Cognitive and Brain Science

Classes from disciplines such as biology, computer science, mathematics, philosophy, and psychology comprise the classes available within this cross-disciplinary path.

Cognitive and Brain Science 2022-2023 Courses

Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

Faculty

Experimental Neurobiology and Physiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Animals are composed of an astoundingly complex orchestra of molecules, cells, tissues, and organs that support life. In this laboratory-based seminar, we will explore the intricacies of animal physiology, from the molecular to the behavioral, while engaging in complementary experimentation using the versatile zebrafish model organism. Seminar and lab time will be integrated, as we move back and forth between discussing concepts in biology and applying them to our lab work. We will begin with the foundational subject of neurobiology by studying the nervous system and how it accomplishes the sensation and perception of diverse internal and external stimuli through visual, auditory, somatosensory, gustatory, and olfactory systems; the performance of precise movements and behaviors; and learning and memory. Our knowledge of the nervous system will serve as groundwork upon which we will grow our understanding of other topics in physiology, including circulation, respiration and breathing, feeding and digestion, thermoregulation, osmoregulation, hormonal regulation, reproduction, and camouflage. Students will learn to house, breed, and conduct experiments with adult and larval zebrafish and will collaboratively design and execute novel experiments based on relevant scientific literature.

Faculty

Sensory Biology

Open, Seminar—Spring

Why do chili peppers taste “hot,” while peppermint gum tastes “cold”? How can humans distinguish between a trillion different odors? Can onions be confused with apples if our noses are plugged? Why do flowers appear different to humans and to bees? Why can’t we hear the echolocation calls of most bats? The answers to these questions lie in our understanding of how animals interact with their environments via sensory perception. In this course, we will study the sensory systems underlying hearing, balance, vision, smell, taste, and touch, as well as unique abilities that support some animal navigation strategies like magnetoreception used by butterflies and sea turtles during migration. We will explore senses from a neurobiological perspective and, therefore, will begin with an overview of the nervous system and the structure and function of neurons. We will then study how each sense is based on the perception of a particular stimulus by specialized sensory neurons within specialized sensory tissues. We will discuss how stimuli are converted to cellular information and how that is communicated to the brain, leading to perception.

Faculty

Genetics

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

At the biological core of all life on Earth is the gene. The unique combination of genes in each individual ultimately forms the basis for that person’s physical appearance, metabolic capacity, thought processes, and behavior; therefore, in order to understand how life develops and functions, it is critical to understand what genes are, how they work, and how they are passed on from parents to offspring. In this course, we will begin by investigating the theories of inheritance first put forth by Mendel and then progress to our current concepts of how genes are transmitted through individuals, families, and whole populations. We will also examine chromosome structure and the molecular functions of genes and DNA— and how mutations in DNA can lead to physical abnormalities and diseases such as Trisomy 21, hemophilia, or others. Finally, we will discuss the role of genetics in influencing such complex phenotypes as behavior or traits such as intelligence. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

Faculty

Virology

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Viruses are some of the smallest biological entities found in nature—yet, at the same time, perhaps the most notorious. Having no independent metabolic activity of their own, they function as intracellular parasites depending entirely on infecting and interacting with the cells of a host organism to produce new copies of themselves. The effects on the host organism can be catastrophic, leading to disease and death. HIV has killed more than 18-million people since its identification and infected twice that number. Ebola, West Nile, herpes, and pox viruses are all well-known yet shrouded in fear and mystery. During the course of this semester, we will examine the biology of viruses by discussing: their physical and genetic properties; their interaction with host cells; their ability to commandeer the cellular machinery for their own reproductive needs; the effects of viral infection on host cells; and, finally, how viruses and other subviral entities may have originated and evolved. In addition, we will examine how viruses have been discussed in the primary research literature and other media, with readings drawn from Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague and others.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Achilles, the Tortoise, and the Mystery of the Undecidable

FYS—Year

In this course, we will take an extended journey through Douglas Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Gödel, Escher, Bach, which has been called “an entire humanistic education between the covers of a single book.” The key question at the heart of the book is: How can minds possibly arise from mere matter? Few people would claim that individual neurons in a brain are “conscious” in anything like the normal sense in which we experience consciousness. Yet, consciousness and self-awareness emerge, somehow, out of a myriad of neuronal firings and molecular interactions. How can individually meaningless physical events in a brain, even vast numbers of them, give rise to meaningful awareness, to a sense of self? And could we duplicate such a process in a machine? Considering these questions will lead us to explore a wide range of ideas—from the foundations of mathematics and computer science to molecular biology, art, and music and to the research frontiers of modern-day cognitive science and neuroscience. Along the way, we will closely examine Gödel's incompleteness theorem, the drawings of M. C. Escher, the music of J. S. Bach, mathematical logic and formal systems, the limits of computation, and the past history and future prospects of artificial intelligence. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs.

Faculty

Introduction to Computer Programming

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This lecture presents a rigorous introduction to computer science and the art of computer programming, using the elegant, eminently practical, yet easy-to-learn programming language Python. We will learn the principles of problem solving with a computer while gaining the programming skills necessary for further study in the discipline. We will emphasize the power of abstraction, the theory of algorithms, and the benefits of clearly written, well-structured programs. Fundamental topics include: how computers represent and manipulate numbers, text, and other data (such as images and sound); variables and symbolic abstraction; Boolean logic; conditional, iterative, and recursive computation; functional abstraction (“black boxes”); and standard data structures, such as arrays, lists, and dictionaries. We will learn introductory computer graphics and how to process simple user interactions via mouse and keyboard. We will also consider the role of randomness in otherwise deterministic computation, basic sorting and searching algorithms, how programs can communicate across networks, and some principles of game design. Toward the end of the semester, we will investigate somewhat larger programming projects and, so, will discuss file processing; modules and data abstraction; and object-oriented concepts such as classes, methods, and inheritance. As we proceed, we will debate the relative merits of writing programs from scratch versus leveraging existing libraries of code. Discussion topics will also include the distinction between decidable and tractable problems, the relationship between programming and artificial intelligence, the importance of algorithmic efficiency to computer security, and Moore’s Law and its impact on the evolution on programming languages and programming style. Weekly hands-on laboratory sessions will reinforce the programming concepts covered in class.

Faculty

Computer Organization

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course investigates how computers are designed “underneath the hood” and how basic building blocks can be combined to make powerful machines that execute intricate algorithms. There are two essential categories of components in modern computers: the hardware (the physical medium of computation) and the software (the instructions executed by the computer). As technology becomes more complex, the distinction between hardware and software blurs. We will study why this happens, as well as why hardware designers need to be concerned with the way software designers write programs and vice versa. Along the way, we will learn how computers work from higher-level programming languages such as Python and JavaScript, to system-level languages C and Java, down to the basic zeroes and ones of machine code. Topics include Boolean logic, digital-circuit design, computer arithmetic, assembly and machine languages, memory hierarchies, and parallel processing. Special attention will be given to the RISC architectures—now the world’s most common, general-purpose microprocessors. In particular, we will focus on the ARM architecture and Apple’s new M1 processors. Time permitting, we will investigate the relationship between energy consumption and the rise of multicore and mobile architectures.

Faculty

Bio-Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is concerned with reproducing the abilities of human intelligence in computers. In recent years, exciting new approaches to AI have been developed, inspired by a wide range of biological processes and structures that are capable of self-organization, adaptation, and learning. These sources of inspiration include biological evolution, neurophysiology, and animal behavior. This course is an in-depth introduction to the algorithms and methodologies of biologically-inspired AI and is intended for students with prior programming experience. We will focus primarily on machine-learning techniques—such as evolutionary computation and genetic algorithms, reinforcement learning, artificial neural networks, and deep learning—from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. Throughout the course, we will use the Python programming language to implement and experiment with these techniques in detail. Students will have many opportunities for extended exploration through open-ended, hands-on lab exercises and conference work.

Faculty

Metaphysical Poetry

Open, Seminar—Fall

The best lyric poets of 17th-century England have been loosely characterized as “metaphysical poets” because of their “wit”; their intellectual range, rigor, and inventiveness; the versatility and trickery of their poetic strategies; and their remarkable fusion of thought and passion. Masters of paradox, these poets stage and analyze their expressive intensities with technical precision. They eroticize religious devotion and sanctify bodily desire with fearless and searching bravado. They stretch their linguistic tightropes across a historical arena of tremendous political and religious turmoil, in response to which they forge what some critics consider to be early evidences of the ironic self-consciousness of modernity, poetic dramatizations of the Cartesian ego. We will test these claims, as well as the sufficiency of the category “metaphysical,” against the evidence of the poems themselves. We will closely read significant poems of Donne, Jonson, Herbert, Phillips, Herrick, Vaughan, Crashaw, Milton, Marvell, and Behn. We will attend primarily to how they work as poems, looking at argument, structure, diction, syntax, tone, image, and figure. We will also consider their religious, cultural, and psychological implications. Students will prepare three papers based on class readings. Conference work is recommended in correlative topics: the English Bible, Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Shakespearean and Jacobean drama, or influences on and comparisons to Romantic or Modern English poetry.

Faculty

An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error—you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

Faculty

The Philosophy of Music

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

Music is central to most of our lives. How can we understand the experience of music? What does music express? If it expresses emotions, how do those emotions relate to the emotions that we experience in everyday life? Can music without words express emotions with as much clarity as music with words? As a background to these questions, we will look at issues concerning the nature and experience of art in general. We will examine the views of writers such as Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, Dewey, and Adorno and compare how they understand the role of art in society, along with our own experiences. The musical repertory will include medieval and Renaissance music, music by Bach, songs by Schubert, and examples from the symphonic repertory of composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. We will study those works using the techniques of formal analysis that are generally used in music-history classes but also attempt to draw out the many contextual threads: How are they embedded in a culture, and how do they reflect the temperament and orientation of the composers? While most of our musical examples will be from the classical repertory, other styles will occasionally be relevant. The goals of the class are to understand how musical and philosophical thought can illuminate each other and to deepen our awareness of the range and power of music. No prior knowledge of music theory or history is required; we will introduce and define the terms that we need as the class proceeds.

Faculty

Deranged Democracy: How Can We Govern Ourselves if Everyone Has Lost Their Minds?

Open, Lecture—Fall

Many of us are struck by what seems to be the growing irrationality of contemporary democratic politics to the point where we despair of our capacity to address problems like global climate change or pandemics that could pose existential threats to our species, not to mention a whole range of urgent but more mundane policy issues. In this class, we will seek to understand disturbing trends like populism, polarization, and disinformation in part on their own terms but also by asking whether they are deeply rooted in human nature—at least on our current best understandings of ourselves. More specifically, democracy seems to rely on at least a minimum degree of rationality and self-control on the part of the citizens whose votes and opinions guide government policy. But is this reliance foolhardy in light of what recent history, psychology, evolutionary theory, philosophy, and cognitive science teach? Do aspects of our current social and technological circumstances make us less rational and self-controlled today than our Enlightenment progenitors hoped we were becoming 200-odd years ago in the era of democratic revolutions—the era from which ideas and institutions that continue to inform our politics today emerged? In this course, we will survey aspects of the political history of recent centuries, as well as our own historical moment, to ask if they should temper confidence in the power of reason in politics? We will also examine recent research in cognitive science and philosophy that conclude that it is hard to sustain a model of human behavior that places reason and rationality in the driver’s seat. What alternative accounts of human nature are emerging from recent research? And what are their political implications, especially for democratic societies? This course will survey these issues by examining the intersection of cognitive science, philosophy and political science, history and theory to ask whether the Enlightenment’s faith in democracy was misplaced. Or, instead, are there reasons to believe that democracy can maintain its claim to legitimacy even after reason has been demoted in our understandings of human nature?

Faculty

Justice, Care, and the Lifespan Revolution: A Community-Based Seminar

Open, Seminar—Spring

What does it mean to age with dignity? What is required, both individually and socially, to fairly and with dignity provide the special care that the elderly often require? Special urgency attends these questions today, as we are in the midst of a lifespan revolution with many people living more than twice as long as the average person did just a few generations earlier. This urgency is compounded by the fact that the organization and distribution of care labor does not yet adequately reflect this lifespan revolution or the transition to highly mobile and less traditional societies characterized by rapid social and technological changes—changes that can make aging harder and care more difficult to provide. Societies in which an ever-larger portion of their populations have entered elderhood face issues to do with justice in the distribution of care, the nature and forms of ageism, or the isolation of those deemed elderly from the rest of society. Meanwhile, the organization and distribution of care labor remains deeply structured by traditional assumptions, as well as inequalities and prejudices that occupy the intersections of age, gender, and race. Viewed simultaneously from these angles, the lifespan revolution presents new and pressing ethical issues about how best to lead a complete and extended human life. The lifespan revolution also presents issues of justice about how society can productively incorporate—while also respecting and caring for those living far longer than humans have in the past—and fairly distribute “Love’s Labor” of caring. These will be among the most urgent issues of ethics and justice in the middle of the 21st century. This course will examine these issues, in part, by drawing on a variety of academic fields, including philosophy, political theory, psychology, cognitive science, labor studies, and literature. This is also a community-based course; we will partner with Wartburg, a diverse adult care community in Mount Vernon, NY, close to the College. In the first half of the course, students will study the range of issues described above and begin to develop a more specific focus on how lifelong learning contributes to well-being in elderhood. This focus serves as preparation to offer “cognitive care” to the elderly members of the Wartburg community and will be accompanied by visits to Wartburg so that students can get a sense of its members and their interests and have an opportunity to observe lifelong learning in practice. Students will also develop short classes or workshops to offer at Wartburg as the main focus of their conference work. In the second half of the course, the study of specific issues of justice and care presented by the lifespan revolution will continue but also be supplemented by engagement at Wartburg, as students offer the courses or workshops that they have developed to the residents there.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Approaches to Child Development

Open, FYS—Year

What are the worlds of children like? How can we come closer to understanding those worlds? In this class, we will use different modalities to cast light on them. One set of lenses is provided by psychological theory. Various psychologists (Piaget, Vygotsky, Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, Skinner, Bandura, Chess, Bronfenbrenner) have raised particular questions and suggested conceptual answers. We will read the theorists closely for their answers but also for their questions, asking which aspects of childhood each theory throws into focus. We will examine systematic studies carried out by developmental psychologists in areas such as the development of thinking, social understanding, language, gender, friendship, and morality. We will take up the development of the brain and nervous system and consider the implications for psychological questions. An important counterpoint to reading about children is direct observation. All students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and make notes on what they observe. At times, we will draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts. Fieldwork also will provide the basis for conference work. Ideally, conference projects will combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the projects students have designed in the past are exploring children’s friendships, observing what children say as they are painting, following a child as he is learning English as a second language, and writing and perhaps illustrating a children’s book. We will meet for conference weekly in the first semester, as you develop your individual conference project and for donning matters. In the spring, the conferences could be weekly or biweekly, depending on your needs and the progress of your conference projects. The world of childhood is magical. This course is for students who understand that the magic won’t disappear if we take a close, intellectually rigorous look.

Faculty

Psychocinematics: Film, Psychology, and Neuroscience

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Why are movies so compelling to us? When you think about it, it is odd to spend so much time sitting still in a chair, in the dark, staring at a flat screen and watching flickering light without the possibility of interacting with the depicted characters or affecting their actions in any way. Philosophers argue that movies tap into our dream mechanisms. Psychologist Ed Tan calls films “emotion machines.” Neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks claims that movies hijack evolutionary mechanisms of mind that evolved for other purposes. In this perceptual psychology course, our focus will be on how study of fundamental faculties of mind and body—perception, attention, emotion, and memory—can inform our experience of viewing and, perhaps, making movies. Switching our point of view, we will also investigate how the study of film can advance our understanding of the workings of perception, attention, emotion, and memory. We will watch some films together and discuss clips from many others that you select and present to the seminar group. This is a good course for people who are interested in interdisciplinary work that integrates artistic and scientific approaches to the material at hand. The course format is a small lecture (30 people), with one lecture and one small seminar (10 people) every week.

Faculty

Finding Happiness and Keeping It: Insights From Psychology and Neuroscience

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. —Joseph Campbell

We all want happy lives filled with meaning and satisfaction. Yet, for many of us, happiness can be difficult to obtain with regularity or to sustain over a long period of time. Happiness is more than a feeling; rather, it is a state of well-being that should last a lifetime. Like exercising to improve physical health, it takes sustained cognitive effort to improve our mental health and engage in practices to promote well-being. We can look to evidence from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, which tells us that we are mentally unprepared to: (1) predict what will make us happy, and (2) engage in behaviors that are known to make us happier. In this course, we will cover the psychological and brain-based factors for why happiness feels so fleeting and what we can do to build better and more effective habits that have been shown to lead to longer-term maintenance of a positive mood and well-being. Students will read foundational work in the field of positive psychology by Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Edward Diener, Daniel Kahneman, and others. We will also discuss studies in neuroscience that show how behavioral interventions in positive psychology can impact the brain’s structure and function—just like building stronger muscles during exercise. Through small-group conferences, students will apply evidence-based practices—such as bringing order and organization to their daily lives, expressing gratitude, and building social bonds (i.e., “cross training” for the mind) in activities called “Re-wirements.” For the final project, called “Unlearning Yourself,” students will learn to undo or replace a detrimental habit (e.g., overspending, social-media use, poor sleep hygiene, complaining, procrastinating) by establishing a plan to introduce into their daily lives evidence-based practices for sustained well-being. By the end of this course, students will have gained the ability to sift through the ever-booming literature on positive psychology and neuroscience to identify the practices that work best for them, as well as an appreciation for the notion that finding and keeping happiness and well-being requires intentional practice and maintenance. As part of this course, students should come prepared to engage in meaningful self-work.

Faculty

Art and Visual Perception

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

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, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, 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. The course format is a small lecture (30 people), with one lecture and one small seminar (10 people) every week.

Faculty

The Psychology and Neuroscience of Addictions

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course is a multidisciplinary overview of addiction. Although the primary focus of the course is substance-related addictions and use, the emerging literature regarding nonsubstance addictive behaviors (food, gambling, internet, gaming) will also be discussed. Explanations for addiction—spiritual, emotional, biological—have spanned the ages and remain controversial today. This course will explore the study of addiction from its historical roots to contemporary theory. Competing theories of substance abuse/addiction will be examined, with a focus on the individual with regard to cultural and societal concerns. This course presents a framework for understanding models of substance use and addiction, including neuropsychological advances, with a critical review of the evidence and controversies regarding each. Students will be asked to think critically and constructively about the topic, eschewing dogma of any one approach to the treatment and understanding of substance abuse. Readings will include literature from psychology and medicine to the arts, ethics, and the press. Adequate time will be spent introducing basic social and brain science as it pertains to later, more advanced examinations of exciting neurological research.

Faculty

Speaking the Unspeakable: Trauma, Emotion, Cognition, and Language

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Psychological trauma has been described as unspeakable—so cognitively disorganizing and intense that it is difficult to put the experience and the emotions that it evokes into words. Yet, the language that survivors use to describe their traumas provides insight into the impact of trauma and the process of recovery. This course will begin with an overview of theories of trauma, resilience, and post-traumatic growth, as well as an introduction to the study of trauma narratives and how language reflects emotional and cognitive functioning. We will then explore different aspects of the cognitive, emotional, and biological impact of undergoing a trauma and how these changes are reflected in the language that trauma survivors use as they speak and write about their experiences. We will consider works by experts on trauma and language, including Judith Herman, Bessel van der Kolk, and James Pennebaker, as well as current research in the field of trauma and trauma narratives. Through these readings, we will address topics such as what makes an experience traumatic, how representations of trauma in popular culture color our perceptions of trauma and recovery, the role of resilience and growth following a trauma, and what we can learn from attending to the content and structure of language. This course will be of interest to students who are curious about how the words we use reflect our cognitive and emotional functioning, especially for students interested in pursuing topics such as these at an advanced or graduate level.

Faculty

The Power and Meanings of Play in Children’s Lives

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Play provides us with an amazing and informative lens for observing the development and complex inner lives of young children. Yet, play is being threatened by increasing amounts of time spent on technology and a growing societal focus on scheduled activities and academic goals. This course will offer an introduction to the many fascinating aspects of play, including the importance of unstructured free play, how play shapes the brain, sensory processing and self-regulation in play, outdoor play, cultural contexts of play, and humor development in play. Through readings, video illustrations, and discussion of student fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center, we will explore the many ways in which play contributes to the complex social, cognitive, emotional, and imaginative lives of children. This course will provide a foundation for the spring course, Early Intervention Approaches for Young Children and Families.

Faculty

The Psychology of Food and Eating Behaviors

Open, Seminar—Spring

Why do we eat? What is the function of food? These questions seem simple on the surface, but the many possible answers reveal the complexity of our relationship with food. At its core, food is an essential source of nutrition and sustenance. Beyond that, food can serve as a source of great pleasure, anguish, or both and as a tool for controlling ourselves, our bodies, and our environments. Food choices are shaped by our relationships with others, our culture and upbringing, our emotions, and our bodies. In this broad survey course, students will be exploring concepts ranging from the psychological and biological underpinnings of how we sense and perceive different tastes to how we develop food preferences and eating behaviors in the context of both “normal” and disordered relationships with food. High standards of beauty and mass/social media’s perpetuation of an “ideal” body type are at the forefront of disordered eating behaviors, which will be considered in conjunction with the psychological and biological factors underlying the development of disordered eating behaviors. Global changes in diet and eating habits, the rise in obesity and related health issues, and the sustainability of current food patterns will also be discussed. By examining the attitudes, behaviors, and practices around food choices and eating behaviors, students will learn essential psychological, biological, cultural, and social theories to develop a greater appreciation and awareness of our highly complex relationship with food.

Faculty

Mindfulness: Science and Practice

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—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. One of our two weekly meetings will be devoted to a mindful yoga practice.

Faculty

The Mind-Body Connection: Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, and your pupils dilate—all at once. Is this because you are exercising? Or did someone you really like just walk into the room? Psychophysiology is the experimental study of these bodily, or peripheral, signals, which are thought to be important “read-outs” of a person’s emotional state (e.g., fear, happiness, anger). In this course, students will gain a foundational understanding of the field of psychophysiology, which is the study of the relationship between signals recorded from the body and brain to emotional and cognitive states. In the first third of the semester, we will cover the biological processes that give rise to peripheral autonomic arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses, brain activity) and how these responses are naturally regulated by the brain and body in a process called homeostasis. We will also survey the brain areas that may be responsible for developing a conscious awareness of, and ascribing meaning to, the signals from the body. We will discuss major theories of emotion and the mind-body connection, including the James-Lange Theory, the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (Damasio), the Neurovisceral Integration Model (Thayer & Lane), and the Polyvagal Theory (Porges), among others. Through in-class labs and discussions of relevant research papers in the second third of the semester, students will learn how to measure peripheral markers of arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses) and relate those signals to emotionally provocative events. In the final third of the semester, in their small lab groups, students will oversee seminar discussions on applications of psychophysiology as it relates to a special topic of their choice, including social interactions, sleep and dreaming, marketing and consumerism, psychopathology (mental health), social justice, and more. Through conference work, students will identify a topic of personal interest to explore through the lens of psychophysiology and, after performing a literature review, propose a hypothetical research question that incorporates one or more of the methods that we discuss in class. At the end of the semester, students will present their conference work at the Sarah Lawrence poster symposium.

Faculty

Sociology of the Body, Disability, Illness, and Health

Open, Seminar—Year

In this yearlong seminar, we will examine bodies: how disability and illness shape life experience; the ways in which the body is surveilled by government and other institutions, including the medical profession; and the individual development of social identity. The course explores several themes, including the politics of reproduction, agency and labor, bodies in transition, stigmatization, and resisting bodies. Substantive topics include the experience of pregnancy, gender development in childhood, the development of sexual identity, the onset of severe mental illness, the isolating experience of physical decline, and the politics of death and dying. For their conference work, students are invited to select one bodily experience, disability, or illness to explore in depth. The first semester will be devoted to background reading and the development of a research question. This will lay the groundwork for second-semester data collection and analysis.

Faculty