V89.0300 - Simulation Studio: Experiments and Models in Cognitive Science

Meeting Time/Place: Meyers Room 460 from 3:30-4:45 PM on Mondays and Wednesdays
Instructor: Todd M. Gureckis
Office: Meyers 409
Office Hours: Immediately After Class Monday and Wednesday or by appointment
Email: todd.gureckis@nyu.edu

Brief Course Description

How do humans (and machines) learn from experience? What is the best way to make decisions? How do individuals spontaneously organize to create complex social structures such as traffic jams, cities, or the Internet? In this hand-on, "studio"-like course, we will explore these types of questions through simple computer simulations. Simulations and computer modeling have become central to research in many areas of scientific endeavor, including Psychology. No previous background in computer programming is required and students are not expected to develop complete programs from scratch. However, students must be willing to learn some basic computer programming skills early in the course so they can interact with and tackle the later assignments. Students will leave with a better understanding of the central role that computer simulations play in contemporary research in human learning, memory, and behavior as well as some practical experience getting computers to do exactly what you want them to. We will be working with Python, a freely available high-level programming language used by many scientific researchers and in many industries (for example, Google and the One Laptop Per Child Project). View some quotes from people using Python.

Format of the Course

The course will be organized into a series of lectures and hands-on computer lab sessions. Students will be encouraged to interact with one another to solve problems and to develop a solid understanding of the course material. Occasional short homework assignments will be completed partly in class and partly at home. A final project (worth 30% of the final grade) with be completed in groups on a topic of the student's choosing (with input and guidance from the instructor).

The course will be divided into three phases. In preparation for the later parts of the course, we will first spend a few weeks developing some basic programming skills. Computational methods and simulations have become the primary way in which cognitive and experimental psychologists develop theories of cognitive function. Indeed, much of what we know about modern cognitive function owes as much to psychology as to computer science. This course will give you a introductory foundation from which to approach research, papers, and (hopefully) even the world around you from a computational perspective.

In the second part of the course, we will examine a series of psychological phenomena that can be understood from the perspective of the computational models. Topics include the nature of the way concepts and categories are represented in our minds, the way neural networks in the brain support learning and memory, decision making, and how complex, emergent behavior can arise from the interaction of a large number of simple elements.


There is no textbook to purchase for this course. Readings will be combinations of research articles, popular science articles, and online tutorials. Here are a collection of helpful resources


Psychology major, introduction to psychology with a grade of at least C, intro states with a grade of a C, and GPA of at least 3.0 in psychology at the university. upper-division standing.


As this is a highly interactive course, attendance and participation is critical contributing 20% of the final grade. Early in the class there will be a number of small homeworks and in-class exercises worth 10% of the total. Ultimately, we will conduct four separate "labs". Labs will be completed in teams, but each student is required to write a individual report on the results of the groups. Each of the four reports will contribute 10% each (a total of 40%). The reports must conform to APA standards and be original. A final project worth 30% of the grade will involved working alone or in a small group of 2-3 students to design a novel simulation or experiemnt, present it to the class, and turn in a written summary.

*new*: Class Chat Room Ask questions, get quick responses from instructor and other students!
(click the camp fire)