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Cognitive Psychology: Rationality and Emotions in Human Behaviour



Psyc, HI

Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 100-level and 200-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


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.

Students will learn to distinguish between, and characterize the main lines of research on human emotion, appreciate the different theoretical approaches and the resulting lines of research. They will be familiarized with empirical approaches to the interaction between emotion and cognition, and they will learn to present research from that domain in accessible ways. Finally, they will learn to understand and interpret the implications of theoretical frameworks and apply them to empirical problems in writing.

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.


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 in 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).


Cornelius, R.R. (1996). The science of emotion. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
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.

Per assignment
Bechara, A. et al. (1997). Deciding advantageously before knowing the advantageous strategy. Science, 275, 1293–1295.
Berry, D.C., Broadbent, D.E. (1984) On the relationship between task performance and associated verbalizable knowledge. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: A. Human Experimental Psychology, 36, 209-231.
Brosch, T., Sander, D., & Scherer, K. R. (2007). Beyond fear: Rapid spatial orienting toward positive emotional stimuli. Psychological Science, 19, 362-370.
Calvillo, D. P., & Penaloza, A. (2009). Are complex decisions better left to the unconscious? Further failed replications of the deliberation-without-attention effect. Judgment and Decision Making, 4, 509–517.
Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M.W., Nordgren, L.F., & van Baaren, R.B. (2006). On making the right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311, 1005-1007 (with additional material).
Dunn, B.D., Galton, H., Morgan, R., et al. (2010). Listening to your heart: How interoception shapes emotion experience and intuitive decision-making. Psychological Science, 21, 1835-1844.
Greene, J.D., Nystrom, L.E., Engell, A.D., Darley, J.M., & Cohen, J.D. (2004). The neural bases of cognitive conflict and control in moral judgment. Neuron, 44, 389-400.
Koenigs, M. et al. (2007). Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgments. Nature, 446, 908–911.
Lewicki, P., Hill, T., & Bizot, E. (1988). Acquisition of procedural knowledge about a pattern of stimuli that cannot be articulated. Cognitive Psychology, 20, 24-37.
Maia, T.V., & McClelland, J.L. (2004). A reexamination of the evidence for the somatic marker hypothesis: What participants really know in the Iowa gambling Task. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, 101, 16075–16080.
McDowell, K.A., & Mandler, G. (1989). Constructions of emotion: Discrepancy, arousal, and mood. Motivation and Emotion, 13, 105–124.
Müller, J.L. et al. (2003). Abnormalities in emotion processing within cortical and subcortical regions in criminal psychopaths: evidence from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study using pictures with emotional content. Biological Psychiatry, 54, 152–162.
Öhman, A., Flykt, A., & Esteves, F. (2001). Emotion drives attention: Detecting the snake in the grass. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 466–478.
Simon, H.A. (1967). Motivational and emotional controls of cognition. Psychological Review, 74, 29-39.
Werner, N. S., Jung, K., Duschek, S., & Schandry, R. (2009). Enhanced cardiac perception is associated with benefits in decision-making. Psychophysiology, 46, 1-7.
Yang, Y., Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., Lacasse, L., & Colletti, P. (2005). Volume reduction in prefrontal gray matter in unsuccessful criminal psychopaths. Biological Psychiatry, 15, 1103-1108.

Contact Information


Weekly Overview


Preparation for first session