FC03 – Arousal Interactions with Curiosity, Risk, and Reward from a Computational Cognitive Architecture Perspective

Lecturer: Christopher Dancy
Fields: Computational Cognitive Modelling, Computational Cognitive Science


In this focused course, we will cover some of the many ways in which stress and arousal can modulate behaviors related to curiosity, risk, and reward through the interactions between physiological, affective, and cognitive processes. We will use the ACT-R/Phi architecture to think about this from a perspective of interacting mind and body processes. The Project Malmo (Minecraft) environment will also be used to show how we might implement some of the theoretical accounts as simulated agents in a virtual environment.

Session 1: Theoretical Background

Session 2: Short Recap, Theoretical Background, and Cognitive Architectures (general)

Session 3: Short Recap, Cognitive Architectures (general), and ACT-R/Phi Background

Session 4: Short Recap, ACT-R/Phi, and Using Project Malmo with Cognitive Architectures to study interactions between arousal, curiosity, risk, and reward


  • Learn some a theoretical background on connections between memory systems, stress, arousal, and curiosity
  • Learn some background on some cognitive architectures
  • Learn about ACT-R/Phi
  • Learn about the Project Malmo Environment (Minecraft)
  • Learn about how one might create cognitive agents to run in Project Malmo
  • (Some are meant to be hands on, but we’ll work with what we can if some don’t have a computer!)



Christopher L. Dancy received a B.S. in Computer Science, in 2010, and Ph.D. in Information Sciences and Technology, with a focus on artificial intelligence and cognitive science, in 2014, both from The Pennsylvania State University (University Park). He is an assistant professor of computer science at Bucknell University. His research involves the computational modeling of physiological, affective, and cognitive systems in humans. He studies how these systems interact, what these interactions mean for human-like intelligent behavior and interaction between humans and artificial intelligent systems. His work has been funded by National Science Foundation, US Office of Naval Research, US Army Research Lab, and The Social Science Research Council. Chris Dancy has previously chaired the Behavior Representation in Modeling and Simulation Society and is currently a member of ACM, AAAI, the Cognitive Science Society, National Society of Black Engineers, IEEE SMC, and the IEEE Computer Society.

Affiliation: Bucknell University

PC2 – Seeking Shaky Ground

Lecturer: Claudia Muth & Elisabeth Zimmermann
Fields: Cognitive Science/ Enactivism, Phenomenology, Dance/Movement Research, Art, Design


Curiosity entails being able to delve into the unknown, to challenge habits of thinking, of acting, of reacting, of perceiving, – of sense-making. We can decide to let ourselves be challenged, we can seek uncertainty and the risk of not knowing what will come. This for example happens, when we try out a new physical activity we don’t master yet, e.g. an adult decides to learn to ride a horse. But it also happens, when we expose ourselves to art, challenging our patterns of perceiving.

In such situations we often loose and gain or regain stability. We thereby learn. Accepting moments of instability and uncertainty as part of each learning process can provide insight and even lead to experiencing such situations as pleasurable and rewarding.

Which preconditions and circumstances have to be met in order to develop an attitude of openness, of giving up anticipation and prediction, of letting go and letting come?

Becoming aware of our own patterns of moving, of perceiving, of relating to the world is one necessity. Establishing an atmosphere of trust, where “mistakes” are invited, another.

In this course we aim to put ourselves on “shaky ground” using exercises from dance/movement/contact improvisation, as well as techniques of design/art creation. We will try to become aware of, explore and play around with our habitual ways of interacting with the world and people around us, thereby challenge our habits and raise curiosity for the unknown. 


The course aims to provide a space, where participants can practice a curious mindset, exploring patterns of thinking and acting, becoming aware of habits and trying to challenge them, a space for trying out, for making mistakes and being awkward.

Participants will move and create, but also discuss how their experiences in class relate to theories and concepts in cognitive science. Therefore, learning goals will be very personal and subjective.


  • Gapenne, O. (2010). Kinesthesia and the Construction of Perceptual Objects. In Stewart J., Gapenne O., & Di Paolo E. A. (eds.), Enaction: Towards a new paradigm for cognitive science. The MIT Press.
  • Muth, C., & Carbon, C. C. (2016). SeIns: Semantic Instability in Art. Art & Perception, 4(1-2), 145–184. doi: 10.1163/22134913-00002049
  • Novack, C. J. (1990) Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture (New Directions in Anthropological Writing). University of Wisconsin Press. 


Claudia Muth is a perception researcher with a background in fine arts. She studied cultural design and cognitive science and was working for a small science centre on perception and illusion in Nuremberg. Since 2011 she has been conducting research at the intersection between art and science and has been teaching psychology students at the University of Bamberg as well as (since 2017) graphic design students at the Akademie Faber-Castell in Stein. Her main interest concerns the experience of uncertain, disordered, ambiguous or indeterminate situations and the various ways in which they can confuse, inspire and enrich us.

Affiliation: University of Bamberg
Website: https://www.uni-bamberg.de/allgpsych/wissenschaftliche-mitarbeiter/claudia-muth/

Elisabeth Zimmermann studied human biology and cognitive science at the University of Vienna. In her research she investigates how learning with a focus on body and movement can enable changes in habits and foster openness to new ways of interacting, sense-making, and being.
Since 2006 she has been coordinating the MEi:CogSci – Middle European interdisciplinary master programme in Cognitive Science and also teaching interdisciplinary cognitive science courses within this curriculum.

She has been dancing since her childhood (ballet, jazz dance, modern dance, expressive dance) and has been practicing contact improvisation for more than 20 years.  She has been investigating the relation of body and mind on a theoretical level, but also on a practical level, attending courses in Qigong and Tai Chi, Yoga, Body-Mind Centering, Feldenkrais, Continuum Movement, etc. 

She has training in holistic dance- and movement pedagogy as well as in classical massage and teaches workshops in dance/contact improvisation on a regular basis. 

Affiliation: University of Vienna

FC08- The Motivational Power of Curiosity – Information as Reward

Lecturer: Lily FitzGibbon
Fields: Cognitive, developmental and educational psychology; neuroscience 


This course will provide an overview of research from a number of fields of psychology and neuroscience pertinent to the understanding of the motivational power of curiosity. In particular, we will discuss empirical findings from across the lifespan in the context of a reward learning framework of knowledge acquisition. We will consider where the subjective experiences of curiosity and interest fit into the model and how they might be differentiated. Finally, we will discuss and develop challenges, open questions, and testable predictions from the model, setting out a programme of work for the field. The aim of this final session is to generate and develop research ideas and foster new collaborations between course participants.

Session 1: Introduction to curiosity and interest

Session 2: A reward learning model of knowledge acquisition

Session 3: A lifespan perspective on information as reward

Session 4: Challenges, open questions and testable predictions


In this course, participants will gain an understanding of a new model of information acquisition and its power to integrate a previously divided literature and generate new predictions about the process of knowledge acquisition. Participants will also learn about methods from a large array of disciplines that can be applied to the empirical study of information as reward.



Lily FitzGibbon works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Motivation Science Lab at the University of Reading. She has a PhD in Psychology from the University of Sheffield and has worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham and the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the cognitive processes involved in decision making, including curiosity, risk processing, and emotional evaluation of actual and hypothetical outcomes.

Affiliation: University of Reading
Website: https://koumurayama.com/people.php

PC1 – Exploration, curiosity and Not-Knowing stance – Perceiving the World through Introspection

Lecturer: Annekatrin Vetter & Sophia Reul
Fields: Psychology


How do I experience the world around me? What might influence my decisions and actions in everyday life? How do I feel?  If you are curious to answer these questions we invite you to come to our course. In our four sessions we will focus on the broad field of self-experience. We are going to introduce you to different exercises and tools out of the range of self-awareness, mindfulness, body perception, biography reflection and interpersonal and intrapersonal communication. A curios mind is the only requirement to join our experiential-group and we are looking forward to welcome you at IK.


Annekatrin Vetter is a clinical Psychologist and an analytic Psychotherapist in training. She works in a hospital for psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychosomatic and is doing analytic and psychotherapeutic inpatient and outpatient treatment. Moreover she is working on a research project about treatment integrity in Mentalization orientated Group Therapy. 

Sophia Reul is a clinical Psychologist and an analytic Psychotherapist in training. She works in a hospital for psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychosomatic and is doing analytic and psychotherapeutic inpatient and outpatient treatment. Moreover she defends her PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology at the Neurological clinic of University Hospital Münster with a focus of neurodegeneration and dementia.

FC05 – Confidence and Overconfidence

Lecturer: Vivek Nityananda
Fields: Psychology, Animal Behaviour


Decision-making in human and animal societies often uses a confidence heuristic – trusting the decisions made by confident individuals. This could have the benefit of quick decision-making without having to explore risky options yourself. However, confidence is a good guide to decisions only if it reflects accuracy. When the trusted individuals are overconfident, this results in risky and often catastrophic decisions. Despite the possibility of these negative outcomes, overconfidence persists and is widespread. What are then the advantages of overconfidence? Using an evolutionary perspective demonstrates the individual and social rewards of overconfidence. This also helps us understand how we can make the most of confidence while avoiding the obvious costs of overconfidence.

Session 1: Trusting confidence, measuring overconfidence

Session 2: Evidence for overconfidence 

Session 3: The advantages of overconfidence

Session 4: Overcoming overconfidence


  • Understanding how cognition is studied in a comparative approach that includes humans and other animals.
  • Encouraging an evolutionary approach to thinking about psychological biases.
  • Applying psychological ideas in real world situations.



Vivek Nityananda has a PhD in Animal Behaviour from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He was worked at the University of Minnesota, St Paul and Queen Mary University of London. He is currently a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow at the University of Newcastle and has previously been a Marie Curie Research Fellow, a Human Frontiers Science Program Fellow and a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg Zu Berlin. He has researched communication and visual cognition in insects, overconfidence in humans and hearing in frogs. He is also a published author and illustrator and has worked towards engaging the public with research using comics, animation and theatre. He was awarded a public engagement fellowship from the Great North Museum, Newcastle and a Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award to support these efforts. He currently researches the ecology and evolution of sensory  and cognitive behaviour and the evolution of overconfidence.

Affiliation: University of Newcastle
Website: www.viveknityananda.com

ET3 – Information as a Resource: How Organisms Deal with Uncertainty

Lecturer: Alex Kacelnik
Fields: Comparative cognition / decision-making, learning, problem solving, intelligence.


Organisms nearly always act with incomplete information about the outcome of possible actions. They can include unpredictability into their decision process (risk sensitivity), or allocate effort to reduce uncertainty (learning, sampling). In all cases, the consequences of uncertainty, and the cost of reducing it, affect the expected payoffs, and hence can be expected to play a role in the decision mechanisms. Similarly, designers of synthetic intelligences are starting to include information-seeking (i.e. curiosity) in the behaviour of autonomous artificial systems, including problem-solving robots. I will present several lines of behavioural research in this area.


This evening lecture is a research seminar introducing current and past but relevant research. Attendants should leave with at least a sense of what the problems are, and where some of the solutions are being sought.


  • Krebs, J.R., Kacelnik, A., Taylor, P., 1978. Test of optimal sampling by foraging great tits. Nature 275, 27–31. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/275027a0.
  • Alex Kacelnik & Claire El Mouden. Triumphs and trials of the risk paradigm. Animal Behaviour 86 (2013) 1117-1129; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.09.034.
  • Andrés Ojeda, Robin A. Murphy, & Alex Kacelnik. Paradoxical choice in rats: Subjective valuation and mechanism of choice. Behavioural Processes (2018) 152 73–80; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2018.03.024.
  • Vasconcelos, M., Monteiro, T., Kacelnik, A., 2015. Irrational choice and the value of information. Sci. Rep. 5, 13874. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/srep13874.


Alex Kacelnik studied biology in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and completed a PhD on decision making in Oxford, UK in 1979. He has been professor of Behavioural Ecology at Oxford since 1990 (emeritus since 2017). Alex has worked (and continues to work) on diverse topics, including decision-making, comparative cognition, brood parasitism, tool use, learning, and communication. His work bridges across behavioural ecology, behavioural economics, experimental psychology and, more recently, Artificial Intelligence. He is presently an external Principal Investigator in the cluster of excellence ‘Science of Intelligence’ (www.scienceofintelligence.de). 

Website: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~kgroup

PrfC1- Curiosity, Risk, and Reward in Teaching in Higher Education

Lecturer: Ingrid Scharlau
Fields: Education / Higher education didactics


Teaching is a very complex, multilayered activity, going far beyond transfer of knowledge. The three main topics of this IK help to understand important aspects of teaching in higher education: Teaching is risky (which is not a defect but at its core), teaching is a reciprocal, social and interpersonal practice, and teaching is often a gendered practice. The course covers these three aspects with a mix of theoretical input and reflection. In the first session, we will reflect on our cultural, disciplinary, and personal understanding of teaching and then cover the three aspects risk, reward, and, finally curiosity.


The objectives are to reflect on culturally common, but wrong or at least lopsided views on teaching (including teaching problems), to understand how teaching actually works and to gain a view on teaching that is both inspiring and realistic. A further objective is to understand the discipline-specific nature of teaching and how it is practiced in different fields.


  • Biesta, G. (2014). The beautiful risk of education. London: Routledge.
  • Kreber, C. (2013). Authenticity in and through teaching in higher education: The transformative potential of the scholarship of teaching. London: Routledge.
  • Kreber, C. (ed.) (2008): The university and its disciplines: Teaching and learning within and beyond disciplinary boundaries. New York, NY: Routledge.


Prof. Dr. Ingrid Scharlau

Ingrid Scharlau studied psychology, philosophy and pedagogics at Bielefeld University and Bochum University. She is professor for Cognitive Psychology and founder and head of the Academic Writing Center as well as the Mentoring Program for Female PhD students at Paderborn University. Her research interests cover cognitive psychology (visuo-spatial attention, time perception, modelling, history of psychology), academic writing (understanding and fostering academic writing in the different disciplines), and higher education didactics (disciplinary cultures, discipline-sensitive education, liberal arts education). Although being mainly an empirical researcher, she has a strong background in meta-theory (history, philosophy of science).

Affiliation: Paderborn University
Website: https://kw.uni-paderborn.de/fach-psychologie/kognitive-psychologie/

FC10 – Mindfulness as a Method to Explore your Mind-Wandering with Curiosity

Lecturer: Marieke Van Vugt
Fields: Neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, contemplative science


In the first session, we will introduce the methods of mindfulness, and discuss how mindfulness differs from mind-wandering. Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness is not the opposite of mind-wandering, but rather the cultivation of mindfulness involves becoming better friends with your mind so that you learn to become less stuck in thought processes. We will also review conceptual models of mindfulness and mind-wandering together with some research underpinnings. In addition, we will introduce the first and third-person perspective on studying the mind and basics of microphenomenology. We will also start a small experiment with our own mindfulness practice, which we will analyse in the last session of the course.

In the second session, we will continue our practice of mindfulness, and review research findings on the effects of mindfulness on cognitive function and brain activity.

In the third session, we will continue our practice of mindfulness. We will place mindfulness in the context of different meditation practices, discussing similarities and differences. We will also discuss in general how we can study mindfulness scientifically and how to do so rigorously.

In the fourth session, apart from practicing mindfulness, we will discuss the findings of our little experiments. There will also be ample space for questions and additional topics to discuss.


  • Being familiar with mindfulness practices
  • Being familiar with research on mindfulness
  • Being familiar with the scientific study of mind-wandering
  • Being able to combine first- and third-person perspectives in research on mindfulness 



Dr. Van Vugt is an assistant professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, working in the department of artificial intelligence. She obtained her PhD in model-based neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania, then worked as a postdoc at Princeton University before moving to the University of Groningen. In her lab, she focuses on understanding the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying decision making, mind-wandering and meditation by means of EEG, behavioural studies and computational modeling. In some slightly outside-the-box research, she also records the brain waves of Tibetan monks and dancers.  

Affiliation: University of Groningen
Website: https://mkvanvugt.wordpress.com

FC07 – A Series of Interesting Choices: Risk, Reward, and Curiosity in Video Games

Lecturer: Max Birk
Fields: Game-Design / Human-Computer Interaction / Psychology


Civilization’s Sid Meier defined video games as a series of interesting choices. Game-design aims to balance risk and reward for each choice made in a game, with the goal to create compelling experiences that draw people in and keep them spellbound. In this course you will create your own game and explore how modifying formal game elements applying psychological theory affects play experience. 

Each session is a combination of a lecture (45min), applied game-design (30 min), and discussion (15 min). Knowledge about digital games is not required!

In session one, we will learn the basics of game-design, prototype a game, and discuss your experiences with the game. 

In session two, we will discuss how risk and reward a represented in games and how risk/reward trade-offs require player to take action and make decisions. You will modify your game to actively explore the effects of risk and reward design on play experience. 

In session three, we will dive into psychological theories of decision making, biases, and how games leverage our expectations to manipulate play experience. In the game-design session we will change the paradigm of play to explore a different approach to manipulate the outcome of decision moments and the resulting experience. 

In session four, we will have a close look into digital games and how they approach risk and reward and apply our knowledge about game-design, risk and reward, and psychological theories. We will break down design decisions to create tension and recreate the different experiences using play cards. 

Conjure your most playful analytical self to face new challenges and learn about how risk and reward are fundamental to game design.


1. Understand and apply the basics of game-design

2. Gain and leverage psychological knowledge on risk/reward mechanism to modify play experiences 

3. Learn about biases and their application in contemporary game-design; apply your knowledge to consciously manipulate experience

4. Synthesize what you learned by deconstructing digital games and reproduce their risk/reward mechanism using play cards


  • Fullerton, T. (2018). Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games. AK Peters/CRC Press.
  • Weber, Elke U., and Eric J. Johnson. “Decisions under uncertainty: Psychological, economic, and neuroeconomic explanations of risk preference.” In Neuroeconomics, pp. 127-144. Academic Press, 2009.
  • Gutwin, Carl, Christianne Rooke, Andy Cockburn, Regan L. Mandryk, and Benjamin Lafreniere. “Peak-end effects on player experience in casual games.” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems, pp. 5608-5619. ACM, 2016.
  • Wuertz, Jason, Max V. Birk, and Scott Bateman. “Healthy Lies: The Effects of Misrepresenting Player Health Data on Experience, Behavior, and Performance.” In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, p. 319. ACM, 2019.


Max Birk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Design at Eindhoven University of Technology. With an interdisciplinary background, Max draws from psychology, interaction design, data science, and game design, to investigate the effects of game-based design strategies on mental processes and design-induced behaviour change. His research contributes to games user research, digital health, and motivational interface design. He is interested in projects contributing to a healthy society, improving entertainment experiences, and developing tools and methods for researching interactive experiences. 

Max’ research has been published in international top HCI venues, and he has contributed to research on player experience, individual differences in play, task adherence, crowdsourcing, and on the intersection between video games and mental health. He has organized well-received workshops across the globe and led research projects spanning multiple continents. Max has collaborated with game-designers in North America, Europe, and China, and experience working with independent developers like AlienTrap and global tech companies like Tencent.

Affiliation: Eindhoven University of Technology
Website: https://research.tue.nl/en/persons/max-birk

IC3 – Introduction to Neuroscience

Lecturer: Till Bockemühl & Ronald Sladky
Fields: neurobiology, neuroscience, cognitive science


The brain, the cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems. According to our brains it is the most fascinating structure in the known universe. Consisting of about 86 billion neurons of which each can form thousands of connections to other neurons it is also the most complex structure in the known universe. In this course we would like to give you a rough guide and introduction to the basic principles, fundamental theories, and methods of neuroscience.

We will demonstrate that neuroscience can be seen as a multi-modal, multi-level, multi-disciplinary research framework that aims at addressing the challenges of this megalomaniac scientific endeavor. We will see that different frameworks and methods can lead to conflicting empirical evidence, theoretical assumptions, and heated debates. However, we argue that this might be the only way to uncover the mysteries of our brain.

In this course we will cover a variety of scopes and perspectives. We will teach some of the fundamentals of neuroscience in human and non-human animals, but we will also explore some explanatory gaps between the different levels of inference.

On a phenomenal level we will investigate the functions of individual neurons and small networks. We will discuss if and how we can learn from (genetically modified) model animals about neural functions. To what degree is this relevant for understanding human brain function, such as learning and decision making? On the other hand, we will also investigate the state of the art in human brain mapping and cognitive neuroscience. Can findings from neuroimaging tell us anything at all about neurobiology – or are they just fancy illustrations that are better suited for children’s books?


  • To understand the anatomy and function of neurons
  • To understand the interaction of neurons in a functional network
  • To understand central methods and theories used in neurobiology and human cognitive neuroscience
  • To understand the scope of different methods and theoretical frameworks


  • Cacioppo JT, Berntson GG, Lorig TS, Norris CJ, Rickett E, Nusbaum H. Just because you’re imaging the brain doesn’t mean you can stop using your head: a primer and set of first principles. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Oct;85(4):650-61. [Link]
  • Park HJ, Friston K. Structural and Functional Brain Networks: From Connections to Cognition. Science, 2013 Nov; 6158(342):1238411 [Link]
  • Bear MF, Connors BW, Paradiso MA. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Wolters Kluwer Health. 2015.
  • Kandel, ER, Schwartz, JH, Jessell, TM, Siegelbaum, S, Hudspeth, AJ, & Mack, S (2013). Principles of Neural Science.


Till Bockemühl studied biology and philosophy at Bielefeld University. He did his diploma thesis as well as his doctoral thesis with Volker Dürr in the lab of Holk Cruse at Bielefeld University. Currently, he is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Ansgar Büschges at the University of Cologne. His main research interests comprise the motor control of locomotion, neuroethology, and computational neurobiology. To investigate these topics, he uses the fruit fly Drosophila and the ever-expanding toolkit of methodological opportunities this model organism has to offer.

Affiliation: University of Cologne
Website: http://www.zoologie.uni-koeln.de/bueschges-staff-tillbockemuehl.html

Ronald Sladky. My research focuses on the amygdala and emotion processing in the human brain. In addition, I am always working on new neuroimaging, data processing, and modeling methods. One of these new methods is real-time functional MRI, where people can learn to regulate their own brain states while they are inside the MRI scanner. This method is not only a promising therapeutic tool, it will also allow for completely new ways of discovering how our brains work.

Affiliation: University of Vienna
Website: http://sweetneuron.at