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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Steven L. Buck
PSYCH 435
Seattle Campus

Human Color Vision

Discusses how color does not exist in the physical environment but is instead a creation of our brains. Explores perceptual, physiological, developmental, evolutionary, genetic, and cultural aspects of human color vision, including its role in language, culture, and art. Prerequisite: PSYCH 202; PSYCH 209.

Class description

This is an upper-level undergraduate lecture/discussion course designed to introduce students to the perceptual phenomenology, neural substrate, current areas of research, and theories of human color vision.

Student learning goals

1. the dimensions and features of human color perception and how these can be represented in pictorial, conceptual, and quantitative theories;

2. the known neural substrate of color vision processing in the retina and the brain;

3. the genetic basis and presumed evolution of human color vision, including color-vision deficiencies and the tests that are used to identify them;

4. how color concepts and terms are represented differently across cultures and languages;

5. the evolution of the use of color in art and the impact of color vision and its variations on art;

6. the principal methods of research that have advanced our understanding of color vision and are in current use.

General method of instruction

Class sessions will involve lectures, demonstrations, discussion, and student presentations. Students will read selections from the primary and secondary literature (there is no text book; all materials will be downloaded electronically from the course website at no cost) and discuss and write about major themes of the course. In addition, students will do an independent project on a topic of their choice, involving a review of the literature, a short class presentation, and a 10-page paper.

Recommended preparation

Formal prerequisites are Psych 202 Biopsych and Psych 209 Research Methods (both of which require Psych 101). The course assumes a basic background in visual science such as that provided by the vision chapter in a Psych 202 text; however, any general background in biology/neuroscience is likely sufficient. Students from different backgrounds, such as art and philosophy, are also welcome, but ideally will have taken at least Psych 101 and should be willing to do additional background reading.

Class assignments and grading

There will be one essay mid-term exam (100 points), about 6 short papers (10 points each), a 10-page independent paper (100 points) and an oral presentation (30 points). There is NO final exam.

Grades will be based on total points earned over the quarter. Earning specified percentages of total possible points will guarantee a specified grade. Actual grading may be more lenient; it will not be stricter than the guaranteed level.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Steven L. Buck
Date: 12/01/2011