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Course Information

Instructor Info:Karen Danna
TA Info:Cassandra Greene
Zoe Kleiman-Tapley
Term: 2012F
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Adele Simmons Hall (ASH) 222
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Adele Simmons Hall (ASH) 222

While exploring the structure of the mind, we often think of visual perception as one of the most basic cognitive processes, and social cognition as among the more advanced forms of higher-level cognition. In this course, we will take an interdisciplinary approach to exploring how these two aspects of the mind connect. We will question how socio-cultural structures (such as norms, values, beliefs, and institutions) do, and do not, influence what we see, and how visual perception itself traffics (and may be specialized for) social information. Readings will be drawn from primary literature in the fields of psychology, philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, biology, and sociology. Topics of discussion will include attention and dis-attention, figure and ground processing; face processing (including the processing of attractiveness), thin slicing and perceptual stereotypes, agency and intentionality, gaze processing, and social and cultural influences on perception.

Course Objectives:

This course is designed to prepare students to do theoretically informed empirical work on the socio-mental dimensions of perception.

Students will find that many important social issues require a nuanced understanding of the ways and means through which perception is socially orchestrated. In this course, we will dissect the cognitive acts of perceiving, attending, classifying, signifying, and remembering while also exploring the socio-cultural influences on our perceptions of people, pain, pleasure, space, time, and beauty.

Students are expected to continually question pre-conceived notions and taken-for-granted assumptions concerning the 'ways of seeing' studied.

Evaluation Criteria:

This is a 'critical thinking though writing' course as well as a 'hands on learning' experience. As such, both class time and class assignments are geared to develop students' analtyical, interpretive, and communication skills. Students will be evaluated according to how well they demonstrate growth in theses key areas.

To meet the course objectives, students are expected to question everything, speak often, and participate in all classroom activities (these will include, among other things, meditation sessions, music appreciation classes, smell tests, taste tests, and field trips).

Students will also keep a 'perception diary' and complete written entries weekly on assigned topics.

As a final exam, students will complete a research project. For this project, students have the choice to 1) write a research review on the topic of their choosing, 2) design a study or experiment (complete with literature review and detailed methodology), or 3) create a 'perceptual piece' (such as a work of art, music, or dance) and write an analysis of its creation/meaning in the context of the course materials. Detailed proposals for all projects will be due mid semester (and thus will count as your mid-term 'exam'), and completed work must be submitted by the last day of classes.

Additional Info:


This course assumes that we are all students and teachers. Your presence benefits us all, while your absence creates a void.

Cell phones, ipods, blackberries, and all of their brethren must be turned off during class time. Laptops or tablets may be used, but only for taking notes during class. Browsing the internet, checking email, or any other use besides note-taking is inappropriate unless otherwise dictated by specific assignments or discussions. 

No tacks on chairs, no spitballs, no pigtails in inkwells. Be nice to each other, and most importantly no violations of Hampshire's code of academic conduct, available at:


Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. 1977. London: BBC and Penguin Books. (available at the campus bookstore).

Gregory, Richard. 1997. Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (available at or your favorite bookseller)