Topics Courses


Issues in Neuroscience

Courses with this number consider topics that bring to bear knowledge in the fields of psychology, neurology, and physiology. Topics are treated at an intermediate level and the focus will be on topics not covered in detail in Psychology 26 and 65. The selection of issues is at the discretion of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 35 students.

PSYC 50.01. Neuroscience of Mental Illness

In 16F at 12, Margaret Funnell

The goal of this course is to explore the neurological correlates of psychopathology. For each mental illness covered in the class, we will first review the characteristics and diagnostic criteria of the disorder and will then explore the neurological correlates in terms of etiology, manifestation, and treatment. We will examine evidence from a variety of sources, including neuroanatomical studies, neuroimaging experiments, and neurodevelopmental studies, with a focus on current research findings. Case histories and video footage will be used to illustrate the experience of psychopathology with the goal of elucidating the links between the brain and behavior.

Prerequisite: PSYC 6 and one of the following: PSYC 24, PSYC 26, PSYC 27, PSYC 45, PSYC 46, PSYC 50 (any), PSYC 65, or BIOL 34

PSYC 50.04. Sleep & Sleep Disorders

In 16X at 10A, Michael Sateia

This course will explore the basic biological mechanisms of sleep and circadian rhythms, including neuroanatomical and neurophysiological aspects of sleep/wake, as well as the behavioral and social aspects of normal sleep. The course will then build upon this basic understanding of normal sleep and circadian rhythm to develop an overview of major sleep and circadian rhythm disorders. The importance of sleep to adequate daytime neuropsychological functioning and the social, public policy and economic issues pertinent to sleep and circadian rhythms will be addressed.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 50.08. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

In 16F at 10A, Jeffrey Taube

This course will discuss the neurobiology of learning and memory from cognitive, behavioral, and cellular neuroscience perspectives. The goal of the course is to better understand the neurobiological mechanisms and brain systems that underlie learning and memory processes.  A fundamental understanding of membrane and synaptic potentials is strongly recommended.

Prerequisite: PSYC 6 or instructor permission

PSYC 50.09. Motivation, Drugs and Addiction

In 17S at 10, Jibran Khokhar

This course will explore how the brain controls our motivation to pursue goals and how drugs of abuse hijack those systems. We will learn about some historical perspectives of motivation as well as modern neuroscience work showing how areas of the brain might contribute to motivations. In the process, we will explore in detail how narcotic drugs (opioids, stimulants, alcohol, cannabis) act in the brain and the mechanisms underlying the transition from drug use to addiction.

Prerequisite: PSYC 6 and one of the following: PSYC 26, PSYC 45, PSYC 46, or BIOL 34.

PSYC 50.10. The Rhythmic Brain

In 17W at 10A, Matthijs van der Meer

This course explores the physiological basis and functional relevance of oscillations, which are ubiquitous in the brain. Rhythmic pattern generators in specific neurons and circuits are essential for generating repeating movements such as breathing and walking; yet, oscillations are equally prominent in neural systems for sensation, cognition, and memory. Could it be that these rhythms are a fundamental building block of information processing in neural circuits? This course provides an introduction to the detection, analysis and interpretation of oscillations in the brain. Using these tools, we will survey the origin and functional role of oscillations in a variety of neural systems across animal and human species, and ask what general principles emerge.

Prerequisite: PSYC 21, PSYC 26, PSYC 27, or PSYC 28


Issues in Information Processing

Courses with this number consider topics from the areas of perception, memory, cognition, and quantitative models from the point of view of information processing. Material is treated at an intermediate level on a set of issues not covered in Psychology 21 and 28. Selection of issues is left to the discretion of the instructor, but specific emphasis is given to methodology. Enrollment limited to 35 students.


PSYC 51.01. The Neuroscience of the Mind-Body Problem

In 17S at 2A, Peter Tse

Neuroscience has learned a great deal about how neurons function, and Psychologists have learned a lot about the contents and processes of the mind. But we lack a deep understanding of the bridge that must link these two sides of the "mind-body" problem. We do not yet fully understand (1) how information is processed, transformed and communicated by neurons, (2) how consciousness can be realized in physical neuronal activity, or (3) how mental events realized in physical brain events can be causal of subsequent mental and physical events. This course will focus on what is known about the neural code and the neural bases of consciousness, mental causation and free will and what is not yet understood. We will focus on reading original research articles and chapters from books that attempt to get at these deep and challenging conceptual and empirical issues.  A particular focus will be the relationship of attentional processing to consciousness, and its neural bases. Students will be expected to write up critiques of readings, and present on topics of common interest.

Prerequisite: PSYC 6 or one of the following: PSYC 21, PSYC 26, PSYC 28

PSYC 51.02. Face Perception

In 16F at 2A, Maria Gobbini

This course will focus on person perception and the mental processes we use to make sense of other people, including their thoughts, attitudes, personal traits, social connections, and personal history. The course will examine the role that person perception plays in face and voice recognition and social interactions. Particular relevance will be put on the neural systems for representation of person knowledge and the mental states of others focusing also on what happens when these systems are impaired. At the end of the course, the students will have a written exam and they will be required to write a paper.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 51.03. Mind and Brain

In 16F at 10, Ming Meng

It is believed that the mind is a manifestation of the brain. Think of computers. The brain is hardware, the mind is software. Is it possible to understand algorithms of the software by investigating physical activity of the hardware? This course will take the mind and brain problem as a theme to guide discussions about neural underpinnings of various mental phenomena. Cutting-edge research across psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind will be covered.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 51.09. Human Memory

In 17W at 10A, Jeremy Manning

Knowing how our brains organize and spontaneously retrieve memories is at the heart of understanding the basis of the ongoing internal dialog of our conscious thoughts.  Put simply, our memories make us who we are.  The field of human memory also has a practical side.  For example, how much should we trust eyewitness testimony?  Or, should you cram for tomorrow's exam or get a good night's sleep instead?  We will examine a range of classic and cutting-edge experimental results and theories that form the foundation of our current understanding of how we learn and remember.

PSYC 51.10. Perceptual Learning & Skill Acquisition

In 16X at 2A, Mark Greenlee

Sensory systems represent an essential interface between the organism and its environment. Throughout life the organism continuously interacts with stimuli, objects and environments and this interaction has a long-lasting effect on its central nervous system. The neuroscience of learning and memory attempts to explain how the nervous system adapts to new environments and learns through repeated practice. This course will introduce concepts in neuroscience required to understand the changes that occur in biological nervous systems when an organism is repeatedly exposed to a particular stimulus configuration.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1.


Issues in Learning and Development

Courses with this number consider several important sub-fields of learning and psychological development. Material is treated at an intermediate level on a set of issues not covered in Psychology 22 and 25. Selection of issues is left to the discretion of the instructor, but they will be selected with emphasis upon the psychological principles emerging from the study of humans and animals in the context of learning, early experience, and maturations. Enrollment limited to 35 students.

PSYC 52.01. Developmental Psychopathology

In 16F at 9L, Janine Scheiner

This course will provide an Introduction to childhood Psychopathology using a developmental perspective. Written materials and lectures will focus on the diagnosis, etiology and treatment of a variety of childhood problems, including autism, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, depression, attachment disorders, conduct disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 and one of the following: PSYC 24, PSYC 25, or PSYC 59.01

PSYC 52.03. Animal Behavior

Sorry, this course has been cancelled.

PSYC 52.04. Adolescent Risk Behaviors: Corporate and Envrionmental Influences

In 17S at 10A, James Sargent

Chronic health conditions (like cancer and heart disease) kill the majority of people worldwide. Those diseases result, in part, from use of products—e.g., tobacco, alcohol, & convenience food—that are produced and marketed worldwide by multinational corporations.  This course centers around how corporations influence unhealthy product consumption during childhood and adolescence. This course describes the theoretical basis for these influences, the science used to establish corporate products as a cause of youth behavior, and how governments try to limit the influence through regulation. The study will cover tobacco, alcohol, drug use, homicide/suicide, food/obesity, and risky sex. (Note: this course was previously offered as PSYC 53.03.)

Prerequisite: PSYC 1


Issues in Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience

Courses with this number consider several important sub-fields of social psychology and social neuroscience. Material is treated at an intermediate level on a set of issues that are not covered in Psychology 23. Selection of issues is left to the discretion of the instructor, but specific emphasis is given to individual and group attitudes, modes of interpersonal communication, and behavior control in humans and animals.

PSYC 53.10. Social Affective Decision

In 17S at 11, Luke Chang

Why do we tip restaurant servers, cab drivers, and coffee baristas?  Why does our grocery shopping behavior change when we are hungry?  This course will explore the social and affective motivations that influence how we make everyday decisions from the diverse perspectives of psychology, economics, and neurobiology.  This course will provide an introduction to how social psychological constructs and feelings can be modeled using tools from decision theory (e.g., value & uncertainty) and how these processes might be instantiated in the brain.  Topics to be covered include other-regarding preferences (e.g., trust, reciprocity, fairness, and altruism), affective motivations (e.g., risk, dread, regret, and guilt), and social considerations (e.g., reputation, conformity, and social-comparison).

Prerequisite: PSYC 23, PSYC 27, or PSYC 28.

53.11 Comparative Neurobiology of Social Interaction

In 17S at 12, Laurel Symes

Because animals evolved from a common ancestor, they share not only features of their external morphology, but also aspects of their neurobiology. This course focuses specifically on the neurobiology of social interactions. It takes a comparative approach to assess when neural systems are conserved and when neural systems have converged in function in response to similar selective pressures. The course will be organized into modules that address five topic areas: mate choice, parental care, territoriality/aggression, communication/language, and group living. Examples will be drawn from case studies including song learning in birds, communication in bees, and perception of emotion in humans.

Prerequisite: BIOL 14, BIOL 16, PSYC 1, or PSYC 6; or instructor permission
Cross-Listed as BIOL 33


Issues in Applied Psychology

Courses in this number consider several important sub-fields of applied psychology, such as environmental psychology and consumer behavior. Material is treated at an intermediate level. Selection of issues is left to the discretion of the instructor, but they will be selected with emphasis upon the extension of established psychological principles to problems of contemporary society. Enrollment limited to 35 students.

54.02. Health Psychology

In 17W at 3B, Mark Detzer

This course will explore the role of psychology and health. We will review both empirical/research and clinical psychology contributions to: 1) chronic physical illness; and 2) health promotion. This course utilizes a multi-modal learning approach and will include lectures, readings, large and small group class discussions, videos, guest speakers, and outside of the classroom/DHMC learning opportunities Through in-depth study of medical conditions such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cancer and chronic physical pain, we will explore the impact of illnesses on the individual/family, the role of development/cognitive factors in illness, adherence/self-management issues, and "medical treatment" issues including doctor/patient communication and medical system aspects of care. We will also review health promotion/behavior change strategies.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

54.03. Forms of Therapy

In 17S at 10A, William Hudenko

Each year, millions of people vow to make a change.  Some may wish to end their habit of procrastination, others to improve a significant relationship, or still others may commit to combat a mental illness.  Whatever their goal, people often discover how challenging personal change can be.  At its core, clinical psychology facilitates such change through the scientific application of psychological principles.  The purpose of this course is to introduce you to various scientifically-validated modalities of individual psychotherapy, with an emphasis on how psychotherapies utilize psychological principles to produce change.  Over the course of the semester we also will explore special topics in the field of clinical psychology such as: human connection, empathy, emotion, ethics, psychological assessment, pharmacological treatments, and treatment evaluation.

Prerequisite: PSYC 24

54.05. Consumer Neuroscience

In 16F at 11, Kimberly Rose Clark

How do measures of the brain and body map onto a brand marketer’s return on a research investment? This course focuses on the history and topics related to the nascent, yet burgeoning, cross-disciplinary field of consumer neuroscience and new technological advances in marketing related to neuromarketing. The course will provide a unique vantage on the multiple academic and applied histories of the field, its ethical ramifications, along with general perspectives focusing on current practices and potential future directions, including the implications of predicting mass consumer behavior from small test samples. Students will have the opportunity to engage with some of the most notable academic and practitioners in the field and will participate in a capstone project of original research applying theory and utilizing psycho physiological tools applied in real-world neuromarketing research.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 and one of PSYC 21, PSYC 27, or PSYC 28; or PSYC 6.

54.06. Living with Dementia

In 17W at 2A, Robert Santulli

The purpose of the course is to learn about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, both didactically and experientially, from the perspective of the individual who suffers from the illness and his or her family. Students will learn not only what the illness takes away, but also what remains within the person with dementia.  In addition to classroom presentations and readings, students will participate in several community dementia engagement programs: Memory Café, Perspectives, and The Recollections.  There will also be an opportunity to attend the bimonthly Alzheimer’s Care Partner Support and Education Group.  Through these activities, students will come to know and work with individuals with the disease and their accompanying family member(s).  No examinations will be given, but students will be required to complete a number of reflection assignments related to assigned readings and a video, as well as journal entries regarding their participation in the community engagement programs.  There will be a paper due at the end of the term.  Note that enrollment will be limited to 16 students.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6.