2013-2014 Psychology Courses
First-Year Studies: Synapse to Self: Neuroscience of Self-Identity
It has long been believed that “you are what you remember.” Autobiographical memories are central to how we construct self-identity and experience a sense of self-continuity. They figure prominently in every aspect of our lives: earliest childhood recollections, developmental milestones and achievements, personal loss and public tragedy, and the breakdown of these memories across the lifespan. Conversely, self-identity plays a key role in how memories are selectively encoded, retrieved, or forgotten. Although these complex relations are far from being understood, neuropsychology and neuroscience research are illuminating the neural regions and networks underlying autobiographical memories and self-related processing. In this course, we will examine neuropsychological research by looking at how the loss of autobiographical memory impacts the integrity of identity such as in cases of amnesia and Alzheimer’s disease. We will also discuss how different memory systems support self-continuity and the capacity to “mentally time travel” back to the past and into the imagined future. We will examine how shifts in self-identity alter the accessibility of our memories and, in turn, our social and emotional functioning. Emphasis will also be placed on autobiographical memory and self-identity disturbances associated with mental illness and the way in which neuropsychologists and neuroscientists study these changes following therapeutic interventions. Students will develop a foundation in experimental methods for studying memory and self-identity and will have the opportunity to carry out original qualitative and quantitative research.
First-Year Studies: Health, Illness, and Medicine in a Multicultural Context: A Service Learning Course
What is the difference between disease and illness? Do people in different cultures manifest the same illness similarly? Has the biomedical model resulted in better health for all? Why do women get sicker but men die quicker? This course offers an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness within a cultural context. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness. We will also examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment. A lifespan approach examining child, adolescent, and adult issues will provide additional insight. Issues of sexuality, gender, race, and ethnicity are a central focus, as well. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or in public health. Conference work may range from empirical research to bibliographic research in this area. The community partnership/service learning component is an important part of this class; we will work with local agencies to promote healthy and adaptive person-environment interactions within our community.
The Changing Self: Narratives of Personal Transformation
This course will introduce students to the theory and practice of narrative psychology by looking to a number of narratives to consider questions about structure and transformation in a life. Today, personal narratives are increasingly accepted as a useful inroad to understanding one’s sense of self and identity. Over the course of the semester, we will explore how narratives have come to play a role in psychology, the power dynamics and ethics of writing about another person, and the value of a narrative in understanding a life. We will read psychoanalytic case studies, phenomenological case studies, ethnographies, autobiographical accounts, and contemporary narrative work in psychology. Many of the topics in the course will deal with major life transformation, such as creativity, violence, illness, the sublime, and addiction. These topics will allow us to ask: What is the relationship between major life change and the narratives that we create about those changes? Coursework will include essays, exams, and discussion questions. By the end of this course, students will be well-versed in narrative psychology and able to take a critical approach to questions of transformation.
Sex Is Not a Natural Act: Social Science Explorations of Human Sexuality
When is sex NOT a natural act? Every time a human engages in sexual activity. In sex, what is done by whom, with whom, where, when, why, and with what can have relatively little to do with biology. In theory, human sexuality poses a significant challenge. The study of its disparate elements (biological, social, and individual/psychological) is inherently an interdisciplinary undertaking. Anthropologists to zoologists all add something to our understanding of sexual behaviors and meanings. In this class, we will study sexualities in social contexts across the lifespan, from infancy to old age. Within each period, we will examine biological, social, and psychological factors that inform the experience of sexuality and the construction of sexual identities for individuals. We will also examine broader aspects of sexuality, such as sexual health, and explore possible connections between race, ethnicity, and sexuality.
Psychology of Religious Experience
How do humans understand the relationship between their immediate world and what lies beyond it? What are the ways in which private lives become embedded in wider fields of meaning? Ever since William James published The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902, questions about the nature of religious experience have circulated through the centers and margins of psychology. For James, religious experience was not limited to mere belief or church practices; it was felt in everyday life. Similarly, we will treat religiosity as a domain of experience that calls attention to the limits of language, to how we understand the world, and to the makeup of identity. During the semester, we will take a descriptive and interpretive approach to study the topics of mysticism, conversion, healing, the apocalypse, literalism, and much more, as we explore how humans make meaning and kinship and construct new ways of being in-the-world. We will read from classic and contemporary psychologists of religion, anthropologists, and critical theorists, as well as autobiographical accounts, to create an interdisciplinary perspective. By the end of this lecture, students will be well-versed in a variety of descriptive and interpretive methods and will be able to think critically about what religious experience means. Coursework will include essays, response papers, and presentations.
Trauma, Loss, and Resilience
How people remember and respond to stress and trauma has garnered much attention and controversy in the field of psychology. These debates have reached well beyond therapists' offices and academic departments, figuring prominently in the media, policy debates, and judicial decisions. Through a review of theory, research, and clinical case reports, this course aims to provide a nuanced examination of traumatic stress research. The course will begin with a historical exploration of how the mental-health community has defined and treated trauma over the past century, including the sociocultural forces that shaped these definitions and interventions. We will also delve into more current issues involving trauma, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Readings will survey a range of topics, drawing on cognitive, developmental, neuroscientific, and psychoanalytic perspectives. We will discuss and question: What are the impacts of stress and trauma across the lifespan? How is trauma processed cognitively, and what brain regions are involved in trauma-related distress? What is the impact of trauma and loss on mental and physical health? What is an appropriate response to trauma, and who decides? Are there outcomes to stress and trauma other than distress? Is memory for trauma special? Are horrific experiences indelibly fixed in a victim’s memory, or does the mind protect itself by banishing traumatic memories from consciousness? How do those working in the field of traumatic stress cope with secondary exposure? Why are some people able to experience repeated exposure to trauma without significant impairment? Conference work will offer students the opportunity to apply ongoing issues in trauma and resilience research to a wide range of disciplines, including science, law, medicine, art, media, politics, and ethics.
Poverty in America: Integrating Theory, Research, Policy, and Practice
One-fifth of all American children live in poverty. Why? And what can be done about it? In this course, we will take an ecological and psychobiological approach to poverty in America and its relationship to public policy, with a focus on child poverty. We will discuss how physical and psychosocial environments differ for poor and nonpoor children and their families in both rural and urban contexts, specifically rural Upstate New York and urban Yonkers. We will explore how these differences affect mental and physical health and motor, cognitive, language, and socioemotional development. We will also discuss individual and environmental protective factors that buffer some children from the adverse effects of poverty, as well as the impacts of public policy on poor children and their families, including recent welfare, health, and educational policy reforms in the United States. Topics will include environmental chaos, cumulative risk and its relationship to chronic stress, and unequal access to health-care services. This course will also serve as an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a service-learning course. Students will be expected to participate in a community partnership addressing issues related to poverty as part of their conference work. In the first semester, we will discuss the nature of these research and practice methodologies, and students will develop a proposal for community-based work in partnership with their community organization. In the second semester, students will implement and evaluate this project. A previous course in the social sciences is recommended.
Framing the Body: The Intersection of Psychology and Medicine
This seminar will explore the ways in which the body exists at the intersection of our stories and experiences. Drawing upon phenomenology and narrative psychology, we will investigate the relationships between pain and language, illness and healing, and doctors and patients, as well as the myriad ways in which culture, identity, age, and health frame our daily experiences of living within our bodies. In the past two decades, the body has received an enormous amount of theoretical attention in the social sciences. Why is that so? How can inquiries into issues about the body help us rethink traditional questions asked by psychologists? Key topics in the course will include: physical trauma and its aftermath, the power of the medical profession, body modification, the varieties of healing, and performance. The readings will encompass the work of psychologists, patients, doctors, memoirists, philosophers, dancers, and others. Coursework will include essays, response papers, and presentations.
Parents and Peers in Children’s Lives
In this course, we will study the psychological growth of the child from birth through adolescence, focusing especially on the social lives of children. We will begin by reading about some of the major theories that have shaped our thinking concerning children, including psychoanalytic (Freud and Erikson), behaviorist (Skinner), and cognitive-developmental (Piaget). We will apply those theories to the “real world” of children’s lives, examining the key issues of parent-child relations and children’s friendships. Our study of parent-child relations will include the question of what makes a “good” parent (known as “parenting styles”), as well as the effects of divorce, single parenting, and step parenting on the subsequent development of children. Our investigation of children’s friendships will include the exploration of its key functions for children’s psychological well-being, the difficulties for children without friends, and the power of the peer group to shape a child’s sense of self. Conference work may include direct experience with children, including fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or other venues.
The Developing Child: Perspectives from Experience, Observation, and Theory
This course introduces students to the study of how children develop by considering the perspectives on the process afforded by the experience of one’s own life, careful observation of children in natural settings, and readings in developmental psychology. All students will carry out fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and learn to observe the language and thought, play, social interaction, and evolving personalities of the preschool children with whom they work—taking into account the immediate context of their observations and the broader cultural contexts in which development is occurring. Readings for the seminar will be drawn from primary and secondary theoretical and research sources. Each student will carry out a conference project related to an aspect of development, often one connected to the fieldwork experience. All students must have at least one, and preferably two, full mornings or afternoons each week free for fieldwork.
“The self is an incredibly ingenious novelist.” —Richard Powers
Narrative neuropsychology explores notions of mind, memory, sensory perception, language, consciousness, and mind-body interactions through study of cases of the breakdown, hyperdevelopment, or recovery of mental function. In this course, we will draw upon a mixture of neuropsychological case studies, scientific research papers, novels, and memoirs to investigate conditions such as agnosia, amnesia, synesthesia, aphasia, autism, and other alterations in consciousness that arise from brain damage or variations in brain development. Narrative refers to the narrative accounts of neurologists but also to the view of the human brain as primarily a storyteller. A third sense of the term narrative will be invoked in our reading of current fiction and memoirs that incorporate neuropsychological material. This course is designed for students interested in the intersections of science and art.
The Psychology of Women and Gender: From Social Structure to Lives
This course examines the category of gender within and beyond the discipline of psychology and aims to familiarize students with major theoretical perspectives on gender, including social constructionism, feminism, Marxism, queer theories, critical race theories, and various psychological traditions. The course also draws from empirical research on gender in the United States and abroad that emphasizes the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, ability, and immigration in women's experiences and identities. We will explore how gender and gendered practices have been studied in relation to macrosocial processes such as patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, and globalization—but also how they form meanings in the physical and psychological lives of individuals. We will look at how gender is embedded in contested relations of power in diverse communities and how feminists and psychologists have explored the possibilities for change within and beyond academia.
Understanding Addiction: Psychological and Neuropsychological Approaches
Addiction: a formal award by a magistrate of a thing or person to another person, as the award of a debtor to his creditor; a surrender to a master. —Roman law
Evidence of addiction has been present throughout history. Explanations for addiction—spiritual, emotional, biological—have spanned the ages and remain controversial today. This course will explore the study of addiction from historical roots to contemporary theory. Competing theories of substance abuse/addiction will be examined with a focus on the individual but also with regard to cultural and societal concerns. This course presents a framework for understanding models of substance use and addiction with a critical view of controversies and evidence for each, including neuropsychological advances in the study of addiction. Students will be asked to think critically and constructively about the topic, eschewing dogma of any one approach to the treatment and understanding of substance abuse. Readings range from psychology and medicine to the arts, ethics, and the press. Conference work might build from an academic exploration of substance-use theory (moral, developmental, dynamic, motivational) to a broader conceptualization of cultural, ethical, and cross-discipline understandings.
Life in Context: Fundamental Concepts in Environmental Psychology
This course will provide an introduction to the interdisciplinary social science of environmental psychology, which places human experience in the social, cultural, historical, political, physical, and nonphysical contexts that shape our individual and collective world views. Key topics will include framing the concepts of space, place, and environment; the social production of nature; public and private space; children, youth, and environments; neighborhood and community; therapeutic and restorative spaces; the built environment; and the digital environment. By the end of the semester, students will have a fundamental understanding of the field and be able to apply an interdisciplinary and spatial lens to the study of human experience. In addition to a broad range of readings from the social sciences, human geography, and urban studies, students will present an “environmental autobiography,” make several field trips, and maintain a journal throughout the semester that will be used to develop essays. This course lends itself to a wide range of conference work with an emphasis on engaging with the world, including participatory research, ethnographies, and visual and multimedia projects.
Home and Other Figments: Immigration, Exile, and Uprootedness
The unique experience of uprootedness provides an opportunity to ask questions about home, identity, and the transmission of the past. In this course, we will look to several populations around the world that have been displaced as we survey the theoretical and narrative literature about exile and immigration. How does one reconfigure his or her identity after forced or voluntary migration? What are the effects of displacement on the children of the displaced? How is cultural heritage preserved in transit? As we ask these questions, we will reflect upon what psychological methods are used to understand such complexities. We will inquire into the relationships between epistemology and method, between language and experience, and between researchers and participants. Course readings will be drawn from classic and contemporary research on various diasporas, reflecting a critical eye towards how research may conceptualize, frame, and understand the experiences of exile, immigration, and uprootedness. By the end of the course, students will have a broad understanding of numerous displaced populations, of the psychological processes at work, and of the research that has shaped the discipline's understanding of these phenomena.
Perspectives on Child Development
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.
Telling One’s Story: Narratives of Development and Life Experience
There are many ways in which people narrate their life experience, from storytelling in everyday contexts to brief memoirs, autobiography, fiction, psychotherapy, and research interview responses. This seminar will examine examples from all of these forms of telling one’s story, beginning with an overview of the role of memory and construction/reconstruction in formulating experience. In reading and discussing some of the methods that psychologists use to study the process of development and the ways people experience their lives, we will consider the effect of context and purpose on the way an experience is narrated. We will draw on observational methodologies, ethnography, narrative research, and clinical case studies, as well as various forms of narrating one’s experience for oneself and its role in the development of sense of self. Class reading will include many kinds of accounts, and class papers will include a range of ways of discussing the themes of the course. Conference work may build on any narrative methods studied, including observational or autobiographical approaches, and may include material derived from fieldwork/community service in an appropriate setting, if desired.
Attachment Across the Life Cycle: How Relationships Shape Us from Infancy to Older Adulthood
Attachment theory has become a widely accepted cornerstone of early human development. Pioneered by John Bowlby and expanded by later theorists and researchers, attachment theory emphasizes the role of infant and early childhood bonds with caregivers, usually parents, on social and emotional development. As study of attachment theory has advanced, interest in attachment throughout adolescence and adulthood has increased. No longer confined to attachments established during infancy and early childhood, understanding how important relationships shape us during adolescence, adulthood, and older adulthood are growing areas of interest. Emerging studies of attachment in neuropsychological development, adoption, queer families, spiritual identification, social affiliation, and parenting give us new insights into how the fulfillment or deprivation of important relationships throughout life impact development and well-being. This course explores the historical and cross-theoretical roots of attachment theory, follows advances and refinements in attachment theory and research, and looks at attachment beyond childhood through adolescence, adulthood, and older adulthood. Readings include classical attachment theory, as well as contemporary attachment research, developmental psychopathology, feminist critique, identity theory, social psychology, neuropsychology, object relations, and psychoanalytic literature. Film and relevant case studies will be included for reflection and class discussion. Conference work may include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or other settings such as youth/adolescent programs or older adult community centers.
Principles of Psychology: Brains, Minds, and Bodies
When William James published The Principles of Psychology in 1890, he described it scathingly as a “loathsome, distended, tumefied, bloated, dropsical mass” that proved that he was an incompetent and that psychology was not a science. More than 100 years later, it is one of the most quoted and influential psychological texts. In Principles, James set out his views on a range of subjects that continue to capture the interest of contemporary psychologists and neuroscientists, such as attention, memory, the senses, the self, consciousness, habit, time perception, and emotion. We will read some of James’s writings in conjunction with contemporary texts that draw inspiration from his work and discuss them in light of current neuroscientific studies of the brain, mind, and body.
Psychology and Social Change: A Critical Social Psychology Perspective
What does psychology have to do with social change and social justice? This course explores the history, theories, methods, and practices of social psychology from the legacy of liberation psychology to the work of contemporary critical psychologists. The course will introduce interdisciplinary frameworks to understand social psychological constructs, including: self, consciousness, identity, power, social group, social structure, human agency, and social movements. With an emphasis on the intersection of psychology and social change, students will be familiarized with theories and scientific methods that examine issues of social (in)justice and encouraged to further investigate, from a social psychological lens, sociopolitical topics related to race, gender, class, sexuality, and nation.
You Are What You Tweet: Identity and Social Media
Online social media has provided new venues through which to share our thoughts, interests, and ideas—and tell the stories of our lives. Through posts, tweets, status updates, images, and videos, we immerse ourselves in the digital world and dissolve the boundaries between online and offline. How do we choose to present ourselves online? Are they accurate representations? How are the stories we tell online different from the ones we tell in person or write down? In addition, this course will examine what has been described as the “publicly-private and privately-public” nature of social media. With so many aspects of our lives made public, do we risk exposing ourselves? Is there such a thing as privacy online? Course readings will be drawn from both academic literature and popular journalism, with a focus on concepts of identity, self-presentation, social relationships, and privacy. Conference work will be closely integrated in the coursework; frequent online activity, including a multi-platform portfolio, will be a major component of the class.
The Talking Cure: The Restoration of Freedom
Over the past century, the concepts of “wisdom” and “ignorance” have been replaced by “health” and “illness.” Vanity has been replaced by narcissism and pretensions by insecurities. We consult psychologists and psychiatrists rather than philosophers in the hope of living “the good life.” We become cured rather than educated. The cure is presumably accomplished through a series of conversations between patient and doctor, but these are not ordinary conversations. Moreover, the relationship between one psychologist and patient is vastly different from the relationship of another psychologist and client. Despite more than a century of practice, there remains little agreement among these practitioners of “health” regarding what the content of these conversations should be or the proper roles of doctor and patient. Consequently, the patient who sees a psychoanalyst has a very different kind of experience from a patient who seeks the help of a person-centered therapist or a behaviorally oriented psychotherapist. This course will examine the rules of conversation that govern various psychotherapeutic relationships and compare those rules with those that govern other kinds of relationships, such as those between friends, teachers and students, and family members.
For thousands of years, philosophers have struggled with the questions surrounding the issue of morality. Over the past 100 years, psychologists have joined the fray. While many theories exist, a unifying theme centers upon the notion that childhood is the crucible in which morality is formed and forged. In this course, we will explore the major theories dealing with three aspects of the development of morality: moral thought, or reasoning (e.g., Piaget, Kohlberg); moral feelings (psychoanalytic approaches, including Freud, and the modern work on the importance of empathy, including the ideas of Hoffman); and moral actions, or behavior (behaviorism, social-learning theory). In addition, we will investigate the possible relations among these three aspects of moral development. Throughout the course, we will connect moral development theory to the results of research investigations into this crucial aspect of child development. Conference work may include direct experience with children or adolescents either in the form of detailed observations or direct interaction (interviews, etc.).
The Neurobiology of Mental Health
Mental illness is a major public health issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that anxiety and depression will globally represent the second-largest illness burden by 2020, placing great challenges on individuals, families, and society. To meet these challenges, psychologists and other mental-health professionals have been increasingly integrating theories and techniques from neuroscience with the study and treatment of psychological disorders. Such efforts have led to what is now being referred to as the field of “clinical neuroscience,” aimed at identifying the neurobiological foundations underlying psychological disorders. These approaches consider how genetics, hormones, and neural processes impact behavior and emotional functioning. Importantly, interactions between biology and culture, developmental stages and environment, will be considered. This course will begin with a historical overview of the growing field of clinical neuroscience. Then, foundations in neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, and neurodevelopment will be reviewed before approaching the neurobiological components of psychological disorders and interventions. Particular attention will be paid to schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug abuse, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, readings will cover brain research believed to promote resilience against the emergence of mental illness, such as adaptive coping strategies, hunger regulation, and the interaction between psychological and immunological functioning.
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 and clinical 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 integrative “relational perspective”; and we will consider the issues they raise 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 such fundamental themes as the complex interaction of nature and nurture, the unanswered questions about the development of personal style, and the cultural dimensions of personality development. Fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or other appropriate setting is required, although conference projects may center on aspects of that experience or not, depending on the individual student’s interest. For graduate students and for juniors and seniors with permission of the instructor.
Global Child Development
The majority of the world’s children live in the global South, yet less than 10% of developmental science research has studied communities that account for 90% of the world’s population. There is thus a desperate need to better understand child and adolescent development outside of the United States and Western Europe. In this course, we will begin to do this by exploring what is currently known about children’s health, nutrition, and motor, cognitive, language, social, and emotional development across the globe. Where the research is limited, we will consider if and when research in the global North can be informative regarding child development in the global South. As we do this, we will discuss various bioecocultural approaches to better map out the connections between multiple factors at multiple levels impacting children’s developmental outcomes. Such holistic, multidisciplinary approaches will lay a foundation for sustainable, context-appropriate, community-based projects to better understand and reduce the aversive effects of multiple environmental risk factors on the development of children across the globe. These approaches will also help us understand and build upon the opportunities afforded by different contexts. Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research in developmental and cultural psychology, psychobiology, anthropology, sociology, and public health, with a critical eye toward understanding both the usefulness and the limitations of this research in light of the populations studied and the methodologies employed. We will also read the literary work of both classic and contemporary authors from the global South to better understand these contexts. Conference work will provide the opportunity for students to focus on a particular context of young children’s lives in greater detail. This may include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children.
Individualism and/or Diversity Reconsidered
“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never harm you.” Can anything be further from the truth? This course will examine how reputation in all its guises shadows our lives. Do we not dispense praise and blame to control the lives of others? Can we deny that pride and shame represent the rewards and punishments that we employ to imprison ourselves? Can we inhabit a world that goes beyond pride and shame? For example, consider the following tale: Alexander the Great allegedly came across the philosopher Diogenes, clothed in rags and taking a sunbath while reclining on the street. According to one version of this tale, Alexander asked Diogenes if there were anything he desired. If there were, then certainly Alexander would grant his wish. Diogenes waved his hand and replied: “Stand out of my light.” Addressing his troops, Alexander exclaimed, “If I were not Alexander the Great, I would like to be Diogenes.” What of you, dear student?
Art and Visual Perception
“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.”—John Berger
Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by neuroscientist Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, 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.
Theories of Development
“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” suggested Kurt Lewin almost 100 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, 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. For graduate students and for seniors with permission of the instructor.
Pathways of Development: Psychopathology and Other Challenges to the Developmental Process
This course addresses 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. In discussing readings drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, memoir, and research studies, 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. For graduate students and for juniors and seniors by permission of the instructor.
Language Research Seminar
“The baby, assailed by eye, ear, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion.” —William James (1890)
The acquisition of our first language is “doubtless the greatest intellectual feat any of us is ever required to perform” (Bloomfield), yet this feat was essentially accomplished by the time we were three years old—and we likely have no memory of it. Furthermore, human language fundamentally influences human ecology, culture, and evolution. Thus, many contemporary researchers in the interdisciplinary field of psycholinguistics argue that our language abilities are a large part of what makes us uniquely human. Are we, in fact, the only species with true language? And how would we begin to answer this question? In this course, we will attempt to answer this and other key questions in the broad field of language development through both our discussions of current and contemporary research and theory and the development of new research in this field. Current “hot” research topics include whether bilingual children have better control over what they pay attention to than monolingual children do (attention and language); whether language influences thought; whether language acquisition is biologically programmed; and why children learn language better from an adult in person than the same adult on television. Over the course of the semester, you will have the opportunity to design an independent research project that investigates one of these key questions or another question of interest to you in the broad area of language development. In doing this, you will learn how to outline the rationale for a research project, develop an effective research methodology, collect data, analyze the data, interpret your results, and communicate your findings in a persuasive yet objective manner. This course thus serves as an introduction to research methods, with a specific focus on research methods in psycholinguistics, through your own research. Topics will include experimental research design, case studies, observational techniques, survey development, and hypothesis testing. To help you design and implement your own research, we will discuss your conference research projects in class throughout the semester; you will obtain feedback from your colleagues on your questions, methods, analyses of the data, and interpretation of the results. This project could include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children. Previous course work in psychology or permission of the instructor is required.
The Empathic Attitude
“It is when we try to grapple with another man’s intimate need that we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering, and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun.” —Joseph Conrad
“We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of routine and of sin, with souls that made our soul’s wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we…were.” —Emerson, Divinity School Address, 1838
After graphically describing her predicament to her cousin Molly, Sarah asked: “So, do you understand?” “Yes, I do, I certainly do,” her cousin replied. “You do?” Sarah asked again. “Most emphatically, I do.” “Then you agree with me?” “Oh no.” “You sympathize with me then?” “No, I don’t.” “Then you at least see it from my point of view.” “Hardly.” “Then what do you understand?” “You are simply a fool!” “How dare you judge me?” “If I see it from your point of view, I shall only be a different kind of judge. My dear Sarah, don’t you see that there is no escaping judgment?”
For Conrad, the other is so shrouded in mists that our empathic understanding must necessarily fall short. For Emerson, an empathic rapport is rare but possible. As for Sarah and Molly, what can we say? Do they completely fail to understand each other, or do they understand each other only too well? Indeed, what do we mean by understanding in this context? Too often, understanding is confused with agreement or the absence of judgment. This course will examine what an empathic understanding entails and the function of empathy in defining areas of conflict as well as the resolution of conflict. In brief, the empathic attitude requires us to enjoy and appreciate the differences between ourselves and others even as we attempt to bridge those differences.
Mindfulness: Neuroscientific and Psychological Perspectives
Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice, laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind.
Intersections of Multiple Identities
What is the connection between race, sexuality, and gender within an American multicultural and multi-ethnic society? Is there a coherent, distinct, and continuous self existing within our postmodern, -paradigmatic, -etc. contexts? How is the sexual/racial/gendered implicated in the creation of this self-identity? Is there principled dynamic or developmental change in our concepts of self, whether as human beings, sexual beings, and/or racial/ethnic beings? We will explore possible answers to these questions and more. This class explores the construction of race, ethnicity, and sexualities within psychology; how these constructs implicitly and explicitly inform psychological inquiry; and the effects of these constructs on the psychology of the individual. This class regularly moves beyond psychology to take a broader, social-science perspective on the issue of intersectionality. Students who have studied race/ethnicity, gender or sexuality in at least one other class would be best prepared to take this class.
Play in Developmental and Cultural Context
“For many years the conviction has grown upon me that civilization arises and unfolds in and as play.” —Huizinga, Homo Ludens
Many adults look back fondly on their memories of childhood play and the rich imaginary worlds created. Yet, play in our current sociopolitical climate is threatened by the many demands of our over-regimented lives and standardized goals of education. In this course, we will look closely at the amazing complexity of those playworlds and at the many aspects of children’s experiences through play. Observing and reading about play offer the opportunity to understand children’s thinking, communicating, problem solving, nascent storytelling, and emotional and imaginative lives. We will also consider the variations in play within different family and cultural contexts, as well as play’s relationship to scientific and aesthetic activities of adult life. Other topics will include therapeutic uses of play, importance of play for early literacy, and the current efforts underway to train “playworkers” to guide play in new adventure playgrounds. Students will be encouraged to choose a context in which to observe and/or participate in play either at our Early Childhood Center or in other settings with children or adults. Previous course work in psychology is required.