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Social Sciences Major

The social sciences apply the methods of science to understand the way people think and act — individually, in groups, and in societies — and the way that biology and the environment interact to make each of us unique.

Research findings from the social sciences inform public policies on a wide range of issues, such as reducing crime, designing effective political campaigns, helping people overcome addictions, crafting economic/labor policies, and convincing people to conserve resources.

Cornerstone Courses

In their first year, Social Sciences majors complete their Cornerstone Courses.

Core Courses

In their second year, Social Sciences majors enroll in core courses that provide the foundation for the Social Sciences concentrations. They also take electives from core courses offered in other majors.

SS110 / Perception, Cognition and Reality

In his award-winning book "All the Light We Cannot See", Anthony Doerr asks, "So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?" The answer to this question is the organizing principle for Perception, Cognition, and Reality. Broad theoretical perspectives are used to trace the sequence of events--at multiple levels of analysis--from sensory perception to high-level cognition and creativity. Methods of inquiry include connectionism, computational modeling, experimental studies of normal and exceptional children and adults, and functional neuroimaging.

Prerequisite: SS51

SS111 / Boom, Bust and Bubbles: The Free Enterprise System

Market inefficiencies are critical drivers of global financial instability. Study the utility of specific economic principles by examining systemic market failures such as the Japanese boom and bust of the 1980's and 1990's, the various asset price bubbles (equity, housing, commodities, etc.), and periods of relative market calm and prosperity. What trigger events turn market vulnerabilities into panics or manias? What impact can regulation have on lessening or heightening market volatility? Students predict the next bubble" in the global economy."

Prerequisite: SS51

SS112 / Government and Social Change

Governments can help their citizens to flourish--or can make their lives miserable. Governments affect their citizens in part by influencing common practices. For example, taxation (both surcharges and tax breaks) can change social practices, which can further social goals such as reducing energy consumption, helping people save for retirement, and reducing prejudice. Students propose ways that governments can be motivated to effect such changes--and also consider what controls should be in place to ensure that social changes are in fact beneficial. For the final project, students design a campaign to cause a government (local, state, or federal) to effect a specific social change and devise ways to assess its impact.

Prerequisite: SS51


In their third year, Social Sciences majors select a concentration, begin taking courses within it and begin work on their capstone courses. They also take electives chosen from other Minerva courses (other concentration courses in Social Sciences, core and concentration courses in other colleges). Social Sciences offers concentrations shown in the table below.

In the fourth year, Social Sciences majors enroll in additional electives chosen from Minerva’s course offerings within or outside the major. Additionally, they take senior tutorials in the major, and finish their capstone courses.

  Theory and Analysis in the Social Sciences Empirical Approaches to the Social Sciences Designing Societies
Cognition, Brain, and Behavior SS142 / Theories of Cognition and Emotion SS152 / Cognitive Neuroscience SS162 / Personal and Social Motivation
Economics and Society SS144 / Economic Theory and Tools SS154 / Econometrics and Economic Systems SS164 / Global Development and Applied Economics
Politics, Government, and Society SS146 / Constructing Theories of Good Government SS156 / World Political Systems in Practice SS166 / Designing Constitutions

Each row and each column of the matrix represent a different concentration, as noted above.

Cognition, Brain, and Behavior

Explore theories of cognition, emotion, and their relation. Learn how the brain gives rise to the mind. Study how knowledge about thinking and motivations can be used to influence people's beliefs and behaviors.

Career Possibilities

  • Conflict Mediator
  • Congressional Staff Member
  • Designer of Tests and Measures for the College Entrance Exams
  • Neuroscientist
  • Psychotherapist
  • School Psychologist
  • Science Writer

Designing Societies

Devise ways to improve society, based on facts about the science of influence and motivation, the economic challenges facing societies, and the key ingredients of constitutions. Imagine the ideal social order and see whether you can create guidelines that would shape such a society.

Career Possibilities

  • Employment Specialist
  • Lawyer
  • Market Researcher
  • Member of Congress
  • Professor of Sociology
  • Public Relations Director for a Corporation
  • Urban Planner

Economics and Society

Study a variety of conceptual tools to predict economic behavior and learn the sophisticated statistical tools underlying economic models. Examine important challenges facing both developing and developed economies.

Career Possibilities

  • CEO of International Trade Organization
  • Corporate Attorney
  • Economic Advisor for Industry or Government
  • Professor of Economics
  • Public Policy Analyst
  • Staff Member for Regulatory Agency
  • Treasurer for Major Industry or Start-Up

Empirical Approaches to the Social Sciences

Learn fundamental facts across a range of topics in social science, spanning the mind and brain, economics, and world political systems. Compare and contrast the tools of discovery in these various domains and how to interpret the findings produced by these tools.

Career Possibilities

  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Consultant, Organizational Design
  • Economist
  • High School Teacher
  • Neuroscientist
  • Social Science Researcher
  • Staff in Government Office

Politics, Government, and Society

Investigate the important effects of differences among governments and the consequences that different political systems have on society. Discover what is necessary to design a constitution that will work effectively.

Career Possibilities

  • Advisor to Financial Think Tank
  • Executive Director of an NGO
  • Legislative Analyst
  • Lobbyist for Environmental Protection
  • Political Campaign Manager
  • Staff Member, United Nations

Theory and Analysis in the Social Sciences

Understand the variety and types of theories in social science, spanning the range from mind and emotion to economies and governments around the world. Learn how such theories are developed and tested.

Career Possibilities

  • Corporate Manager
  • Government Strategist
  • Journalist or News Commentator
  • Policy Analyst
  • Political Campaign Analyst
  • Strategic Planner

Concentration Courses

SS142 / Theories of Cognition and Emotion

We explore broad theories of cognition and emotion through the lens of psychology, also drawing on philosophy and artificial intelligence. The goal is to examine theories of different aspects of cognition, particularly thinking, and also relate them within common conceptual frameworks. For example, how can we integrate theories of different types of thinking (e.g., inductive reasoning and problem solving)? How can we combine theories of thinking with theories of other cognitive processes such as attention and memory, so instead of many seemingly separate cognitive processes, we have a cognitive being who can perform a wide variety of cognitive tasks? We also examine theories of affective states, including emotions and moods. How do these affective states influence a wide variety of cognitive processes, and how might this help our understanding of cognition and emotion? Finally, we explore theories of creativity from both cognitive and affective perspectives.

Prerequisite: SS110

SS144 / Economic Theory and Tools

Learn to apply conceptual tools from economics to explain human behavior and predict economic phenomena. We explore the economist's fundamental toolkit by analyzing individual choice, market equilibrium, strategic interactions, and collective decisions. We also learn to measure macroeconomic indicators and predict the impact of fiscal and monetary policy decisions on economic fluctuations. We embed these tools in diverse applications to answer questions such as: Why do almost new" used cars sell for so much less than brand new ones? How can strategic analysis explain candidate behavior in divided elections? Does food aid increase civil conflict in recipient countries? This course provides students with a broad range of tools to apply to understanding and solving economic problems."

Prerequisite: SS111

SS146 / Constructing Theories of Good Government

What makes good governance? How can governments pursue worthy public policy aims successfully? What are the most innovative ideas and best practices governments can adopt to create positive outcomes for the communities and societies they govern? This course seeks to answer these and related questions by examining governance models at the subnational, national and international levels. We will delve into the current practices of governance at all these levels in various regions around the world in order to learn what does and does not work. And we will develop our own thinking and approaches to governance at the same time.

Prerequisite: SS112

SS152 / Cognitive Neuroscience

Explore how the brain gives rise to the mind. Learn about the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain and consider the role of this physical substrate in neural computation. The focus is on higher cognitive functions. Topics include the evolution of the brain, consciousness, decision making, language acquisition and use, and disorders of the brain such as depression, schizophrenia, and autistic spectrum disorders.

Prerequisite: SS110

SS154 / Econometrics and Economic Systems

Learn how to use core econometric and statistical methods to construct and validate economic and social models. Students will learn methods to conduct and critique empirical studies in economics and related fields. We apply these techniques to answer questions such as: What are the effects of class size on test scores in California schools? Do cigarette taxes reduce smoking? Do drunk driving laws actually reduce traffic deaths? Do mosquito nets reduce the incidence of malaria? Quantitative approaches used to answer such questions include multiple regression, nonlinear regression and instrumental variables regression.

Prerequisite: SS111; CS112

SS156 / World Political Systems in Practice

This course compares a wide range of representative countries from both democracies and non-democracies, and examines the ways in which people act individually and collectively within these countries to achieve their goals. Ultimately, students learn how political systems operate in practice and why they have different outcomes, such as corruption/transparency, political stability/instability, low/high inequality, security/insecurity, and low/high socio-economic standards.

Prerequisite: SS112

SS162 / Personal and Social Motivation

What is the best way to motivate others? How can we effectively change our own habits and behaviors? As these ideas have become better understood, they are being used to help people adopt more beneficial practices across many domains such as healthy eating, exercising, and saving for retirement. Is it ethical to consciously persuade those around us? Drawing on personality psychology, cognitive psychology, and social psychology, gain a better understanding of what motivates us, and learn why specific ways to influence people's beliefs and behavior are most effective in certain contexts.

Prerequisite: SS110

SS164 / Global Development and Applied Economics

Examine important challenges facing both developing and developed economies. Explore the development of societies through the analysis of sufficient access to education and healthcare as well as sustainable mechanisms for economic growth. Identify the socio-economic impacts of rural to urban migration and technological progress while exploring the reasons for the income inequality throughout the world. Generate and critique policies designed to address specific economic issues within an effective institutional and political framework.

Prerequisite: SS111

SS166 / Designing Constitutions

This course is an overview of comparative constitution-making and implementation. What distinguishes a constitution from other types of law? What are its purposes? How should it be written, interpreted, and enforced? How do economic, social, political, and cultural context determine the process and substance of a constitution? What have been the most successful constitutional systems and why? These are the guiding questions of this course. In it, students will compare and contrast the constitutions of several different countries and critically examine the nuances of the daunting, political tensions inherent to the founding of a new constitutional regime: how to recognize the positive legacies of the past, the constraints of the present, all while leaving room for legal development and adaptation to an uncertain future? The final project is for students to write a constitution as a group and thus put into practice the theories they have learned.

Prerequisite: SS112

Capstone Courses

In their fourth year, Social Sciences majors finish their Capstone Courses.