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Pursue Your Own Interest in the Advanced Seminar on Mind and Body


Pursue Your Own Interest in the Advanced Seminar on Mind and Body


This course deals with a broad range of topics on psychology relating to the human mind and body. The participating students determine the topics based on their own interests, and they decide how to conduct the class over the semester. This year, for example, the students decided on which topics to cover, and groups of 2 to 3 students gave presentations and led discussions on each topic. Students have explored topics such as clinical psychology, consumer psychology, and educational psychology. At the end of the semester, each student gives a presentation of his/her senior thesis. All the presentations and discussions are carried out in English.

Lab Data

Rayna Azuma (Associate Professor)
Seminar on Mind and Body
Office: Waseda Campus Bldg #11

Students learn from themselves

Prof. Azuma, who leads a class of 16, specializes in neurocognitive psychology of attention and memory, and behavioral phenotype in neurodevelopmental disorders. However, the topics that her seminar covers go beyond her specialization. She does not lecture. Instead, the students choose topics, and teach and learn from each other. Prof. Azuma watches student discussions, and steps in only when their discussions reach a stalemate or go off track.

Her seminar used to be on cognitive neuroscience, but she revised the format to cover broader, more general psychology. Since she is the only psychology professor in this faculty, she made her seminar open to any SILS (School of International Liberal Studies) students interested in the field.

This change also gives students more freedom in the choice of topics they discuss in the seminar. Anything related to human behavior can be analyzed within the psychological perspective. Thus, students can select a topic of discussion inspired by their personal experience, what they have read in books or magazines, or what they heard from their friends and families.

Prof. Azuma (middle) usually observes student discussions and keeps her intervention to a minimum.

"I want it to be a student-led course."

As the scope of the seminar has evolved, so has its style. "I want it to be a student-led course," Prof. Azuma says. "So I asked the students how they want it to be conducted. Many of them said they wanted more discussion. But if I lead the discussion, somehow it seems to straitjacket their arguments. So I decided to let the students lead discussions as well."

Tomohiro Tsuchiya, a senior, chose this seminar because he took Prof. Azuma's course when he was in his freshman and junior years and got interested in psychology. "I like this seminar because of its autonomy. It is organized by students, and Prof. Azuma usually acts as an observer."

In the beginning of this academic year, students chose 5 areas of topics that they wanted to discuss in the seminar. These were psychoanalysis, bipolar and mood disorders, applied psychology, consumer psychology, and neuropsychology. Then students were divided into 5 groups, and each group choose a more concrete topic of presentation and discussion. Each group, in turn, prepared a short presentation as well as questions to guide the discussion.

"The students seemed to enjoy it and said they liked it this way better," said Prof. Azuma. "I usually do not say a word during the discussion, since it becomes very lively without my intervention."

Presentation titles this year included, "Application of neuropsychology tests on children," "How can PTSD be proved scientifically?" "Do you think you are a compulsive buyer or rational buyer?" "Have you ever noticed any subconscious marketing in your daily life?" and "How mathematical education in India differs from that of Japan."

Each student presentation is followed by a lively discussion.

Question what's given, think, and express

Prof. Azuma wants the students to be able to critically examine the ideas or questions given to them, think deeply, express their thoughts with their own words, and provide empirical and/or theoretical evidence to validate them. "I do not want them to be people who merely get tasks done as they are told," she said. She designs this seminar as not only an opportunity for students to gain knowledge, but as training for them to think and perceive in their own way.

Prof. Azuma says she wants students to face controversial issues that people usually avoid even thinking about. "I encourage the students to discuss difficult questions. In one class the students who chose the topic of neuropsychology asked: 'Should we allow people with heritable mental illness to have children?' We had a very heated discussion on this one. It's not something you commonly think about or discuss, but you can exchange opinions on topics like this in our seminar as scholars of psychology."

Students in this seminar are diverse, with 3rd year and 4+ year students, Japanese and non-Japanese students with various cultural background, all studying together. "Some of them are more fluent in English than others", Prof. Azuma says. "But I find they are very kind and helpful to each other, and the class atmosphere is more constructive than competitive."

Their interests are also diverse. Some got interested in psychology because they or someone close to them had some psychological issues in the past, such as depression or eating disorder. Others have approached psychology for other reasons. "Some students choose topics somewhat distant from the field of psychology, but I never say no to an idea. They can learn to think, conduct research, and write papers using any topic. The scope of this seminar is so broad that anyone can pursue the topic of his or her interest. I just want students to challenge anything that they are interested in."

Seminar members communicate in English outside the classroom using a LINE group.

Message from the Teacher

You probably have gained a lot of knowledge from studying in high school and cramming for college exams. Please start to pay attention to whether that knowledge is true and how you can make use of the knowledge you have gained. Don't take anything for granted, and please don't forget―never swallow anything without examining it.

Psychology study is very interesting because you can find psychological questions in daily life: Why do people in a train tend to sit at the end of bench-style seats? Why do you choose to buy one product and not the other? Anything can be a topic of study. Enjoy discovering questions throughout your life.

Message from Seniors

The students in this course are open and friendly. They welcome a free exchange of thoughts. I learned so much from the seminar. Since everyone is interested in different topics, I gleaned knowledge on various issues and fields within psychology. I chose neuropsychology; others studied consumer psychology, psychotherapy, and so on. I also learned a lot from the discussions. By sharing our thoughts and ideas, we can think further and deeper on many topics.

I am applying to be a government officer. Any position will require interpersonal communications, and wherever I am assigned, I can use what I learned in psychology class. I am sure you will enjoy this seminar and make good use of what you'll learn from it, too.

Tomohiro Tsuchiya, a senior

Message from Seniors

I am an American born Taiwanese. I came to this school because I have been interested in Japanese culture and language for a long time. I also liked the fact that SILS is a liberal arts program where you can learn from different disciplines. I am interested in psychology, especially consumer psychology. So I took Introduction to Psychology and Cognitive Psychology―both classes are taught by Prof. Azuma. I thought that her seminar would provide a lot of freedom to take on the kind of research I want to do. I had a solid image of my research goal: how businesses can use certain techniques in stores to appeal to the consciousness and subconsciousness of the customer. Eventually I would like to produce my own brand, so I thought it would be useful to learn how businesses attract customers.

Lilianne Liu, a junior

Recommended Book

A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love,』by Richard Dawkins (Mariner Books, 2003)

The book was written by an evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. He is known for his anti-religion position. He criticizes people's blind belief in religion and encourages people to think. Without saying whether I am for or against his opinion, I would like to describe one episode in the book that has stuck with me. There was one scientist who came up with a theory that he advocated for decades. But another scientist came up with a completely different theory that overturned the original scientist's theory, proving it to be untrue. The scientist that was disproved actually went up to the opposing scientist, took his hands, and said, "Thank you for letting me know I had been wrong."

Dawkins asserts that this is what's wonderful about science. The former scientist did not intentionally reject opposing opinions of other scientists. Rather, he was able to be happy about finding out he was wrong when a new theory was backed up with enough concrete proof.

His work also tells you how it is important to question what you have blindly believed in. People often have such blind belief, and never even notice it themselves. Dawkins tells us not to be afraid to face two opposing "facts," and to think and determine which one is true and which one isn't.