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Human Cognition and Culture: An Evolutionary Perspective

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 27, 2020 - August 07, 20207/27 - 8/07M-F 8:30A-11:20AOpenKaitlyn Hajdarovic
Elic Weitzel
11402 ADD TO CART

Course Description

Do you ever wonder why humans do the things they do? Humans are interesting animals: we can be caring, forming family units and caring for our children and community. At the same time, we can be aggressive, committing acts of violence and warfare. Using an explicitly evolutionary framework which treats humans as the evolved organisms that they are, we will explore the diversity of human behavior. We will combine insights from neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary ecology, ethology, and anthropology to cultivate a holistic understanding of the spectrum of human behaviors to understand what makes humans what we are.

Students in this course will learn to understand human behavior holistically, emphasizing mechanism, ontogeny, phylogeny, and adaptation. This four-pronged approach to the study of human culture and cognition permits more complete evaluation of behavioral patterns in an explicitly evolutionary framework which treats humans as the evolved organisms which they are. We will combine insights from neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary ecology, ethology, and anthropology to cultivate a holistic understanding of a variety of human behaviors. We will cover the following topics: Social learning and the transmission of culture; sex differences including sexuality, gender, mating systems and pair bonding; hierarchy, violence, crime and warfare; and cooperation, altruism, and religion.
The main readings assigned in this course will come from the book "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" by Robert Sapolsky. Additional readings will be provided as needed. Students will engage with the material through reading, lecture, discussion sections, and short writing assignments. Each three-hour session will be split into two parts. The first hour and half will be taught by a neuroscientist, and we will discuss the fundamentals of how the brain works and develops, and how specific brain structures control and contribute to behavior. The second hour and a half will be taught by an anthropologist. We will discuss the wide variety of behaviors seen in the human animal, and how these behaviors evolved in our lineage and contribute to our success as a species.

By the end of the course students will: Understand how neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory can be applied to human cognition and culture; Learn the fundamentals of neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary ecology, and anthropology and apply this knowledge to understand human behavior; Become familiar with mechanistic, ontogenic, phylogenetic, and adaptive explanations for common human behavioral practices; Be able to synthesize scientific research to communicate a holistic view of human behavior; and Appreciate and understand human behavioral diversity and the evolutionary reasons behind this diversity; Be prepared for college-level study in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, ecology, or anthropology.

Prerequisites: None

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEAN0939
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown

Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

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