PSY 8200: Perception (Graduate)  

Mechanisms and models of perceptual systems

Fall 2018   Jump to course schedule!

Note: This syllabus is a work in progress!

Course Information

Course Description

This is a seminar-style course on perception, the study of how humans and animals gather, process, and organize sensory information from the environment, primarily focusing on auditory and visual perception. We will examine these topics from multiple perspectives, including the behavioral, computational, and neural mechanisms underlying perceptual systems. A major goal of this course is to expose students to different models, theoretical approaches, and debates in the field. To that end, readings will consist primarily of original research articles, and students will lead class presentations discussing the papers.

There is also an undergraduate version of this course. You may find some of the readings or lecture slides from that class useful.


By taking this course, you will gain:

  1. Knowledge of the mechanisms involved in sensation and perception
  2. Exposure to current debates, models, and theories about how humans and animals perceive the world
  3. Practice reading and discussing original research articles on these topics

Course Materials

All readings will be posted on the course website (i.e., this website). See the schedule below for a list of readings.

There is no textbook required for this course. However, if you would like a good text on perception that will provide you with additional background information, I recommend the following books (both are well-suited for graduate students):

  1. Wolfe JM, Kluender KR, & Levi DM. Sensation & Perception. Sinauer: Sunderland, MA.
  2. Palmer SE. Vision Science. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. (specific to vision)

I have copies of these and several other perception books in my office. You are welcome to borrow them if you would like (first come, first serve).

Course Requirements

Projects/take-home exams (40%)

You will complete two projects that will allow you to demonstrate your knowledge of perception. The two projects consist of: (1) conducting a simulation of a perceptual phenomenon using a computational model, and (2) analyzing a set of data from a perceptual experiment. You must do each project, but you can choose which one you want to do for the midterm and which one you want to do for the final. In both cases, the tools you need will be provided (i.e., the code for the model, or a dataset to be analyzed). Your job is to produce a write-up describing the results of the simulation (project 1) or experiment (project 2). In addition, you should include a discussion of how you could use this technique to address another question in perception (i.e., a question about a different perceptual phenomenon). Each write-up is worth 20% of your class grade. Write-ups are limited to three pages, single-spaced, 1-inch margins, 11-12 point font. Anything beyond the 3-page limit will not be graded! The first write up is due the class before Fall Break, and the second write-up is due on the last day of class (in lieu of a final exam).

Experiment proposal (20%)

The goal of this assignment is to give you an opportunity to focus on a particular area of perception and get experience writing experiment proposals and grants. You may submit drafts to me (as often as you would like), and I will provide feedback. The grant proposal will follow a format similar to an NIH NRSA Predoctoral Fellowship proposal. The final proposal is due the class beore Thanksgiving break and is worth 20% of the class grade. If you would like comments on drafts of either the lit review or grant proposal, please allow at least one week for me to provide feedback.

Class discussions (40%)

Each week, we will read an original research article on a topic in perception (see schedule below). One student will summarize the article and lead a discussion of it. Everyone else will submit discussion questions before class that week. In addition, the student leading the discussion is expected to present findings from other relevant work on the same topic. Some suggested readings for each topic, along with the main article for each week, will be included in the schedule. You do not have to discuss these additional studies specifically. In addition, you should not assume that everyone in the class has read all the associated readings on a particular topic. However, I encourage everyone to read the articles listed, as they will provide you with a deeper background on each area of research. 20% of the class grade is based on submitting questions and participating in the class discussion, and 20% is based on leading the class discussion when it's your turn.

Grading Scale

Grades will be based on the percentage of points earned on assignments and class participation; grades will not be determined on the basis of a curve.

A-...90.00-93.32% A...>93.32%
B-...80.00-83.32% B...83.33-86.66% B+...86.67-89.99%
C-...70.00-73.32% C...73.33-76.66% C+...76.67-79.99%
D-...60.00-63.32% D...63.33-66.66% D+...66.67-69.99%

Course Policies

Standard Villanova Course Policies

Course-specific Policies

Course Schedule

We will create the schedule together on the first day of class!

Date Topic Readings Deadlines/Notes
8/28 Introduction
10/16 No class (Fall break) Midterm project due
11/20 Grant proposal due
12/11 Catch-up/Final discussion Final project due