PSYC 685 COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE
GUIDELINES FOR TERM PAPER
1. You should aim to write a 10-15 page paper on a cognitive neuroscience topic, discussing
research within a specific area of perception, cognition, emotion, or motor function. Choose a
function of interest to you or one that you have wanted to learn more about. Attempt to
make the domain specific but not too narrow or too broad. For example, “Brain systems of
language” would be much too general, whereas “Brain imaging and computational evidence
for phonological coding in reading” would be appropriate. However, “Event-related fMRI
studies of single-word reading in ADHD children on and off medication” would be much too
specific. If you are unsure, email me, and I can probably tell you whether there is a good
literature on the topic. The literature need not be large--sometimes 2 or 3 key papers may be
sufficient to define a topic area. Your initial choice need not be restricted to the topics I am
covering in the course or even those that are covered in text, but can include any domain of
cognition, broadly defined, as long as there is cognitive neuroscience research on the topic.
2. Define the important issues in the topic area. For example, suppose your topic is reading.
You should pose such questions as, what information processing stages are involved in
reading, and are they organized in series or in parallel? Is there more than one route to
reading? What brain areas and systems subserve these components of reading? Are the
results of computational models of reading consistent with psychological analyses? Do
“lesions” of such models effectively capture the effects of actual brain damage? Does
evidence provided by brain-damaged individuals with language deficits (e.g., aphasia)
support cognitive neuroscience theories of components of reading? ....and so on.
3. Describe research studies that examine and can potentially answer these issues. It is
important that you make an attempt to identify research at each of the three levels of analysis
consistent with the cognitive neuroscience approach, that is, formal (computational),
psychological (behavioral), and neural. The existence of research at all three levels should
also be a factor in your choice of topic (see Instruction #1). If there is only limited or no
research at one level, be prepared to describe the kinds of studies that should be conducted at
that level and what they could reveal.
4. Covering instruction #3 well would be sufficient to earn a good evaluation. However, if it is
possible, try and go one step further: discuss to what extent the computational,
psychological, and neural levels of analysis are consistent with one another and serve to paint
a coherent picture. Also, if possible, discuss perspectives from development and evolution,
and, if possible, genetics. Any attempts along these lines, whether successful or not, would
earn a bonus evaluation.
5. Avoid topics in “traditional” neuropsychology, for example, those dealing with the diagnosis
of a condition or the rehabilitation of that condition. You can certainly refer to
neuropsychological or psychiatric studies, but the goal should be to use this evidence to
reveal something about normal functioning. So for example, topics such as “The diagnosis
and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease” or “The biological basis of autism” would not be
appropriate. However, referring to studies with Alzheimer’s patients in a paper on the
mechanisms of episodic memory, or to studies on autistics with respect to attention and
social interaction, would be entirely appropriate. Also, it is also appropriate to draw
implications for diagnosis and treatment, but these should not be the primary focus of the
The absolute last date for approval of your topic is April 22. Try and get approval well
before this date. The paper is due May 6.
Some Specific Do's and Don'ts
1. At the beginning of the paper, say why the topic you will discuss is important. That is,
you need to present a solid rationale for examining the particular issues you will discuss.
Simply stating something like “This paper discusses cognitive and neural models of visual
selective attention…….” is insufficient. You need to provide a reason as to why the topic
is important and why the reader should read the paper. The rationale can be theoretical,
pragmatic, or a combination of the two.
2. In discussing your topic, make sure you develop your arguments in a logical way after
identifying the key issues.
3. Make sure you present sufficient evidence to back up your arguments.
4. Do not merely review the literature passively. Be analytical, critical, identify theoretical
and methodological weaknesses, and suggest directions for further research.
5. You may use Google or other web search engine to look for relevant research, in addition
to scanning journals and books. However the web should never be a substitute for
consulting original articles published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals and in books.
Also, resist the temptation (in a “googled” world) or simply providing urls to various web
sites, particularly if they are not associated with a scientific institution. And of course, no
“pop” psychology articles, blogs, or non peer-reviewed journal papers please!
6. Present the results of at least 2-3 key studies. The number is less important than the
amount and importance of the information that the studies yield.
Format of Term Paper
Write a 15 page paper, with the following sections:
Introduction, including Outline of Paper
Section 1, 2, 3, etc
Use sub-sections as necessary. You can use APA style or any other style appropriate to a
Topics in Previous Years
Are faces special? Evidence from neuroimaging, neuropsychology, and computational models.
The false memory debate: Cognitive and brain imaging analyses
Components of visual imagery: Evidence from PET, fMRI, and TMS
Computational, neuropsychological, and brain imaging studies of vigilance
Hot and cold cognition: Inter-relationships of cognition and emotion revealed by PET
Cognitive neuroscience of musical expectancy and harmony
Brain mechanisms of implicit memory: Evidence from normal and brain-damaged adults
ERP and computational studies of selective attention
FMRI and behavioral studies of procedural learning
Multi-tasking and the brain: From basic neuroscience to neuroergonomics
Plasticity and degeneration in memory: Evidence from computational models in Alzheimer’s
Useful Journals to Browse
Brain and Cognition
Brain and Language
Cognitive, Behavioral, & Affective Neuroscience
Cognitive Brain Research
Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology
Human Brain Mapping
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology
Journals of Experimental Psychology
Journal, International Neuropsychology Society
Journal of Neurophysiology
Journal of Neuroscience
Nature Reviews Neuroscience
Proceedings of the NY Academy of Science
Trends in Cognitive Science
Trends in Neuroscience