Cognitive science majors may culminate their study in cognitive science with an honors thesis. The honors thesis is a report on an independent research project completed by the student. The cognitive science program honors thesis page holds all of the official information and details about the honors thesis. However, one major resource it lacks is examples of what past cognitive science theses look like. Thus, the CSSA has started an honors thesis archive containing past cognitive science honors theses. Hopefully, they will make the notion of an honors thesis a bit more concrete and alleviate some of the initial burden in the writing process. If you are a graduating major and would like to include your honors thesis in the archive, please send an email to cssa.berkeley@gmail.com with a pdf of your thesis attached and the relevant information (see entries below) included in the body of the email.

Honors Thesis Quick Tips

  • Your thesis advisor probably has helpful suggestions if you're struggling to find a second reader.
  • Start writing your thesis as early as possible and get as many different eyes as you can on drafts.
  • Ofentimes students do their honors project in a lab they have been working in since junior year. It doesn't hurt to express interest in doing such a project early on in the lab to see if it is an option.
  • Check out other tips from past thesis writers below!

Cognitive Science Honors Thesis Archive

Matthew Boggess

Major(s): Cognitive Science, Computer Science

Graduated: Fall 2015

Started Thesis: Summer 2014

Thesis Title: A computational account of sensory prediction error gating in reinforcement learning models

Thesis Advisor: Richard Ivry

Thesis Summary: Sensory prediction errors are often considered as error signals used to correct errant motor plans, but an alternative function could be to gate learning in the decision-making system when a negative outcome is a consequence of a motor error as opposed to a poor selection. This thesis examines the effect of sensory prediction error gating in actor-critic reinforcement learning models of decision-making.

Tip for Students Writing a Thesis: Write often and early. The writing process will uncover new insights, errors, and gaps. Aim for having a full draft early on in your last semester so you can solicit and incorporate feedback from your advisor.

Elizabeth Kon

Major(s): Cognitive Science, Linguistics

Graduated: Spring 2015

Started Thesis: Fall 2013 (finished that year)

Thesis Title: Testing a rational account of pragmatic reasoning: The case of spatial relations

Thesis Advisor: Terry Regier

Thesis Summary: In 2012, Frank and Goodman proposed a Bayesian model of pragmatic inference which had a near perfect correlation with participant responses when asked to communicate about simple geometric stimuli. For my honor’s thesis project, I have tested their model in the more complicated and naturalistic domain of space.

Tip for Students Writing a Thesis: Foster a good relationship with your PI/grad student/post doc. They know what they are doing, and have done this before. Ask for help when you need it.

Bridget MacDonald

Major(s): Cognitive Science

Graduated: Spring 2015

Started Thesis: Spring 2014

Thesis Title: Cathodal Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Prefrontal Cortex: Examining Effects on Causal Learning in Adults

Thesis Advisor: Alison Gopnik & Rich Ivry

Thesis Summary: This project builds off of research in computational cognitive development, finding that children are sometimes better learners, while adults are subject to learning biases. Here, we examine whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS – a non-invasive brain stimulation method) can diminish cognitive control, and hence, this learning bias when the cathode electrode is applied to prefrontal cortex of adults. Results are trending, although not significant, adding to the conversation about the efficacy of tDCS.

Tip for Students Writing a Thesis: Find a mentor (professor, post doc, grad student) who is accessible and willing to read a handful of drafts and provide critical feedback. A good way to estimate how much time you will need for every aspect of the project is to take your initial estimate and multiply it by pi.

Asif Dhanani

Major(s): Cognitive Science, Computer Science Minor

Graduated: Spring 2014

Started Thesis: Summer 2013

Thesis Title: Individual Differences in Fear Conditioning: Influence of Compound Presentation of Stimuli and Reinforcement Rate

Thesis Advisor: Amal Achaibou (Sonia Bishop Lab)

Thesis Summary: If someone is conditioned to fear something, there is some dispute as to whether they are conditioned to be afraid of each of the fear inducing stimulus's parts as well (eg. if you were conditioned to fear red cars, would you also fear the color red). We examined the extent of this effect and whether it varies depending on the individual's anxiety level.

Tip for Students Writing a Thesis: Really take initiative. You really do get what you put in and it's very easy to get caught up in schoolwork and put off your research involvement. There isn't really a set amount of work you should put in so I would take some time to figure out what you want to get out of doing undergraduate research and keep in constant contact with your advisor to make sure you are getting those types of responsibilities.

Dhruba Banerjee

Major(s): Cognitive Science, MCB-Neurobiology

Graduated: Summer 2013

Started Thesis: Fall 2012

Thesis Title: Broca's Area and numbers

Thesis Advisor: Bob Knight

Thesis Summary: I examined how activity in Broca's area was modulated during speech. Using intracranial recordings I compared spoken numbers to words.