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Academic Year 2023/2024 - Teacher: EMANUELE GIUSEPPE COCO

Expected Learning Outcomes


    The course aims to provide critical knowledge around the history of cognitive science and the relationship between genetics and cognitive performance.

    The module is organised in three parts:

    1. The first is devoted to the epistemological assumptions of scientific knowledge and in particular of studies devoted to the life sciences.

    2. The second deals - through a historical and critical path - with the stages that led from the birth of cognitive sciences to the "naturalisation of mind and behavioural performance".

    3. The third part is devoted to a critical analysis of the main studies and theories concerning "genetic determinism" and the behaviour/gender/culture relationship.

    The overall sense of the course is thus marked by three general questions: what are the epistemological prerequisites for judging that a phenomenon is 'scientifically proven'? What are the main historical and theoretical milestones that have demonstrated a relationship between the behaviour of organisms and their anatomical and physiological structures? If an individual's organic structures are due to its genetic make-up, does its behavioural performance also depend on genes?

    To these questions, the course will not provide certain answers since the debate - at least on its most frontier aspects - is still ongoing; it will, however, provide critical tools and knowledge in order to be able to more consciously judge the theoretical aspects and possible practical and/or therapeutic actions related to the questions posed above.

Course Structure

Lectures with slide projections and classroom discussions.

Should the teaching be delivered in a blended mode or at a distance, due to the Covid emergency, the necessary changes may be made to the previously stated programme in order to comply with the syllabus set out in the syllabus.

Required Prerequisites

No prerequisites required

Attendance of Lessons

  • Attendance is recommended. The lectures allow a better grasp of the topics covered and the general idea that holds the different themes together. They also provide useful references and digressions. Since the lectures are organised in such a way as to answer questions, they generally generate a dialogue between the participants that helps to assimilate the topics, making study easier and more profitable.

Detailed Course Content

  • 1. The importance of a critical and epistemological approach to the study of the mind.
  • 2. The naturalisation of cognitive processes. Evolution by natural selection.
  • 3. Instincts, behavioural modules and optimisation models.
  • 4. Genetics of inheritance mechanics, neo-Darwinism, population genetics and sociobiology.
  • 5. The case of altruism: kin selection, reciprocity and individual strategies, game theory.
  • 6. The evolutionary function of emotions.
  • 7. The primacy of genetics?
  • 8. Limits of genetic reductionism and evolution in 4 dimensions. The brain constructing itself.
  • 9. Genes and culture. Gender diversity and conflict: from seductive strategies to yield maximisation.

Textbook Information

Di Nuovo, Prigionieri delle neuroscienze?, Giunti 2014

Handouts and slides provided by the lecturer (pdf)

Course Planning

 SubjectsText References
1The importance of a critical and epistemological approach to the study of the mind.Handouts and slides (pdf)
2Naturalisation of cognitive processes. Evolution by natural selection.Handouts and slides (pdf)
3Instincts, behavioural modules and optimisation models.Handouts and slides (pdf)
4Hereditary mechanics genetics, neo-Darwinism, population genetics and sociobiology.Handouts and slides (pdf)
5The case of altruism: kin selection, reciprocity and individual strategies, game theory.Handouts and slides (pdf)
6The evolutionary function of emotions.Di Nuovo, Giunti 2014, cap. 3 
7The primacy of genetics?Di Nuovo, Giunti 2014, cap. 6
8Limits of genetic reductionism and evolution in 4 dimensions. The brain changing itself.Handouts and slides (pdf)
9Side note. Handbook of diversity (and minor conflicts) between genders: from seductive strategies to yield maximisation.Handouts and slides (pdf)

Learning Assessment

Learning Assessment Procedures

Oral. In accordance with the general terms of the integrated course "Cognitive Science".

The learning assessment may also be conducted electronically, should the conditions require it.

Examples of frequently asked questions and / or exercises

  • 1. What are optimisation models?
  • 2. What is a 'perceptron' and what are its basic characteristics?
  • 3. How does the T.O.T.E. model work?
  • 4. How does alternative splicing work?