Projects in Cognitive Psychology

Supervised by Jonathan Vaughan


Empirical projects with Vaughan will devote the fall semester to the integration of the existing literature in a particular area, the isolation of an appropriate question for further research, and the design and piloting of an experiment. The spring semester will be devoted to acquiring, analyzing and interpreting the data from the actual experiment.

Cognition and Motor Behavior
Empirical topics may be selected from areas related to the cognitive psychology of the planning of actions, including movements of the eyes and of the body. Even the simplest actions that we routinely perform, like turning on a light switch, can be accomplished in an infinite number of ways. We can flip the switch with the index finger, thumb, even the elbow or nose, depending on how many packages we are carrying. Despite the richness of these alternatives, we effortlessly select one action out of the many possibilities. Student projects have been directed at understanding the biomechanical and cognitive factors that enter into the selection of actions in tasks ranging from handle turning to javelin throwing, as well as their underlying neurological mechanisms. Similarly, topics may address the mechanisms of control of eye movements, and eye movements as indicators of neural and cognitive processes such as reading, attention, and information processing.

Cognition and Autism
Projects related to developmental disorders such as autism can be pursued. Such projects typically entail devoting the semester to a literature review to develop a theoretical understanding of autism, its etiology, underlying physiology, and treatment, coupled with regular volunteer work, such as at the Clinton Elementary School. Then, circumstances permitting, excellent fall-semester projects may be invited to extend to an empirical study into the spring semester, in areas of particular interest to the cooperating agency, using the methods of Applied Behavior Analysis, Social Stories, and similar techniques that the agency recommends for individual cases.