Term Paper Schedule and Requirements

Term Paper Schedule and Requirements



Choice of Topic

Schedule of Due Dates

Format for the Paper

Grading Criteria

Suggested Topics


Suggestions: Designing a Research Project

Suggestions: Writing a Research Report

"Elasticity" (Umberto Boccioni) scanned by Mark Harden, at Artchive.


Choice of Topic

The term paper should be written in the format of a research proposal, not unlike a thesis or dissertation proposal, or request for funds from a granting agency. Choose any topic in cognitive science that interests you and develop a proposal for research in that area. In the proposal you should describe recent research and theory on the topic, identify a question that needs to be addressed, present a hypothesis to be tested, and describe an experiment (or series of experiments) that might be used to test the hypothesis. You must relate the proposal to one or more of the theoretical issues that have been reviewd in the course.

When choosing a topic, review carefully the criteria that will be used to grade the paper. You should relate the topic to issues that we discuss in this course, and to the area of cognitive science generally. You must review relevant literature, including recent work in the area. Identify existing theories or theoretical approaches, and then develop a proposal for future research.

You might want to consult these general-purpose suggestions for developing a research idea and writing a research paper. The suggestions were prepared for courses where you actually carry out the research, but many of the ideas still apply to research proposals.

If your proposal eventually leads to a research grant, publications, fame, and a nobel prize, acknowledgment of help received in this course would be appreciated.


You may use the suggested readings from the textbook, and to the web site list of relevant references dealing with popular topics. However, you should not rely on this list. To seek out recent literature dealing with your topic, use such library data bases as PsychInfo, or try Google Scholar. Explore the resources on the textbook web site, and examine these other links to relevant web sites.

Schedule of Due Dates

March 24. A brief description of the topic for your paper (Not graded, but 1 point penalty per day late).

After receiving your description, I shall try to provide you with some references and ideas that you may find helpful. You will not be held to this topic, but consult with me if you wish to change it.

April 7. An outline of your paper, indicating your progress to date (Not graded, but 1 point penalty per day late). Include a list of relevant articles or books that you have read so far, and your ideas for a research proposal. You should make clear in this outline how your proposa lwill advance current knowledge.

This will be another opportunity for feedback and suggestions. Again, you may make changes to the topic if you wish, but be sure to check with me.

April 29 (Friday). The final version of the paper is due by midnight. Note the prescribed format for the paper. Late papers will not be accepted.

Each item above should be submitted from the Assignments section of your Sakai Portal by midnight on the indicated date. Select the appropriate term paper assignment. You may type your description or outline directly into an edit box in Sakai, or attach an MS Word document that you have already prepared. The final paper should be submitted as an MS Word document. You must acknowledge the honor pledge in order to submit an item (see the honor code section in the syllabus for a definition of unacceptable assistance).

You should feel free to consult with me at any time on the content of your paper or the presentation.

Grading criteria for the presentation are listed below.

Format for the Paper

In broad outline, your paper must summarize what is known now about a topic, then point out what is unknown, or still in dispute. The proposed research should address these gaps or disagreements. Think of the paper as a request for support from a cognitive science granting agency. Your job is to convince the agency that this project is worth supporting.

The paper must include the following six sections. The sections must be given the appropriate headings, and occur in the prescribed order*. Note that the grading criteria assume that the paper is in the appropriate format. You risk losing many points if you do not follow the format.

*If you think that your proposal will not fit comfortably within the prescribed format, you may negotiate an alternative format before submitting the paper.

1. Introduction and Statement of the Topic: The purpose of the introduction is to capture the reader's interest right away. Make clear where the topic fits within the broad range of cognitive science, and indicate the direction that your proposal will take.

2. Problem to be Addressed: A description of the problem that you hope to address. The problem statement should make reference to a theoretical framework of some sort. Show how issues that have been discussed in the course would be relevant. Address the question, Why does this topic need to be studied? Make clear what purpose the research is to serve. The goal of the proposed research should either be to address a question that remains unanswered, settle a theoretical dispute, or provide further evidence to support a current theory.

3. Review of existing literature: A summary of relevant literature in cognitive science that you have read. This review may include references to other topics in psychology or other disciplines with which you are familiar, but the main focus should clearly be on cognitive science. The review should include a summary of theoretical approaches that might be related to the topic, including the approach used in the problem statement. In some cases there may be specific theories that already exist. In other cases you may need to recruit theories from other areas and apply them to your topic. This section must justify your interest in the problem (Section 2), and make clear the need for the research that you propose. It should lead inevitably to the next section.

4. Hypothesis or Hypotheses to be Tested: The problem statement and the literature review should normally lead to a specific hypothesis or set of hypotheses to be tested. And, of course, the hypotheses should be clear enough to be testable. Where there are competing theories, or where there is no single theory that underlies your proposal, it might make more sense to postulate two or more competing hypothesis.

5. Proposed Research: You must propose a study or series of studies that would address the problem presented in Section 2, and test the hypotheses raised in Section 4. You need not specify every detail here, but make clear who the subjects would be, what the independent and dependent variables would be, how you would manipulate or measure the variables, and how you would control for confounding and ensure adequate power. You may assume that you have access to extensive but not unlimited research funds, and the cooperation of agencies you might need. You must, however, be sensitive to ethical, political, and practical constraints that would apply.

6. Expected Results and Significance: What will be the implications of your research, practically or theoretically? Will the results help resolve or clarify any of the questions that have been raised in the course? If all works out well, what will it mean? If things do not work out as planned, what will be the next step.

7. References: Provide a list of cited references in APA format.

The paper should be between six and ten pages long, typed double spaced, not including tables, figures, or list of references.

Grading of the Report.

Each section of the report will be graded according to the following criteria:

Introduction and Statement of the Topic: 10 points

Does the section capture the reader's interest?
Does the topic clearly lie within cognitive science?

Problem to be Addressed: 18 points

Is the problem clearly stated?
Is the theoretical framework clear?
Is the purpose of the research clear, and would the research advance knowledge in this area?
Does the proposal addess one or more of theoretical topics that are important in cognitive science?

Review of existing literature: 18 points

Is the review comprehensive, accurate and relevant?
Is a suitable theoretical framework provided?
Does the cited literature support the problem statement?
Does the review provide an adequate connection between the problem statement and the hypotheses?

Hypothesis or Hypotheses to be Tested: 16 points

Do the hypotheses follow from the problem statement and literature review?
Are these hypotheses the most important ones to test at this stage?
Are the hypotheses testable?

Proposed Research: 18 points

Is the research adequate to test the hypotheses?
Are the independent and dependent variables suitable ones, and are they defined adequately?
Are the studies free from confounding, and of adequate power?
Is the research proposal realistic?

Expected Results and Significance: 10 points

Are the implications of your research clearly spelled out?
Are the implications of practical or theoretical significance?
Does the research promise to resolve questions that are important to cognitive science?
Are suitable subsequent steps described?

Overall Organization and Writing: 10 points

Is the content organized in a meaningful way (both between and within sections)?
Is the proposal well written?

Suggested Topics

Here are some possible topics. Do not feel conmstrained by this list, and feel free to check with me at any time if you have an idea of your own you would like to pursue.

Topics covered in the textbook. Your paper might explore recent developments in one of these areas.

Interface of behaviorism and cognitive science
Language and psycholinguistics
Machine understanding of language
Turing machines
Attention and information processing
Mental imagery
Neuroimaging and brain functions
Neural networks and models of learning
Logical reasoning
Prisoner's dilemma and other social dilemmas
Models of memory
Modularity and evolutionary approaches
Heuristic search processes
The physical symbol system hypothesis
Fodor's language of thought theory
The Turing test and artifical intelligence
Expert systems and machine learning
Language development in children
Folk physics and its development in children
Face recognition and other modular functions in perception
Modular versus domain-general processing
ACT-R/PM models
Cognitive development and pretend play
"Theory of mind" and its development in children
Research on mirror neurons
Dynamical models

Topics raised in class, not covered in the textbook.

Rationality of decision making
Dual process theories
Game theory and social dilemmas
Moral reasoning
Consciousness and the nature of "self"

Topics discussed peripherally that would be worth further exploration.

The nature of intelligence
Cognitive science and the law
Cognitive science and behavioral economics
Applying cognitive science to eduction
Group and organizational processes