Political Science: International Relations (Professor Montero)

Students will analyze research questions of central concern to political scientists such as whether the quality of democratic governance is fundamentally determined by economic and social development. A wide variety of democratic institutions correlate with socio-economic outcomes. Our section will be interested in testing theories concerning whether majoritarian or proportional/consensual types of democracy provide better conditions for health and human development in advanced capitalist and developing countries.  But regardless of the hypotheses under study, the central learning goals are an understanding of how to use comparative data to form and test hypotheses about how institutions, organizations, and voters respond to differences in political forms and social and economic development across countries and over time.

Potential Research Topics: Students in this section will test hypotheses concerning the political determinants of different levels of social welfare spending, human development indicators such as literacy and life expectancy in a survey of European, Latin American, Asian, and African countries. Do left-of-center governments produce better outcomes or are right-of-center governments just as good or better in generating improvements to human development? Are electoral systems based on proportional representation better for socio-economic development than those based on majoritarian formulas? 

Models of Conflict, Cooperation and Communication  (Professor Marfleet)

Studying the social world is challenging because it is usually impossible to conduct controlled experiments on the big problems. For example, we can't explore how civil wars start, progress or end by randomly choosing a country to have one. That wouldn't be ethical!  Instead, we try to build explanatory models that incorporate relevant factors and account for relationships.  Typically, this is done using accumulated observations and statistics.  One alternative approach is to construct computer models or simulations that incorporate prior findings and theory and that progress dynamically when we run them.  Models like these allow researchers to "watch events unfold" and investigate the impact of varying initial conditions or different sensitivity settings on the outcome.  Often, the results are unexpected and lead to reconsideration of our assumptions and theories. In this course students will explore computer models of three types of social phenomenon:  asymmetric guerrilla-insurgency and warfare; social coordination to solve group tasks; and the challenge of decision making in social networks.  Students will also learn how to modify existing models, program their own, original ones using the NetLogo language for agent-based simulation, and collect and analyze data from repeated trials.        

The Psychology of Numbers (Professor Van Der Wege)

"The world of the twenty-first century is a world awash in numbers” - Lynn Steen, The Case for Quantitative Literacy

In this course, students will learn about the cognitive psychology of numbers - how we estimate numbers, think about numbers, talk about numbers, and manipulate numbers.  We will touch upon several core sub-disciplines in the field of psychology (cognition, neuroscience, development, social psychology) and discuss the methodological and statistical methods that psychologists use to draw conclusions about behavior.  Students will work in teams to test an original research hypothesis about how people think about numbers. They will formulate a research hypothesis based on background literature, design a study, analyze data, and present their research in a poster.  Examples of past projects include a study how the precision of a number affects perceptions of confidence, a experiment looking at how negative and positive numbers are processed in different ways, and an investigation of how mathematical calculation skills are correlated with data visualization skills.

Labor Market Inequality in the United States (Professor Grawe)

While increasing inequality since the mid-1970s has brought the topic into the limelight of late, economists since Adam Smith have studied determinants of wage inequality.  We will build our work on the foundation of economic theory.  Specifically we will learn how economists think about the effects of minimum wage laws, private and public investment in education, compensation for risk and other job (dis)amenities, and discrimination associated with race/ethnicity and sex.  Research projects will apply these lessons to data drawn from the United States' Current Population Survey (CPS).  Used in monthly government employment reports, this monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households includes detailed demographic, employment, and wage data.  Using regression techniques, research teams associated with this section will estimate associations between theoretically-grounded demographic variables and employment or wage inequality.  Findings will inform our understanding of the causes and consequences of these differences in our society.


Past course themes have included: The Politics of Globalization, Models of Conflict, Cooperation and Communication, Science and Pseudoscience in Psychology, Political Science: International Relations, Economics, and Cognitive Psychology.