Psychology 391SC: Scientific Studies of Consciousness

Spring, 2021

Monday, Wednesday, & Friday
1:25 - 2:15 pm
Fully Remote - Meeting on Zoom


Instructor: Kyle Cave
phone: 413-545-2787
Office hours: Tuesday 2:30-3:30 pm or by appointment

*** Zoom links for class meetings and office hours are on Moodle. ***

(This page last updated 26 Apr, 2021)

Much of this class will be conducted synchronously. During the scheduled class time (MWF 1:25-2:15) there will be lectures, discussions, quizzes and exams, so be sure to keep these times free in your schedule to attend class by Zoom.

Research in Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience is constantly revealing new facts about how we see, hear, speak, move, recognize, remember, learn, and reason. The goal of these scientific studies is to explain these mental processes thoroughly and completely. However, many people feel that there is something about our consciousness or inner mental life that can never be explained by any scientific theory, no matter how advanced. In this seminar, we will ask what consciousness is, and will assess what current science can tell us about it. We will consider the different ways in which philosophers have tried to explain consciousness and the relationship between mind and body. Then we will examine how far science has progressed in explaining the workings of the mind, considering evidence from many different sources, including psychological experiments, brain imaging, neuronal recordings, and the effects of brain damage and drugs on experience and behavior. Finally, we will examine what is still unexplained, and will ask whether Science can ever explain everything about the mind.



The textbook for this course is Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction by Susan Blackmore. It is available from eCampus, and also from other sources. Be sure that you are using the 2nd edition, and don't confuse it with one of the other books on consciousness by the same author. A used copy is fine.

Most or all of the other assigned readings will be available on the course Moodle site. Moodle will also have the class schedule, which lists the different topics to be covered.

Over the years there have been many experiments exploring consciousness, and a number of different theories have been proposed. Therefore, the reading list for this course is fairly extensive. Many of the readings will be research papers from scientific journals. Be prepared to spend some time reading them carefully and thinking through the details of the experiments they describe. There may be terms you do not understand, or details of the experiments that are not fully explained. If you have questions about a reading, post them on the Moodle discussion boards or contact me.

Class Meetings:

We will meet via Zoom at the scheduled class time. The Zoom link will be available on the class Moodle page. You will need to be logged in to your UMass Zoom account in order to access the class, and you will need to be running Zoom on a computer, and not a tablet or phone. Everyone will be muted when you first join the class, but you will have the opportunity to ask questions. Do not schedule another class or any other activities during the class time slot; attendance by Zoom is important.


Communicating Outside of Class:

You are encouraged to contact me with questions and comments about any aspect of the class. You can reach us at the email address or at the phone number at the top of this page.

If we need to reach you in between classes, we will send e-mail to your UMass account.

There is a Moodle site for this class with this syllabus, class notes, Zoom liks, and other materials.


Thought Questions:

For some topics, there will be a thought question posted on Moodle. Be sure to submit your answer to the thought question before the posted deadline.

Unless specified otherwise, your answer to each thought question should be no more than 300 words, not including references.

Because of the short word limit, you will want to think carefully about how to convey the most information possible in just a few words, and in a clear and reliable way.

As with all assignments, you should include references telling which sources provided the information that you have included.

Don't just express your opinions, but justify them in a way that will convince readers that you are right.


In-Class Quizzes:

Read this carefully. Ask if there is any part you do not understand.

Some classes will include a quiz. Quizzes will not be announced in advance.

Each quiz may cover the material in the assigned reading, the material covered in class that day, or material from previous days.

The format of the quizzes may vary. There could be essay questions, multiple choice, or other formats.

Quizzes will be open book. In preparing your answers, you can consult the textbook, your notes, and any material online, but you cannot communicate with any other people, either face to face, electronically, by writing, or any other means.

Although quizzes are open book, time will be limited. Don't expect to be able to look up the answers in the time available for the quiz. Be sure that you understand the material well before the quiz begins.

Make-ups will not be offered for missed quizzes.



Many of the classes will include a student presentation. Most presentations will be given by a pair of students working together.

Your presentation should be based on sources beyond the required course readings. There are some suggestions for relevant sources on Moodle.

You should send me a list of your sources two weeks before your presentation. If you find other sources after you send me the list, you are free to include them as well.

Your presentation will be graded on its informativeness and its organization. Be sure to give careful thought as to how to structure your presentation so that it is clear and easy to understand.

Each presentation should be about 20-30 minutes long.

During your presentation you will be able to share slides that you have prepared beforehand.. After your presentation, you should upload a file with the slides you displayed during your presentation to the discussion board on Moodle.

You can sign up for your presentation on Moodle between 7:00 am on Thursday, Feb 4 and the end of the day Wednesday, Feb 10.



Read this carefully. Ask if there is any part you do not understand.

There will be a midterm exam during the semester and a final exam at the end.

The exams will cover both material from class and material from the reading.

The final exam will be cumulative, covering material from the entire class.

The exams may inlude multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, essay questions, and other formats as well.

Make-ups will not be offered for missed exams.

Like the quizzes, the exams will be open book. In preparing your answers, you can consult the textbook, your notes, and any material online, but you cannot communicate with any other people, either face to face, electronically, by writing, or any other means. However, time will be limited, so you should not expect to be able to look up the answers in the time available. Be sure that you understand the material well before the exam begins.

See the Guide to Exams and Quizzes.


Read this carefully. Ask us if there is any part you do not understand.

You will write a short paper on some topic related to the scientific study of consciousness. Your paper must show a good deal of research and thought.

When writing your paper, you should draw on a number of sources beyond the reading assigned for the class. Be sure you include references to reflect the contributions of all of your sources.

Your paper should be no more than 1500 words, not including the reference list. Use APA format, unless you work out another arrangement with Prof. Cave.

We will provide a list of possible topics. You can select one of those topics, or negotiate another topic with Prof. Cave.

Papers will be handed in on Moodle by Thursday, Apr 29.

See the Guide to Writing the Paper.


Other Assignments:

There may be other assignments throughout the class. These assignments are likely to include questions and other activities that will be done during class, and you will need to be present during the class in order to hand them in. Unless we specifically say otherwise, the work you turn in for the assignments must be entirely your own.


Tech Disasters and Other Calamaties:

If a failure of university technology such as Moodle or Zoom interferes with your ability to complete an assignment, notify us as soon as possible. Give us a thorough description as possible, with all details that might help in finding and fixing the problem. If you can send us a screenshot of any error messages, that might help.

Do everything you can to keep your own computer and internet connection functioning well. Be sure that your internet provider is providing you with adequate network speed. At critical times (such as quizzes and exams), be sure that your laptop is charged and that you are positioned to get the best wifi reception. Plan for technology problems as you work on your paper: back up your files often, and don't wait until the last minute to hand it in. Computer failure is not a good excuse for missing the paper deadline.

If some other emergency prevents you from completing something that is required for the course, you should first do what you need to do to deal with the emergency, and then contact us as soon as possible, providing as many details as you can about the situation.


Experimental Participation:

By participating in experiments done within the Psychology Department, you can learn first hand how experimental psychology is done, you can contribute to the advancement of the field, and you can improve your grade through extra credit.

You will receive one credit for each half-hour of experimental participation. Each credit will add one-half of one percent to your total number of points.

The total amount of extra credit you can receive is 6 credits, which will take 3 hours, and will add 3% to your point total.

For experiments that are scheduled to occur at a specific time, whether online or in person, please keep scheduled appointments or cancel 24 hours in advance (or in case of emergencies, as soon as possible). 

3 unexcused no-shows per semester will result in a lock out of the system, resulting in the loss of the credits already earned as well as the ability to participate in other studies. Earning extra credit is a privilege and researchers’ time is valuable.

Extra credit cannot make a failing grade into a passing grade.

If you want to earn extra credit but do not want to participate in experiments, see Prof. Cave about an alternative.

Instructions for signing up for experiments can be found at

You can participate in SONA experiments betwen Feb 1 and May 4.


Academic Honesty:

Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University.  Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty.  Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty.  Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct.  Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible.  Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair.  Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent (

Everything that you turn in for this class should be written entirely in your own words. For guidelines about plagiarism, see If you are ever in doubt about when and how to give credit for the ideas and experimental results you include in your written assignments and presentations, consult us.



The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students.  If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS), you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help you succeed in this course.  If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester, and schedule a meeting with us so that we can work out the details for implementing your accommodations. No accommodations will be put in place until after this meeting.


In recognition and affirmation of the worth and dignity of all persons, we are dedicated to upholding the values of diversity and inclusion and to minimizing disparities in access to learning. All students who are willing to learn are equally welcome without regard to age, race, ethnicity, birthplace, sex, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or identity, socioeconomic status, political party or beliefs, or other group affiliation or personal characteristics. All students are likewise expected to accord each other the same level of respect, bearing in mind that becoming more respectful and inclusive is a journey rather than a destination. We will all have stumbling points along the way, including the instructor and the teaching assistants, and these are often valuable learning opportunities. If we ever say or do anything insensitive in this class, we invite you to communicate your discomfort to us in person after class, during office hours, by email, or anonymously.


Integrative Experience Requirement:

When combined with Psych 494P this course will satisfy the Integrative Experience requirement for psychology majors.

  • Psych 494P will meet Criterion 1.
  • Psych 391 advanced seminars will meet criterion 2 and 3.

Criterion 2. “The course should provide students with the opportunity to practice General Education learning objectives such as oral communication, collaboration, critical thinking and interdisciplinary perspective-taking, at a more advanced level.”

Seminars are designed to engage students in scientific discussion and students are expected to share their ideas through class participation, oral presentations and written critiques. Students will evaluate current theory and practice, critique primary source material, and integrate interdisciplinary perspectives.

In this class, you will think critically about different theories of consciousness and the experimental results that support or conflict with those theories. You will give an oral presentation on one topic within the class, and will engage in discussions with the rest of the class on different aspects of consciousness. In evaluating the different accounts of conciousness, it will be important to take the perspective of those who support each of these accounts in order to appreciate the strengths of each account.

Criterion 3. “The course should offer students a shared learning experience for applying their prior learning to new situations, challenging questions, and real-world problems.”

Throughout the semester students will collaborate with each other through discussion and critique of the current empirical literature and evaluation of real world application. You will build on your knowledge of psychology and research design to evaluate real world problems from diverse perspectives.

In this class, you will consider how the methods of experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience can be applied to the most challenging question about the mind: the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is at the center of our experience for all of our waking hours, so a better understanding of consciousness can potentially affect how you experience everything in the real world.


Final grade:

Midterm Exam and Final: 20%
In-Class Quizzes and other assignments: 10%
Paper: 25%
Presentation: 25%
Thought Questions: 20%

Extra credit is available through experimental participation. See above.  

An updated version of syllabus is available on the World Wide Web at:

Psych 391SC: Scientific Studies of Consciousness Kyle Cave Dept. of Psychological and Brain Sciences U. Mass.