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Cognitive Psychology: Rationality and Emotions in Human Behaviour



[BSc] Psyc, HI, PSc

Admission Requirements

Successfull completion of a Psychology (Psyc) course.


This course addresses the interaction of human emotion and cognition. Historically, emotions are considered the opponent of rational thinking and good decision-making, and so good decision-makers are commonly advised to not trust their affective preferences. However, recent research provides increasing evidence that emotions provide important information that can improve the quality of decision-making and allow for very quick (yet reasonable) decisions. The course provides a general introduction into the basic science of emotion, including evolutionary, anthropological, sociological, information-processing, and neurophysiological approaches, and it highlights the emotion-cognition interaction in a number of research domains.

Course Objectives

The general objective is to provide a solid theoretical background for the understanding of emotional processes and a selective overview of some research areas investigating interactions between emotion and cognition.

Mode of Instruction

The course will consist of two parts. The first part (interactive-lectures style) will provide students with the necessary background to understand and appreciate the different approaches to emotion and cognition, the different research goals these approaches have, and the different research methods they use. The second part (interactive-seminar style) will address particular themes addressing the interplay between rationality and emotion in decision-making and social behaviour.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

The final grade will consist of three components: the grades for (a) active participation, including the preparation of a discussion question for each session in weeks 4-7 (20%), (b) the presentation of two papers (20+20%), and © the writing of an essay (40%; due after Week 8) that provides a critical treatment of one of the theoretical or empirical approaches (theories or experiments) discussed in the sessions (max. 2000 words plus references).

In-class participation: 10%
Presentation Paper 1: 20%
Presentation Paper 2: 20%
Final research essay: 40%


Elaine Fox (2008) Emotion Science. ISBN10: 0-230-00518-7, ISBN13: 978-0-230-00518-1

Craig, D.B. (2004). Human feelings: why are some more aware than others? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 239–241.

Damasio, A.R. (1996). The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Transactions of the Royal Society, 351, 1413-1420.

Dijksterhuis, A., & Nordgren, L.F. (2006). A theory of unconscious thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 95-109.

Gazzaniga, M.S., & Heatherton, T.F. (2003). Psychological science. New York: Norton. Pages 290-291 and 327-333.

Glenn, A.L., & Raine, A. (2009). Psychopathy and instrumental aggression: Evolutionary, neurobiological, and legal perspectives. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 32, 253-258.

Huebner, B., Dwyer, S., & Hauser, M. (2009). The role of emotion in moral psychology. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 1-6.

Muramatsu, R., & Hanoch, Y. (2005). Emotions as a mechanism for boundedly rational agents: The fast and frugal way. Journal of Economic Psychology, 26, 201–221.

Nisbett, R.E., & Wilson, T.D. (1977). Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review, 84, 231–259.

Pessoa, L. (2009). How do emotion and motivation direct executive control? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 160-166.

More will be made available later for the paper presentations

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

Week 1-3 General introduction
Session 1 Overview and introduction to Emotions
Session 2 Emotion Categories and Dimensions
Session 3 Emotions, Neuroscience, and Physiology
Session 4 Emotions and Cognition
Session 5 Emotions, Feelings, and Personalities
Session 6 Emotion Disorders

Week 4 Conscious and unconscious decision-making
Session 7 Conscious and unconscious decision-making I
Session 8 Conscious and unconscious decision-making II

Week 5 Bounded rationality, action control, and emotion as shortcutting
Session 9 Fast and frugal heuristics, and affective shortcuts
Session 10 Action control and emotion

Week 6 Emotion and decision-making
Session 11 The somatic marker approach
Session 12 Emotional sensitivity and decision-making

Week 7 Moral behaviour and emotion
Session 13 The role of emotion in moral behaviour
Session 14 The societal implications of immoral behavior

Week 8 Reading and essay writing week

Preparation for first session

Chapter 1 and 2 of the book “Emotion Science” by Elaine Fox