Imagine preparing and delivering a presentation to 350 of your peers just before finals… and surviving! While it may sound daunting, one Cog Sci major recently accepted the challenge.

Claire Tinker, a freshman on the Cognition and Computation track, presented her honors conversion project exploring the rationality of anger to the entire class of Cog Sci 200 last December.

At first, Claire admits, she was taken aback at the idea of presenting to the class:

“It’s like a 250-350 person lecture! I was nervous of course, but learning opportunities like that are rare. Plus, I’m very competitive with myself. I would’ve made fun of myself for weeks if I didn’t make it happen.” 

‘A Huge Impact’

The purpose of an honors conversion is to allow honors students to earn engagement points in the honors program and to interact closely with their professors. Designed and personalized by the student and professor, an honors conversion project usually culminates in a final project. The process allows students to take a dive deeper into the material of a course that may not be labeled as “honors.” 

For Claire, that course was Cog Sci 200. 

“Taking Cog Sci 200 had a huge impact on me,” says Claire. “In the first couple weeks of school, we did a reading on “inverse optics” that stated that somehow, our brains were “solving an impossible problem.” I thought that was so cool that I started crying (embarrassing, I know). I decided then that I should major in cognitive science, and soon after I began to really invest in the honors conversion program.” 

The Rationality of Anger 

Though Claire had read about many different topics throughout her research process, she says her final presentation centered around a few of the topics that she found most interesting. Specifically, the “rationality of anger and of subsequent altruistic punishment as a response to social cheating situations in economic games, specifically the Public Goods Experiment and the Ultimatum Game.”

During the semester, Claire recalls, she and her advisor, Dr. Mara Bollard, had many conversations about the emotions of anger and disgust: 

“These discussions branched into questions of how humans respond when they’ve been cheated on - is it anger or disgust? What even is anger? Does moral disgust exist? What is rationality? After asking these questions, I began to read more on these topics to narrow down my questions to a more manageable level.”

A Positive Experience

Then came time to pull everything together. 

“Since we decided so late on this project, I had about a week to prepare,” Claire recalls. But while the timeframe wasn’t optimal, the honors conversion process and presentation were well worth it in the end.

“I’d absolutely describe the experience as positive,” says Claire. “It fostered a ton of opportunities, allowed me to explore a passion, and developed some important professional skills. I feel like I have a budding community in the CogSci department now.”

After taking CogSci 200 and choosing her track last semester, Claire is now beginning to dive into her cognition and computation studies, taking introductory courses in computer science, psychology, and an Honors core course about UFOs! Meanwhile, Claire says, she’ll continue to look for opportunities to analyze the motivations, algorithms, and emotions of the mind.