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How the Brain Works: Learning and Higher Cognitive Processes  

Natalia Caporale This course is for people who are fascinated and curious about the human brain and how it works. It will give an overview of our current understanding of how the brain works and how it is altered by experience. The focus is on our understanding of the mechanisms of learning and memory, and how they change through development as well as explorations onto the neural basis of attention, empathy, decision making and planning. The course will incorporate some history of neuroscience, as well as case studies from Oliver Sack’s books to exemplify phenomena and TED talks on specific topics. Week 1: Introduction to the Course and the Brain o Overview of the gross anatomy of the nervous system. o Overview of neural development through life. o Discussion: What would you like to know about the brain? Week 2: Learning and Memory I o Why is it easier to learn when we are young? (Overview of classical experiments in plasticity in young animals.) o Concept of critical period. o Plasticity in adults: Myth or Reality? o Discussion on Controversies on “BrainFitness” programs Week 3: Learning and Memory II o Forms of Memory. Case of HM. o Forms of Learning – Associative vs Non Associative Learning. o Memory consolidation and reconsolidation theories. o State dependent learning.. o Forms of Memory. Case of HM. Week 4: Language and Aphasias o What is language? o Comparing language structures across different animal species. o Common aphasias and what they teach us about language processing. Week 5: Neurobiology of Emotion o Emotional circuits in the brain. o Fear Learning and Memory. o What do we know about Love in the brain? o What do we know about the neural basis of empathy and trust? Week 6: Neurobiology of Decision Making o Are we rational beings? o Examples of decision making strategies and game theory to explore human decision making. o Case studies of impaired decision making. o Final discussion and Conclusions. Natalia Caporale., PhD is an Assistant Teaching Professor (LPSOE) at UC Davis in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. Originally from Argentina, where she did her undergraduate in Biological Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, she came to the US to conduct her graduate students at UC Berkeley, where she obtained her Doctorate in Neuroscience. She then conducted research at UCSF and became an adjunct lecturer at SFSU and UC Berkeley, as well as teaching science classes at OLLI. She is a CAMPOS scholar at UC Davis, committed to the success of women in science in academics and her current research focuses on the assessment of neuroscience-based and pedagogically rooted strategies to improve student self-efficacy and success in college, with a focus on minority students, students with mental health issues and transfer students. This class was changed from "Sensation and Movement" by popular demand.


  • Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Francisco State University
    835 Market Street, Sixth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
    Phone: (415) 817-4243 Website: