Silvia Bunge, Professor

Closed (1) Does practice make perfect when it comes to reasoning skills?

Applications for Fall 2017 are now closed for this project.

The Building Blocks of Cognition Laboratory, led by Prof. Silvia Bunge, is studying whether and how reasoning skills change as a function of experience. The lab has shown previously that preparing to take a cognitively demanding standardized test strengthens the brain network that supports reasoning (e.g., Mackey et al., Journal of Neuroscience, 2013). We seek to follow up on these findings by randomly assigning students to receive either training in reasoning or reading comprehension, and testing for changes in cognitive task performance and patterns of eye movements that reflect the process of reasoning.

This will be a time-intensive study involving participant recruitment, behavioral and eyetracking data collection at several timepoints, keeping tabs on the participants, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. The student will work closely with both Professor Bunge and graduate student Belén Guerra-Carrillo from beginning to end, learning about all phases of scientific research.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Belén Guerra-Carrillo, Graduate Student

Qualifications: The student must be highly motivated to see this project through to completion, and available to spend at least one year on the project.

Weekly Hours: 9-12 hrs

Related website:

Closed (2) Assessing the effectiveness of a play-based cognitive intervention for school readiness

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2017 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2017.

This project is exploring the influence of cognitive play on children's academic achievement. Kindergarten and first-grade children will play games designed to target different cognitive skills (e.g., reasoning ability, processing speed) and we will assess how these games differentially affect math achievement. In addition to collecting behavioral measures of children's cognitive abilities and math skill, we will also use eye-tracking to gain insight into how children's reasoning strategies may change as a result of playing the games.

We seek a part-time research assistant to oversee a study that tests whether practicing various cognitive skills in kindergarten/first grade can help to prepare children for academic achievement. The position involves working with a team of undergraduate research assistants to implement several play-based interventions in an after-school setting, and assisting in collecting behavioral and eye-tracking data at several points. The candidate will work closely with a post-doctoral fellow to ensure that the study runs smoothly. The student should be available 2-3 days per week from 2-5pm (after school).

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Ariel Starr, Post-Doc

Qualifications: The ideal candidate would be a major in Psychology or a related field and have experience working with groups of children. Note that this project requires travel to offsite locations at local schools around the East Bay. Required: The student must be available 2-3 days per week from 2-5pm (after school).

Weekly Hours: 9-12 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: One or more schools around the east bay, TBD
Required: The student should be available 2-3 days per week from 2-5pm (after school).

Closed (3) Manipulating habitual and goal-directed decision-making strategies in human subjects

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2017 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2017.

We will give test subjects computerized tasks that can either be solved in a habitual way, relying on gut feeling and habits, or in a goal-directed way, planning every step ahead. Our question is whether working on these tasks will change the way the test subjects solve an unrelated task later. Will the subjects who worked on the habitual tasks use more habitual strategies as before? And vice versa for the subjects who worked on the goal-directed tasks? If so, new algorithms from "reinforcement learning", a machine learning technique that can model habitual and goal-directed strategies, should differentiate between both. We will use these algorithms to "model" each subject's strategy before and after the tasks and see if there are differences.

The research assistant's task will consist of:
- Assist in programming experimental tasks (we are using different tools, e.g., the Cogent and Psychophys toolboxes in Matlab)
- Collect data (be an experimenter in a team of 2-4 people; welcome the test subjects and run the computerized tasks)
- Assist in data analysis (we are currently using the programs R and Matlab)
- If interested, assist in literature research and interpretation of the results

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Maria Eckstein, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Research assistants for this project should have some exposure to programming, preferably R or Matlab as we will be using these languages. Psychology and Cognitive Science majors and students with related interests might benefit most. Most important is your general interest in some of these topics: How can we build models of cognition using algorithms? How does decision making happen in the brain? What are habitual and goal-directed strategies? What is cognitive training? Some interest in programming. (The link below is a paper with a paradigm similar to the one we will be using.)

Weekly Hours: 6-9 hrs

Related website: