Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV

Some courses I have taught recently or am teaching now.


Cognitive Approaches to Literature

This course explores “literary” aspects of the way we think, as well as how features of our cognition are reflected in our creative use of language in stories, jokes, poetry, and other literary and literature-adjacent art forms. Can innovative ways of speaking produce innovative ways of thinking? Do creative metaphors draw on embodied experience? Do the stories we encounter in fiction affect the way we make sense of encounters in real life, and how? Can cognitive science help us learn to be more creative, more innovative, more effective, or at least more productive in our own writing?

Advanced Research Workshop

A research workshop for MA students and undergraduate honors students. You will work together as you develop research topics (theoretical or empirical) in your field of interest. Over the course of the semester, you will learn about research methods, how to navigate IRB requirements, how to submit your work to conferences, and other related topics, and ultimately produce a polished final paper presenting your original research.


Words and Mind

There is something fascinating and special about words. They are the aspect of language that everyone knows about and pays attention to—and every academic discipline with an interest in language has something to say about them! The sheer number of words known by every speaker of any human language is quite vast (and the exact number is a mystery). In this class we will learn about words in all their aspects, and see what the wide weirdness of words can help us understand about the human mind. Subjects covered in this introductory seminar include the question of what makes a word; word origins; taboo words; words and memory; word boundaries; and word games, puns, and puzzles.

Elements of Surprise

This upper-division seminar connects research on the cognitive experiences of surprise and suspense with the ways people can create those experiences for each other—cooperatively and uncooperatively—in everyday interaction and in cultural products like jokes, architecture, music, written narratives, films, and games. Topics include predictions and expectations involved in perceiving and navigating the physical world, cognitive biases, timing in conversation, language processing, attention, perspective-taking, counterfactual thinking, the psychological structure of explanations, and the psychology of “fair play”.

Human Cognition in Evolution and Development

COGS 201 is a lecture-based foundation course providing an introduction to the modern human mind and its capacities for innovation and creativity. Topics include the origins of language, what aspects of cognition and behavior humans share with other species, how the oddities of the human developmental timeline are implicated in adult cognition, the human style of niche construction, and how children learn.