Psychology

How do infants navigate their world? How do factors as diverse as genetics, socioeconomic status, social networks, mindfulness practices, and access to open spaces contribute to how people cope with the problems of living? How do technology, architecture, language, and cultural practices affect how we think? What accounts for the global epidemic of mental health issues? What has psychology contributed to understanding genocide and torture? In what ways can psychologists illuminate the mystery of the creative process in science and art? How does morality develop? What factors determine our political, economic, and moral decisions? What happens in mind and body as we experience emotions? These reflect just a few of the questions discussed in our psychology courses, a sampling of the broad range covered in the psychology curriculum.

We offer courses from the domains of biological, clinical, cognitive, community, cultural, developmental, educational, experimental, health, personality, and social psychology. Our courses emphasize the interplay of theory and observation, research and analysis, understanding and applications. Our courses are also inherently interdisciplinary, making connections between psychology and other fields such as biology, anthropology, education, linguistics, public policy, public health, women’s studies, philosophy, and the arts. Students have a variety of choices as they design their independent conference work.

Some conference projects consist of reviewing and analyzing the primary research literature on a topic of interest. Others make experiential learning central to the independent work. Opportunities open to students include: assisting at our Early Childhood Center, in local schools, or at clinics; planning and carrying out original research in one of three psychology lab spaces on campus (the Child Study Lab, the Cognition and Emotion Lab, and the Adult Experimental Psychology Lab); working with community organizations in Yonkers, New York; and participating in environmental education at our Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB). Psychology is also a core component of two focused, semester-long, community-based academic programs: the Intensive Semester in Yonkers and Sarah Lawrence College’s Study Abroad Program in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ideas and skills developed in class and in conference often play a formative role in the intellectual and professional trajectories of students who go on to pursue these ideas in a wide range of fields, including clinical and research psychology, education, medicine, law, the arts, social work, human rights, and politics. Our alums tell us that the seminar and independent conference work here prepared them well for the challenges of both graduate school and their careers.

The college has two psychology-related graduate programs: Art of Teaching and Child Development. These offer the possibility for our undergraduate students to pursue both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years of study. The college also offers a dual-degree program with the New York University Silver School of Social Work, allowing Sarah Lawrence undergraduates to obtain a BA, a Master of Social Work, and an MA in Child Development in six years.

2018-2019 Courses

Psychology

First-Year Studies: The Senses: Art and Science

Open , FYS—Year

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 to 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. This is a collaborative course. The main small-group collaborative activity is a sensory lab where students will have the opportunity to explore their own sensory perceptions in a systematic way, investigating how they relate to language, memory, and emotion. The other group activities include some museum visits: The American Museum of Natural History has a current exhibit devoted to the senses, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an encyclopedic collection that will be the focus of a group curation assignment, and MOMA holds a wealth of abstract perceptual possibilities that we will investigate together.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Child and Adolescent Development

Open , FYS—Year

In this course, we will study the psychological growth of the child from birth through adolescence. In the process, we will read about some of the major theories that have shaped our thinking concerning children, including psychoanalytic (Freud and Erikson), behaviorist (Skinner), social learning (Bandura), and cognitive developmental (Piaget). A number of aspects of child development will be considered, including: the capabilities of the infant; the growth of language, thinking, and memory; various themes of parent/child relations (including attachment, separation, and different parenting styles); peer relations (friendships, the “rejected child”); sex role development; some of the “real-world” challenges facing today’s children and adolescents (e.g., “pushing” young children, divorce, and single-parent/blended families); and the modern study of childhood resilience in the face of difficult circumstances. Direct experience with children will be an integral part of this course, including fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or other venues. Written observational diaries will be used as a way of integrating these direct experiences with seminar topics and conference readings.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: The Developing Child: Perspectives and Contexts

Open , FYS—Year

Developmental psychology often focuses on early childhood as the context in which the foundations of all kinds of later psychological functioning can be seen—from thinking and feeling and imagining to social interaction, attachment relationships, emotional life, and personality organization. This course is about how children develop from birth through adolescence, with special emphasis on the first seven years. We will look at this from various perspectives: the perspective of our own and other people’s memories of childhood—the perspective of experience; the perspective of what we see when we carefully watch children in natural settings and listen to their words—the perspective of observation; and the perspective of the concepts psychologists have formulated about development based on their empirical research and reflections—the perspective of theory. The various contexts in which children develop will be considered throughout the course. We will draw on various sources as we study the developing child. Readings will be drawn from developmental psychology (theory and research); from memoir and literature; from anthropology and cultural psychology; from education (addressing children’s learning processes and schooling); from clinical psychology (about the challenges children may face and how to help them); and from media accounts about children, childhood, and social policy. Reflections on our experiences, past and present, will begin the year and be returned to periodically. Observations of children will be ongoing, both formal ones as assigned periodically for class and informally every time we have the opportunity to see children. Fieldwork is a central and ongoing core of the course—each student will work all year in an Early Childhood Center (ECC) preschool classroom two mornings or afternoons a week, serving as part of the teaching team—being participant observers so as to have the best view possible of children’s individual development and ongoing lives at school. Previous experience with children is not required, but the desire to immerse oneself in children’s lives in the classroom is a must. Discussion will take place—in the seminar, before and after ECC class time with the teaching team, in conference, among classmates—about all you are reading and seeing and wondering about. Writing will include seminar writing assignments, from observations to short essays, and conference papers. Conference work first semester will draw on the fieldwork, with accompanying readings on a topic of individual interest. In the second semester, conference work may continue to focus on fieldwork but may also move away from it into various domains of developmental psychology.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Sleep and Health: Clinical Conditions and Wellness

Open , Lecture—Fall

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 an incredibly powerful piece of the human experience—one everyone does or does not do enough—that is often marginalized in contemporary culture. This open-level 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 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, as well as from examination of cultures with exceptionally high levels of well-being. This class will meet for one lecture section and one smaller seminar section per week, plus A/B-week group conference sections. Weekly lectures will focus on the neuropsychological, cognitive, and clinical aspects of sleep phenomena. Weekly seminar sections will offer deeper discussion of lecture material and related psychosocial topics. Conference groups will meet every other week for supervision on group conference work. 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. Group conference work will be based on sleep-log observations and experience with sleep strategies related to class material. Group conference projects will include a group presentation and written summary of key observation themes supported by relevant empirical literature. Projects will consider 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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Anxiety, Stress, and Health

Open , Lecture—Fall

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

This course is a multidisciplinary overview of anxiety. What exactly is anxiety? How is the concept of stress related? There are countless articles warning 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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

It’s Complicated: The Nature of Emotions

Open , Lecture—Spring

In the words of Jonathan Swift, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” In the words of another Swift: “Shake it off.” How do those quotations from popular discourse contribute to our understanding of emotions? Can emotions be defined as simply the opposite of reason? Do they function outside of our control, or can they be regulated? And if they can be regulated, which strategy is best: one that shifts our attention away from emotional stimuli or one that avoids them altogether? These questions represent only part of the curiosity in understanding the complex nature of emotions. In this open-level lecture, our broad aim is to answer, as best we can, the question of what emotions are. We will explore this question through readings from cognitive science, neurobiology, psychology, and the creative arts. The course will begin with a review of historical and contemporary theories of emotion to facilitate discussion about the way each perspective defines emotion. Course themes include explorations of the tension between emotion and cognition, the relationship between emotion and the body, the interplay between emotion and relationships, the intersection of emotion and psychopathology, and emotion regulation. Students are encouraged to contemplate their own emotion-regulation strategies and to reflect on their effectiveness in dealing with challenging emotional situations. Students will be given the opportunity to delve deeper into these course themes through group conference projects. Course content will be infused with discussions of emotion in popular culture. Together, we will look at the ways in which emotions are discussed in music, literature, and film and what studies in this area have to offer by way of increasing our understanding of emotions in everyday life. Lecture.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Crossing Borders and Boundaries: The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open , Lecture—Spring

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon whereby people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course begins with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of sociological and social psychological research on immigrants. We then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will analyze the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will look at how the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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 visual neuroscience and art-making 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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Virtually Yours: Relating and Reality in the Digital Age

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong seminar will examine relating and reality in the digital age. In the fall semester, 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 how people relate and ways in which this 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 various realms of the digital world (e.g., social media, messaging, dating apps, video chats, artificial intelligence, virtual reality) impact our relational patterns, as well as aspects of self- and identity expression (e.g., of 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, along with bullying, revenge, trolling, and potential barriers to empathy that may occur when our gazes are fixed on screens and not on each other. We will also consider our emerging engagement with artificial intelligence and our attachment to digital devices themselves. In the spring semester, we will examine how reality has been defined historically, clinically, and culturally; how one’s sense of reality is shaped through development; and what internal, environmental, social, and cultural factors contribute to one’s sense of reality. Can reality ever truly be objective? Building on material from the first semester, we will examine the innate, developmental, cultural, and social psychological factors that shape our perception of reality and our choice of reliable sources, including the roles of race, gender, and ethnicity in these processes. We will consider how psychological constructs and psychometric measures of reality have taken those factors into consideration, both currently and historically. We will next consider ways in which one’s sense of reality may be impacted by clinical conditions such as brain injury, psychosis, depression, trauma, and anxiety; altered by substances such as psychedelics; influenced by dreams; and potentially enhanced through meditation. We will then consider how the content, pace, and sheer 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 (e.g., observing children relating/engaging in play in the SLC Early Childhood Center free from digital devices) and in-class activities related to weekly topics (e.g., comparing experiences engaging with early logic-based digital toys such as Simon and Speak ’n’ Spell vs. digital toys that express affection such as Furby and contemporary AI). Class reading will include primary- and secondary-source academic 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, neuropsychological, 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. All students will be required to make a one-time observational visit to the SLC Early Childhood Center (ECC) and to the Wartburg, a center for older adults. Optional weekly fieldwork is available and encouraged for any interested students. When placed at the Early Childhood Center (ECC), for example, students will work closely with classroom teachers one hour per week and will become part of the classroom (as advised and supervised by classroom teachers) while maintaining weekly observation logs relevant to seminar objectives and conference work. When placed at the Institute for Music and Neurological Function at Wartburg, students, working with staff, will use digital tablets to help residents in dementia and Alzheimer’s care develop individualized playlists of meaningful songs and music in order to help them connect with important memories and important relationships throughout their lives. Students will help residents access these playlists and write up a playlist protocol to be shared with future caregivers and family members for continued use. Optional fieldwork requires a two-hour weekly time commitment plus 15-20 minutes travel time.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Building Resilience: Tools From Positive Psychology

Open , Seminar—Fall

For decades, psychology could be considered the study of what is wrong with individuals. Recent contributions from positive psychology are an effort to redirect the field toward areas where human beings get it right. An introduction to the relevant theories and research in positive psychology will help ground our thinking about this perspective and what it has to say about human potential and well-being. A review of recent empirical research will allow students to contemplate the following questions: Does money make us happy? Can listening to music build resilience? Why do some people persevere through adversity while others do not? How does our biological need to connect with others act as a buffer against stress? What benefits do clinical research and practice stand to gain from an integrated positive psychology perspective? Readings will draw upon topics related to attachment and social connection, mindsets and optimism, pleasure and happiness, and meaning and purpose. Particular attention will be paid to the effects of stress and negative thought patterns on physical and mental wellness. Weekly challenges and reflections will be used to connect course materials to students’ lived experiences.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Emerging Adulthood

Open , Seminar—Fall

We have time, energy, questions, and few responsibilities. We want to push the envelope, resist compromise, lead revolutions, and turn the world upside down. Because we do not yet know quite how to be, we have not settled and will not let the dust settle around us. —Karlin & Borofsky, 2003

Many traditional psychological theories of development posit a brief transition from adolescence to adulthood. However, many people moving into their 20s experience anything but a brief transition to “feeling like an adult,” pondering questions such as: How many SLC alums can live in a Brooklyn sublet? What will I do when I finish the Peace Corps next year? In this course, we will explore the psychological literature concerning emerging adulthood, the period from the late teens through the 20s. We will examine this period of life from a unified biopsychosocial and intersectional perspective.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Family Caregiving Across the Life Cycle

Open , Seminar—Fall

There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers. —Rosalynn Carter

Care and caregiving are aspects of daily life that each of us depends upon at various times throughout our lives. Yet care remains hidden and devalued in our current sociopolitical climate in which women continue to provide a majority of care. In this course, we will look at care as both an orientation and an activity provided by family and friends to people with disabilities and older adults. An Ethic of Care will provide a lens through which to explore the experiences of family caregivers. Specifically, caregiving youth, young adult, and male caregivers—as well as paid caregivers and care receivers living with a variety of chronic illnesses—will be our focus. Utilizing ethnographic research methods, we will explore care and caregiving from a variety of perspectives. This course will take an interdisciplinary approach and introduce students to the various literature on family caregiving. From psychology to public health, we will consider care as a reciprocal process that ebbs and flows throughout the life course. We will read from feminist theory, critical disabilities studies, psychology, and public health and will look at how care is portrayed in popular culture, film, and books. We will learn about individual and policy responses geared toward supporting family caregivers, as well as organizations that are dedicated to creating better conditions of care for all of us.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Perspectives on Child Development

Open , Seminar—Fall

A noted psychologist once said, “What you see depends on how you look.” Our subject is the worlds of childhood; and in this class, we try out the lenses of different psychological theories to highlight different aspects of those worlds. Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, and Stern provide differing perspectives on emotional development. Skinner, Bandura, Piaget, and Vygotsky present various approaches to the problems of learning and cognition. Chess and her colleagues take up the issues of temperament and its interaction with experience. Chomsky and others deal with the development of language. 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 also examine some systematic studies that developmental psychologists have carried out to confirm, test, and critique various theories: studies of mother-infant relationships, the development of cognition and language, and the emergence of intersubjectivity. In several of these domains, studies done in cultures other than our own cast light on the question of universality versus cultural specificity in development. Direct observation is an important complement to theoretical readings. In this class, all students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center. At times, we will draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts as part of the seminar. The fieldwork will also provide the basis for developing conference work. Ideally, conference projects combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the many diverse projects students have designed in the past are topics such as children’s friendships, the meanings of block building, and how young children use language.

Faculty

Food Environments, Health, and Social Justice

Open , Seminar—Spring

With obesity and diabetes rising at alarming rates and growing awareness of disparities in food access, researchers and policymakers are rethinking the role of the environment in shaping our diets and health. This course takes a collaborative approach to investigating some of the key issues guiding this area of research and action. Students will critically review literature on food environments, food access, and health inequalities and explore how modes of food production and distribution shape patterns of food availability and health in cities. Students may use photography and/or video to examine foods available in the neighborhoods where they live, review media related to the course themes, and use a time/space food diary to reflect on the ways in which their own eating habits are influenced by the social and material settings of their day-to-day lives. The course concludes with students writing letters to the editor/op-eds to a news outlet of their choice with suggestions about how to move forward with action to improve food access, public health, and social justice in the places where they live.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Historical Evolution of Psychological Thought

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This seminar aims at presenting the historical evolution of psychology as a distinct discipline, starting with Wundt in 1879 at Leipzig. Its short history notwithstanding, psychology has benefited from a long and rich past—tracing its roots, for the most part, in philosophy. As early as the fifth century B.C., Aristotle and other Greek scholars grappled with some of the same problems that concern psychologists today; namely, memory, learning, motivation, perception, dreams, and abnormal behavior. A discipline such as psychology does not develop in a vacuum but, rather, is shaped by human personalities, institutions, and the societal context. Therefore, our critical and historical analyses will focus on comprehending the cultural context from which ideas, concepts, and theories have emerged and evolved. This approach will provide a unifying framework for a thorough reexamination of the different systems of psychology in the United States.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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.

Faculty

What’s in a Name? Perspectives on Poverty

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Previous coursework in psychology, sociology, or economics or instructor permission required.

Poverty, misery or want is a phantom with a thousand faces that vents its fury primarily among the majority of people who live in what is referred to as the Third World and among the pockets of poor people living on the fringes of the large industrialized cities… —Santiago Barquín

What is poverty? Does it have a face? Is it confined to a particular space? What does it mean to be poor? This seminar challenges students to confront their individual conceptualizations of poverty through a cross-disciplinary study into its dynamics. Readings will survey the way poverty has been defined by economists, psychologists, philosophers, and neuroscientists. Students will gain an understanding of how these definitions bear on the methodological approaches used to study both the prevalence of poverty and the severity of its effects. Students are expected to discuss the merits and demerits of each perspective and the practical consequences they engender. The course will move to situate poverty into context in order to examine how it is expressed across different environments. How is urban poverty similar to or different from rural poverty? Does suburban poverty even exist? The course will trace the origin of stereotypes about poor people and how they are perpetuated and supported by popular discourse through readings from White Trash: The 200-year Untold History of Class in America. Readings from $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America will ask students to interrogate the factuality of myths about who is poor. Together, the course will ponder the differential impact of poverty on racial and ethnic groups in America. Students will be asked to evaluate state-level welfare policies to observe the variation in state legislatures and the consequences for individuals and families. In thinking about the consequences of poverty, the course will also cover the way individuals are shaped by poverty, charting its effects on the brain and the body. Conference projects will give students the opportunity to research poverty-related social issues such as the poverty-obesity paradox and the income-academic achievement gap. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to be mindful of the way poverty is operationalized and to consider what psychological perspectives have to offer by way of improving our understanding of how people are affected by life in poverty.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Theories of Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

For graduate students and seniors with permission of the instructor.

“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” suggested Kurt Lewin over a hundred years ago. Since then, the competing theoretical models of Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Vygotsky, 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 study the classic theories—psychoanalytic, behaviorist, 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.

Faculty

Thinking Evil: A Social Psychological Exploration

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

The attributional power of the concept of “evil,” in its various representations, has been quite dominant recently. It has manifested itself not just in public discourse or theological mystification but also in the work of social scientists, politicians, philosophers, and journalists. It may even be seen as part of how social media has evolved. Various atrocities and horrors over the past hundred years are proof of its omnipresence—the prominence of lynching in the South of the United States, the Holocaust, different genocides (Armenians, Leopold II in the Congo, America’s occupation of Haiti, Pol Pot in Cambodia, China’s Cultural Revolution, Rwanda), and, more recently, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and in Paris. Of course, this notion of “evil” is well anchored in most of our religious imaginations. In this century, we have experienced continuous processes of “glorification” of “evil” through the reemergence of religion, facilitating the propagation of various hegemonic representations of “evil.” This seminar seeks to explore the nature of “evil” in our moral, political, and legal discussions. Is it an outdated concept that we should no longer use? What are the conditions defining an action as “evil”? What do we mean when we identify an individual as being “evil”? Is there a relation between the action and the individual committing these acts? These are questions we will seek to address.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

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

This course provides an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a community partnership course. All students work for 10-15 hours per week in a community-based organization that addresses issues of inequality. Over the course of the semester, we discuss participatory action and community-based research methods and practice; integrating theory, research, policy, and practice; public health and public policy; nongovernmental organizations and private-public partnerships; understanding and addressing environmental inequalities for children and families; interactions with and impacts of media on children and families; media, identity, and globalization; intersections of class, race, gender, immigration status, and nation of origin with inequalities; and integrating artistry and performative practices in community-based work. Students also attend monthly group conferences with other students working in their community-based organization and biweekly one-on-one conference meetings with associated reading and written work.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Social Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: prior course in psychology.

Some of the most interesting and most important pieces of knowledge that a child will ever learn are not taught in school. So it is with the child’s social world. Unlike “reading, writing, and ’rithmetic,” there is no “Social Thinking 101.” Further, by the time children reach school age, they have already spent years learning the “lessons of life” and affecting those around them. This course will explore the social world of the child from birth through adolescence, focusing on three main areas: parent/child relations, sex-role development, and moral development. Within parenting, we will examine issues such as different parenting “styles,” the long-term consequences of divorce, and the “hurrying” of children to achieve major milestones at ever-earlier ages. Within the topic of sex-role development, we will read about the role of powerful socialization forces, including the mass media, and the socialization pressures that children place upon themselves and each other. Within moral development, we will study the growth of moral emotions—such as empathy, shame, and guilt—and the role of gender and culture in shaping our sense of right and wrong. Conference work may include field placement at the Early Childhood Center or other venues, as interactions with real children will be encouraged.

Faculty

The Experiences of Immigrant Children

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: previous course work in psychology, politics, or public policy or permission of the instructor isrequired.

In the years to come, the United States is expected to see unprecedented growth in the foreign-born population. As our population becomes more diverse, we have an essential need to understand the experiences of immigrant individuals. In this seminar, students will explore the influence of immigration policies on recent trends in immigration and the consequences of those policies on families. Special attention is paid to the intersection of gender, poverty, and race in shaping patterns of migration. Although theories of immigration span across many social-science disciplines, the bioecological-systems approach will be used as a framework for contextualizing these theories and for applying a child-centric view to the migratory process. This seminar will take turns considering the unique experiences of Asian, Latinx, and Black immigrant children before, during, and after migration.Issues of legal status and maternal separation are central course themes. Other course topics include acculturative stress, discrimination, family dynamics, identity, and trauma. These experiences will be connected to the developmental outcomes of immigrant children. Course work requires students to consider the experiences of immigrant children and how best our schools, communities, and broader society can meet their needs. During the semester, students are asked to engage with the bioecological model of development in order to structure their analysis of the many factors affecting immigrant children. Students are encouraged to use their conference projects to hone in on one area of interest.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Children’s Health in a Multicultural Context

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

A background in social sciences or education is recommended.

This course offers, within a cultural context, an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness in children. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness and highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers. Conference work may range from empirical research to bibliographic research in this area. Community partnership/service learning work is an option in this class.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Language Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

A previous course in psychology or a social science is expected.

Learning language is a fundamental aspect of the human experience that is reproduced from generation to generation all over the world. Yet how similar are the processes of language development among people of different places and backgrounds? This course will explore the nature of language and its relation to thinking, meaning-making, and culture. We will begin with a look at the phenomena of first language acquisition—naming, categorizing, conversation, private speech, storytelling, metaphor—and how they constitute and express children’s experiences in their worlds. We will then consider topics such as language and gender, early literacy, second-language learning in the contexts of bilingualism, transitions from home to school, and immigration. Readings will be drawn from psychological studies and observational and ethnographic accounts. Students will be encouraged to do fieldwork in settings, including our Early Childhood Center, where they can observe and record language to investigate and document the processes we will be studying or as the basis for conference projects.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Neurodiversity and Clinical Psychology

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? —Harvey Blume, The Atlantic, 1998

Defects, disorders, diseases can play a paradoxical role by bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen, or even be imaginable, in their absence. —Oliver Sacks

This seminar focuses on the concept of neurodiversity and the potential impact of this concept in understanding certain clinical concerns. To some authors, the concept of neurodiversity is of simple relation to the concepts of biodiversity or genetic diversity, with the focus on different ways in which brains might develop. To other authors, the term describes a social/political stance in viewing difference. This is the concept of neurodiversity that will be explored in the course, as it relates to current and developing ways of understanding difference related to several ways of presenting traditionally-termed “disorders” within mental-health treatment. Definitions of the term “neurodiversity” vary, with one conference defining it as: “A concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. (National Symposium on Neurodiversity, 2011). From this point of view, such differences are not necessarily pathology but, rather, differences to be celebrated and respected. This is in stark contrast to deficit models of taxonomy of mental illness, such as catalogued in the DSM 5. The course will provide an overview of this form of disorder description in order to frame those points of view, which contain distinctly different and sometimes opposed assumptions. We will explore ways in which those views have influence regarding the spirit of intervention (i.e., correction versus accommodation). Readings will explore important related continuums of essentialist versus contextualist understandings of those presentations that help us understand how focus of interventions vary based on underlying assumptions. The course begins with a focus on those points of view regarding autism, as that is the area where the neurodiversity movement first gained the powerful momentum of self-advocacy and framed the larger debate regarding challenges to the deficit model. Since that initial momentum, the neurodiversity concept has also been applied to other areas of difference: dyslexia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and others. The course also incorporates an older literature regarding the sometimes assumed link between mental illness and creativity, which is complex, as well as literature focused on potential overlooked strengths and abilities that may exist within those populations. We will consider work in this domain such as Kay Jamison, Oliver Sacks, Naoki Higashida, and others. Most of all, the course aims to increase student understanding regarding potential heightened abilities, as well as challenges, in neurodiverse populations.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Research Seminar: 21st-Century Sleep

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Technological advancements in the last century helped build an understanding of the neurophysiological and neuropsychological processes of sleep; technological advancements in the current century have made understanding and monitoring one’s own sleep widely accessible using digital devices and apps. Having been long marginalized or seen as a weakness, indulgent luxury, or barrier to productivity, the value of sleep as a physiological a psychological asset is gaining prominence. Consideration of sleep as central to well-being, cognitive function, creativity, and productivity is entering the mainstream discourse; and advocacy for sleep as a human right is gaining voice. Nap chairs are popping up in workplaces, the discovery of body clocks was awarded a Nobel Prize, and sleep deprivation has become a noted public-health concern. In a time where we are surrounded by digital screens, electric light, all-day coffee culture, and demanding expectations on time—and access to quality sleep is impacted by socioeconomic disparity—a culture is emerging in which sleep is regarded as a valued asset, not merely time spent “off” from waking life. What is the research supporting this emerging sleep narrative? What are the social, emotional, cognitive, and neuropsychological benefits of sleep? What is the impact of impaired sleep? What are the barriers to sleep and sleep access? What is an optimal sleep environment? And what new questions do we pose? Is there a relationship among sleep quality, anxiety, and attention challenges? Is there a relationship between sleepwalking and stress? How do attitudes toward sleep impact the experience of people with chronic fatigue? Do children who get regular and adequate sleep demonstrate greater social competence? How does attachment security impact sleep quality? What is the relationship between gender and sleep needs? How does sleeping in alignment with seasonal light/dark patterns impact mood? How does access to digital devices impact sleep quality? Is adequate sleep stigmatized in a 24-hour culture? How do attitudes toward caffeine use differ from attitudes toward nootropics (“smart drugs” intended to reduce the need for sleep)? How does sleep quality impact productivity? Do high-school classes start too early for teenagers? Will napping after studying improve memory? How does sleep quality impact athletic performance? Does sleep quality impact how dance students learn new choreography? Do artists, musicians, and writers find creative solutions in dreams? Does meditation lead to more lucid dreams? How does room temperature impact sleep quality? How does working night shifts impact mood and cognitive functioning? How do socioeconomic barriers to adequate sleep and homelessness impact academic performance and well-being in school-age children? In this intermediate-level course, we will attempt to better understand questions such as these and others related to the broad topic of sleep. Through examining established research/theory and pursuing new lines of research, students will consider the impact of sleep quality on physical and emotional well-being, productivity, academic/work performance, cognitive and social functioning; the impact of physical illness and/or mental illness on sleep quality; the role of sleep and dreaming in memory, learning, and other functions; developmental sleep needs and patterns; gender differences in sleep needs and sleep quality; the impact of sleep environment on sleep quality; sleep in the digital age; and the impact of psychosocial factors/economic disparity on sleep quality. Over the course of the semester, students will design an independent research project related to one of those topics or another topic relevant to sleep. Students will learn how to conduct an academic literature review, formulate the rationale for a research project, develop an effective research methodology, collect data, analyze data, interpret the results, and communicate the findings in an APA-style paper. This course serves as an introduction to research methods, with a specific focus on sleep-related phenomena through your own research. Topics will include experimental research design, case studies, observational techniques, survey development, and hypothesis testing. In addition to individual A/B-week conference meetings, students will discuss conference research projects in class throughout the semester, providing and obtaining feedback to/from peers on formulating research questions, methods, data analysis, and interpretation of results. Projects could include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or another setting relevant to the project.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Children’s Literature: Developmental and Literary Perspectives

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Children’s books are an important bridge between adults and the world of children. In this course, we will ask questions such as: What are the purposes of literature for children? What makes a children’s book developmentally appropriate for a child of a particular age? What is important to children as they read or listen? How do children become readers? How can children’s books portray the uniqueness of a particular culture or subculture, allowing those within to see their experience reflected in books and those outside to gain insight into the lives of others? To what extent can books transcend the particularities of a given period and place? Course readings include writings about child development, works about children’s literature, and, most centrally, children’s books themselves—picture books, fairy tales, and novels for children. Class emphasis will be on books for children up to the age of about 12. Among our children’s book authors will be Margaret Wise Brown, C. S. Lewis, Katherine Paterson, Maurice Sendak, Mildred Taylor, E. B. White, and Vera B. Williams. Many different kinds of conference projects are appropriate for this course. In past years, for example, students have worked with children (and their books) in fieldwork and service-learning settings, written original work for children (sometimes illustrating it, as well), traced a theme in children’s books, explored children’s books that illuminate particular racial or ethnic experiences, or examined books that capture the challenge of various disabilities.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Advanced Research Seminar

Intermediate/Advanced , 3-credit seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

In this research seminar, students will gain valuable research experience through a weekly seminar meeting focused on research methods, research ethics, and contemporary research questions and approaches; a weekly lab meeting with one of the faculty members leading the research seminar; and individual and group conference meetings with faculty supervisors on a regular, as-needed basis. The seminar component will include readings on, and discussions of, research methods and ethics, both broad and specific to the research in which students are involved, as well as the discussion of contemporary research articles that are relevant to student and faculty research projects. All faculty and students involved in the research experience will take turns leading the discussion of current research, with faculty taking the lead at the beginning of the semester and students taking the lead as their expertise develops. Weekly lab meetings will also involve reading and discussing research articles and research methods papers specific to the topics of research being undertaken by each student and faculty member. Students will be expected to learn the current research approaches being employed by their supervising faculty member, contribute toward ongoing research in the form of a research practicum, and develop and implement their own independent research projects within the labs in which they are working. Faculty supervising each lab will also be available to meet with students individually and in small groups on an ongoing basis, as needed and at least every other week, in addition to the regular weekly, hour-long lab meeting. Students participating in the Psychology Advanced Research Seminar will be expected to attend and actively participate in weekly full group seminars, weekly lab meetings, and regular (typically, at least biweekly) individual and group conference meetings; keep an ongoing journal and/or scientific lab notebook; select and facilitate group and lab discussions of relevant contemporary research articles (at least once for each meeting type); work at least 5 hours within a lab and/or community setting, as appropriate for their projects; contribute toward ongoing research and practice within their lab or community settings; develop, implement, and report on (in the form of a short paper prepared for possible publication and a poster at the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Poster Session) an independent research project; and provide their colleagues with ongoing verbal and written feedback on their projects.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Challenges to Development: Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

We live in a society that often seems preoccupied with labeling people and their characteristics as “normal” or “abnormal.” This course covers some of the material usually found in “Abnormal Psychology” courses by addressing the multiple factors that play a role in shaping a child’s development, particularly as those factors may result in what we think of as psychopathology. Starting with a consideration of what the terms “normality” and “pathology” may refer to in our culture, we will read about and discuss a variety of situations that illustrate different interactions of inborn, environmental, and experiential influences on developing lives. For example, we will read theory and case material addressing congenital conditions such as deafness and life events such as acute trauma and abuse, as well as the range of less clear-cut circumstances and complex interactions of variables that have an impact on growth and adaptation in childhood and adolescence. We will try, however, to bring both critical lenses and a range of individual perspectives to bear on our discussion of readings drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, memoir, and research studies. In this process, we will examine a number of the current conversations and controversies about assessment, diagnostic/labeling, early intervention, use of psychoactive medications, and treatment modalities. Students will be required to engage in fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or elsewhere and may choose whether to focus conference projects on aspects of that experience.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Puzzling Over People: Social Reasoning in Childhood and Adolescence

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: prior course in psychology.

We humans tend to find other people to be the most interesting “objects” in our lives—and for good reason. As infants, we are completely dependent upon others for our very survival; and throughout our lives, other people serve as the social bedrock of our existence. We are a social species, one that derives “fitness” through our abilities to read the social terrain and figure out social meaning in our interactions with others. There are a range of timely questions to address: How do we do this, and how does it develop throughout childhood? Are we “hardwired” in some ways to feel what other people are feeling? What about the special case of childhood autism? How do our emotions interact with our cognitions about the social world to affect our views of self and others and our future social lives? What would cause us to have a relatively good or poor “emotional IQ,” and what are the consequences? What are the roles of family and childhood friends in this process? These are some of the issues that we will address in this course. The opportunity will be available for hands-on fieldwork with children in order to observe children puzzling over people in real life.

Faculty

Personality Development

Advanced , Small seminar—Fall

A century ago, Sigmund Freud postulated a complex theory of the development of the person. While some aspects of his theory have come into question, many of the basic principles of psychoanalytic theory have become part of our common culture and worldview. This course will explore developmental concepts about how personality comes to be through reading and discussion of the work of key contributors to psychoanalytic developmental theory since Freud. We will trace the evolution of what Pine has called the “four psychologies of psychoanalysis”—drive, ego, object, and self-psychologies—as well as the more recent integrative “relational perspective.” This is a different approach from the social personality work done on trait psychology, and we will consider its value for developmental understanding of the person. We will also consider the issues that this approach raises about children’s development into individuals with unique personalities within broad, shared developmental patterns in a given culture. Readings will include the work of Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Margaret Mahler, Daniel Stern, Steven Mitchell, Nancy Chodorow, and George Vaillant. Throughout the semester, we will return to fundamental themes such as the complex interaction of nature and nurture, the unanswered questions about the development of personal style, and the cultural dimensions of personality development. An interest in theory and its applications is important, as is some background in psychology. Fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or another appropriate setting is required, although conference projects may or may not center on aspects of that experience, depending on the individual student’s interest.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open , Seminar—Spring

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
Related Disciplines

Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced , Seminar—Year

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. As his interlocutor Bernard Stiegler phrases the main idea behind this statement, “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the Internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida's observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida's punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, Internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and thus craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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? Scallops have dozens of eyes...really? 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. 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 this is communicated to the brain, leading to perception. We will also explore the remarkable abilities that underlie animal navigation, including the magnetoreception used by butterflies and sea turtles during migration.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Neurons and the Nervous System

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

The brain is the most complex organ. The human brain contains 100 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 neuroscience, 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, attention, 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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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

Open , 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 self-awareness emerges, 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 those 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, mathematical logic and formal systems, the limits of computation, and the future prospects for artificial intelligence.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Bio-Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

At least one semester of prior programming experience is expected. Students should be very comfortable programming in a high-level, object-oriented language such as Python, Java, or C++.

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is concerned with reproducing in computers the abilities of human intelligence. 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. Examples of those new approaches include evolutionary computation, artificial neural networks, autonomous robots, and swarm intelligence. This course will provide a hands-on introduction to the algorithms and techniques of biologically-inspired AI—focusing primarily on genetic algorithms, neural networks, deep learning, reinforcement learning, and robotics—from both a theoretical and practical perspective. We will use the Python programming language to implement and experiment with those techniques in detail and test them out using both simulated and real robots. Students will have many opportunities for extended exploration through open-ended, hands-on, lab exercises and conference work.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Bible and Literature

Open , Lecture—Year

The Bible: the story of all things, an epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration; a riven and riveting family saga that tops all others in its depiction of romance, intrigue, deception, seduction, betrayal, existential dread, love, reconciliation, and redemption; an account, as one commentator described it, of God’s ongoing “lover’s quarrel” with humanity; a primary source book for major literature across the planet, still powerful in its influence on the style and subject matter of both prose and poetry. In the first term, this course will provide close readings of major biblical narratives and poetry in Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Lectures will explore and interpret a number of patterns and literary types: the major historical narratives of both scriptures; the poetics and speech acts of creation, blessing, promise, covenant, curse, and redemption; the visionary prophetic tradition from Moses to John, the writer of the Apocalypse; the self-reflective theological interpretations of history by Hebrew chroniclers and the New Testament letters of Paul; the sublime poetry of the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and the Apocalypse of John; and the dark wisdom of the Book of Job and of Ecclesiastes. The second term will study the work of major writers who have grounded their own work in biblical themes, narrative patterns, characters, and images and who have so transformed their biblical sources as to challenge their readers to rethink what scripture is and how it works. Selections will be drawn from the work of Dante Alighieri, John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison. If there is enough interest in the class, there will be a “Bible Blockbusters” film series on Sunday evenings during the spring term.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

17th-Century British Literature

Open , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: At least one year of a college-level class in the humanities or a strong AP course in literature.

In England during the 17th century, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, and revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet, even as monarchy and established church were challenged and torn apart, the 17th century produced an extraordinary flowering of drama, poetry, and prose that expressed the contradictory energies of the period. This course will study English writing of the 17th century in a roughly chronological sequence. The first semester will explore the aesthetics and ideology of the Stuart court and the robust and bawdy urban center of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic and meditative experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, George Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Francis Bacon, Richard Burton, and Thomas Browne; and the early poetry of John Milton. The second semester will study major writing in the period of the English Revolution and Restoration. Our focus will be on Milton, but we will also study the poetry of the Cavaliers, Katherine Philips, Andrew Marvell, and John Dryden and the prose of Thomas Hobbes, John Bunyan, Aphra Behn, and Margaret Cavendish.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Mathematical 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 important? And what exactly fueled the failure of statistical polls and projections leading up to the 2016 US presidential election? 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, 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 will serve as a complete practicum of the theory learned in lecture: Students working closely in small teams will conceive, design, and fully execute a small-scale research study. 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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Game Theory: The Study of Conflict and Strategy

Open , Lecture—Spring

The minimum required preparation for successful study of game theory is one year each of high-school algebra and geometry. No other knowledge of mathematics or social science is presumed.

Warfare, elections, auctions, labor-management negotiations, inheritance disputes, even divorce—these and many other conflicts can be successfully understood and studied as games. A game, in the parlance of social scientists and mathematicians, is any situation involving two or more participants (players) capable of rationally choosing among a set of possible actions (strategies) that lead to some final result (outcome) of typically unequal value (payoff or utility) to the players. Game theory is the interdisciplinary study of conflict, whose primary goal is the answer to the single, simply-stated, but surprisingly complex question: What is the best way to “play”? Although the principles of game theory have been widely applied throughout the social and natural sciences, their greatest impact has been felt in the fields of economics, political science, and biology. This course represents a survey of the basic techniques and principles in the field. Of primary interest will be the applications of the theory to real-world conflicts of historical or current interest.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Philosophy of Music

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course may be taken as a five-credit humanities class or as a component of a Music Third.

In recent years, a number of philosophers have examined the experience of music: Does it express emotions? And, if so, how? Does it convey meaning? Can we use the idea of narrative to help understand music without a text? Etc.? This class will begin by examining some different perspectives on the role of music—and art in general—in life and thought, including that of the Ancient Greeks, Kant, Hegel, Dewey, and Adorno. We will then look at the work of more recent philosophers. The ideas presented in the class will always be related to musical examples; the class will equally involve reading and attentive listening. Musical examples will come mostly from the Western classical tradition, but some other traditions may also be relevant. The goal of the class will be to see how music and philosophical thought can illuminate each other and, hopefully, to deepen our awareness of the range and power of music. We will use analytical techniques in looking at pieces of music, but prior knowledge of music theory is not required.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Philosophy as Therapy

Open , Lecture—Year

Since Socrates, philosophy has understood itself as therapy—of “opinion” (Socrates, Plato), of anxiety and passion (the Stoa), of superstition (the Epicureans), and of dogmatism (the Pyrrhonian skeptics and the New Academy). This conception of philosophy receded in the Middle Ages—when philosophy in Christian Europe was conceived of as a “handmaiden to theology”—but returned in the Renaissance and continued to be important in the Enlightenment. Among the moderns, thinkers who understand philosophy as involving therapy include Montaigne, Descartes, Shaftesbury, and Kant, as well as some in the 20th century. In the fall semester, we shall focus on the ancients; in the spring, on the moderns.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Buddhist Meditation in India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet

Open , Seminar—Fall

Buddhists believe that there are three modes of karma, or “action”: 1) bodily, 2) verbal, and 3) mental. That is to say, we can “do” things with our bodies, with our speech, and with our minds. All three modes of karma have moral value in the sense that whatever actions we perform are either good, bad, or neutral—and all actions of body, speech, and mind have consequences that are inevitably experienced sometime in the future. The results of physical and verbal actions may be more immediately obvious than those of mental actions (thoughts and emotions), but Buddhists regard the latter as even more consequential; for they are the underlying ideas and intentions that motivate and inform speech and physical action. Moreover, Buddhists hold that deluded thinking concerning the “self” and external “things,” because it gives rise to unwise attachment, is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsāra). Given this fundamental outlook, Buddhists regard regulation of one’s own mind as the key to both individual happiness and social harmony and justice. They say that among the three kinds of karma, “mind” is primary—but that it is also the mode of action that is sublest and hardest to control. Throughout its long and diverse history, the Buddhist tradition has developed a wide variety of techniques for controlling and developing one’s own mind, many of which have been referred to in English using the word “meditation.” This course focuses on major types of meditation practiced in the Buddhism of India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. Those include: techniques for calming the mind and entering into deep trance states; procedures for gaining insight into what is ultimately real; the cultivation of “mindfulness” of one’s own physical and mental actions, which has now been borrowed by Western psychotherapy; mental exercises designed to suppress negative emotions (e.g., anger) and foster positive ones (e.g., loving kindness); the “contemplation of impurity,” which involves meditating on decomposing corpses; procedures for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; and a wide range of Tantric visualization practices designed to put one in direct touch with powerful sacred beings and forces. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the fall that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the spring: Buddhist Meditation in East Asia. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem, but those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of Buddhist meditation that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Buddhist Meditation in East Asia

Open , Seminar—Spring

Buddhists believe that there are three modes of karma, or “action”: 1) bodily, 2) verbal, and 3) mental. That is to say, we can “do” things with our bodies, with our speech, and with our minds. All three modes of karma have moral value in the sense that whatever actions we perform are either good, bad, or neutral; and all actions of body, speech, and mind have consequences that are inevitably experienced sometime in the future. The results of physical and verbal actions may be more immediately obvious than those of mental actions (thoughts and emotions), but Buddhists regard the latter as even more consequential—for they are the underlying ideas and intentions that motivate and inform speech and physical action. Moreover, Buddhists hold that deluded thinking concerning the “self” and external “things,” because it gives rise to unwise attachment, is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsāra). Given this fundamental outlook, Buddhists regard regulation of one’s own mind as the key to both individual happiness and social harmony and justice. They say that among the three kinds of karma, “mind” is primary; but it is also the mode of action that is sublest and hardest to control. Throughout its long and diverse history, the Buddhist tradition has developed a wide variety of techniques for controlling and developing one’s own mind, many of which have been referred to in English using the word “meditation.” This course focuses on major types of meditation practiced in the Buddhism of East Asia: China, Korea, and Japan. Those include: techniques for calming the mind and entering into deep trance states; procedures for gaining insight into what is ultimately real; mental exercises for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; the recollection of buddhas and bodhisattvas performed in conjunction with devotional prayer; a wide range of visualization practices designed to put one in direct touch with powerful sacred beings and forces; and the “investigation of words” attributed to Chan and Zen masters, also known as kōan practice. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the spring that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the fall: Buddhist Meditation in India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem; those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of Buddhist meditation that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Theatre Outreach: Theatre and Community

Open , FYS—Year

Students enrolled in FYS in Theatre are also allowed, but not required, to take one extra component in the theatre, dance, or music programs as part of their Theatre Third. All students enrolled in FYS in Theatre must complete the same theatre meeting attendance and technical support hours requirements that all students enrolled in Theatre Thirds must complete.

Students will explore the theatre artist working in the community, the theatre artist/activist responding to a population’s particular needs, sharing skills and creating work that connects and empowers their fellow citizens. Students will experience the impact of sharing creative skills in the community. Starting close to campus, the class will become better acquainted with the richness and diversity that is Yonkers. Exploring Yonkers, students will research the complex sociological issues surrounding this, the fourth-largest city in New York State. In addition to the political, we will venture into Yonkers to explore public parks, spaces, landmarks, and cultural institutions and meet and interact with the people who run them. Incorporating a vocabulary of theatre and everyday movement, students will design and develop their own art in the public sphere by constructing a site-specific environmental performance video piece in a Yonkers park, combining the political with the poetic. The class will learn about the work of theatre artists who listen, connect, and extend their theatre-making into communities—theatre makers who are catalysts for change. Students will also look into the mission of Sarah Lawrence College and its continuing commitment to experiential learning through community engagement, exploring the history of artistic practices and sharing of creative skills of the Sarah Lawrence College Theatre Outreach Program and other campus programs and initiatives. This course will include trips to New York City to view theatre that explores and provokes dialogue about race, gender, class, and other issues. Assigned readings, course discussions, and exercises will explore tools for making theatre in the community. A very strong interest in collaborative theatre-making and for sharing expressive skills connected to community work is required for students enrolling in this course. Conference work will entail research into Applied Theatre, Performance Theory, and Theatre for Social Justice movements.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Lost and Found: Collage and the Recycled Image

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course will consider the use, reuse, and, therefore, possible reinterpretation of existing images and discarded materials in the production of new works of art. The creative potential of viewing the familiar in a new context will be the focus of our exploration. Issues such as recognition, replication, prime objects, invention within variation, appropriation, history, and memory (both personal and cultural) will be examined. Each student will be expected to nurture and sustain a unique and individual point of view. The course will revolve around daily exercises, clearly-defined problems, and assignments both inside and outside the studio that are designed to sharpen awareness and reinforce the kind of disciplined work habits necessary to every creative endeavor.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Poetry: The Creative Process

Open , Seminar—Spring

The novelist Willa Cather stated that real “artistic growth” is a continuing refinement of our own approach toward “truth-telling.” Emily Dickinson wrote: “Tell all the Truth, but Tell it Slant.” In this poetry workshop, we will read and write, bearing in mind questions about the creative process, metaphor, truth, and truthfulness. Is a fact the truth? Is metaphor a lie? How does telling it “slant” help our poems evoke or enact rather than state (a poem is never reportage) how and why? We will read and discuss essays on creative approaches to writing; on poetics, prosody, memory (metaphor?), and revision—also reading a variety of poems across traditions, cultures, and contemporary poets of different styles and aesthetics. To read IS to write! If you are not reading, you are not writing! A workshop is the best place for risk-taking and mistake-making. We are here to help one another become better readers and writers, each in our own voice, with passion and compassion. Requirements: class participation, attendance, conference meetings, a “chapbook” of revised poems (no fewer than eight poems per semester), and an annotated book log due each semester.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

This course explores prose writing, with an emphasis on the creation of a world. The writing can be fiction or nonfiction and can take place in this world, another, or several. We will explore ideas about this world and writing about this world and others and work on our writing to make it livelier and more real no matter how imaginary our world is. This course runs in two parts, one semester each. You can take one or both parts. One part will involve writing episodes to build a world that, revised, will become a conference project; the other part will work on craft and content exercises of all kinds, with the conference project distinct from the exercises. Readings include folk tales, religious writing, philosophy, fiction, and newspaper items.

Faculty
Related Disciplines