Elizabeth Johnston

MA, St. Andrew’s University, Scotland. DPhil, Oxford University. Special interests in human perception of three-dimensional shape, binocular vision, and the perception of depth from motion; author of articles and book chapters on shape perception from stereopsis, sensorimotor integration, and combining depth information from different sources. SLC, 1992–

Course Information

Current undergraduate courses

Art and Visual Perception

Fall

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by neuroscientist Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as for students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Memory Research Seminar

Spring

The experimental study of remembering has been a vital part of psychology since the beginning of the discipline. The most productive experimental approach to this subject has been a matter of intense debate and controversy. The disputes have centered on the relationship between the forms of memory studied in the laboratory and the uses of memory in everyday life. We will engage this debate through the study of extraordinary memories, autobiographical memories, the role of visual imagery in memory, accuracy of memory, expertise, eyewitness testimony, metaphors of memory, and the anatomy of memory. Frederic Bartlett’s constructive theory of memory will form the theoretical backbone of the course. Most conference work will involve experimental explorations of memory.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Mindfulness: Neuroscientific and Psychological Perspectives

Spring

Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently, developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice, laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Current graduate courses

Art and Visual Perception

Fall

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by neuroscientist Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as for students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Memory Research Seminar

Spring

The experimental study of remembering has been a vital part of psychology since the beginning of the discipline. The most productive experimental approach to this subject has been a matter of intense debate and controversy. The disputes have centered on the relationship between the forms of memory studied in the laboratory and the uses of memory in everyday life. We will engage this debate through the study of extraordinary memories, autobiographical memories, the role of visual imagery in memory, accuracy of memory, expertise, eyewitness testimony, metaphors of memory, and the anatomy of memory. Frederic Bartlett’s constructive theory of memory will form the theoretical backbone of the course. Most conference work will involve experimental explorations of memory.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Art and Visual Perception - Graduate

Fall

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience. 

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Brains, Minds, and Bodies: Neuropsychological Narratives

Neuropsychology explores notions of self, memory, sensory perception, language, consciousness, and mind-body interactions through study of cases of the breakdown, hyperdevelopment, or recovery of mental function. In this course, we will draw upon a mixture of neuropsychological case studies, scientific research papers, neuroscience texts, novels, and memoirs to investigate current understandings of minds, brains, and bodies, along with the connections between and among them. The case studies address conditions such as agnosia, amnesia, synesthesia, aphasia, autism, and other alterations in consciousness that arise from brain damage or variations in brain development. Narrative refers to the narrative accounts of neurologists but also to the view of the human brain as primarily a storyteller. A third sense of the term narrative will be invoked in our reading of current fiction and memoirs that incorporate neuropsychological material. This course is designed for students interested in the intersections of science and art. Throughout the year, we will also study the concept of mindfulness and the rapidly expanding literature on the way its practice can affect the brain, mind, and body.

Faculty

Mindfulness: Neuroscientific and Psychological Perspectives - Graduate

Spring

Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently, developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice, laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind.

Faculty

Narrative Neuropsychology

Fall

“The self is an incredibly ingenious novelist.” —­Richard Powers

Narrative neuropsychology explores notions of mind, memory, sensory perception, language, consciousness, and mind-body interactions through study of cases of the breakdown, hyperdevelopment, or recovery of mental function. In this course, we will draw upon a mixture of neuropsychological case studies, scientific research papers, novels, and memoirs to investigate conditions such as agnosia, amnesia, synesthesia, aphasia, autism, and other alterations in consciousness that arise from brain damage or variations in brain development. Narrative refers to the narrative accounts of neurologists but also to the view of the human brain as primarily a storyteller. A third sense of the term narrative will be invoked in our reading of current fiction and memoirs that incorporate neuropsychological material. This course is designed for students interested in the intersections of science and art.

Faculty

Principles of Psychology: Brains, Minds, and Bodies

Spring

When William James published The Principles of Psychology in 1890, he described it scathingly as a “loathsome, distended, tumefied, bloated, dropsical mass” that proved that he was an incompetent and that psychology was not a science. More than 100 years later, it is one of the most quoted and influential psychological texts. In Principles, James set out his views on a range of subjects that continue to capture the interest of contemporary psychologists and neuroscientists, such as attention, memory, the senses, the self, consciousness, habit, time perception, and emotion. We will read some of James’s writings in conjunction with contemporary texts that draw inspiration from his work and discuss them in light of current neuroscientific studies of the brain, mind, and body.

Faculty