Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Genes, Memes, and Behavior

Please note: PSYC 54N will meet Online Synchronously in Autumn Quarter.

How can we explain the complexities of human life? How did we get here? Where are we going? What can genetics, psychology, and neuroscience tell us about it? In this course, students will come to understand the world from an integrated natural science perspective. We will examine how natural selection operates to shape successful genes in the gene pool; how cultural selection operates to shape successful "memes" in the pool of cultural ideas. We will also examine how selection by consequences operates to shape successful behaviors in our repertoires. Once you fully understand how genes, memes, and behaviors are shaped and molded by the effects that they have on their environments, you will be ready to appreciate the greater complexity of everyday life. You will be required to study examples in class where selection produces undesirable consequences (e.g., genetic mutations, cultural problems, and aberrant behaviors in children). You will come away with a greater appreciation of modern natural science, its role in understanding complex behaviors, and why it's important to study the complexity of human life from an interdisciplinary perspective. You will be therefore provided with a framework for understanding not just yourselves, but also why people do what they do, and where we go from here. The seminar will provide an engaging and lively format to ground students in the principles of natural science.


Meet the Instructor(s)

Scott S. Hall, Ph.D

"I am a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. I received my Ph.D. from the Institute of Psychiatry in London, England, in 1997 and have been on the faculty at Stanford since 2007. I am board certified in behavior analysis and have published over 70 peer-reviewed papers on understanding behavioral issues in clinical populations. My current research interests include understanding behavior disorders in children with genetic syndromes, the integration of neuroscience with behavioral science, and the application of behavioral principles to everyday life. I became fascinated by this topic ever since I read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins as an undergrad."