Spring 2016

Instructor: Barbara Welker                                                            Office: Bailey 150 Lab: Bailey 152

Telephone:  245-5204     email:                Office hours: Tu/Th 12-1:00, W 3-4:00


Course description:

This seminar-format course is an in-depth examination of the evolutionary history and function of the primate brain.  It will be of general interest and of particular use to students of anthropology, biology, psychology, and pre-med.

We will be using a combination of books and primary literature so as to cover the latest theory and research on the subject.  The course is divided into two sections, group research and presentations and individual research and presentations.  Weeks 2 to 10 and 16-17 will involve groups of students preparing and taking turns presenting an overview of the weekly reading assignments, after which we will discuss those readings.  Weeks 11 to 15 will be spent on individual research projects.  Students will choose a taxonomic group of primates and (1) conduct a literature review, (2) present a 30 min lecture on their research project, and (3) write a 10 page term paper.  The course will provide all students with a synthetic understanding of the evolution, cross-species function, and human function of key areas of the human brain.


Each class will be divided as follows:

               Weeks 2-10, Week 16-17:

                               60 minute presentation planning

                               60 minute presentation (4-15 min group presentations)

                               30 minute discussion/questions on talks 

                               Very short breaks in between talks


               Weeks 11-15:

                               120 minutes: 4 – 30 min research presentations

                               20 minutes: 5 min questions/discussion per talk

                               9 minutes: 3 min break between talks




Students will demonstrate:

1.  their knowledge of the various stages of brain evolution and function by completing assigned readings prior to each presentation/discussion period, preparing notes and submitting topics for discussion (Note: multiple topics for each reading are expected) for each class based upon the readings, participating in mandatory discussions, and taking turns presenting an overview of the weekly topics. 

2.  competency in conducting an advanced literature review by meeting with the instructor to discuss the searches they are conducting and the articles they have obtained, sorting through the literature, and selecting articles that will further their understanding of their particular topics. Through this process they will learn to critique articles for their value on a variety of levels. 

3.  competency in their ability to synthesize and organize their research into a comprehensive and cohesive overview of the topical areas.  They will demonstrate this ability based on their literature search/review/synthesis, via their presentations, discussions, and a 10 page paper on their topic of interest.

4.  their preparation for graduate school courses by their participation in this advanced research-oriented seminar.


Book:  Schneider G.E. (2014) Brain structure and its origins. MIT Press.  ISBN: 9780262026734


Course requirements:

            Assigned materials:

            15 Participations in presentation planning and discussion      30%

            2   Presentations on course materials                                      20%    

            Individual Research Project:

            Presentation                                                                            10%

            Research                                                                                 10%

            Term paper                                                                              20%


Participations in presentation planning and discussions:  (1) Students must be present; (2) do the assigned readings; (3) prepare notes (notes must demonstrate that you read and thought about the readings) to be used for group discussion and presentation (notes must be submitted in electronic or scanned form, prior to class – use the dropbox on the course page); and (4) participate in discussions in order to receive full credit.  If you are unprepared and come to class, you cannot earn credit as credit is for demonstrated preparation and participation.


Participations in:  Students must prepare notes for group presentation and be present and actively contribute to their group presentation for that day.


Presentations on course materials:  Students will deliver an overview of their assigned portion of the readings.  The aforementioned presentation planning time will result in this presentation.  Grade will primarily be determined by their command of the topic.




Presentation:  minimum 30 minutes, .pptx demonstration, minimal text, key/interesting images


Term paper:  Minimum 10 pages, 12 font, double-spaced, 20 relevant/acceptable references (in addition to textbook).  Acceptable references are professional journal articles, monographs, and/or chapters from edited

volumes.  Papers are due the week after your presentation.


Please note:  SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities.  Accommodations will also be made for medical conditions related to pregnancy or parenting.  Students should contact Dean Buggie-Hunt in the Office of Disability Services ( or 585-245-5112) and their faculty to discuss needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.


Chapter numbers in weeks 2 – 8 refer to the Schneider textbook.  Folders are found on course page.  Remaining readings will be assigned by students researching those topics and will be on course page in folders by title of that week’s topic.


Week/Date                             Topics:                                                                      

1               1/20           Introduction, assignments

2               1/27           Introduction and primitive brain                                                         1-4

3               2/3             Mammalian brain                                                                               5-9

4               2/10           Primate brain                                                                                     10-16

5               2/17           Sensory systems                                                                               17-23

6               2/24           Forebrain, hypothalamus, and limbic system                                    24-29

7               3/1             Corpus striatum and neocortex                                                         30-34

8               3/8             Evolving primate brain                                                                       Folder 1         

9               3/15           Spring break

10            3/22           Evolution of primate brain regions                                                      Folder 2

11            3/29           Prosimian brain and cognition

12            4/5             New World monkey brain and cognition

13            4/7             Old World monkey brain and cognition

14            4/13           Lesser ape brain and cognition

15            4/20           Great ape brain and cognition                                                

16            4/27           Human brain anatomy and function                                                   Folder 3


5/11           7-9:30 Hominin brain evolution                                                                          Folder 4