and faculty research projects. All faculty and students involved in the research experience will take turns leading the discussion of current research, with faculty taking the lead at the beginning of the semester and students taking the lead as their expertise develops. Weekly lab meetings will also involve reading and discussing research articles and research methods in papers specific to the topics of research being undertaken by each student and faculty member. Students will be expected to learn the current research approaches being employed by their supervising faculty member, contribute toward ongoing research in the form of a research practicum, and develop and implement their own independent research projects within the labs in which they are working. Faculty supervising each lab will also be available to meet with students individually and in small groups on an ongoing basis, as needed, and at least every other week in addition to the regular weekly, hour-long lab meeting. Students participating in the Advanced Research Seminar will be expected to attend and actively participate in weekly full-group seminars, weekly lab meetings, and regular (typically, at least biweekly) individual and group conference meetings; keep an ongoing journal and/or scientific lab notebook; select and facilitate group and lab discussions of relevant contemporary research articles (at least once for each meeting type); work at least five hours within a lab and/or community setting, as appropriate for their projects; contribute toward ongoing research and practice within their lab or community setting; develop, implement, and report on (in the form of a short paper prepared for possible publication and a poster at the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Poster Session) an independent research project; and provide their colleagues with ongoing verbal and written feedback on their projects.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Language Research Seminar

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Previous course work in psychology or permission of the instructor is required.

The baby, assailed by eye, ear, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion. —William James (1890)

The acquisition of our first language is “doubtless the greatest intellectual feat any of us is ever required to perform” (Bloomfield), yet this feat was essentially accomplished by the time we were three years old—and we likely have no memory of it. Furthermore, human language fundamentally influences human ecology, culture, and evolution. Thus, many contemporary researchers in the interdisciplinary field of psycholinguistics argue that our language abilities are a large part of what makes us uniquely human. Are we, in fact, the only species with true language? And how would we begin to answer this question? In this course, we will attempt to answer this and other key questions in the broad field of language development through both our discussions of current and contemporary research and theory and the development of new research in this field. Current “hot” research topics include whether bilingual children have better control over what they pay attention to than monolingual children (attention and language); whether language influences thought; whether language acquisition is biologically programmed; and why children learn language better from an adult, in-person, rather than the same adult on television. Over the course of the semester, you will have the opportunity to design an independent research project that investigates either one of these key questions or another question of interest to you in the broad area of language development. In doing this, you will learn how to outline the rationale for a research project, develop an effective research methodology, collect data, analyze the data, interpret your results, and communicate your findings in a persuasive, yet objective, manner. This course thus serves as an introduction to research methods, with a specific focus on research methods in psycholinguistics, through your own research. Topics will include experimental research design, case studies, observational techniques, survey development, and hypothesis testing. To help you design and implement your own research, we will discuss your conference research projects in class throughout the semester. You will obtain feedback from your colleagues on your questions, methods, analyses of the data, and interpretation of the results. This project could include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children.

Faculty
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Babies, Birds, and ’Bots: An Introduction to Developmental Cognitive Science

Open , Seminar—Spring

Do lemurs see red? Do you? What about newborns? Do you really have déjà vu? Does listening to Mozart in the womb really make children more intelligent? What about Metallica? What is intelligence, anyway? Why are phone numbers seven digits long? And why do children learn language better from an adult, in-person, than from the same adult on television? In this course, we will attempt to answer all of these questions and many more that you may have about how we process visual and auditory information, first put things in categories, solve simple and complex problems, communicate with each other and with our pets, and remember how to ride a bicycle and how to get to New York City. To answer these questions, we will read and discuss both theory and research in developmental psychology, psychobiology, linguistics, anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy on various aspects of cognitive development across the life span in different cultural contexts, focusing on infancy, childhood, and adolescence. We will also discuss both the usefulness and the limitations of this research in light of the populations studied and the methodologies employed. Topics will include perception, categorization, reasoning, theory of mind and autism, language and thought, multilingualism and second-language acquisition, social cognition, memory, metacognition and metamemory, consciousness, and competence in context.

Faculty
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Amandla! Power, Prejudice, Privilege, and South African Human Development Under and After Apartheid

Open , Seminar—Fall

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. —Nelson Mandela (1994), Long Walk to Freedom

For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret. —Alan Paton (1948), Cry, the Beloved Country

How do the contexts in which we live influence our development? And how do these contexts influence the questions that we ask about development and the ways in which we interpret our observations? In this course, we will evaluate from a cultural-ecological perspective these and other key questions about development through a discussion of human development in South Africa during and after the apartheid era. We will discuss ways in which cognitive, language, and socioemotional development and mental and physical health are influenced by the environments in which we live—which, during apartheid, was determined by the governmental classification of race. Key topics will include fear, racial stereotyping and discrimination, identity formation, acculturation and globalization, crime and violence, and forgiveness and reconciliation. We will also take a broader view of these topics in discussing what human development in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa can tell us about human development in general. In thinking about human development in South African contexts, we will also discuss South African psychological research during and after apartheid, with a view toward understanding more broadly how psychological research can both influence and be influenced by public policy. How did researchers’ political affiliations, race, ethnicity and cultural beliefs and practices affect the questions they asked, the measures they used, the ways in which they interpreted their data, and even whether and where they published their research findings? Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research in psychology, human development, anthropology, sociology, and public health; from memoirs and other first-hand accounts (including Nelson Mandela’s autobiography); and from classic and contemporary South African literature. We will also view and analyze several classic and contemporary films, including: The Power of One, Tsotsi, Catch a Fire, and Cry, the Beloved Country.

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Graduate Courses

Art of Teaching 2017-2018

Theories of Development

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The field of developmental psychology has been shaped by several different, and often conflicting, visions of childhood experience. These visions have, in turn, influenced early childhood and childhood education practice. In this course, we will study the classical theories—behaviorist, psychoanalytic, and cognitive-developmental—as they were originally formulated and in light of subsequent critiques and revisions. We will focus on the kinds of questions that each theory asks and the “image of the child” that each puts forth. Recent challenges within the field have highlighted specific conceptual problems, which we will address. Are patterns of development universal or culture- specific? Can childhood experiences be thought of as proceeding in a series of stages? How do we construct methods for studying children that will recognize and validate the significance of differing social and cultural experiences? How can we forge a multicultural view of development such that development is understood in terms of how it is experienced within a given cultural context? The goal of the course is to prepare students to integrate theory and practice into their work with children. Required papers will reflect this integration.

Faculty
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Health Advocacy 2017-2018

Capstone Seminar

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Capstone Seminar provides a strategic perspective on how the health care field is evolving and the skills required to successfully navigate the rapidly changing profession in a system that is undergoing significant reform. The seminar is designed to facilitate students' work on the Capstone projects, affording a group setting in which to explore ideas and refine project parameters, connect the project to broader advocacy concepts and career development opportunities, and receive regular feedback on Capstone progress. Students integrate academic learning with field experience and examine how theoretical advocacy themes are made operational in workplace settings. The Capstone project builds on the third and final fieldwork placement. Capstone is designed to enhance the coherence of students’ educational experiences and further develop their sense of professional identity.

Faculty

Program Design and Evaluation

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Health advocacy issues are addressed in many different ways, typically involving some type of direct intervention. This course will provide an overview of, and a critical reflection on, the program design and evaluation process. Students will discuss and study elements of design and evaluation, the major theoretical and political orientations to evaluation research, and the practical, ethical, and methodological problems involved in applying research methods to understanding social change. Thus, this course will also serve as an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research and practice. We will discuss how to approach program conception and implementation, including developing and measuring program goals and objectives, with a social-justice perspective. At the end of this course, students will be able to conceptually and practically understand the contours of how to thoughtfully plan, develop, and evaluate an intervention aimed at a health advocacy issue.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Global Child Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

The majority of the world’s children live in the global South, yet less than 10% of developmental science research has studied communities that account for 90% of the world’s population. Thus, there is a desperate need to better understand child and adolescent development outside of the United States and Western Europe. In this course, we will begin to do this by exploring what is currently known about children’s health and nutrition, motor and cognitive language, and social and emotional development across the globe. Where the research is limited, we will consider if and when research in the global North can be informative regarding child development in the global South. As we do this, we will discuss various bioecocultural approaches to better map out the connections between multiple factors at multiple levels impacting children’s developmental outcomes. Such holistic, multidisciplinary approaches will lay a foundation for sustainable, context-appropriate, community-based projects to better understand and reduce the aversive effects of multiple environmental risk factors on the development of children across the globe. These approaches will also help us understand and build upon the opportunities afforded by different contexts. Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research in developmental and cultural psychology, psychobiology, anthropology, sociology, and public health, with a critical eye toward understanding both the usefulness and the limitations of this research in light of the populations studied and the methodologies employed. We will also read the literary work of both classic and contemporary authors from the global South to better understand these contexts. Conference work will provide the opportunity for students to focus on a particular context of young children’s lives in greater detail. This may include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Nature of Nurture: Sustainable Child Development

Open , Seminar—Fall

When asked, children growing up in diverse urban contexts around the world are particularly aware of a lack of access to green play spaces. Although specific impacts on children’s cognitive and social-emotional development outside of the global North are largely unknown, there is a growing literature documenting the impacts of play—and particularly play in natural settings—on children’s academic achievement, social-emotional well-being, and physical health. Children engage in more complex play in natural settings, and proximity to such settings enhances well-being and reduces the impacts of crowding, noise, chaos, and stressful life events on children and the adults who care for them. At the same time, there is mounting evidence documenting significant impacts of the physical environment (including heavy metals, pesticides, air and water pollution, noise, crowding, chaos, housing quality, school and childcare quality, and neighborhood quality) on child development across multiple contexts. Thus, the development of effective interventions to improve the physical environments experienced by children is essential. Unfortunately—particularly in low-income homes, schools, and neighborhoods—the impacts of individual aspects of the physical environment are unclear, since multiple environmental risk factors tend to be correlated. There is some evidence, however, that factors contributing to chaos (including noise, crowding, and residential mobility) in home, school, and neighborhood environments have particularly salient impacts on children’s development and well-being as they interfere with effective proximal processes (enduring, progressively more complex reciprocal interactions between persons and their immediate environment), operate across multiple levels, and impact both children and the adults who care for them. Access to natural settings, and particularly open green spaces, for play may counter the impacts of chaos. This service-learning course will introduce these and other issues associated with sustainable child development, thus providing students with an introduction to environmental, cultural, and developmental psychology. Topics will include the physical environment and child health and development; food, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture; environmental inequalities linked to race, class, ethnicity, gender, and language; environmental chaos; natural disasters and climate change; natural play spaces; environmental attitudes and behaviors; and children’s relationships with animals. Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research, policy, and practice in psychology, human development, environmental science, sociology, anthropology, and public health. The course will also provide an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a service-learning course. All students will work for a half-day per week in a community-based organization that addresses issues of environmental awareness, environmental justice, and children’s environmental attitudes and behaviors, with approximately a third of the class placed at each of three sites in southwest Yonkers: The Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB), Greyston Community Gardens, and Groundwork Hudson Valley. Students will be involved in the day-to-day work of these sites, as helpful. At CURB, this will include environmental education programming, facility maintenance, and water quality testing. Students will also develop individual conference projects associated with these or other related organizations. In addition, we will obtain a broader understanding of the impact of the physical environment on children—as well as their impact on, and understanding of, the physical environment—through a series of field trips to CURB, Greyston Community Gardens, Bronx Zoo, New York Botanical Gardens, Greenburgh Nature Center, Kottle School Garden in Tuckahoe, Natural History Museum, Maritime Aquarium, adventure playgrounds and other playgrounds in Yonkers and in New York City, areas particularly impacted by Hurricane Sandy in the New York Metropolitan Area, local farmers’ markets, and the classrooms of several ECC teachers (including Suzie Schwimmer and Sonna Schupak) who focus on connecting children to the natural world. In addition, students will gain a broader understanding of sustainable child development and environmental education through invited seminars with various members of the SLC faculty and staff; for example, Kanwal Singh (physics), Michelle Hersh (biology), Marilyn Power (economics), Charles Zerner (environmental studies), Kathy Westwater (dance), Ryan Palmer (CURB), Vicki Garufi (CURB), and Jay Muller (CURB).

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Child and Adolescent Development in North American and African Contexts: Opportunities and Inequalities

Open , FYS—Year

Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu —Isizulu for “A person is only a person through other persons”

How do the contexts in which we live influence our development? And how do these contexts influence the questions that we ask about development and the ways in which we interpret our observations? How do local, national, and international policies impact the contexts in which children live? Should we play a role in changing some of these contexts? What are the complications of doing this? In this course, we will discuss these and other key questions about child and adolescent development in varying cultural contexts, with a specific focus on the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. As we do so, we will discuss factors contributing to both opportunities and inequalities within and between those contexts. In particular, we will discuss how physical and psychosocial environments differ for poor and nonpoor children and their families in rural upstate New York, urban Yonkers, and rural and urban Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. We will also discuss individual and environmental protective factors that buffer some children from the adverse effects of poverty, as well as the impacts of public policy on poor children and their families. Topics will include health and educational disparities; environmental inequalities linked to race, class, ethnicity, gender, language, and nationality; environmental chaos; children's play and access to green space; cumulative risk and its relationship to chronic stress; and the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the growing orphan problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research in psychology, human development, anthropology, sociology, and public health; memoirs and other first-hand accounts; and classic and contemporary African literature and film. This course will also serve as an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a service-learning course. As a class, we will collaborate with local high-school students in developing, implementing, and evaluating effective community-based work in partnership with organizations in urban Yonkers and rural Tanzania. As part of this work, all students will spend an afternoon per week working in a local afterschool program.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Program Design and Evaluation

Seminar

Health advocacy issues are addressed in many different ways, typically involving some type of direct intervention. This course will provide an overview of, and a critical reflection on, the program design and evaluation process. Students will discuss and study elements of design and evaluation, the major theoretical and political orientations to evaluation research, and the practical, ethical, and methodological problems involved in applying research methods to understanding social change. Thus, this course will also serve as an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research and practice. We will discuss how to approach program conception and implementation, including developing and measuring program goals and objectives, with a social-justice perspective. At the end of this course, students will be able to conceptually and practically understand the contours of how to thoughtfully plan, develop, and evaluate an intervention aimed at a health advocacy issue.

Faculty

Inequalities and Opportunities in Yonkers: Integrating Theory, Research, Policy, and Practice

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course is part of the Intensive Semester in Yonkers program and is no longer open for interviews and registration; interviews for the program take place in the previous spring semester.

This course will provide an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a service-learning course. All students will work for 15 hours per week in a community-based organization that addresses issues of inequality. In addition to their work in the community, students will participate in a weekly discussion-based seminar that will include invited guests from various members of the community-based organizations with which we are working, as well as Sarah Lawrence College faculty and staff and other local practitioners, politicians, and educators. Over the course of the semester, we will discuss participatory action and community-based research methods and practice, integrating theory and research, policy and practice, public health and public policy, nongovernmental organizations and private-public partnerships; understanding and addressing environmental inequalities for children and families; and integrating dance and the performing arts in community-based work (with Peggy Gould). Students will also attend monthly group conferences with other students working in their community-based organization and biweekly, one-on-one conference meetings, with associated reading and written work.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Babies, Birds, and ’bots: An Introduction to Developmental Cognitive Science

Open , Lecture—Fall

Do lemurs see red? Do you? What about newborns? Do you really have déjà vu? Does listening to Mozart in the womb really make children more intelligent? What about Metallica? What is intelligence, anyway? Why are phone numbers seven digits long? And why do children learn language better from an adult in person than from the same adult on television? In this course, we will attempt to answer all of these questions and many more that you may have about how we process visual and auditory information, first put things in categories, solve simple and complex problems, communicate with each other and with our pets, and remember how to ride a bicycle and how to get to New York City. To answer these questions, we will read and discuss both theory and research in developmental psychology, psychobiology, linguistics, anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy on various aspects of cognitive development across the life span in different cultural contexts, focusing on infancy, childhood, and adolescence. We will also discuss both the usefulness and limitations of this research in light of the populations studied and the methodologies employed. Topics will include perception, categorization, reasoning, theory of mind and autism, language and thought, multilingualism and second-language acquisition, social cognition, memory, metacognition and metamemory, consciousness, and competence in context.

Faculty
Related Disciplines