2014-2015 Psychology Courses
First-Year Studies: Child and Adolescent Development
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.
First-Year Studies: Brains, Minds, and Bodies: Neuropsychological Narratives
Neuropsychology explores notions of self, 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, neuroscience texts, novels, and memoirs to investigate current understandings of minds, brains, and bodies, along with the connections between and among them. The case studies address 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. Throughout the year, we will also study the concept of mindfulness and the rapidly expanding literature on the way its practice can affect the brain, mind, and body.
Introduction to Social Psychology
This yearlong lecture course introduces students to the key ideas of social psychology. We will examine the social dimensions underlying the cognitive existence of individuals by examining some theories, methodologies, and key findings of social psychology. We will look at human relations at various levels, with a primary focus on the tension between the individual and society. For this purpose, we will compare different theoretical (cognitive, interpersonal, and cultural) perspectives. During the first semester, the course will investigate the role of unconscious processes in our interpretations and explanations of the social world, emphasizing in particular our mistakes in judgment and our misperceptions of causation. The individual as a social cognizer will be explored further to see how we derive interpretations for our own behavior in comparison to those attributed to others’ behavior. In the second semester, we will focus on the contextualization of these different processes in order to analyze the defining characteristics of groups and the extent to which we are indeed shaped by our groups.
Babies, Birds, and ’bots: An Introduction to Developmental Cognitive Science
Do lemurs see red? Do you? What about newborns? Do you really have déjà vu? Does listening to Mozart in the womb really make children more intelligent? What about Metallica? What is intelligence, anyway? Why are phone numbers seven digits long? And why do children learn language better from an adult in person than from the same adult on television? In this course, we will attempt to answer all of these questions and many more that you may have about how we process visual and auditory information, first put things in categories, solve simple and complex problems, communicate with each other and with our pets, and remember how to ride a bicycle and how to get to New York City. To answer these questions, we will read and discuss both theory and research in developmental psychology, psychobiology, linguistics, anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy on various aspects of cognitive development across the life span in different cultural contexts, focusing on infancy, childhood, and adolescence. We will also discuss both the usefulness and limitations of this research in light of the populations studied and the methodologies employed. Topics will include perception, categorization, reasoning, theory of mind and autism, language and thought, multilingualism and second-language acquisition, social cognition, memory, metacognition and metamemory, consciousness, and competence in context.
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 life span? 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.
The Historical Evolution of Psychological Thought
This seminar aims to present 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 BC, 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.
The Synapse to Self: The 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 life span. 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—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.
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 two full mornings or afternoons a week free for fieldwork.
Inequalities and Opportunities in Yonkers: Integrating Theory, Research, Policy, and Practice
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 in the previous spring semester. This course will provide an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a service-learning course. All students will work for 15 hours per week in a community-based organization that addresses issues of inequality. In addition to their work in the community, students will participate in a weekly discussion-based seminar that will include invited guests from various members of the community-based organizations with which we are working, as well as Sarah Lawrence College faculty and staff and other local practitioners, politicians, and educators. Over the course of the semester, we will discuss participatory action and community-based research methods and practice, integrating theory and research, policy and practice, public health and public policy, nongovernmental organizations and private-public partnerships; understanding and addressing environmental inequalities for children and families; and integrating dance and the performing arts in community-based work (with Peggy Gould). Students will 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.
The Progressive Classroom: School and Society
What do preschoolers at the Early Childhood Center (ECC) and Sarah Lawrence College students have in common? In an age when two-year olds use computerized toys at home, what should they be doing at school? In what ways is the progressive education movement that characterized the early 20th century relevant today? In this course, we will examine the similarities in pedagogic philosophy and practice of progressive education at the preschool, primary, and secondary school and college levels. Readings will range from the underpinnings of progressive education in the work of John Dewey and others to historical material about Sarah Lawrence, the ECC and other progressive educational experiments and to contemporary discussions of what roles education can and should serve in the 21st century. All students will spend two full mornings or afternoons a week doing fieldwork in classrooms at the ECC, becoming astute observers of both children and teaching practice, reflecting on their own educational experiences, and developing individual conference projects that delve further into the questions and themes of the course.
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 between 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.
“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?
Bullies and Their Victims: Social and Physical Aggression in Childhood and Adolescence
It can be the bane of our existence in childhood: the bully who simply will not leave us alone. Until fairly recently, the image that came to mind in both the popular imagination and the world of psychological study was that of a physically imposing and physically aggressive boy, someone who found the littlest, most defenseless boy to pick on. In recent years, however, that image has begun to change. Now, we realize that the ability to harm a person’s social relationships and social “standing”—usually through the manipulation of others—can be every bit as devastating to the victim. And in this new world of social aggression, girls’ expertise has come to the fore. In this course, we will study the nature of bullies and victims in both the physical and social sense and the possible long-term consequences of such bullying for both the perpetrator and the picked upon. We will explore recent evidence that bullying and victimization begin even in the preschool years, far earlier than previously thought; and we will examine some modern approaches used to break this vicious cycle, such as peer programs and interpersonal problem solving. Conference work may include field placement at the Early Childhood Center or other venues, as interactions with real children will be encouraged. Prerequisite: a prior course in psychology.
According to recent data, approximately half of all Americans will meet the criteria for a psychological disorder at some point in their lives; and about 25% of adults in the United States may have suffered from a mental illness in the past year. Why are rates of mental illness so high, and what can we do to reduce these figures? What does it mean to be mentally ill, and who decides? Where do we draw the line between normal and abnormal, and what kinds of methods do we use in psychology and neuroscience to make this determination? This course will serve as an introduction to the field of abnormal psychology. We will cover theoretical frameworks, research methods, and treatments associated with a range of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and personality disorders. In addition, we will discuss historical, political, and cultural influences that shape the way in which mental illness has been defined, represented, and treated. Course materials will draw on experimental and theoretical research, memoirs, films, and clinical case studies. This course will be of particular interest to students interested in pursuing graduate school or careers working in fields related to clinical psychology.
Psychology of the Creative Process
The creative process is paradoxical. It involves freedom and spontaneity yet requires expertise and hard work. The creative process is self-expressive yet tends to unfold most easily when the creator forgets about self. The creative process brings joy yet is fraught with fear, frustration, and even terror. The creative process is its own reward yet depends on social support and encouragement. In this class, we look at how various thinkers conceptualize the creative process—chiefly in the arts but in other domains, as well. We see how various psychological theorists describe the process, its source, its motivation, its roots in a particular domain or skill, its cultural context, and its developmental history in the life of the individual. Among the thinkers that we consider are Freud, Jung, Arnheim, Franklin, and Gardner. Different theorists emphasize different aspects of the process. In particular, we see how some thinkers emphasize persistent work and expert knowledge as essential features, while others emphasize the need for the psychic freedom to “let it happen”and speculate on what emerges when the creative person “lets go.” Still others identify cultural context or biological factors as critical. To concretize theoretical approaches, we look at how various ideas can contribute to understanding specific creative people and their work. In particular, we consider works written by or about Picasso, Woolf, Welty, Darwin, and some contemporary artists and writers. Though creativity is most frequently explored in individuals, we also consider group improvisation in music and theatre. Some past conference projects have involved interviewing people engaged in creative work. Others consisted of library studies centering on the life and work of a particular creative person. Some students chose to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and focus on an aspect of creative activity in young children. Background in college psychology or philosophy is required.
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.
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 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.
Social Development Research Seminar
The goal of this course is to have each student propose and conduct an original piece of research within the broad sphere of social development in childhood and adolescence. It is intended for students who have done a previous conference project in the social sciences that raised interesting questions for them, questions that could be addressed by taking the next step of conducting their own study on the subject. The work could be done, for example, through quantitative testing, observation, direct interviews, or questionnaires. The course will be divided into three parts: First, we will read a range of past studies that exemplify different types of research approaches to the study of children and adolescents and discuss the strengths and possible weaknesses of each approach; at the same time, in conference, each student will begin the planning process for her/his own study. Second, each student will take turns serving as the facilitator of class discussion by assigning the readings for that particular week (on studies relevant to her/his own project) while sharing with the class the current progress on her/his research ideas; in turn, the rest of the class will serve as a “working group,” providing feedback and helpful suggestions on each project. The third and final portion of the course will involve students presenting the findings of their studies. Prerequisite: a prior course in psychology.
The Psychological Science of Happiness
Historically, psychology has focused on understanding disorders of mind—such as anxiety, depression, hallucinations, and delusions—with the goal of bringing people from a negative state to “neutral.” In recent years, however, those who study human behavior have had a growing interest in positive emotions and what enables people to thrive and flourish. This course will survey research exploring various dimensions of happiness and well-being, drawing on readings from psychology, neuroscience, and economics. We will discuss a variety of topics related to the study of happiness, such as how researchers define and measure happiness, the biological basis of positive emotions, self-esteem, gratitude, resilience, creative achievement, emotional intelligence, meaning making, the characteristics of successful relationships, the bidirectional relationship between physical health and positive emotion, the evolutionary basis of positive affect, relationships between money and happiness, and when and why the pursuit of happiness sometimes backfires. Course and conference work will focus on exercises that connect you to the research that we will be discussing.
Children’s Literature: Developmental and Literary Perspectives
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. Open to sophomores and above. Background in psychology is required.
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.
Memory Research Seminar
The experimental study of remembering has been a vital part of psychology since the beginning of the discipline. The most productive experimental approach to this subject has been a matter of intense debate and controversy. The disputes have centered on the relationship between the forms of memory studied in the laboratory and the uses of memory in everyday life. We will engage this debate through the study of extraordinary memories, autobiographical memories, the role of visual imagery in memory, accuracy of memory, expertise, eyewitness testimony, metaphors of memory, and the anatomy of memory. Frederic Bartlett’s constructive theory of memory will form the theoretical backbone of the course. Most conference work will involve experimental explorations of memory. Some previous coursework in psychology is required.
Learning language is a fundamental aspect of 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 where they can observe and record language, including in our Early Childhood Center, to investigate and document the processes that we will be studying or as the basis for conference projects. Previous course in psychology or a social science is expected.