— version 2012-01-09
COGS Q101 — Introduction to Cognitive Science — Spring Semester 2012
Meeting times and locations: MW 9:30-10:45 BH 228; F discussion sections as enrolled
Instructor / Office Goodbody 113 / 855-8916
Colin Allen, Professor, Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science and Program in Cognitive Science
<> (office hours, Tu 11:30-12:30, W 10:45-11:45, and by appt.)
Asst. Instructor / Goodbody 113
Jon Oatess (office hours, Tu: 3:00-5:00 and by appt.)

Cognitive Science is the study of how minds work. Cognitive scientists come together from many different research areas to engage in an interdisciplinary attack on the nature of intelligence, memory, attention, imagery, language, reasoning and perception. One way to see why studying mind is a difficult problem is to consider that in virtually every other discipline we use our minds to study something else. In cognitive science the mind is studying itself; we have to use our own thought processes to study those processes. Because this is such a difficult endeavor, we come at the problem from multiple directions, which is why cognitive science spans psychology, neuroscience, computer science, logic, philosophy, mathematics, sociology, anthropology, behavioral economics, robotics, linguistics, and animal learning (to mention just a few of the areas involved). This course will provide you with an overview of the tools and theories that bring these different areas together and provides a common framework for sharing data across disciplines. You will be introduced to the more important results obtained so far, and begin to understand how cognitive scientists discover the laws, models, and mechanisms that allow them to explain how complex minds produce complex behavior. By the end of the course, you should have gained important new insights into what you are and how you work!

Course Objectives

This course has two main goals:

  1. Content: For you to learn about the theories, methods, and results in cognitive science and the about the intellectual and historical context which makes some aspects of the field controversial. To introduce you to some of the specific research going on in the Cognitive Science Program at IU.
  2. Skills: To help you develop general scientific literacy, reasoning, and study skills that are foundational for success in a wide range of college courses. To prepare you to take more advanced courses in cognitive science. To help you understand the real-world applications of cognitive science and to become critical consumers of media reports of cognitive science.


Because every introductory cognitive science textbook tends to be biased towards its author's home discipline, I prefer to use a set of readings drawn from many different sources. These will be made available to you through library and OnCourse links. Many of the readings come from the primary research literature in cognitive science. This is a good thing, since they will help to capture the vitality and excitement of scientific discovery. (Some of this work hasn't yet filtered into textbooks.) These readings may also be challenging, though, and they will often use terms and refer to ideas with which you are unfamiliar. Don’t be discouraged by this! Though the readings have been carefully chosen to be accessible, we don’t expect you to fully understand every aspect of the readings. That is why the readings come with instructors whose job it is to help you understand the difficult bits. You can help us help you by diligently doing the readings (see also the grading basis) and coming to class ready to ask questions. Overall, we think you’ll get more out of reading the primary literature in this way than by reading the watered-down and less exciting secondary literature, although some secondary material is included to help provide background.

Attendance policy

This is not grade school, so attendance will not be officially enforced. However, some materials collected from classroom activities will be used to track your attendance, and because there is no text book and no official lecture notes, you will need to come to class to learn the material. You cannot expect to do well without coming to class. In all cases of absence, excused or unexcused, it is your responsibility to get missed notes and information from a classmate.

You may request to make up for missed exams or other assignments only for University-recognized officially excused absences:
For predictable absences due to competitive events, required activities in other classes, etc., documentation must be provided at least two weeks prior to the absence.
For genuine emergencies, illnesses, or deaths in the family, written documentation must be provided when you return to class.
Accommodation for religious observances will be handled according to the official policy. (Note that the form must be submitted by the student by the end of the second week of the semester.)

Study habits

A load of 12 credit hours is officially defined as full time, but you are expected to maintain a 15 hr schedule each semester for a 4-year degree plan. A full time work week is 40 hrs, which averages to just under 3 hrs per week per credit. (If you take an overload, then it is your responsibility to do the overtime!) For a 4-credit course, 200 minutes are spent in the classroom, which means typically twice that much should be spent outside studying and carrying out course assignments. Individuals' study effectiveness varies, and you may need (or hopefully want!) to do more than the minimum to do well in the course. And, of course, the amount of reward you get out of your education is a function of how much effort you put in.

For this course you should estimate about 40% of your outside of classroom time will be devoted to the assigned readings, 20% to independent reading and research, and 40% to carrying out assignments or studying for tests (this last category will have the highest variation from week to week).

IU offers excellent help with academic skill development through courses for credit and free workshops provided by the Student Academic Center. Whether you are struggling with specific deadlines, or simply wanting to improve your general skills, the Center has something to offer.

Grading Basis

  1. (20%) Responses to Questions on Daily Readings
    To get the most out of this course, it is essential that you carefully and critically study the readings associated with each lecture. To encourage this — and to give the instructor feedback as to what you thought of the material — you will be asked to respond to a brief question concerning each reading. A sample (if boring) question might be: “Which of the two theories discussed in this article do you think is right, and why?” Your answers to each question — which you must deposit to the OnCourse dropbox, no later than one hour before the start of the class wherein that reading will be discussed — need be no longer than 1 or 2 paragraphs, and should take no longer than 15 minutes to write after you have read the material. The questions due for each class will be assigned at the end of the previous class, starting during our 3rd week. We will use these comments to gauge your reactions to (and understanding of) the ideas we’ll discuss, and I will occasionally spend the first part of the following class responding to some of the issues you raise in these comments, as well as working them into the weekly discussion sections. Note that a significant portion of your grade (20%) will be based on these questions, and that late submissions will not be accepted for any reason except documented medical emergencies. These will be graded on a pass/fail (1/0) basis and for full credit you need to have 20 passes from the 23 opportunities during the semester (i.e. you can skip or drop 3).
  2. (55%) Two Exams
    55% of your course grade will be determined by two examinations. The first exam will be on Wednesday, March 7 and will cover material from January 9 through February 29. The second exam will be held on the officially scheduled final date of Friday, May 4, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and will cover material from the remainder of the course. The exam on which you do the best will count for 30% of your grade; the other will count for 25%. The format of these exams will be described more fully later. Make-up exams will be given only in exceptional circumstances, and in all cases may involve completely new questions, possibly in other formats. (Advice: you really want to avoid having to take a make-up exam.) To do well on these exams, you’ll have to attend the lectures — especially since our readings and lectures will rarely overlap by more than ~ 25%.
  3. (20%) Short Paper
    You will be required to write one short (6 - 8 page) paper for this course, on an assigned topic which is discussed near the end of this syllabus. This paper is due no later than midnight on Monday, April 23rd, during the last week of classes.
  4. (5%) In-class participation
  5. Various activities during main lecture and discussion sections will entail you turning in a piece of paper or index card. These will be aggregated during the semester and assessed at the end of the semester according to your engagement with the classroom activities.


Note: Readings and topics are only definite 3 weeks before the date.

DateTopic*Readings / +AssignmentsNotes and Events
Week 1
M Jan 09How to study the mind? optional:Thagard 2010
W Jan 11Inattentional Blindness *Simons and Chabris 1999 optional:Discover magazine, Dec 2011
F Jan 13discussion sections
Week 2
M Jan 16NO CLASS MEETING MLK Day ("a day on, not a day off!")
W Jan 18Stereotype threat *Rydell et al. 2010 optional:Science News, July 2010
F Jan 20discussion sections
Week 3
M Jan 23Rational? *Kahneman, 2002
optional:NY Times, July 2007
W Jan 25Morality and fairness *Greene & Haidt, 2002
video 1 video 2
F Jan 27discussion sections
Week 4
M Jan 30Fair Animals *Brosnan & de Waal 2004 and *and followup exchange
W Feb 01Infant cognition *Carey 2004
F Feb 03discussion sections
Week 5
M Feb 06Short-armed cognition *Smith et al. 2010
W Feb 08Brain and Social Cognition *Senju & Johnson, 2009
F Feb 10discussion sections
Week 6
M Feb 13The eyes have it *Carrick et al.
W Feb 15Too much choice? *Lyengar et al. 2000
F Feb 17discussion sections
Week 7
M Feb 20Never enough data *Scheibehenne et al. 2010
W Feb 22Please sir, can I have some more? *Wansink et al. 2005
optional:Scheibehenne et al. 2010
F Feb 24discussion sections
Week 8
M Feb 27Watson in Jeopardy *Ferrucci et al. 2010 and *NY Times, Feb 2011
optional:Slate, Feb 2011
W Feb 29Understanding? *Searle 1980
leap day bonus!
F Mar 02Exam review
Week 9
M Mar 05Exam review
F Mar 09discussion sections
Week of Spring Break
Week 10
Mar 19Silicon Meat? *McClelland et al. 1986
optional:Sejnowksi 2010
Mar 21Two systems? *Goodale & Milner 2006
Mar 23discussion sections
Week 11
Mar 26Evolutionary Psychology I *Cosmides & Tooby
Mar 28Evolutionary Psychology II *Todd & Gigerenzer
Mar 30discussion sections
Week 12
Apr 02Integrating... *Hills et al. 2008
Apr 04Synaesthesia *Brang et al. 2008
watch movie
Apr 06discussion sections
Week 13
Apr 09Cognition of Clothing *NYTimes
Apr 11Cognition of Throwing *Zhu & Bingham 2011
Apr 13discussion sections
Week 14
Apr 16 Paper conferences
Apr 18 Paper conferences
Apr 20discussion sections
Week 15
Apr 23Weird people? *Heinrich et al. 2010 [Read sections 1-3 (first 9 pages).]
++PAPER due at midnight
Apr 23more weird people *Heinrich et al. 2010 [Read sections 4-8, ending at top of p.23]
Apr 27discussion sections
Finals Week
W May 02REVIEW SESSION 2:45-4:45 Ballantine 228 Special review session
F May 04EXAM +EXAM 0800-1000 Final examination FRIDAY, 8-10 a.m. Note time/date!

Paper topic

When we ask about the "ecological validity" of a scientific study, we are essentially asking "Who cares?" In this short (4-5 page) paper, you’ll discuss the ecological validity of a part of cognitive science, and compare an actual scientific report with its presentation in the news media. Choose any recent (past 5 years) example of peer-reviewed cognitive science research which received press coverage in a major outlet (e.g. The New York Times, Science News, New Scientist, or Discover Magazine). (You may pick an example covered in class, or find something else. See a list of IU cognitive scientists in the news.) Write a short (4-5 page, double-spaced) paper in which you: (a) summarize, in your own words, the main point of the research as reported in the original scientific article; (b) describe how this research was presented in one or more of the journalistic treatments (did they report it accurately? did they use language and concepts not in the original?); (c) discuss whether the journalistic presentation and the scientific presentation covered ecological validity of the research; (d) state what you think about the ecological validity of this research; (e) discuss what you would say to proponents of positions other than the one you have chosen to defend -- play ‘devil’s advocate’ to generate arguments for alternative views to your own, and then try to counter them.

Statement about Academic Misconduct

University rules concerning academic misconduct will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part II for details. You will also be required to review materials and take the test at IU School of Education plagiarism tutorial. The College of Arts and Sciences also provides a guide to "Plagiarism: What it is and How to avoid it?"

Statement for Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a Federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact IU Disability Services for Students.


Portions of this syllabus are adapted with permission from Prof. Brian Scholl's Introduction to Cognitive Science syllabus at Yale University.