Cognitive and Brain Science

2020-2021 Courses

Sensory Biology

Open, Seminar—Fall

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.

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Hormones, Food, and Sex

Open, Seminar—Spring

Hormones are released from diverse tissues, including the brain, ovaries, testes, and fatty tissues. The small molecules travel around the body via the circulatory system and can influence the activity of distant cells involved in key biological processes. In this course, we will study the principles of hormone signaling (endocrinology) by focusing on two overarching topics: (1) hormones that modulate food intake and utilization; and (2) hormones that control reproduction. We will study the hormones that control appetite, flavor, fat deposition, and weight and how hormone levels contribute to sustaining unhealthy weights in obese individuals. We will study the hormones that control many aspects of reproduction, including puberty, ovulation, sexuality, sex, pregnancy, birth, lactation, and menopause. We will consider how hormones define male and female characteristics, as well as hormone therapy for transitioning transgender individuals.

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Animal Physiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: at least one course in the General Biology Series.

Animal physiology is the study how all components of animals—from cells to tissues to organs and organ systems—function together to support life. In this course, we will study many of the major categories of physiology while considering the overarching concepts of mechanism, form and function, adaptation, and homeostasis. Among possible topics are: circulation, respiration and breathing, feeding and digestion, movement and muscle, thermoregulation, osmoregulation, hormonal regulation, reproduction, neurons and the nervous system, sensory systems, and camouflage. As we discuss each physiological process, we will also explore ways in which different animals use species-specific adaptations to execute those processes (so-called comparative physiology). For instance, humans breathe using internal sack-like structures—the lungs—while frogs and salamanders can extract oxygen from the air by simple diffusion across their skin, and insects breathe through multiple small openings in their bodies that lead to an intricate series of tubes that permeate their entire organism, thereby obtaining oxygen without the use of a circulatory system. Diverse mechanisms such as these allow us to understand the fundamental principles of physiology and how they are employed in remarkable ways across the animal kingdom.

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Neurobiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: at least one college-level course in biology, chemistry, or psychology.

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 and express emotions. In this introduction to neurobiology, we will delve deep into the structure and function of neurons and how they communicate with each other, with a focus on the action potential and neurotransmission; and we will learn how changes in neuronal structure underlie learning and memory. We will then apply that knowledge to study our major senses from molecular-, cellular-, and systems-level perspectives. Students will engage with cutting-edge scientific research through examining primary literature articles in journal clubs and writing and presenting research papers on topics in neurobiology. Seminar classes will be complemented by weekly laboratory meetings that will involve the learning of techniques to study neurobiology, as well as the design and execution of a small-group, independent research project.

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Introduction to Computer Science: The Way of the Program

Open, Small 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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Artificial Intelligence and Society

Open, Seminar—Fall

In recent years, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) has made astonishing technical progress and has begun to assume an increasingly widespread and important role in society. AI systems can now (at least to some extent) drive cars; recognize human faces, speech, and gestures; diagnose diseases; control autonomous robots; instantly translate text from one language to another; beat world-champion human players at chess, Go, and other games; and perform many other amazing feats that just a few decades ago were only possible within the realm of science fiction. This progress has led to extravagant expectations, claims, hopes, and fears about the future of AI technology and its potential impact on society. In this course, we will attempt to peer beyond the hype and to come to grips with both the promise and the peril of AI. We will consider AI from many angles, including historical, philosophical, ethical, and public-policy perspectives. We will also examine many of the technical concepts and achievements of the field in detail, as well as its many failures and setbacks. Throughout the course, students will be asked to read texts, write responses, do follow-up research, and participate in classroom discussions. This is not a programming course, and no background in computer programming is expected or required.

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Digital Disruptions

Open, Seminar—Fall

From TikTok to Zoom, from Bitcoin to Uber, from Instagram to Snapchat, to massively multiplayer online games to the Internet of Things, digital technology plays an evermore "disruptive" role in society. In this seminar, we ponder where this phenomenon may be taking us in both the immediate and the not-so-immediate future and whether there is (or will be) anything we can (or should) do about it. The miniaturization of electronic computers and the resulting increase in computing power, the decrease in short-term cost to harness that power, and the ubiquity of computer networks bring people and places together, making distances formerly thought of as insurmountable evermore trivial. With the advent of gigabit fiber-optic networks, smart phones, and wearable computers, information of all kinds can flow around the world, between people and objects and back again, in an instant. In many ways, the plethora of smaller, cheaper, faster networked devices improves our quality of life. But there is also a dark side to a highly connected society: the more smart phones, the more workaholics; the more text messages exchanged and the easier the access to drones, the less privacy; the greater reach of the internet, the faster the spread of misinformation and the more piracy, spam, and pornography; the more remote-controlled thermostats, the greater the risk of cyberterrorism. The first half of this seminar will focus on the relationship between digital networks (the web, social networks, and beyond) to current events, particularly the economy, politics, and law. In the middle of the semester—in real time!—we will discuss how the digital principles that we are studying impact the November 2020 US elections. The final part of the course will focus on the cultural impact of digital technology, ranging from video games and science fiction to the rise of artificial intelligence. This is not a technical course, though we will at times discuss some details that lie behind certain crucial technologies—in particular, the internet and the World Wide Web.

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Programming the Web: An Introduction

Open, Seminar—Spring

This seminar introduces the fundamental principles of computer science via the use of HTML and JavaScript to create interactive web pages. Examples of the kinds of web applications that we will build include: a virtual art gallery; a password generator and validator; and an old-school, arcade-style game. We will learn JavaScript programming from the ground up and demonstrate how it can be used as a general-purpose, problem-solving tool. Throughout the course, we will emphasize the power of abstraction and the benefits of clearly written, well-structured code. We will cover variables, conditionals, loops, functions, arrays, objects, and event handling. We will also discuss how JavaScript communicates with HyperText Markup Language (HTML) via the Document Object Model (DOM) and the relationship of HTML, JavaScript, and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Along the way, we will discuss the history of the web, the challenge of establishing standards, and the evolution of tools and techniques that drive the web’s success. We will learn about client-server architectures and the differences between client-side and server-side web programming. We will consider when it makes sense to design from the ground up and when it might be more prudent to make use of existing libraries and frameworks rather than reinventing the wheel. We will also discuss the aesthetics of web design: Why are some pages elegant (even art) when others are loud, awkward to use, or, worse yet, boring!

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Intermediate Programming

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

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

This course is designed for students who understand the basics of computer programming (whether in Python, JavaScript, or another language) but want to take their skills to the next level. We will use the elegant and sophisticated programming language Haskell to learn about software design, abstract data types, and higher-order functions. We will introduce the basic principles of computational complexity and tree structures. We will emphasize top-down problem-solving, using recursion. We will also learn how to use cloud-based version control; e.g., using git and GitHub. Time permitting, we will learn how to build larger programs that leverage databases and networking protocols.

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Bio-Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Students should have at least one semester of programming experience in a high-level, object-oriented language such as Python, Java, or C++.

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 variety of biological processes and structures that are capable of self-organization, adaptation, and learning. This course is a hands-on introduction to the algorithms and techniques of biologically-inspired AI and is intended for students with prior programming experience. Examples of these new approaches include evolutionary computation, artificial neural networks, autonomous robots, and swarm intelligence. We will focus, from both theoretical and practical perspectives, primarily on genetic algorithms, neural networks, deep learning, and reinforcement learning. We will use the Python programming language to implement and experiment with these techniques in detail and to test them out on both simulated and real robots. Students will have many opportunities for extended exploration through open-ended, hands-on lab exercises and conference work.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

Prerequisites: basic high-school algebra and plane-coordinate geometry

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, 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. Given that this is a presidential election year, we will also be closely watching the national polls and discussing the difficulties of projecting future results with accuracy (and why pollsters got it wrong in 2016). 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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Introduction to Social Psychology

Open, Small Lecture—Year

This yearlong lecture course introduces students to the key ideas of social psychology. We will review the social dimensions underlying the cognitive existence of individuals by examining some theories, methodologies, and key findings of social psychology. We will look at human relations at various levels, with a primary focus on the tension between the individual and society. For that purpose, we will compare different theoretical (cognitive, interpersonal, and cultural) perspectives. Social cognition: During the first semester, the course will investigate the role of unconscious processes in our interpretations and explanations of the social world, emphasizing in particular our mistakes in judgment and our misperceptions of causation. The individual as a social “cognizer” will be explored further to see how we derive interpretations for our own behavior in comparison to those attributed to others’ behavior. Group and interpersonal dynamics and social influence: In the second semester, we will begin with an analysis of the crowd to capture the more social dimension of social psychology. We will then focus on the contextualization of different processes reviewed the previous semester in order to analyze the defining characteristics of groups and the extent to which we are, indeed, shaped by our groups. Our thoughts, feelings, and behavior are influenced by others.

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Finding Happiness and Keeping It: Insights From Psychology and Neuroscience

Open, Lecture—Fall

Happiness is more than a feeling; rather, it is a state of well-being that should ideally last a lifetime. We all want happy lives filled with meaning and satisfaction. Yet, for many of us, happiness can be hard to obtain with regularity or to sustain over a long period of time. Why is that? We can look to years of evidence from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, which tell us that, on average, we are mentally unprepared to: (1) predict what will make us happy, and (2) engage in behaviors that are known to make us happier. Like exercising to improve physical health, it takes real cognitive effort to overcome these tendencies in order to improve our mental health. This course will cover the psychological and brain-based factors for why happiness feels so fleeting and what we can do to build better and more productive habits that have been shown to lead to longer-term maintenance of positive mood and well-being. Students will read foundational work in the field of positive psychology by Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Edward Diener, Ilona Boniwell, Daniel Kahneman, and others; and as part of the course assignments, 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). We will also discuss studies in neuroscience that show how behavioral interventions like those and others actually work by altering the brain’s structure and function (just like building stronger muscles after exercising). Related to this, we will explore the neurodevelopmental bases for the peaks and valleys observed in mood during adolescence and early adulthood as critical periods for cultivating evidence-based healthy habits. 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 find what practices work best for them, as well as an appreciation that deriving and sustaining happiness and well-being requires intentional practice and maintenance.

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Anxiety, Stress, and Health

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course is a multidisciplinary overview of anxiety.  What exactly is anxiety? How is the concept of stress related? Countless articles warn of the dangers of stress for human physical and psychological health. This class aims to start slightly earlier and examine the topic in depth. Are we talking about an emotional condition? A body process gone awry? Are we in the “Age of Anxiety,” as some have suggested? Can you feel your own anxiety reading this? We will trace the progression of related conditions, from post-traumatic stress disorder to substance abuse, psychosis, and other conditions. The class will explore anxiety and stress as concepts, with special attention to what is known of the related neuroscience.

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Art and Visual Perception

Open, 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 for students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

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Sleep and Health

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

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 part of human experience that is often marginalized in contemporary 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 also 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, along with socioeconomic barriers to adequate sleep (e.g., shift work), pressures of a 24-hour culture, and 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 and from an examination of cultures with exceptionally high levels of well-being.

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Cognition Through the Lens of Neuropsychology

Open, Seminar—Fall

What would life be like if you grew up without a large chunk of brain tissue, your prefrontal cortex, located at the front of the brain? Or without, your amygdala, a structure buried deep in the brain? Rare cases, past and present, of patients with damage to these and other areas of the brain give us crucial insights into the ways in which specific parts of the brain support various aspects of cognition, from experiencing emotions to generating speech to making complex decisions. Neuropsychology is the specific field of study conducted in laboratory, clinical, and forensic settings that serves to deepen our understanding of how the brain forms the “stuff of thought.” This course will introduce students to the foundations of neuropsychology, starting with the historical arc of neuropsychology from Ancient Egypt to the present day, as a way to appreciate that a seemingly widely accepted concept—that the brain gives rise to behavior—was, and in some cultures and groups still is, the topic of many theoretical and philosophical debates. We will also survey the sub-branches of neuropsychology, including clinical neuropsychology (the study of patients with brain damage and illness, as described above), experimental neuropsychology (the study of similarities/variations in behavior among so-called “neurotypical” individuals), and comparative neuropsychology (studies across different species that inform our understanding of how the human brain works). Insights from patients with brain injuries and illnesses—including individuals studied by leading researchers and physicians in the field such as Paul Broca, Carl Wernike, Brenda Milner, Antonio Damasio, Oliver Sacks, Lesley Fellows, and others—have, by far, generated the clearest inroads to understanding how the brain works and will inform the largest part of the course material. Throughout the course, students will also explore experimental tools and methods that have been developed and are still being used today to plumb the depths of the brain’s functions.

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Virtually Yours: Relating and Reality in the Digital Age

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will focus on ways in which humans have evolved to relate to each other and to be related to and how our innate relational patterns fit (or do not fit) within the rapidly-evolving digital world. We will consider ways in which digital life is changing the ways in which people relate and how that may be challenging for some but beneficial for others. We will begin with relevant historical and developmental perspectives on attachment theory, human bonding, and shifting relational expectations. We will move on to consider how the digital world (e.g., social media, messaging, dating apps, video chats, artificial intelligence, virtual reality) impacts our relationships, sense of self, and identity expression (e.g., of race, gender, sexuality, values, beliefs, interests). We will consider the role of digital spaces in making new connections, building friendships, falling in love, and maintaining romantic bonds, as well as empathy, bullying, revenge, trolling, and cancel culture. We will also consider our emerging engagement with artificial intelligence and our attachment to digital devices themselves. We will examine how the content, pace, and volume of information currently cycling through social media and 24-hour news outlets may impact our perception of reality. Classes will be both discussion-based and experiential, with opportunities for observation and in-class activities related to weekly topics. Class reading will include material from diverse perspectives in developmental, neuropsychological, clinical, and cultural psychology and related fields. Supplemental material will include relevant literature, memoir, TedTalks, and popular media coverage of related topics. Conference topics may include, but are not limited to, the role of digital spaces in forming and maintaining relationships; relationships formed to artificial intelligence and/or digital devices; and/or developmental, neuro-psychological, clinical, social, and/or cultural perspectives on/shifts in relating in the digital age. Conference projects may be completed in the form of an APA-style literature review, original data collection, and/or a creative piece with academic justification and will include a class presentation.

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Decisions, Decisions: The Neuroscience of Decision-Making

Open, Seminar—Spring

No decision that we make is truly simple. We have to account for an infinite number of factors when deciding on something as “simple” as whether to take a left or right turn on the street; e.g., Am I going the right way? Is the crosswalk symbol on? Am I too tired to continue walking? Several areas of the brain must work together to tie all of this information together into a final “action” output: the decision itself. A sub-field of neuroscience, called decision neuroscience or neuroeconomics, has emerged in the past few decades to address key questions about how our brains weigh information such as risk, ambiguity, probability, confidence, and subjective preference (i.e., what we like and don’t like), among other factors, to ultimately form an executable decision. In this course, students will learn about the emotional, social, and cultural factors that drive the decision-making process primarily through readings from psychology and behavioral economics, neuroimaging research in humans, and case studies of patients with damage to areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex (from work by Antonio Damasio and others). We will address the following questions and more: How do we develop subjective preferences (i.e., “liking”) about people, places, and things? Do emotions help us make decisions, or do they get in the way? How can we become better decision-makers and consumers on a daily basis? The answers to these and related questions have led to real-world applications in policy, marketing, finance, and public health, which will also be discussed throughout the course.

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The Senses: Art and Science

Open, Seminar—Spring

The perceiving mind is an incarnated mind. —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1964

Sensory perception is a vital component of the creation and experience of artistic works of all types. In psychology and neuroscience, the investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for our developing understanding of brains, minds, and bodies. Recent work in brain science has moved us beyond the Aristotelian notion of five discrete senses to a view of the senses as more various and interconnected, with each other—and with the fundamental psychological processes of perception, attention, emotion, memory, imagination, and judgment. What we call “taste” is a multisensory construction of “flavor” that relies heavily on smell, vision, and touch (mouth feel); “vision” refers to a set of semi-independent streams that specialize in the processing of color, object identity, or spatial layout and movement; “touch” encompasses a complex system of responses to different types of contact with the largest sensory organ—the skin;, and “hearing” includes aspects of perception that are thought to be quintessentially human—music and language. Many other sensations are not covered by the standard five: the sense of balance, of body position (proprioception), feelings of pain arising from within the body, and feelings of heat or cold. Perceptual psychologists have suggested that the total count is closer to 17 than five. We will investigate all of these senses, their interactions with each other, and their intimate relationships with human emotion, memory, and imagination. Some of the questions we will address are: Why are smells such potent memory triggers? What can visual art tell us about how the brain works, and vice versa? Why is a caregiver’s touch so vital for psychological development? Why do foods that taste sublime to some people evoke feelings of disgust in others? Do humans have a poor sense of smell? Why does the word “feeling” refer to both bodily sensations and emotions? What makes a song “catchy” or “sticky”? Can humans learn to echolocate like bats? What is the role of body perception in mindfulness meditation? This is a good course for artists who like to think about science and for scientists with a feeling for art.

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Mindfulness: Science and Practice

Intermediate, 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. One of our two weekly meetings will be devoted to a mindful yoga practice.

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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 adult assumptions, expectations, and naïve theories that we carry with us from our own families and childhoods. How are those theories 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 that 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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Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

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

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 enter the room? Psychophysiology is the experimental study of these bodily, or peripheral, signals, which are theorized to be important “read-outs” of a person’s mood (e.g., fear, happiness, anger). In this course, students will gain a foundational understanding of the biological processes that give rise to peripheral autonomic arousal and how these responses are naturally regulated by the brain and body in a process called homeostasis. We will then survey the brain areas that may be responsible for “catching” or incorporating signals from the periphery and ascribing meaning to those signals, which can often happen much later than the time of the event that provoked those bodily responses. We will focus on studies in human neuroimaging, as well as case studies of individuals with brain damage, specifically in brain areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (from work by Antonio Damasio and others) and the insula (from work by Sahib Khalsa and others). In so doing, we will discuss major theories of emotion and the mind-body connection, including the James-Lange Theory, the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (Damasio), and the Neurovisceral Integration Model (Thayer & Lane), among others. Through conference work, 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 and brain activity.

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Research Methods Practicum

Intermediate/Advanced, Small seminar—Fall

In this seminar, students will gain valuable research experience through a weekly meeting focused on research methods, research ethics, and contemporary research questions and approaches; a weekly collaborative group workshop; and individual and group conference meetings with faculty supervisors on either a regular or an as-needed basis. The seminar component will include readings on, and discussions of, research methods and ethics that are specific to the research in which students are involved, as well as the discussion of contemporary research articles that are relevant to student and faculty research projects. All students involved in the research experience will take turns leading the discussion of current research related to their group’s work. Weekly seminars will also be led by invited faculty in psychology and related disciplines. Weekly collaborative group meetings will also involve reading and discussing research articles and research methods papers specific to the topics of research being undertaken by each student member. Students participating in the Research Methods Practicum will be expected to attend and actively participate in weekly, full-group seminars and weekly collaborative group workshop meetings; select and facilitate full-class and group discussions of relevant contemporary research articles (at least once for each meeting type); work at least five hours within a lab and/or community setting appropriate for their projects or otherwise engage in active research; contribute toward ongoing research and practice within their lab or community setting; develop, implement, and report on (in the form of a short paper prepared for possible publication and a poster at the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Poster Session) an independent research project; and provide their colleagues with ongoing verbal and written feedback on their projects.

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Advanced Behavioral Statistics Practicum

Intermediate/Advanced, Small seminar—Spring

This course will be offered based on student need and interest. Prerequisite: previous college-level statistics course

The primary objective of this course is to understand and apply various statistical analysis techniques when conducting your own independent research. As such, it is a useful companion to the completion of an independent research project as part of a senior thesis, independent study, or research seminar course. The course covers core statistical methods that are essential in the behavioral sciences, including ANOVA, ANCOVA, and linear, logistic, and multiple regression. Relevant non-parametric statistics, such as chi square, will also be discussed. This course will meet weekly in a workshop format to learn and apply various statistical techniques to sample, as well as real, data sets. Weekly assignments will utilize SPSS, a standard data analysis program utilized in behavioral statistics. Students will be responsible for working collaboratively with their colleagues—in this course in regular weekly meetings outside of the class meeting time—to further develop their understanding of each statistical technique, as well as to develop their ability to utilize SPSS. Students will also be required to apply statistical concepts to the development of thesis or other research proposals, including a discussion of potential analyses and the relevant data to be collected that might utilize these techniques. Students will meet regularly with the instructor to discuss an ongoing project for which they will utilize some of the statistical techniques learned throughout the course. By the end of the semester, students should have completed their analyses and incorporated a report of the work completed into a final project report, be it a thesis, independent study, or other conference project. 

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Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined our attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation; Eden, the lost garden). We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the Earth, the air? How can poetry address the planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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