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PSYC 21N: How we think as how we feel: Cognitive and emotional influences on mental health

Meet the Instructors

Course Description

Plato described Reason and Emotion as two horses pulling a chariot in different directions. Was he right? By the end of this course, you will be able to decide for yourself, based on the latest scientific evidence. We will start by reading philosophical texts that establish the classical Western view of emotion and cognition as opposing forces, and of emotion as detrimental to rational decision-making. We will then put these views to the test by examining evidence from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry. You will learn how thoughts and emotions affect perception, memory, and decision-making. You might be surprised to learn how often thoughts and feelings influence one another!

We will then turn to practical applications. First, we will examine the effects of thoughts and feelings on rational decision-making. When thoughts and feelings compete, which one wins? Is it ever rational to follow your emotions? Second, we will examine evidence from different stages of development about the effect of cognitive abilities on decision-making. Are children ever more rational than adults? Third, we will learn about the role of thinking and feeling in mental health, and in disorders such as anxiety, depression, and autism. We will also discuss cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people change how they feel by changing how they think. Fourth, we will examine the role of the physical body in influencing thoughts and feelings. Is sleep as good as overnight therapy? Is there a scientific basis for the notion that emotions originate from the heart? By the end of this course, you will be able to describe whether the best decisions come from the head, the heart, or their interaction.

Course sessions will comprise lectures and group discussions/laboratory activities. Assessments will include written assignments, quizzes, and a final presentation.

Meet the Instructors

Ruth O'hara

Ruth O'Hara

"I am a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Senior Associate Dean for Research at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Director of the Translational Core of the Sierra-Pacific Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC). My research consists of multi-system investigations which integrate neurophysiological and in-depth clinical and behavioral phenotyping in a broad range of patient populations including neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism, Pediatric PTSD, Developmental Delay. My work emphasizes a developmental approach to understanding psychiatric disorders. I truly enjoy working with students and have mentored many undergraduate students in the classroom as well as the laboratory. As evidence of my dedication to teaching and mentoring Stanford undergraduates, in 2016, I was awarded the Stanford Medal for Faculty Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research."

Learn more about Ruth O'hara

Christina Chick

Christina F. Chick

"I am a cognitive psychologist and an Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. I am fascinated by the ways in which cognitive and emotional functioning interact at different stages of development, and how these processes contribute to mental health and mental illness. Before coming to Stanford, I studied how emotion and cognition affected decision-making in adolescents versus adults. My current research examines the mechanistic contributions of sleep, cognition and affect to the onset and course of psychiatric disorders across the lifespan. I truly enjoy working with undergraduate students in both the classroom and the laboratory, and I welcome your inquiries about this course."

Learn more about Christina Chick

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