Syllabus - Cognitive Psychology, Fall 2008

Submitted by Matthew Schulkind

Dr. Matthew Schulkind
MWF: 10:00 – 10:50; Fayerweather 115
Office: Merrill 324      Phone: 542-2790
Office Hours:
T 11-12; W 2-3; or by appointment


“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will
pick himself up and continue on” ~ Winston Churchill


"Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, volume, humidity, and other variables, the organism will do as it damn well pleases"  ~ Unknown


Overview and Goals: This course will cover the basics of human cognition, a field of study that includes sensation, perception, learning and memory.  In short, cognition is the study of how we take in information about the world, make sense of it, store it for later use, and then (try to) retrieve it when we think it will come in handy.  The diversity of the information we encounter and situations in which we immerse ourselves ensures that we will have much to discuss this semester.  The course is basically going to follow the path I have just laid out.  We will start talking about sensation, how our eyes, ears, nose and mouth have developed to see, hear, smell and taste.  We will then trace the path of environmental inputs through perception (making sense of what we see) and learning and memory.  Along the way, we will talk about and participate in lots of experiments so that we can see firsthand how cognitive science has progressed.

Attendance:  You must come to every scheduled class.  This is not a joke.  10% of your grade will be based on class participation and you cannot participate if you are not present.

Required Reading:  The text for this course will be Cognitive Psychology in and out of the Laboratory by Kathleen M. Galotti.  Read the text.  I will not have time to lecture on everything in the text so there is a good chance that some exam questions will be based on material covered only in the book.  The best way to use the text is to read it before class.  Not everything will make sense the first time but the text will do a good job of preparing you for the lectures. 

Galotti’s text will be supplemented by an online reader available via the course web page.  The readings were designed to fulfill two purposes.  Some readings describe classic experiments discussed in the text in order to provide more information about the methods used to draw the inferences presented in the text.  Other readings describe experiments that will expand our discussion into areas not covered by the text.  In either the case, these readings are meant to highlight the connection between the theoretical and empirical aspects of psychology. 

CogLab:  Your textbook should have come bundled with a student manual for CogLab (  CogLab is a web-based computer program that will allow you to experience a variety of experiments first-hand.  Rather than simply read about an experiment, you will have an opportunity to participate as a subject.  I will compile the data for the class and we can compare the actual results with the results predicted by various theories.  You must complete every CogLab assignment by 5:00 pm on the day prior to class.  The Cog/Lab assignments will factor into your class participation grade, so missed/late assignments will lower your final course average.

Website: The course website was designed to fulfill a number of goals.  Most of the overheads that I use in class will be available at the site.  Downloading these overheads prior to class may help you follow the lectures.  I will also make announcements, assign course material, and post your grades via the website. 

In addition, the course website will be the forum for a discussion group.  You will all be responsible for posting comments, insights, and questions to the discussion group.  I will post discussion questions on the news group to help facilitate the process, but please do not limit yourself to responses to these questions.  Feel free to start your own thread presenting your own thoughts, questions, etc.  We will discuss many of these questions in class, so posting comments and reading through your fellow students comments will help prepare you for these discussions.  Posting on the newsgroup is REQUIRED and will be one component of your course participation grade. 

Exams: There will be two exams during the semester as well as a cumulative final exam. The three exams will each be worth 20% of your grade. Exams will consist of a combination of short-answer and essay questions. The exams will be take-home. I will give you a list of questions a week before the exam is due. 24 hours before the exam, I will give you a subset of those questions which you will be required to answer. You will turn in both hard and electronic copies of your exams. Requests for extensions must be made prior to the distribution of the final set of questions (i.e., more than 24 hours in advance); extensions will be granted only for documented emergencies/illnesses. Missing an exam for any other reason will result in a grade of 0 for that exam. Late exams will be penalized – VERY HEAVILY.

Written Assignments:  You will be responsible for three written assignments during the semester: two papers and a peer review.  The two papers will each be worth 15% of your final grade; the peer review will be factored into your class participation grade.  Due dates for each assignment are included in the class schedule.  Late papers will be penalized without exception.  The last pages of the syllabus contain information about the written assignments and the peer review.  Your paper MUST conform to the guidelines of APA style.  The website includes two documents that outline the finer points of APA style.  One is a general overview relevant to both assignments; the other gives additional information regarding the structure of a research report.  Failure to comply with the guidelines provided in the Style Guides will be penalized heavily.  

Office Hours: My office hours are listed at the top of the syllabus.  If these times are not convenient, please come see me after class and we can schedule an appointment.  You can also email me to set up an appointment.  One of my favorite parts of this job is meeting with students so please stop by even if you don't have a major problem.  

Grades:  Your grade for the semester will be based on your standing relative to the rest of the class.  I start with the median (50th %-ile) grade in the class and work up and down from there.  The median is usually a B/B+.  If you do a little bit better than the median, you would get a B+/A-; a lot better than the median, A-/A.  Consequently, if you do a little worse than the median, your grade will drop from a B+.  There is no set percentage of As, Bs and Cs.  There is also no guarantee that the median grade will correspond to a B+.  It could be worth an A if everyone in the class does well, or it could be worth less than a B if everyone in the class does poorly.  After each exam, I will give you as much information as I can about where you stand in the class and what kind of grade you might expect.  If you have any questions or concerns, please email me or drop by my office. 

Pacing:  The course schedule appears on the pages below.  Because it is difficult to predict exactly how long each section/chapter will take, the day on which a given chapter will be discussed might vary by a class or two from what is presented in the schedule.  We will cover the material in the order described below and I will give you frequent updates regarding where we are and when I anticipate moving to the next topic.  I am very reluctant, however, to change the dates of scheduled exams unless there is a really good reason to do so.  During the class before each exam, I will let you know exactly what material will be covered.