Teaching Philosophy

To paraphrase Robert Frost, I aim less to be a teacher than an “awakener.” To that end, my goal is to inspire curiosity and awe in students, motivating them to seek out answers. This “awakening” approach is used in both in my classes as well as in the laboratory. In all the courses I teach, virtually every lecture is framed by a big question or problem. For example, when teaching students about language acquisition, I start by providing a couple of examples of the different types of rules—phonological, morphological, syntactical—that they employ to generate a single sentence, largely unconsciously. Then, I emphasize the big question: How is it that in less than three years, we go from not knowing anything about language to being relatively fluent? I remind students how hard it is to learn a second language as an adult, and that’s with the advantage of already knowing something about language (an advantage a newborn lacks). Across the various lectures on language and literacy development, students are brought into the discussion and the debate about whether such rapid learning is best explained by inborn language-specific learning rules, by more general statistical learning biases, or a combination of both. We return again and again to this big question, while simultaneously presenting the results of different empirical studies and theoretical papers.

Most assignments further this awakening approach. Specifically, students are taught to address facets of these big questions by generating a clear, concise and specific hypothesis in their own words. As part of these assignments students must also generate a null hypothesis and three results/evidence that directly relate to these hypotheses. Most students are initially challenged (and frustrated), but they quickly begin to take pride in these assignments, injecting their own thoughts and analysis into lectures and in-class discussions. The use of such critical thinking assignments aim to teach students an important skill: How to analyze, critically evaluate and summarize complex information; A skill with widespread application.



Language is a uniquely human attribute. Yet, communication is common in the animal kingdom. What makes language a special type of communication? How does language develop? How do people communicate in everyday settings? What happens when language breaks down? These are some of the questions that will be explored in lectures, class discussion and outside activities. Specifically, this course will introduce students to the fundamental principles of language and communication including its evolution, biological underpinnings and sociological functions. Lectures will explore all modes of communication (acoustic, visual, tactile, olfactory) but will have a special focus on human speech as well as the characteristics of language structure and use. For a sample syllabus see: Foundations Fall 2016 WID 100716



This course will explore the various facets of Autism Spectrum Disorder and related disorders such as Social Communication Disorder. The course will emphasize the relationship between typical and atypical cognitive development throughout the lifetime and how the study of autism may shed light on the characteristics of the human mind. Some specific questions that will be explored in the course include: definitions of typical versus atypical development, the architecture of mind, the problems with the “Autism” and “deviance” concept, the broad characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) including cognitive, behavioral and neural features, the difficulties associated with diagnosis and treatment and the differences between ASD and other developmental disorders. For a sample syllabus see: Autism SPHR 2133-SPRING13



This course will explore what makes the human mind ‘human’ and how such a mind might have evolved in the animal kingdom. Such a complex question, however, cannot be answered by a single discipline. It can only be addressed through interdisciplinary collaboration. To that end, this course will introduce students to a variety of disciplines and research programs interested in the question of human cognitive origins, including: contemporary evolutionary theory, theories of mind and human development, as well as comparative and evolutionary psychology. Lectures and discussions will cover topics that range from how the modern human mind is like and unlike the mind of other primates to how Darwin’s theory of evolution may explain faith and human frailty. For a sample syllabus see: EHM Spring 2013



This course will explore the science of comparative psychology with a special emphasis on human and non-human primates. The class will cover various areas of research within the field of primate cognition including knowledge of the physical world including primates’ knowledge of quantities, space, tools and objects as well as knowledge of the social world including primates’ ability to negotiate social relationships, infer reputation, imitate, communicate and infer the thoughts of others.  For a sample syllabus see: Primate Cognition-090611



How do we come to understand others and navigate our dynamic social worlds? This course will answer this question in three parts. Part 1 will explore infants’ understanding of social concepts such as agency, knowledge, relationships, ownership and morality. We will explore how these concepts develop in relationship with the development of other non-social cognitive skills including memory, attention and executive functions. Part 2 will focus on children’s ability to imitate across many different domains and tasks. Finally Part 3 will explore how children’s social concepts and social learning abilities underlies two distinctive features of our species: language and culture.  For a sample syllabus (In Preparation) see: SOCIAL COGNITIVE DEV

Research Assistantships Opportunities

In any given semester the Social Cognition Lab hosts anywhere from 5 to 15 students from various academic disciplines (SPHR, Anthropology, Psychology, Biology) and educational backgrounds (BA, MA, PhD, Post-Doctoral). Students that are interested in a research assistantship are required to dedicate at least 5 hours a week to the lab. Research activities include the following: recruiting and testing research participants in various research sites, helping sort, organize and store data, and analyze video recordings.

Research assistants have the opportunity to learn about research ethics, behavioral research methods, how to generate data tables and figures and perform basic data analysis using common tools like MS Excel. Research assistantships not only enhance and supplement course-work but also provide students with a unique academic experience.

If interested, please contact Dr. Francys Subiaul to set-up a meeting: