Independent Study Options (PSYC399)

Students considering an Independent Study (PSYC399) are encouraged to peruse the suggested Independent Study options below. Students typically begin exploring PSYC399 options during advance registration of the semester preceding their Independent Study. Learn more about organizing an Independent Study (PSYC399) here.

Numerous faculty members have supplied information about possible opportunities in their labs (with the associated prerequisites or other requirements). To pursue an Independent Study, please set up a meeting with the relevant faculty member. It is suggested you read some of their publications in advance of discussing this opportunity with them.

For information about Dr. Melissa Hunt's year-long PSYC 362 research course, see:


Independent Study in Human Behavioral Origins

Mentor: Coren Apicella

Description: Research in this lab sits at the interface of psychology, anthropology and biology and is aimed at understanding the cultural and biological origins of human social behavior. For their independent research course, students are usually involved in all stages of research including design, implementation, analysis and write-up. Data will be analyzed in STATA or SPSS under guidance from the instructor. Data analysis methods may include t-tests, ANOVAs, chi-square tests, correlations, and regressions.   For the 2020 academic year, Professor Apicella is looking for students interested in studying punishment in Hadza, hunter-gatherers of Tanzania. Students will conduct a literature review on punishment in pre-industrialized socities, including hunter-gatherer populations. They will also conduct secondary analysis using interview data from the Hadza to better understand which types of behaviors are deemed punishable and which mechanisms of punishment the Hadza rely on.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC 170; PSYC 272, PSYC 472, or ANTH 003.

Semester: One-year projects only


Independent Study in the Role of Cognitive Style in Political and Moral Judgments

Mentor: Jon Baron

Description: I study the role of actively open-minded thinking, and its absence, in moral and political judgments. Actively open-minded thinking is a set of standards for the conduct of thinking itself. People may accept or reject these standards, and their own thinking may or may not conform to them. Why is it that more actively open-minded thinkers are more inclined toward utilitarian judgments? less inclined to be social conservatives? How do people come to trust sources of knowledge and opinion that are not trustworthy? What does all this have to do with various religious beliefs?

Prerequisite(s): Some statistics including R, relevant substantive background (such as moral philosophy, or judgments and decisions...)

Semester: Spring, Fall, or full year


Independent Study in Judgment and Decision Making

Mentor: Sudeep Bhatia

What is your favorite film? What about your favorite food item? Often when people make these sorts of assessments, they rely on information stored in their minds. In our research, we examine how this information is learnt and represented, and how it influences preferences and choices. We use mathematical and computational models of memory and choice. These models adopt insights from economics, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, physics, and other fields. We test our models using experimental human data. For example, we may offer experimental participants choices between different movies or between different food items, and try to predict these choices with our models.

Students will learn how to perform literature reviews, program and implement experiments, and analyze data. Data analysis will involve both hypothesis testing as well as model fitting and parameter recovery. Students will also be exposed to programming languages like MATLAB and Python. 

Prerequisites: STAT111 (or its equivalent); either PSYC265 or PPE475 (taught by Bhatia). These prerequisites can be waived if student has sufficient experience with statistics or programming. 


Independent Study in the Development of Numerical Cognition

Mentor: Elizabeth Brannon  

Description:  My lab investigates the development and evolution of the mathematical mind. We study preverbal numerical abilities and how they serve as a foundation for symbolic mathematical concepts. In one line of research, we are studying the relationship between preverbal nonsymbolic mathematical abilities and early math skills. In another line of research we are using fMRI to study the neural basis of numerical cognition and how the mathematical brain changes with development. We also have opportunities to work with animals and explore how number is represented without language. Opportunities abound for students to gain experience in studies central to the fields of developmental psychology, educational neuroscience, comparative psychology and developmental cognitive neuroscience.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC149 or PSYC181

Semester: One-year projects only


Independent Study inVisual Perception and Computation

Mentor: Johannes Burge

Description: My lab uses an array of theoretical, computational, and experimental tools to study the basic computations that make vision possible. We have a number of ongoing projects in the lab. Some involve examining how natural scene statistics shape the computations performed by our sensory-perceptual systems. Others involve measuring and modeling how image differences between the eyes (e.g. luminace differences, blur differences, etc.) impact three-dimensional motion perception. See for more details. Students will work with a graduate student, postdoc, and/or directly with the principle investigator as appropriate.  Semester(s): A minimum commitment of two semesters is required.

Prerequisites: PSYC 111 (or equivalent), STAT 111 (or equivalent), and a strong interest in modeling visual perception.  

Other requirements: MATLAB programming, or fluency in another programming language. Prior experience with (or desire to learn) projection geometry, linear algebra, and/or probability theory is a bonus.


Independent Study in Speech Perception and Psycholinguistics

Mentor: Delphine Dahan

Description:  Our work aims to understand how people make sense of the speech they hear so rapidly and accurately despite the large variability in the physical realization of words across talkers and dialects of the same language.  To assess people's interpretation of speech as they hear and process it under various listening conditions, we make use of a variety of behavioral methods, including an eye-tracking methodology.  Participants' eye movements to visually present objects are monitored as participants follow spoken instructions to select one of the objects.  People typically fixate on a few of the displayed objects before selecting the named object but usually remain unaware of where their gaze falls.  Analysis of their fixations over time uncovers their on-going interpretation of the speech (see for more details on the research).  Students will develop and conduct a study related to some of the current projects in the lab.  Students will learn to analyze data using R, a free statistical package; statistical concepts will include one- and two-sample hypothesis tests, one- and two-way ANOVA, or multiple linear or logistic regressions.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC151

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in the Psychopathology and Treatment of Disorders of Mood

Mentor: Robert DeRubeis

Description:  We study a variety of phenomena that we think will help us understand why some depressed people, and not others, benefit from a treatment, or why they might benefit differentially from very different treatments.  The treatments we study are: cognitive therapy, antidepressant medications, the combination of cognitive therapy and medications, and placebo therapy.  We also conduct research the aim of which is to understand the nature of depression, or of differences in the conditions that we group under the umbrella term "depression." We do this both with specific studies of the cognitive and other features of depression, but also with our treatment studies, which can provide clues for a better understanding of the basic phenomena of depression.  Students will become more familiar with the following kinds of analytic methods:  contingency analysis (chi-square), correlation, t-tests, general linear models that encompass regression, ANOVA, and ANCOVA.  Some students will learn the rudiments of multi-level modeling (e.g., HLM) or multivariate methods such as factor analysis.  Students should have, at least, a facility with Excel, to aid data management.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC162

Semester: Some one-year projects available


Independent Study in the Psychology of Achievement

Mentor: Angela Duckworth

Description:  My lab investigates personality traits that predict achievement.  Our empirical research focuses on two traits in particular: self-control (which we study primarily in children) and grit (which we study primarily in adults).  Our recent projects emphasize (1) goal setting and planning strategies that facilitate self-control, particularly in work situations; (2) psychological distancing strategies that facilitate self-control in interpersonal situations; (3) cognitive and affective processes underlying grit (i.e., perseverance and sustained commitment to challenging, long-term goals); (4) environmental factors (e.g., life events, parenting styles, school factors) that encourage self-control and grit; and (5) the subjective experience of learning and practice. Many students will use data already collected by my laboratory to develop their own research project on one of these topics.  Others will design and complete a study on their own.  All students learn to analyze data using SPSS, AMOS, and/or STATA; statistical models are typically parametric, including linear, ordinal, and/or binary logistic regression, and where appropriate structural equation modeling.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC160 or PSYC266

Semester:  One-year projects only


Independent Study in the Neural Basis of Human Spatial Cognition

Mentor: Russell Epstein

Description:  We study the brain systems that underlie human spatial navigation—the ability to find one’s way from one place to another in the world.  We are especially interested in two questions: (1) How do we visually recognize landmarks, scenes, and other objects of potential navigational relevance?  (2) How do we learn and remember the spatial structure of large-scale environments such as cities or college campuses?  Our primary methods for investigating these issues are functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and cognitive behavioral testing of normal populations. Following a period of orientation to the methods used in the lab, subjects will work with a mentor to develop their own research project.  Students will analyze data with Excel, SPSS, Matlab, and dedicated fMRI data analysis software; statistical concepts will include hypothesis testing, ANOVA, generalized linear models, and statistical parameter mapping.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC149

Semester:  Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in Neuroscience and Society

Mentor: Martha Farah

Description: These projects will focus on the social, ethical and legal impact of recent advances in neuroscience and the effects of social context on brain function. Current projects are aimed at understanding the motivations of individuals using neuropsychiatric medications for enhancing normal brain function, the effects of such medications on normal healthy individuals, the ways in which neuroimaging is interpreted by the lay public, and the effect of looking at human behavior as the result of physical (neural) processes on moral judgments.  Another set of projects address the influence of social context on brain function, particularly the effects of socioeconomic status.  The research methods used in these studies varies according to the question being addressed, with current work using internet surveys, laboratory behavioral testing, brain imaging, measurement of stress hormones, pharmacological manipulations and candidate gene analyses. Subjects include college students, community adults and community children. Students will work with a mentor in the lab to learn one or more of these methods and to develop their own project or subproject related to the issues described above.  Students will learn to analyze data using SPSS or Excel, depending on the project; statistical concepts will include one- and two-sample hypothesis tests, one- and two-way ANOVA, simple and multiple linear least-squares regression and mediation analyses.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC109 or PSYC149 or PSYC151

Other Requirements: PSYC247 recommended, but not required

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study Title: Sleep Neurobiology and Psychopathology. Depression or PTSD

Mentor: Philip Gehrman

The Sleep Neurobiology and Psychopathology (SNaP) Laboratory investigates the relationship between sleep disturbance and mental health with a goal of informing the development of novel treatments. We are currently seeking independent study students to assist with research investigating the relationship between sleep and major depressive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Responsibilities may include participant recruitment and screening; orienting participants to study environment; acquiring, entering and analyzing research data; meeting with study team weekly; general assistance with study team research projects. Candidates should also possess the following qualifications: background or interest in psychology or sleep research; interest in working with clinical patient populations; ability to work flexible hours including evenings; organized and detail-oriented; highly self-motivated and able to work independently; excellent decision making skills; ability to work under pressure; and excellent interpersonal skills.

Interested students can send their cover letter and CV to Dr. Jennifer Goldschmied at In your cover letter, please specify whether you are interested in depression or PTSD research.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Preference given for one-year projects


Independent Study in Moral Judgment and Reasoning

Mentor: Geoffrey Goodwin

Description:  My lab studies moral judgment and reasoning.  Questions that I am currently investigating include (but are not limited to):  (1) Do people regard their moral beliefs as objectively true facts as opposed to subjective preferences, and if so, why?  (2) What underlies the desire to punish criminal offenders?  (3) How do people make judgments of the moral character of other individuals?  (4) How do people make judgments about the moral value of different human lives?  Students will work with me to develop their own project on one of these topics, or a related topic.  Projects in my lab would typically involve designing and carrying out one or more behavioral studies, analyzing the results (in SPSS or some other statistical software package), and writing up the results in the style of an empirical journal article.  Data from research projects will be analyzed in SPSS (or a similar software package).  Depending on the project, statistical tests such as the following will be used: t-tests, ANOVAs, chi square tests, correlations, regressions, and mediational analyses. 

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC170 OR PSYC253.  (Some flexibility in these course requirements may be warranted in exceptional cases).

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year project


Independent Study Title: Independent Study in Human Olfaction, Emotion, and Behavior

Mentor: Jay Gottfried

Description:  Research in our lab focuses on the most unheralded yet most mysterious of the senses: smell. There are two unique and singular properties of the olfactory system. First, the olfactory system is virtually synonymous with memory, emotion, and decision-making, with projections from the nose terminating directly on limbic brain regions such as the amygdala, entorhinal cortex, and insula. These anatomical connections likely explain why smells are so often associated with memory "flashbacks" that reactivate potent emotional and autobiographical memories. The second intriguing property is that smell loss is often the very first symptom of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, even before the emergence of overt symptoms and signs. In our lab, we are especially interested in understanding how different odors – such as the smell of rose, mint, or wet dog – are encoded in the human brain, and how learning and experience modulate the perceptual and emotional content of odors. Our primary methods for elucidating these questions include behavioral testing, sensory psychophysics, functional MRI, and intracranial EEG recordings in epilepsy patients with medically resistant seizures. By applying multiple different approaches to fundamental questions of the human olfactory system, we will be able to gain more comprehensive understanding of how the brain transforms an odor molecule at the nose into an aromatic smell that can drive behavior. Students will begin with an orientation introducing them to the olfactometer (smell delivery machine) and to the art and science of diluting, mixing, and delivering odors to human subjects, and will then work with a mentor to develop their own research questions and project. Students will analyze data with Matlab, Excel, and dedicated fMRI analysis software; statistical concepts will include t-tests, correlations, ANOVA, non-parametric tests, and general linear models. Depending on the student’s mathematical background, they may also have an opportunity to learn signal processing analyses that can be applied to the intracranial EEG data-sets. Students will have weekly meetings with their instructor and will be expected to present their work in at least one lab meeting. A good sense of smell is always helpful, but not required.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); BBB109

Semester(s) available/full year preference: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in the Behavioral Neuroscience of Energy Balance

Mentor: Harvey Grill

Description:  Focus is on providing interested undergraduate students with hands-on exposure to biomedical research in areas that could be described as behavioral or systems neuroscience. Rodent models are used to address research questions related to the broad topic area of the neural and neuroendocrine control of food intake and body weight control.  Examples of topics of several recent 399 students: Role of Hippocampal Leptin Receptor Contributions to Appetitive Learned Behavior; Food Intake and Meal Pattern Analyses of the Combined Effects of Two Anorexic Drugs acting on Different Receptors; A Role for the Paraventricular Hypothalamus and the Parabrachial Nucleus in Prostaglandin-Induced Fever’ Common Sites of action for the Intake Inhibitory Effects of Intra-intestinal Nutrients and Melanocortin Receptor Stimulation.  Experiments involve handling rats, making behavioral and various other measurements, keeping records, data summary and presentation.  Students will learn to enter, manipulate and analyze data using Excel.  Statistical concepts will include one- and two-way ANOVA, and simple and multiple linear least-squares regression.  Students will be guided in the process of writing their results in scientific paper format.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); BBB109, PSYC127, or permission of the instructor

Semester: Fall or Spring


Independent Study in Longitudinal Methods

Mentor: Sara Jaffee

Description:  Using data from nationally-representative, longitudinal studies, you will have an opportunity to learn how to develop a research question, analyze longitudinal, epidemiological data, and write up the results. Available data are from national surveys of adolescent well-being and national surveys of children and families and include information on mental health, parent and peer relationships, physical health, substance use, and adverse experiences, among other things.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available, with a preference given for full-year projects


Independent Study in Neuroeconomics

Mentor: Joseph Kable

Description:  We study how people make decisions, and seek to trace out the underlying psychological and neural mechanisms of choice.  Research in the lab draws links across different levels of analysis, and aims to build explanations of decision-making that account for both people's choices and the neural mechanisms underlying those choices.  Projects employ an interdisciplinary approach to tackle these questions, drawing on methods and ideas from social and cognitive neuroscience, experimental economics, and personality psychology.  The neuroscientific methods used include functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), quantitative analysis of behavioral deficits in neurological patients, noninvasive brain stimulation, and eye-tracking.  Students will learn how to use computer presentation software (E-Prime, Psychtoolbox, PsychoPy or Qualtrics) and data analysis software (Matlab, Excel, or SPSS). The statistical concepts introduced include t-tests, correlation, ANOVA, non-parametric tests, multiple linear regression, logistic regression, and nonlinear optimization.  Students will also have weekly meetings with the instructor and will have to present their work in at least one lab meeting.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC253 or PSYC149 or equivalent

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available


Independent Study in Human Memory and its Neural Basis

Mentor: Michael Kahana

Description:  We develop and test computational models of human memory, and relate the hypothesized memory processes to measures of neural activity. Examples of recent projects can be found on my webpage. Students will learn experimental techniques and will also have the opportunity to carry out original data analyses and/or computational modeling in Python. 

Prerequisite(s): Some computer programming experience

Other Requirements: Computer programming (e.g., CIS 120 or its equivalent).

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in Cognitive Neuroscience: Environmental influences on early childhood brain development 

Mentor: Allyson Mackey 

Description: We are interested in how experiences in early childhood shape the development of brain structure and function, and ultimately influence cognition and academic performance. We are studying both negative experiences, such as poverty and stress, and positive experiences, such as cognitive enrichment and social support. Do such experiences speed up or slow down brain development, and are the effects global or specific to particular neural circuits? What are the effects of developmental timing on plasticity? We are looking for undergraduates to help with child recruitment, administering neurocognitive assessments (in the lab, and in schools and museums), acquiring magnetic resonance imaging data, and data analysis. Experience in computer programming languages such as Matlab and Python is helpful but not required.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent), experience working with children is required. 

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in Judgment and Decision Making

Mentor: Barbara Mellers 

Description: The ability to make accurate forecasts is important in a wide range of occupations. We are currently working on a large initiative to improve the science of prediction. Our team competes with four other teams across the country to develop the most accurate forecasts of 100 global events (e.g., economic, political, military, or social) each year for four years.

This independent study will focus on prediction markets. In recent years, prediction markets, such as Intrade and the Iowa Prediction Market, have gained a reputation for accurately predicting outcomes. In this seminar, we will examine this method and other methods of judgmental forecasting. Are prediction methods really better than expert surveys and opinion polls? Why do prediction markets work? Under what conditions do they work best?

Students will read popular and scientific literature about forecasting, prediction markets and the wisdom of crowds. They will conduct literature reviews, develop hypotheses, perform data analyses testing these hypotheses, and summarize their findings in a final paper.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Spring


Independent study in the neurobiology of social decision making

Mentor: Michael L Platt

Description: The Platt lab tries to understand what makes us human, how we think, and why we do the things we do, and how we can use this knowledge to both improve human health and enhance business decisions. These complex questions call for a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach, and the depth and diversity of our research reflect this commitment. In our lab you will have the opportunity to learn various techniques, such as psychophysics, EEG, fMRI, eye tracking, and pupillometry in humans, single-unit electrophysiology and causal manipulations of neural activity in non-human primates, primatology, neuropsychiatry, genomics, biostatistics, and computational modeling, among other things. You will help us continuously push neuroscience into the real world, i.e. societies of not only humans but also non-human primates, and ask important, meaningful, and highly rewarding questions, such as: What makes us connect with other people? How is intimacy developed and shared among people? How is a social network formed? How do our mental states shape our decisions? Do we understand what other people think of ourselves? Do our brains look different when we decide to compete with each other rather than cooperate? How can we quantify consumer experience directly? How do our brains relate to brands and how can we use that information to improve customer loyalty? What is the source, if any, of collective effervescence in social experiences? And so on...

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Fall, spring, and one-year projects all available, with preference for one-year.


Independent Study in Social, Cultural, and Decision Psychology

Mentor: Paul Rozin

Description:  Usually two semesters of individual research, including mastery of a literature, development of a problem to study, design of a study, collection of data, analysis of data, and write-up of the data.  About half of these projects end up as publications with the student as an author.  Topics currently under study include: What types of sequences of events (as in a concert or a meal) produce the most positive memories; Magical contagion beliefs; Preference for natural things, cross culturally; The psychology of meat, water and chocolate (3 separate problems); Hindu and Buddhist religious outlooks from a psychological perspective; Cultural aspects of the relation of people to food; Determinants of food choice; Asian versus Western comparisons in cognition, food psychology, and other areas; The perception of character; The psychology of music. Students will learn how to use SPSS, manage databases, and some basic inferential statistics like chi square, ANOVA, t-tests and correlations, and regressions.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in Clinical Psychology:  Anxiety and Depression

Mentor: Ayelet Ruscio

Description:  Most people who suffer from anxiety also suffer from depression.  The reasons for this are poorly understood.  Our lab is working to identify shared risk processes for anxiety and depression, as well as specific processes that predispose to just one of these conditions.  Recent projects have focused on risk processes such as worry (the tendency to get stuck in negative, repetitive thinking), threat sensitivity (the tendency to perceive ambiguous or minor events as threatening), and reward responsiveness (the inability to gain pleasure from rewarding experiences).  We study these processes in clinical and healthy populations using a variety of approaches (laboratory experiments, correlational studies, daily diary methods) and measures (self-report, behavioral, psychophysiological).  Working closely with Professor Ruscio, Independent Study students will pursue research focusing on risk processes in anxiety and depression.  Students will gain experience with study design, participant screening and recruitment, data collection, data management and analysis, and scientific writing.  Students will learn to analyze data using SPSS, selecting and applying statistical tools appropriate for their research questions; these may include descriptive statistics, t-tests, one-way or factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA), chi-square, correlation, or multiple regression.  Depending on the outcomes of the project and the interest of the student, students may have the opportunity to disseminate their findings to the scientific community through conference presentation or publication.  Readings and discussions will focus on challenges and opportunities involved in conducting informative clinical research.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC162 (Abnormal Psychology) 

Other Requirements:  Permission of the instructor; For more information about completing a PSYC 399 in our lab, please see:

Semester: Fall and Spring.  (A two-semester commitment is required.)


Independent Study: Remembering the images that we have seen

Mentor: Nicole Rust

Description: Students will develop and execute experiments designed to characterize signatures of human visual memory behavior.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); The course BBB 334/PSYC 434 provides the ideal background for this Independent Study. Alternatively, fluency in Matlab (or an equivalent programming language) is strongly preferred.

Semester: Fall / spring


Independent Study in Positive Psychology

Mentor: Martin Seligman

Description:  We study positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment.  PERMA, in short.  We also study transcendent experiences and primal beliefs about the world. Our current projects include positive education, prospection, creativity, positive gaming, posttraumatic growth, longitudinal investigations of PERMA on physical and mental health and the measurement of PERMA.  Students will work with a mentor on publishable projects.  Students will learn hypothesis generation, external validity, visualization and presentation of data, persuasive writing and compelling argumentation.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent)

Semester:  Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in Learning and Memory

Mentor: Anna Schapiro

Description: Some moments in our lives provide information that is useful in itself, but other information is most meaningful when combined across many instances, as we come to understand the regularities in the world. How do we extract such structured knowledge from our environment? Answering this question requires an understanding of the initial acquisition of this information as well as its stabilization and integration with existing knowledge structures over time and with sleep. Our research combines neural network modeling and empirical methods (fMRI, EEG, MEG, behavior) to uncover learning algorithms and principles of how memories of regularities in the environment come to be represented throughout the brain. Independent study projects could involve design, data collection, and/or data analysis of sleep experiments, behavioral experiments, neuroimaging experiments, and/or computational modeling.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); CIS 120 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in Computational Perception and Cognition

Mentor: Alan Stocker

Description:  Research in the Computational Perception and Cognition Laboratory is aimed at discovering the computational principles that govern human visual perception and perceptual decision making. Our general assumption is that most perceptual and cognitive processes are tasks that the human brain tries to solve as well and efficiently as possible.  Our approach is to derive models based on this assumption, which we then carefully validate with psychophysical experiments.  Current projects study (1) human visual motion perception, (2) perceptual adaptation, and (3) sequential perceptual decision-making.  Students will work with a mentor in the lab on a research project within the broader scope of one of these topics. Some specific project descriptions will be listed under

All projects require an interest and background in computation (e.g. probability theory), and some programming skills. More specifically, our experimental setup is fully computer controlled and using it requires proficient knowledge of the programming language MATLAB. However, a limited number of projects are available for students who are eager to learn programming in MATLAB.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or any other higher level math course); PSYC111 or PSYC151 or PSYC217 (requirement only for psychology majors)

Other Requirements: MATLAB programming (but see above)

Semester: Fall, Spring (typical duration: one semester)


Independent Study in Human Language Learning

Mentor: Daniel Swingley

Description:  We study how learning in infancy forms the basis for language acquisition in childhood, focusing primarily on word learning and discovery of the sound structure of language.  Recent projects have taken one of a set of approaches, including (1) careful analysis of corpora of maternal speech; (2) experiments testing adults' learning of features of maternal speech in English or another language; (3) computational studies of aspects of language structure; (4) experimental studies of perceptual categorization and learning in adults.  Depending on the nature of the project, students will learn some phonetics and/or some fairly elementary programming, and graphical methods and analysis using R, possibly including logistic regression, one- and two-sample tests of group differences, and ANOVA.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); at least one course in linguistics, cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive development, perception, or computer science.

Semester:  Fall (with preference for one-year projects beginning in the Fall).


Independent Study in Judgment and Decision Making

Mentor: Philip Tetlock





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Professor Phil Tetlock is the author of “Superforecasting” that summarizes many years of work devoted to helping professionals in a variety of fields become more skilled at putting realistic probabilities on possible futures: from wars to economic recessions to crime rates to climate change to pandemics.

He is looking for students in psychology and other fields to work with him on new research projects, with opportunities for co-authorship for especially motivated researchers. Professor Tetlock has published widely in many journals with many former students—so this is a serious offer (

PSYC 399 Option #1:  Independent Study in "Improving Human Judgment"

Description: Do you ever wonder who on the news really knows what they are talking about - when they make predictions about the economy, elections, social trends, even sports? This research program will give students an opportunity to develop tools for improving the accuracy for social and political judgments (training tools that will be of use to professionals in fields as diverse as education, management, finance and intelligence anaylsis). Students will be involved in all stages of research includuing design, implementation, analysis and write-up. Data will be analyzed in STATA or SPSS under guidance from the instructor.  Data analysis method may include t-tests, ANOVAs, chi-square tests, correlations, and regressions.

Prerequisite(s): STAT 111 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available. Also open to working with prospective Honor's Thesis students.

PSYC 399 Option #2: Independent Study in "Scoping out the Boundaries of the Unthinkable: Studying Judgments of Which Hypotheses in Psychological Science Should Be Off-Limits on Moral-Political Grounds  "

Description: Should some categories of psychological hypotheses be ruled off-limits? Which categories?  Who makes the judgements? On what grounds? And what should the consequence of violating the rules be? We will design exploratory surveys and conduct experiments that assess how observers, with widely varying views, see these issues across all areas of psychology (gender, race relations, animal consciousness, inequality,...). Students will be involved in all stages of research includuing design, implementation, analysis and write-up. Data will be analyzed in STATA or SPSS under guidance from the instructor.  Data analysis method may include t-tests, ANOVAs, chi-square tests, correlations, and regressions.

Prerequisite(s): STAT 111 (or its equivalent)

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available. Also open to working with prospective Honor's Thesis students.


Independent Study in Human Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience

Mentor: Sharon Thompson-Schill

Description: We study the biological bases of human cognitive systems – perception, memory, language, thought, cognitive control – and the interrelations among these systems, with a particular emphasis on the characterization of typical and atypical variation across individuals.  Recent projects emphasize (1) functions of the frontal lobe in the regulation of thought and behavior, especially in relation to language and memory processes; and (2) the organization and neural substrates of concept knowledge (especially knowledge of visual attributes) and the relation between conceptual information and perception and language.  We answer these questions by developing and implementing a wide array of behavioral and neuroscientific methods with both typical and atypical populations, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), lesion-deficit mapping of neurological patients, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), genotypic analysis of typical variation, on-line eye-tracking, & so on.  Students will work with a mentor in the lab to learn one or more of these methods and to develop their own research project on one of these topics.  Students will learn to analyze data using SPSS, Excel, or Matlab, depending on the project; statistical concepts will include one- and two-sample hypothesis tests, one- and two-way ANOVA, simple and multiple linear least-squares regression, categorical data analysis and goodness-of-fit tests.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC151 or PSYC149

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in the Psychology of Language

Mentor: John Trueswell

Description:  Our research group studies how languages are learned and how they are processed.  We are especially interested in how language is supported by various human cognitive systems (i.e., perception, learning, memory, thought, attention and cognitive control).  Much of the research uses eye-tracking methods to study spoken language processing; the eye movements of children (and adults) are recorded as they hear speech referring to a visual referent world.  The participant's eye movements to objects in the world can tell us what he or she is considering as possible referents in 'real time' as the speech is unfolding.  We use this and other methods to study: (1) how children and adults learn the grammatical properties of their language; (2) how they deploy that grammatical knowledge during speaking and listening; and (3) how children learn the meanings of words within and across multiple learning instances.  Some of this work involves comparisons across languages, so students with knowledge of other languages are also encouraged to get involved in the lab.  Students will work with a mentor in the lab and may develop their own research project on one of these topics.  Students will learn to analyze data using R and Excel; statistical concepts will include one-and two-sample hypothesis tests, one- and two-way ANOVA, simple and multiple linear regression, and perhaps logistic regressions for binary data.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); PSYC151 or PSYC149 or COGS101/PSYC207

Semester: Fall, Spring, or one-year projects available (preference given for one-year)


Independent Study in Understanding the socioemotional and physiological correlates of empathy, aggression, and childhood behavior problems

Mentor: Rebecca Waller

Description: We are currently carrying out  the Family And Child Emotion Socialization (FACES) study, which is designed to explore the socioemotional mechanisms that underpin risk for aggression and childhood behavior problems, including by impacting children’s development of empathy. We bring 3-10 year olds into the lab with their parent and conduct a rigorous 3 ½ hour study protocol that includes a variety of questionnaire, observational, electronic, eye-tracking, and physiological paradigms. Undergraduate RAs directly oversee running of study visits and 399 students can plan research studies using available FACES data from across a wide range of domains within clinical and developmental psychological science. RAs gain training in the following hardware and software programs: Noldus, Media Recorder, Eyelink, Biopac, SPSS, R, and Mplus. See for more information.

Prerequisite(s): STAT111 (or its equivalent); and PSYC162 or PSYC181 

Semester: Only one-year projects available, preference to those who have volunteered in the lab already and to those with weekend flexibility (when we run participants)