Biology

Biology is the study of life in its broadest sense, ranging from topics such as the role of trees in affecting global atmospheric carbon dioxide down to the molecular mechanisms that switch genes on and off in human brain cells. Biology includes a tremendous variety of disciplines: molecular biology, immunology, histology, anatomy, physiology, developmental biology, behavior, evolution, ecology, and many others. Because Sarah Lawrence College faculty members are broadly trained and frequently teach across the traditional disciplinary boundaries, students gain an integrated knowledge of living things—a view of the forest as well as the trees.

In order to provide a broad introduction and foundation in the field of biology, a number of courses appear under the designation General Biology Series. Each of these open-level, semester-long courses have an accompanying lab component. Students may enroll in any number of the General Biology Series courses during their time at Sarah Lawrence and in any order, although it is strongly recommended that students begin with General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution in the fall semester. Completion of any two General Biology Series courses fulfills the minimum biology curriculum requirements for medical school admission. These courses typically meet the prerequisite needs for further intermediate- and advanced-level study in biology, as well.

Biology 2022-2023 Courses

First-Year Studies: Urban Ecology

FYS—Year | 10 credits

Ecology is a scientific discipline that studies interactions between living organisms and their environments, as well as processes governing how species are distributed, how they interact, and how nutrients and energy cycle through ecosystems. Although we may think of these processes occurring in “natural” areas with little-to-no human development, all of these processes still take place in environments heavily modified by humans, such as cities. This course will cover fundamental concepts in the discipline of ecology and then further explore how these patterns and processes are altered (sometimes dramatically) in urban environments. We will use examples from our local environment—the New York City metropolitan area—to understand ecological concepts in light of urbanization. The fall semester will include a biweekly outdoor lab session at local parks and field stations. Biweekly individual conferences with students will be held during both the fall and spring semesters. Special attention will be paid to the ecology of local streams and rivers, including field trips and work involving the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak. This course will also participate in interdisciplinary activities as part of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE).

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General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

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

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Experimental Neurobiology and Physiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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

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Viruses and Pandemics

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Ebola, smallpox, influenza, rabies...these and other viruses are the smallest lifeforms on Earth, yet they are one of the most powerful and devastating biological forces ever unleashed. Throughout human history, virally-caused pandemics have periodically ravaged human populations—altering the social fabric, confounding political and medical responses, and revealing the fragility of the human species. Examples range from the Antonine Plague, which killed five-million people during the time of the Roman empire, to the 15-million deaths during the Cocoliztli epidemic of the 1600s in Mexico and Central America, to the Spanish flu pandemic of the early 20th century that claimed an estimated 50- to 100-million victims. The current COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of the dominance of viruses and exposed the challenges of confronting these microscopic pathogens on a global scale. This course will examine the biology and behavior of viruses, the role of such pathogens in inducing different pandemics throughout the course of history, and the means by which they can rapidly spread through a population. We will explore how vaccines, quarantines, and other medical, social and political responses work to mitigate and eventually overcome viral outbreaks, as well as how we track down and study pathogenic viruses. During the course, we will consider the representation of viruses through readings drawn from texts such as Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, John Barry’s The Great Influenza, and C. J. Peters’ Virus Hunter.

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General Biology Series: Anatomy and Physiology

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Anatomy is the branch of science that investigates the bodily structure of living organisms, while physiology is the study of the normal functions of those organisms. In this course, we will explore the human body in both health and disease. Focus will be placed on the major body units, such as skin, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. By emphasizing concepts and critical thinking rather than rote memorization, we will make associations between anatomical structures and their functions. The course will have a clinical approach to health and illness, with examples drawn from medical disciplines such as radiology, pathology, and surgery. Laboratory work will include dissections and microscope work. A final conference paper is required at the conclusion of the course; the topic will be chosen by each student to emphasize the relevance of anatomy/physiology to our understanding of the human body.

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Principles of Botany

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Understanding the basic principles of plant biology is crucial to understanding the complex web of life on Earth and its evolutionary history. Nearly all organisms, including humans, rely on plants—directly or indirectly—for their basic needs. Consequently, plants are essential to our existence; by studying them, we learn more about our self and the world we inhabit. This course is an introductory survey of botanical science and is designed for the student with little science background. We will broadly examine numerous topics related to botany, including: cell biology comprising DNA/RNA, photosynthesis, and respiration; plant structure, reproduction, and evolution; and plant diversity, ecology, and habitats. Seminars and textbook readings will be supplemented by a field trip to the New York Botanical Garden. Conference projects will provide the opportunity for the student to explore specific botanical interests in detail.

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Biology of Cancer

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Cancer is likely the most feared and most notorious of human diseases, being devastating in both its scope and its prognosis. Cancer has been described as an alien invader inside one’s own body, characterized by its insidious spread and devious ability to resist countermeasures. Cancer’s legendary status is rightfully earned, accounting for 13 percent of all human deaths worldwide and killing an estimated eight-million people annually. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer”; since then, more than $200 billion have been spent on cancer research. While clinical success has been modest, tremendous insights have been generated in understanding the cellular, molecular, and genetic mechanisms of this disease. In this course, we will explore the field of cancer biology, covering topics such as tumor viruses, cellular oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, cell immortalization, multistep tumorigenesis, cancer development and metastasis, and the treatment of cancer. In addition, we will discuss new advances in cancer research and draw from recent articles in the published literature. Readings will also include Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies.

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Gothic Decay: The Literature and Science of Soils, Swamps, and Forests

Open, Joint seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Western literature and culture deeply influence how our country negatively perceives transitional spaces, such as the spaces between cultivated land and forest or between water and land. The need for control pushes us to reshape or eliminate marshes, swamps, thickets, and other forms of overgrowth. Similarly, we feel uncomfortable considering the soils in which we bury our dead—or we ignore them completely. Yet, a closer examination of the biology of decay reveals cycles of life that follow death, with growth, reproduction, and nutrient exchange accompanying decay at every turn. We will read excerpts of literary works that have shaped our cultural perception of decay and of these transitional states and spaces, including works by Sophocles, Mary Shelley, Alice Walker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others. We will also explore the ecosystems themselves through lab experiments and trips to local parks and field stations (Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Untermeyer Gardens). This joint course will evaluate the divide between culture and science and explore how cultural representations may evolve with an adequate framing of scientific research and findings. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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Sensory Biology

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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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Genetics

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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

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Plant Systematics and Evolution

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Understanding the diversity of plants and their evolutionary relationships is fundamental to understanding the complex web of life on Earth. Nearly all other organisms, including humans, rely on plants—directly or indirectly—for their food and oxygen. Consequently, plants are essential to our existence. And by studying plants in detail, we learn more about our own species and the world we inhabit. This course is a detailed survey of plant diversity and the evolutionary relationships of plants. You will gain a thorough understanding of the diverse morphology of plants and will acquire an understanding of the plant “Tree of Life.” You will be able to describe morphological structures of plants using botanical terminology and learn how to identify prominent plant families using diagnostic morphological characters and plant keys. Seminars and associated labs will be supplemented with independent field collections.

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Virology

Advanced, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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

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Organic Chemistry III

Advanced, Small seminar—Spring

This advanced course is a continuation of the study of Organic Chemistry beyond the topics studied in Organic Chemistry I & II. We will commence the semester by investigating the exceptional stability of aromatic molecules and their main modes of reaction: Electrophilic Aromatic Substitution and Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution. We will then look at the ways in which organic molecules can rearrange and fragment during reactions. Once these topics have been mastered, we will be able to learn the principles of Retrosynthetic Analysis, the method used to devise efficient strategies for the synthesis of complex organic molecules. Conference work for this course will be the development of a synthetic route to prepare a pharmaceutically important compound.

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General Chemistry I

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Chemistry is the study of the properties, composition, and transformation of matter. Chemistry is central to the production of the materials required for modern life; for instance, the synthesis of pharmaceuticals to treat disease, the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides required to feed an ever-growing population, and the development of efficient and environmentally-benign energy sources. This course provides an introduction to the fundamental concepts of modern chemistry. We will begin by examining the structure and properties of atoms, which are the building blocks of the elements and the simplest substances in the material world around us. We will then explore how atoms of different elements can bond with each other to form an infinite variety of more complex substances, called compounds. This will lead us to an investigation of several classes of chemical reactions, the processes by which substances are transformed into new materials with different physical properties. Along the way, we will learn how and why the three states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases) differ from one another and how energy may be either produced or consumed by chemical reactions. In weekly laboratory sessions, we will perform experiments to illustrate and test the theories presented in the lecture part of the course. These experiments will also serve to develop practical skills in both synthetic and analytic chemical techniques.

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General Chemistry II

Intermediate, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is a continuation of General Chemistry I. We will begin with a detailed study of both the physical and chemical properties of solutions. This will enable us to consider the factors that affect both the rates and direction of chemical reactions. We will then investigate the properties of acids and bases and the role that electricity plays in chemistry. The course will conclude with introductions to nuclear chemistry and organic chemistry. Weekly laboratory sessions will allow us to demonstrate and test the theories described in the lecture segment of the course.

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Organic Chemistry I (Guided Inquiry)

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Organic chemistry is the study of chemical compounds whose molecules are based on a framework of carbon atoms, typically in combination with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Despite this rather limited set of elements, there are more organic compounds known than there are compounds that do not contain carbon. Adding to the importance of organic chemistry is the fact that very many of the chemical compounds that make modern life possible—such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, plastics, pigments, and dyes—can be classed as organic. Organic chemistry, therefore, impacts many other scientific subjects; and knowledge of organic chemistry is essential for a detailed understanding of materials science, environmental science, molecular biology, and medicine. This course gives an overview of the structures, physical properties, and reactivity of organic compounds. We will see that organic compounds can be classified into families of similar compounds, based upon certain groups of atoms that always behave in a similar manner no matter what molecule they are in. These functional groups will enable us to rationalize the vast number of reactions that organic reagents undergo. Topics covered in this course include: the types of bonding within organic molecules; fundamental concepts of organic reaction mechanisms (nucleophilic substitution, elimination, and electrophilic addition); the conformations and configurations of organic molecules; and the physical and chemical properties of alkanes, halogenoalkanes, alkenes, alkynes, and alcohols. In the laboratory section of the course, we will develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences. In addition, the Guided Inquiry exercises conducted in class will sharpen your analytical skills, and teach you how to think like a scientist.

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Organic Chemistry II (Guided Inquiry)

Intermediate, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is a continuation of Organic Chemistry I (Guided Inquiry). During this semester, we will explore the physical and chemical properties of additional families of organic molecules. The reactivity of aldehydes and ketones, carboxylic acids and their derivatives (acid chlorides, acid anhydrides, esters, and amides), enols and enolates, and amines will all be discussed. We will also investigate the methods by which large, complicated molecules can be synthesized from simple starting materials. Modern methods of organic structural determination—such as mass spectrometry, proton and carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy—will also be introduced. In the laboratory section of this course, we will continue to develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry II (Guided Inquiry) is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences.

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Environmental Chemistry

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course provides an introduction to basic concepts of chemistry and their application to current environmental issues. Topics include acid rain, ozone depletion, air pollution, climate change (global warming), surface water and groundwater pollution, and plastics and polymers. We will then consider how human activities such as transportation, energy production, and chemical industries influence the environment.

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Biochemistry

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Biochemistry is the chemistry of biological systems. This course will introduce students to the important principles and concepts of biochemistry. Topics will include the structure and functions of biomolecules, such as amino acids, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids, RNA, DNA, and bioenergetics. This knowledge will then be used to study the pathways of metabolism.

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Bio-Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

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

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Gothic Decay: The Literature and Science of Soils, Swamps, and Forests

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

Western literature and culture deeply influence how our country negatively perceives transitional spaces, such as the spaces between cultivated land and forest or between water and land. The need for control pushes us to reshape or eliminate marshes, swamps, thickets, and other forms of overgrowth. Similarly, we feel uncomfortable considering the soils in which we bury our dead—or we ignore them completely. Yet, a closer examination of the biology of decay reveals cycles of life that follow death, with growth, reproduction, and nutrient exchange accompanying decay at every turn. We will read excerpts of literary works that have shaped our cultural perception of decay and of these transitional states and spaces, including works by Sophocles, Mary Shelley, Alice Walker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others. We will also explore the ecosystems themselves through lab experiments and trips to local parks and field stations (Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Untermeyer Gardens). This joint course will evaluate the divide between culture and science and explore how cultural representations may evolve with an adequate framing of scientific research and findings. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

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

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Electromagnetism & Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in the physical science, engineering, or health fields. This course will cover waves, geometric and wave optics, electrostatics, magnetostatics, and electrodynamics. We will use the exploration of the particle and wave properties of light to bookend our discussions and ultimately finish our exploration of classical physics with the hints of its incompleteness. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including: problem solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. The best way to develop scientific skills is to practice the scientific process. We will focus on learning physics through discovering, testing, analyzing, and applying fundamental physics concepts in an interactive classroom, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings.

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First-Year Studies: Approaches to Child Development

Open, FYS—Year

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

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Finding Happiness and Keeping It: Insights From Psychology and Neuroscience

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

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

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

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The Psychology of Food and Eating Behaviors

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

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The Mind-Body Connection: Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

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

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Sociology of the Body, Disability, Illness, and Health

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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Technology and Social Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the nature of agency—or the motivation behind and responsibility for action—and the role of technology in shaping personal social identity. We begin by discussing how to treat nonhumans as actors in their own right before exploring key concepts that include Donna Haraway’s cyborg and Bruno Latour’s hybrid agent—concepts that allow us to consider how humans utilize nonhumans in their environment (assistive technologies for people with disabilities, animals, clothing, etc.) to enact social identity and become inseparable from them. This lays a foundation for us to explore how social identities like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status are made and unmade in interactions with technology. We will consider how identities are shaped by institutions, embodied in individuals, and conceived as lifelong projects. In past conference projects, students have explored deaf identity and cochlear implants, responsible pet ownership and leashes, bicycles in urban space, and hacking culture on video-game servers.

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