top of page



In this activity, you will use Google Scholar to find two papers on a debate in neuroscience. The goal is to help you become more familiar with identifying relevant sources and topics that you might use for your research paper. A few suggestions: (1) look for papers that are highly cited (>100 citations is excellent!); (2) look for papers from top journals; if you are unsure about a journal, as the instructor.

After you have found two papers, discuss the following questions with your group:

  • Based on the papers you saw in the search results, does one side of the debate seem more prominent than others?

  • Are there certain scientists whose names keep coming up in papers you found? Do their publications reveal anything about which "camp" they are in?

Work on the topic that matches your group number. When you are finished, we will discuss what everyone found.

(1) Top-down vs. bottom-up models of speech perception. 

A major debate about how humans recognize spoken words centers on whether speech perception is based solely on bottom-up processes (i.e., input from the speech signal) or both bottom-up and top-down processes (e.g. information about the meaning of a word or the context it is used in). Find two sources describing this debate, one arguing for bottom-up models and one arguing for interactive models.

(2) Objects vs. feature in visual working memory.

There is agreement among researchers that visual working memory capacity is a limited resource. However, there is debate over whether the limits of working memory are based on objects (e.g. you can remember X total objects over short intervals) or features of objects, such as shape or color (e.g., you can remember X different colors). Find two sources that have studied this debate, one arguing that working memory is based on objects, and one arguing that it is based on features.

(3) Localist vs. distributed representations in the brain.

Researchers are interested in how the brain stores knowledge about objects in the world. One possibility is that there are specific neurons for specific objects, also known as the "grandmother cell" or "Halle Berry neuron" hypothesis--these are sometimes called localist representations. An alternative is that specific neurons represent parts of an object and the pattern of activation across a set of neurons together determines the representation for that object--these are sometimes called distributed representations. Find two sources, one arguing for localist representations, and one arguing for distributed representations in the brain.

(4) Specialized vs. domain-general representations.

Some models of how the brain functions argue that different parts of cortex are specialized for certain functions, such as understanding language or recognizing faces, a hypothesis sometimes called modularity. Other models argue that representations in the brain are more general, with a high degree of interaction across different brain areas needed for any given function. Find two sources, one arguing for specialized approaches or modularity, and one arguing for domain-general approaches.

(5) Innate vs. learned imitation behavior.

Human infants appear to be able to imitate the facial expressions of others. Some models of development argue that the brain comes pre-wired for these kinds of movements, wile others argue that this ability is learned and that many cases of "imitation" are not really imitation (i.e., the infant isn't actually trying to mimic the facial expression they are seeing). Identify two sources, one arguing that imitation is an innate behavior, and one arguing that imitation is a learned behavior.

(6) Theory of mind in animals.

Theory of mind refers to the ability to model the mental states of others. There is debate over whether non-human animals can engage in theory of mind (like humans), or whether this ability is unique to humans. Find two sources that have investigated this issue, one arguing that animals can engage in theory of mind, and one arguing that they cannot.

bottom of page