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Elective Paths

The second goal of the major is met by choosing one of the paths listed below and electing four elective courses to complete it. The elective paths are designed to complement the core courses in the major by providing the student with greater understanding in some aspect of the field.  Some paths are focused on particular conceptual or analytic tools that might be applied across a broad range of phenomena, while others are focused on the phenomena themselves.  Courses for each path are chosen in consultation with the major advisor and then approved by the Department based on guidelines listed on the Cognitive Science website.  More detailed descriptions of the paths made also be found at the website.  The following stipulations apply to path electives.

  1. The choice of path and electives within the path are to be made in consultation with the adviser at the time of declaration of the major and approved by the Department.
  2. At least one of the four electives must be at the 300-level. This can include a second Cognitive Science seminar if it is relevant to the path.
  3. No more than one of the electives can be a 100-level course. 
  4. No more than one of the courses in the path may be an ungraded course.  A student may petition his or her advisor to develop a customized path not included on this list and will be allowed to do so under the direction of the advisor and with the approval of the Department.

Art, Skill, and Performance

Although much of what humans do during their lives is devoted to matters of survival, we increasingly have the leisure to exercise our capacities for skilled performance and creativity for other, more abstract purposes that are aesthetic and entertaining.  The creation of art and participation in sport or other high-skill activities like gaming fall into this broad category.  Understanding the processes engaged by these activities is of growing interest in cognitive science.  Courses are found in art, dance, drama, English, film, media studies, and music.

Comparative Study of Animal and/or Machine Intelligence

The existence of different animal species and the emergence of increasingly intelligent and highly functional machines have broadened the range of agents available for comparison in the study of intelligence.  Such comparisons enhance the generality of the principles that we discover when we study intelligence in multiple forms. Courses of relevance to this path may be found in anthropology, biology, computer science, neuroscience & behavior, and physics.

Decision Making, Risk Taking, and Morality

How people make decisions, especially significant decisions involving risk or moral problems, is one of the major research areas in cognitive science.  A wide range of course is of potential relevance to this path, including courses in economics, philosophy, and religion, to name just a few.

Development and Learning

Complex intelligent agents rarely begin life with all of the abilities and knowledge needed to survive and reproduce.  Some period of further growth and reconfiguration occurs during which the agent becomes better able to cope with its environment.  The study of these processes can be pursued via courses in biology, education, neuroscience & behavior, and psychology.

Evolution of Intelligent Agents

Evolution is a well-understood mechanism that creates biological diversity and can be harnessed to create digital and physical agents.  To understand and apply evolutionary principles, a broad understanding is required in classical genetics, population genetics, phylogenetics and bioinformatics, evolutionary theory, computer science, and computational modeling.  Relevant courses can be found in biology, computer science, mathematics, and potentially other science departments.

Formal Analysis and Modeling

Formal models can be applied to the study of many phenomena in cognitive science.  Formal modeling is a powerful tool of investigation and analysis in all sciences and has been central to the work of cognitive science since its inception.  These approaches include various kinds of mathematical, logical, and computer based modeling techniques.  Relevant courses are especially likely to be found in computer science, economics, mathematics, and philosophy, although many courses in the sciences may have a relevant modeling component.

Human-Machine Interaction

The ways in which humans interface with tools and machines of all kinds is a key focus of investigation in the field.  It includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: (1) tool invention and use, from simple hand tools to complex digital technologies; (2) the study of prosthetic devices; (3) the design of effective interfaces or points of interaction between person and device, including autonomous robotic devices.  Courses are likely to be drawn from anthropology, biology, computer science, physics, and STS.

Language and Communication

The communication of information between agents is a critical feature of their intelligence.  Work in this area would obviously include the study of human language as a specialized and perhaps unique form of communication, but there are also non-linguistic modes of communication even for humans.  In addition, the study of language use by intelligent machines is a growing research area.  Courses are available in anthropology, biology, computer science, English and other language departments, and philosophy, among others.

Mind and Brain

Mind may not be equivalent to brain in any simple way, but there is abundant evidence that there is a relationship.  Understanding that relationship is an important part of appreciating the multi-level analysis characteristic of cognitive science.  Relevant courses may be found in biology, neuroscience and behavior, philosophy, and psychology.

Cognition in Context

Cognitive processes (including thought and behavior) always take place in some context.  To understand those processes fully requires understanding how they are coupled to the environment in which they take place.  For social agents this includes understanding interactions within groups of various sizes, and for humans in particular this requires understanding broad cultural phenomena including economic, political, technological, and religious systems.  Relevant courses may be found in many departments and programs including art, anthropology, biology, environmental studies, geography, history, media studies, political science, psychology, religion, sociology, STS, and urban studies.