— version 2013-08-27
COGS Q101 — Introduction to Cognitive Science — Fall "Themester" 2013
Meeting times and locations: Student Building 150 Tu-Th 5:45-6:35; F discussion sections as enrolled
Paul Williams, Visiting Assistant Professor, Program in Cognitive Science
Office hours, Thursdays at tba, Eigenmann 841, and by appointment
Colin Allen, Professor, Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science and Program in Cognitive Science
Office hours, Monday 11-12 in Goodbody 113, and by appointment
Asst. Instructor
Emel Gencer, PhD Student, Program in Cognitive Science
Office hours, Tuesdays 3-4 in Eigenmann 806 and by appointment

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.

The Fall 2013 edition relates in several ways to the 2013 "Themester": Connectedness We will look at empirical research by psychologists, neuroscientists, and even experimental philosophersq, who are attempting to discover the processes and mechanisms underlying the cognition and behavior of people, at individual and collective levels.

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 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 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. Examinations will not be limited only to material from the readings, but will also cover concepts discussed in the classroom at both the main lectures and discussion sections.

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 3-credit course, 150 minutes are spent in the classroom, which means typically two to three times 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.

For those of you new to IU (and even for some that aren't) this guide to making the transition to College from SMU will help you understand my expectations. Regardless of where you are in your College experience, you should be interested in this NY Times article on the cognitive science of learning.

Grading Basis

  1. (20%) Responses to Reading
    To get the most out of this course, it is essential that you carefully and critically study the readings associated with each lecture. Each reading is accompanied by an overview piece that is intended to help you with some of the concepts and terminology you will encounter in the main reading. These overviews are not substitutes for the reading -- they do not attempt to summarize the main readings, and in fact they are designed to be quite generic so that they would help you to read any article in the same sub-area of cognitive science. To encourage you to carefully and critically study the readings, and to give the instructor feedback as to what you thought of the supplementary material, you will be asked to provide comments on the readings for each class. You will be required to complete these via OnCourse no later than noon on the day of the class in which that reading will be discussed. These should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete after you have read the material. The questions due for each class will be assigned at the end of the previous class. We will use these comments to gauge your reactions to (and understanding of) the ideas we’ll discuss, and will occasionally part of the classroom time 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 simply completing these assignments, and that late submissions will not be counted 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 24 opportunities during the semester (i.e. you can skip or drop 4).
  2. (55%) Two Exams
    55% of your course grade will be determined by two examinations. The first exam will be on Thursday, October 10 and will cover material from August 21 through October 3. The second exam will be held on the officially scheduled final date of Tuesday, December 17, from 7:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.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 in class. 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 readings and lectures will rarely overlap by more than ~ 25%.
  3. (20%) Short Paper You will be required to write one short (3-5 page) paper for this course, on an assigned topic which is discussed further below in this syllabus. This paper is due no later than midnight on Sunday, December 2nd, just before the last week of class. As part of this assignment you are also required to submit a paper proposal.
  4. (5%) Class participation 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.
  5. (+5%) Themester: Extra Credit Up to 10 extra points are available by participating in designated Themester events. These opportunties will be explained in class.


Note: Readings and topics are only definite 3 weeks before the date. All readings will be made available via OnCourse (login required).

DateTopic*Readings / +AssignmentsNotes and Events
Week 1
Tu Aug 27Course introduction Suggested readings: transition to college and cognitive science of studying Themester orientation
Th Aug 29What is Cognitive Science? Overview doc 1
Thagard 2010 and Wikipedia
Fr Aug 30Concept Maps
discussion sections
Week 2
Tu Sep 03Anatomy of an experimental report Overview doc 2
Roediger & Karpicke 2006
Th Sep 05Learning Processes Overview doc 3
Roediger & Karpicke 2006 (reread)
Fr Aug 31
discussion sections
Week 3
Tu Sep 10Stereotype Threat Overview doc 4
Rydell et al. 2010
optional:Science News, July 2010
Th Sep 12Attention! Overview doc 5
Simons & Chabris 1999
optional:Discover Magazine 2011
Fr Sep 07
discussion sections
Week 4
Tu Sep 17Turing Dreams: IBM Watson Overview doc 6
Ferrucci et al. 2010
optional:NY Times, Feb 2011
Th Sep 19Computation: mind or model? Overview doc 7
Searle 1980
Fr Sep 20
discussion sections
Week 5
Tu Sep 24Modeling connections Overview doc 8
reading tbd
Th Sep 26EEG and Face Processing Overview doc 9
Carrick et al. 2007
Fr Sep 27
discussion sections
Week 6
Tu Oct 01Mapping the Connectome Overview doc 10
Sporns tbd
Th Oct 03Eye Contact and the Autistic Spectrum Overview doc 11
Pelphrey et al. 2002
Fr Oct 04
discussion sections
Week 7
Tu Oct 08Midterm review
Th Oct 10Exam ++MIDTERM EXAM
Fr Oct 11
discussion sections
Week 8
Tu Oct 15Please sir, can I have some more? Overview doc 12
Wansink et al.
Optional: Scheibehenne et al. 2002a
Th Oct 17Human irrationality? Overview doc 13
Tversky & Kahnemann 1983
Fr Oct 18NO CLASS!Fall break
Week 9
Tu Oct 22Evolved logic? Overview doc 14
Cosmides & Tooby 1997
Th Oct 24Heuristics & Rationality Overview doc 15
Gigerenzer & Todd 2007
Fr Oct 25
discussion sections
Week 10
Tu Oct 29Search inside and out Overview doc 16
Hills et al. 2008
Th Oct 31Self-knowledge in rats? Overview doc 17
Foote & Crystal 2007
Fr Nov 01
discussion sections
Week 11
Tu Nov 05A-not-B? Overview doc 18
Smith & Thelen 1999
Th Nov 07Throwing arms Overview doc 19
Zhu & Bingham 2011
Fr Nov 08
discussion sections
Week 12
Tu Nov 12Language and Number Overview doc 20
Frank et al. 2008
Th Nov 14Varieties of experience Overview doc 21
Brang et al. 2008
Fr Nov 15
discussion sections
Week 13
Tu Nov 19Social Networks, Group Cognition Overview doc 22
Thu Nov 21Social Networks: Cowbirds Overview doc 23
Miller, West and King
Fr Nov 22
discussion sections

++PAPER Proposals due 5 p.m.
Week 14
Tu Nov 26NO CLASS!Thanksgiving break
Th Nov 28NO CLASS!Thanksgiving break
Fr Nov 29NO CLASS!Thanksgiving break
Week 15
Tu Dec 03Paper conferences by appointment
Th Dec 05Paper conferences by appointment
Fr Dec 06
discussion sections

Su Dec 08++PAPER due at midnight
Week 16
Tu Dec 10Weird people? Overview doc 24
Henrich et al. 2010
[Read sections 1-4 pages 1-14 for today]
Th Dec 12More Weird Henrich et al. 2010 [Read sections 5-7 pages 14-23 for today]
Fr Dec 13
discussion sections
Finals Week
Tu Dec 17EXAM+EXAM as scheduledFinal examination Tuesday 7:15-9:15 p.m. Note time/date!

Paper topic

When one asks about the "ecological validity" of a scientific study, one is essentially asking "What does this tell us about the world outside the lab?" It relates not only to whether the topic seems important "in the real world", but also whether the specific experiments that were done adequately reproduced the kinds of conditions and tasks that are necessary for making strong inferences about applications outside the laboratory. In this short (3-5 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 10 years) example of peer-reviewed cognitive science research which received press coverage in a major newspaper or magazine -- e.g. The New York Times, The Guardian, Scientific American, Discover Magazine, and Wired. (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 (3-5 page, double-spaced) paper in which you: (a) summarize, in your own words, the main point, methods, and results 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) say whether the journalistic presentation and the scientific presentation covered ecological validity of the research, and if so, how; (d) give your own assessment of the ecological validity of this research; (e) discuss what you would say to someone who disagrees with your assessment -- 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.