Cognitive and Brain Science

2019-2020 Courses

First-Year Studies: The Brain According to Oliver Sacks

Open , FYS—Year

Dr. Oliver Sacks was a prominent neurologist and prolific writer who considered the workings of the brain through the lens of observing and diagnosing patients, including himself. Sacks communicated the marvels of the brain to the public through his engaging and remarkable stories of neurological dysfunction and his musings on intriguing and poorly-understood topics in neuroscience. We will study the awesome brain in health and disease through Sacks’ writings, accompanied by readings and various media—including a number of films—that complement and expand upon Sacks’ descriptions of brain function. Topics will likely include: vision, blindness, and prosopagnosia (aka face-blindness, from which Sacks himself suffered); speech, audition, music, and deafness; religion, spirituality, out-of-body experiences, and hallucinations; autism and Asperger’s syndrome; Tourette’s syndrome; neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s; memory, amnesia, and the perception of time. Individual conference meetings will alternate biweekly with small-group conference meetings.

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Drugs and the Brain

Open , Lecture—Fall

The nervous system is the ultimate target of many drugs: those taken to alleviate pain, to increase pleasure, or to transform perceptions. We will focus on the neuronal targets and mechanisms of psychoactive drugs, including which neurotransmitter systems they modulate. We will consider stimulants, depressants, narcotics, analgesics, hallucinogens, and psychotherapeutics. Drug use cannot be fully explained, however, by simply identifying the neuronal proteins with which drugs interact. In order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of drug use and abuse, we will explore the social, political, economic, and genetic factors that influence drug consumption—both legal and illegal—and drug epidemics, including the current opioid epidemic in the United States. We will learn about drug sources, forms, and methods of use while exploring what is known about the biological basis of tolerance, cravings, withdrawal, and the disease of addiction. Finally, we will explore the neurobiological mechanisms of currently available treatments for drug overdose and addiction.

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General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open , Lecture—Fall

Biology, the study of life on Earth, encompasses structures and forms ranging from the very minute to the very large. In order to grasp the complexities of life, we begin this study with the cellular and molecular forms and mechanisms that serve as the foundation for all living organisms. The initial part of the semester will introduce the fundamental molecules critical to the biochemistry of life processes. From there, we branch out to investigate the major ideas, structures, and concepts central to the biology of cells, genetics, and the chromosomal basis of inheritance. Finally, we conclude the semester by examining how those principles relate to the mechanisms of evolution. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the individuals responsible for major discoveries, as well as the experimental techniques and process by which such advances in biological understanding are made. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Introduction to Genetics

Open , Seminar—Fall

Genetics is the study of the basic unit of all life: genes. Genes are composed of DNA, intricately packaged in structures called chromosomes that ultimately encode proteins that are key for the normal development and homeostasis of all of the cellular and molecular processes in the cell. These processes are crucial to maintain the optimal function of all of the organs and systems that comprise the human body. Changes such as mutations in genes can lead to a plethora of defects and, hence, diseases and disorders. This course will introduce not only the amazing variety and diversity found in life due to the changes at the genetic level but also how many of those genetic changes are responsible for numerous disease states, as well. We will learn about and discuss the basic molecular mechanisms that determine heredity, such as mitosis and meiosis, leading into Mendelian genetics, various kinds of mutations, population and evolutionary genetics. We will also introduce and discuss some of the exciting genetic techniques that present great promise to increase our ability to further explore the vast treasure chest of information that lies in our genes. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Cell Biology

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Cells are the most basic unit of life on the planet. All life forms are simply conglomerations of cells, ranging from the individual bacterial cells to the higher order plants and animals. Humans, themselves, are made up of trillions of cells. So what exactly is a cell? What is it made of? How does it function? In a complex organism, how do cells communicate with one another and coordinate their activities? How do they regulate their growth? What role do genes play in controlling cellular function? This course will address these questions and introduce the basic biology of cells while keeping in mind their larger role in tissues and organs. If we can understand the structures and functions of the individual cells that serve as the subunits of larger organisms, we can begin to understand the biological nature of humans and other complex life forms.

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Neurobiology

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

The brain is our most complex organ. The human brain contains a hundred billion neurons whose functions underlie our remarkable capacities, including the ability to sense our environment, communicate via language, learn and remember, perform precise movements, and experience emotions. In this introduction to neurobiology, we will focus on the structure and function of the nervous system, considering molecular, cellular, systems, and cognitive perspectives. We will learn how the nervous system develops and how the major cells of the nervous system—neurons and glia—function. We will examine the chemical and electrical modes of communication between neurons, with a focus on the action potential and neurotransmission. We will consider the major subdivisions of the brain and how those regions control neural functions, including learning and memory, emotion, language, sleep, movement, and sensory perception. Finally, we will study disorders of the nervous system and consider how they inform our understanding of healthy brain function.

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Introduction to Computer Science: The Way of the Program

Open , Lecture—Fall

This lecture course is 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 and the benefits of clearly written, well-structured programs, beginning with imperative programming and working our way up to object-oriented concepts such as classes, methods, and inheritance. Along the way, we will explore the fundamental idea of an algorithm; how computers represent and manipulate numbers, text, and other data (such as images and sound) in binary; Boolean logic; conditional, iterative, and recursive programming; functional abstraction; file processing; and basic data structures such as lists and dictionaries. We will also learn introductory computer graphics, how to process simple user interactions via mouse and keyboard, and some principles of game design and implementation. All students will complete a final programming project of their own design. Weekly hands-on laboratory sessions will reinforce the concepts covered in class through extensive practice at the computer.

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Computer Organization

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Permission of the instructor is required. Students should have at least one semester of programming experience.

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. Time permitting, we will investigate the relationship between energy consumption and the rise of multicore and mobile architectures.

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Compilers

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Permission of the instructor is required. Students should have at least one semester of programming experience and, preferably, some familiarity with computer organization.

Compilers are often known as translators—and for good reason: Their job is to take programs written in one language and translate them to another language (usually assembly or machine language) that a computer can execute. It is perhaps the ideal meeting between the theoretical and practical sides of computer science. Modern compiler implementation offers a synthesis of: (1) language theory, how languages (both natural languages and programming languages) can be represented on and recognized by a computer; (2) software design and development, how practical software can be developed in a modular way—e.g., how components of one compiler can be connected to components of another compiler to form a new compiler; and (3) computer architecture, understanding how modern computers work. During the semester, we will write a program implementing a nontrivial compiler for a novel programming language (partly of our own design). Topics we will cover along the way include the difference between interpreters and compilers, regular expressions and finite automata, context-free grammars and the Chomsky hierarchy, type checking and type inference, contrasts between syntax and semantics, and graph coloring as applied to register allocation. Conference work will allow students to pursue different aspects of compilers, such as compilation of object-oriented languages, automatic garbage collection, compiler optimizations, just-in-time compilation, WebAssembly, and applications of compiler technology to natural-language translation.

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The Middle East and the Politics of Collective Memory: Between Trauma and Nostalgia

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

What is the relationship between history and memory? How are historical events interpreted and rendered socially meaningful? How is public knowledge about the past shaped and propagated? How and why—and in what contexts—do particular ways of seeing and remembering the past become attached to various political projects? In recent decades, historians have become increasingly interested in the unique role and power of memory in public life and have sought to understand the innumerable ways that collective memory has been constructed, experienced, used, abused, debated, and reshaped. In this course, we will explore these themes and questions by reading deeply into the rich literature on historical memory within the field of modern Middle Eastern history. Particular attention will be paid to the following topics: the role of memory in the construction of Palestinian and Israeli national identity; debates over national remembering, forgetting, and reconstruction following the Lebanese Civil War; Middle Eastern diaspora formation and exilic identity (for instance, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979); the myth of a “golden age” of Arab nationalism; Turkish nostalgia for the Ottoman imperial past; war, conflict, and trauma; Islamism and salafi interpretations of Islamic history; and the role of museums, holidays, and other commemoration practices in the construction of the national past across the region. Throughout the course, we will attend to the complex interplay between individual and collective memory (and “countermemory”), particularly as this has played out in several formulations of Middle Eastern nationalism.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Prerequisite: basic high-school algebra and geometry.

Correlation, regression, 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, and 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. Conference work, 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 graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Cultural Psychology of Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: previous course in psychology or another social science.

Cultural psychology is the study of the ways in which individual and culture, subject and object, person and world constitute each other. This course will explore how children and adolescents make meaning of their experiences in the contexts in which they live—assuming that, for all of us, development is an ongoing response to the cultural life around us and that culture is a dynamic process of engagement. We will consider topics such as: language and culture, early storytelling in families, transitions from home to school, and gendered and racial identities. We will read a combination of psychological and anthropological texts. Questions to be explored include: How are a sense of self and place constituted in early childhood? How are these values expressed in children’s stories, art, and play? How do adolescents navigate differing language communities and cultural values in forging their identities? What are some of the implications for public education in this country? Students will have the opportunity to do fieldwork in school or community settings and to use conference work to bridge reading and practical experience.

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Memory Research Seminar

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Some previous coursework in psychology is required, and a previous course in statistics is highly recommended.

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, and the neuroanatomy of memory. Frederic Bartlett’s constructive theory of memory will form the theoretical backbone of the course. Most conference work will involve experimental studies of some aspect of memory.

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Mindfulness: Neuroscientific and Psychological Perspectives

Open , Seminar—Fall

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.

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Principles of Psychology

Open , Seminar—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. Over 100 years later, Principles is one of the most quoted and influential psychological texts. In it, 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.

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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 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 the cognitive, emotional, and biological impact of undergoing a trauma and how those 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 that we use reflect our cognitive and emotional functioning—and especially for students interested in pursuing topics such as these at an advanced or graduate level.

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Theories of Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

For graduate students and seniors with permission of the instructor.

“Knowledge is there in the seeing.” What we observe when we look at children is related to the adult assumptions, expectations, and naïve theories that we carry with us from our own families and childhoods. How are these related to the ways that theorists have framed their questions and understandings of children’s experiences? Competing theoretical models of Freud, Skinner, Bowlby, Piaget, Vygotsky, Werner, and others have shaped the field of developmental psychology and have been used by parents and educators to determine child-care practice and education. In this course, we will read the classic theories in their primary sources—psychoanalytic, behaviorist, attachment, and cognitive-developmental—as they were originally formulated and in light of subsequent critiques and revisions. Questions we will consider include: Are there patterns in our emotional, thinking, or social lives that can be seen as universal, or are these always culture-specific? Can life experiences be conceptualized in a series of stages? How else can we understand change over time? We will use theoretical perspectives as lenses through which to view different aspects of experience—the origins of wishes and desires, early parent-child attachments, intersubjectivity in the emergence of self, symbolic and imaginative thinking, and the role of play in learning. For conference work, students will be encouraged to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children, as one goal of the course is to bridge theory and practice.

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Theories of the Creative Process

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

A background in college-level psychology, social science, or philosophy is required.

The creative process is paradoxical. It involves freedom and spontaneity yet requires expertise and hard work. The creative process is self-expressive yet tends to unfold most easily when the creator forgets about self. The creative process brings joy yet is fraught with fear, frustration, and even terror.The creative process is its own reward yet depends on social support and encouragement. In this class, we look at how various thinkers conceptualize the creative process—chiefly in the arts but in other domains, as well. We see how various psychological theorists describe the process, its source, its motivation, its roots in a particular domain or skill, its cultural context, and its developmental history in the life of the individual. Among the thinkers that we will consider are Freud, Jung, Arnheim, Franklin, and Gardner. Different theorists emphasize different aspects of the process. In particular, we see how some thinkers emphasize persistent work and expert knowledge as essential features while others emphasize the need for the psychic freedom to “let it happen” and speculate on what emerges when the creative person “lets go.” Still others identify cultural context or biological factors as critical. To concretize theoretical approaches, we look at how various ideas can contribute to understanding specific creative people and their work. In particular, we will consider works written by or about Picasso, Woolf, Welty, Darwin, and some contemporary artists and writers. Though creativity is most frequently explored in individuals, we also consider group improvisation in music and theatre. Some past conference projects have involved interviewing people engaged in creative work. Others consisted of library studies centering on the life and work of a particular creative person. Some students chose to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and focus on an aspect of creative activity in young children.

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Remedies to Epidemics: Understanding Substances That Can Heal or Harm

Open , Seminar—Fall

From the 1990s through the early 2000s, the Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health practices, promoted in its standards the increased visibility of pain, once written as “Pain is assessed in all patients.” Many health care organizations took up this recommendation, even promoting pain as the “Fifth Vital Sign.” With respect to what has been described as an opioid epidemic since that period, many have described this effort as an example of best intentions gone awry. The credentialing organization’s own recently published material described it as “A good idea (make pain visible) had gone astray.” Psychoactive substance use has been part of our oral and written record with regard to medicine, ecstatic spiritualism, and addiction in perhaps every culture other than the Inuit of the Arctic (where such plants did not grow): the soma drink of the HIndus, the peyote of the Southwest Americas, the nepenthe of the Greeks, to name a few. Recent years have seen the resurgence of interest, considered by some to be epidemics of recreational abuse and to others a potential to be tapped for medicine: marijuana, LSC, psilocybin, opioids...the list goes on. This course is a multidisciplinary overview of addiction, with special consideration for those drugs that may both help and harm and are, therefore, under great scrutiny by society. Explanations for addiction—spiritual, emotional, biological—have spanned the ages and remain controversial today. This course will explore the study of addiction from historical roots to contemporary theory. Competing theories of substance abuse/addiction will be examined, with a focus on the individual and 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. Readings will include literature from psychology, public policy, medicine, the arts, ethics, and the press.

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Who am I? Clinical Perspectives on Psychology of the Self

Open , Lecture—Spring

This lecture is a super lecture and may enroll up to 60 students.

“I don’t feel like myself anymore.” “Things are different with me.” “I think I lost myself.” “That’s just who I am.” “I think I found myself.” What do any of us mean when we say our ”self”? What is the self? Multiple perspectives on this topic have emerged in the literature of psychology, psychotherapy, and beyond. Self-concept, self-esteem, self-worth, real-self, false-self, self-control, self-estrangement, among other terms and concepts will be considered here. And what of the loss of self, as noted by the above statement? What was lost? (Has something been lost?) Is the person’s brain different? Is that where the self is? The person notes that “things” are different. Perhaps that’s some change with relation to the environment or some new development in emotion, habits, or perhaps relationships? Is “the self” a stable concept? We will consider both clinical cases regarding perceived loss of self, as well as cases from neuroscience where some authors have perceived a change in a person’s concept of “self.” We will consider readings that stem from a primarily Western, individuality oriented, self perspective, as well as non-Western and other challenges to these notions of self. While this is an open lecture course, students will be expected to engage actively in discussions as part of every topic. We will consider writings from a variety of perspectives: Heinz Kohut, Donald Winnicott, Karen Horney, Martin Seligman, Joseph Ledoux, Oliver Sacks, and others.

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Sleep and Health

Open , Lecture—Fall

This lecture is a super lecture and may enroll up to 60 students.

A key and often-overlooked aspect of recharging is also one of the most obvious: getting enough sleep. There is nothing that negatively affects my productivity and efficiency more than lack of sleep. After years of burning the candle on both ends, my eyes have been opened to the value of getting some serious shuteye. —Arianna Huffington, Sarah Lawrence College Commencement Address, 2012

Sleep is a powerful piece of the human experience that is often marginalized in contemporary culture. This lecture examines historical, developmental, neuropsychological, physiological, and cultural perspectives on the construct of sleep and explores the role of sleep in psychopathology, relevant medical conditions, and wellness. How sleep impacts and is impacted by clinical conditions will be examined, along with Eastern and Western approaches to understanding sleep phases, body clocks, and sleep regulation. Historical and contemporary theories of dreaming—including dream structure and the role of dreaming in memory consolidation, creative problem solving, and preparing for the future—will be considered. Differences in developmental sleep needs will be considered, as well as gender differences in sleep behaviors. The impact of sleep deprivation on cognitive function, school/work performance, mood, and social functioning will be examined, as well as socioeconomic barriers to adequate sleep (e.g., shift work), pressures of a 24-hour culture, and the use of digital devices. The course will conclude with a look at the powerful benefits of sleeping well, including evidence from electroencephalogram (EEG) and neuroimaging data, as well as from an examination of cultures with exceptionally high levels of well-being. This class will meet for one lecture section and one group conference/seminar section per week. Weekly lectures will focus on the foundations of sleep. Weekly group conference sections will go more deeply into lecture material and specific areas of interest. Registered students will choose one group conference section to attend each week, based on their interests. Three group conference sections will be offered: Sleep Routine and Sleep Environment, Developmental Sleep Patterns and Sleep Disorders, and Dreams. Weekly reading assignments will include literature in sleep science, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, physiology, positive psychology, clinical theory and research, relevant case studies, essays, and memoir. Select film and documentary material will be included for class discussion. Additionally, class members will follow the topic of sleep in popular media. All class members will be asked to monitor their sleep patterns using available sleep apps and/or observation logs. Course requirements include a multiple-choice and short-answer midterm exam and a final essay exam. Weekly discussion posts will be due prior to each week’s group conference section. During the semester, students will record observations of their sleep over two 10-day assessment periods. Each conference group will be responsible for: a literature review and brief informational summary/presentation of their topic; developing a sleep strategy based on their topic, literature review, and initial sleep observations; a poster presentation of their work at the Fall SciMath poster symposium; and a final presentation of their work in class. Group conference projects will consider topics such as developmental sleep needs, quality of sleep environment, light/dark exposure, use of digital devices, and bedtime routine. Project themes may also include topics related to sleep, such as dreaming, memory/other cognitive functions, cultural aspects of sleep, and/or mindfulness meditation. Students interested in developmental aspects of sleep in children may complete a weekly fieldwork placement at the Early Childhood Center.

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Advanced Research Seminar

Intermediate/Advanced , 3-credit seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

In this multifaculty seminar, students will gain the knowledge necessary to prepare themselves to conduct ethical and rigorous psychological research. Faculty members will present tutorials on research ethics, qualitative and quantitative research methods, behavioral statistics, measuring demographics, and issues of ethnicity, gender, and class intersectionality. Guest speakers and alumni panels on special topics (such as graduate school and early career experiences in psychology) will be included. In addition, students will form small groups, supervised by individual faculty members, that will meet weekly in order to deepen their study of research methods and practices. In addition to the faculty tutorials, the seminars will include discussion of contemporary research in a journal club format. All faculty and students involved will take turns leading the discussion of research, with faculty taking the lead at the beginning of the semester and pairs of students taking the lead as their expertise develops. Weekly small group meetings with one of the faculty members will involve reading and discussing research articles and research methods papers specific to the topics of research of mutual interest to the students and faculty member. Students will be expected to learn the current research approaches in his/her area of interest and develop a plan for future (or ongoing) independent research projects. Students participating in the Advanced Research Seminar will be expected to attend and actively participate in weekly full-group seminars, weekly group meetings, and regular (typically, at least biweekly) individual conference meetings with their faculty supervisor; keep an ongoing journal and/or scientific lab notebook; select and facilitate group discussions of relevant contemporary research articles (at least once for each meeting type); develop thorough plans for (or complete) an independent research project and report on their planned study or completed research in the form of a short paper and a poster at the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Poster Session; and provide ongoing verbal and written feedback on their projects to their colleagues. This is a good course for students interested in preparing for graduate work in psychology and/or senior theses or other extended independent research projects.

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The Psychological Impact of Art

Open , Seminar—Spring

That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people, and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.—Dave Grohl.

The expressive arts bridge the gap between personal and collective experiences. Music, dance, literature, sculpture, and other creative pursuits allow artists a personal venue for intimate expression; but their products also have influence on thousands of others. Art evokes emotions, changes opinions, forges identities, and can be an anthem for social change. This class will explore how engagement with the arts influences who we are and how we relate to others. We will discuss the relative importance of the process of making art, versus the product itself, for personal growth and fostering social change. Although often thought of as a uniquely personal relationship, psychologists’ understanding of how the arts affect social, cognitive, and affective human behavior is expanding. In this class, students will be encouraged to engage critically with this psychological research and appreciate the difficulties associated with quantifying the impact of the arts.

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The Social Brain

Open , Seminar—Fall

It can be difficult to grasp how a physical mass of neurons can be responsible for our idiosyncratic thoughts, feelings, and human relationships. This mystery has generated much folk wisdom about neuroscience, some of which is in line with current research but much of which is false. This course will address what we know about the human brain, what we can reasonably infer, and what we are yet to discover. Although far from being completely understood, neuroscience has begun illuminating the neural networks underlying complex human behaviors such as learning, decision-making, conformity, and prejudice. Moreover, psychologists’ understanding of the reciprocal relationship between brain and behavior is expanding. This course will also emphasize how our choices and social experiences can physically alter the brain. Students will be encouraged to engage critically with this research, both appreciating its rigor and understanding its limitations.

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Color

Open , Seminar—Fall

Color is primordial. It is life itself, and a world without color would appear dead and barren to us. Nothing affects our entire being more dramatically than color. The children of light, colors reveal and add meaning—giving richness and fullness to all that surrounds us. A vehicle for expressing emotions and concepts as well as information, color soothes us and excites us. Our response to color is both biological and cultural. It changes how we live, how we dream, and what we desire. Using a variety of methods, this course will focus on an exploration of color, its agents, and their effects. Not a painting course, this class will explore relationships among theory, perception, use, and the physiology of color. Clearly defined problems and exercises will concentrate on understanding and controlling the principles and strategies common to the visual vocabulary of color, as well as its personal, psychological, symbolic, expressive, and emotional consequences.

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The Ideas of Photography

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course is a hybrid. Each week, for the first 10 weeks of the semester, a different photographic idea or genre will be traced from its earliest iterations to its present form by means of slide lectures and readings. And each week, students will respond with their own photographic work inspired by the visual presentations and readings. Topics may include personal dressup/narrative, the directorial mode in photography, contemporary art-influenced fashion photography, new strategies in documentary practice, abstraction, the typology, the photograph in color, and narrative photography. In the final weeks of the semester, the emphasis will shift as students work on a subject and in a form that coincides with the ideas they most urgently wish to express. No previous experience in photography is necessary nor is any specialized equipment. A desire to explore and to create a personally meaningful body of work are the only prerequisites.

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The New Narrative Photography

Open , Seminar—Spring

A photograph alone, without caption, is like a simple utterance. “Ooh!” or “aah!” or “huh?” are responses to it. But when pictures are presented in groups with an accompanying text—and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies—any statement at all becomes possible. Then, photographs begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or an even larger discourse. Whether working in fiction or nonfiction, artists such as Alan Sekula, Robert Frank, Susan Meiselas, Taryn Simon, Jim Goldberg, Roni Horn, and others have transformed the reach of the photograph. Without formal agreement to do so, they have created a new medium, which might be entitled: The New Narrative Photography. In this course, students will study the work of these artists and others and will create their own bodies of work. If you have a story to tell or a statement to make, this course is open to you. No previous photographic experience is necessary nor is any special equipment. The opportunity to work in a new medium is rare. This course aims to create the forum and the conditions necessary for all to do so in a critical and supportive workshop environment.

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