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Clarkson minor examines genesis of human behavior

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POTSDAM — Settling an old question, researchers accept that both biological traits and social surroundings play a role in human behavior, but fierce debate still remains about the extent of their impact.

Thanks to a new minor, Clarkson University students have an opportunity to enter that discussion and research the answer for themselves.

This year, the school inaugurated the Behavior, Culture and Society minor, an interdisciplinary program designed to allow students to approach human behavior from biology and social sciences perspectives. Tom A. Langen, an associate professor in the departments of Biology and Psychology, was among a group of Clarkson faculty who designed the program.

“We created this minor because a number of us teach courses on human behavior and human social behavior from very different perspectives, and we found ourselves having interesting discussions and challenging each other,” he said. “There is interest from students to take it to another level and to go out and take courses from different perspectives to try to integrate those perspectives and provide a synthesis.”

Mr. Langen said the program fits in well with Clarkson’s growing reputation as an advanced research center by integrating social sciences into more traditional scientific disciplines.

“One of the things that is important at Clarkson is interdisciplinary collaboration,” he said. “This fits in very well in getting students to work together from different perspectives in trying to solve problems.”

Students will take courses in different disciplines. Requirements include behavioral ecology, biology and cognitive evolution. Students must then choose nine credits of electives from history, anthropology, sociology, psychology and biology. The program is capped off by a portfolio of course essays and a self-guided human behavior research paper.

“For a student to have to synthesize from varying perspectives, he or she has to take courses and write papers that apply to these approaches and then try to come up with what seems to make the most sense,” said Mr. Langen. “It challenges students to make things fit — and they don’t always fit together well.”

So far, a handful of students have signed up for the minor.

“I am anticipating it will be a small minor,” Mr. Langen said.

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