Topics Courses, 2019-2020

While all topics courses count towards the Psychology major/minor, only some are approved for the Neuroscience major/minor.


Issues in Neuroscience

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SCI (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 50.01 - Neuroscience of Mental Illness

In 20W 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.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6.

PSYC 50.02 - Decision Making: Linking Behavior to Brain

In 19F at 9L, Alireza Soltani
In this course we examine decision making from both behavioral and neurobiological points of view. Specifically, we learn about different methods used in psychology and neuroscience (e.g. operant conditioning, signal detection theory, reinforcement learning) to study decision making at various levels, from cognitive processes to underpinning neural activity. We also learn about the notion of rationality and heuristics in decision making (e.g. why do we show risk aversion?). Overall, this course introduces students to specific topics in behavioral psychology, neurobiology, system and computational neuroscience, and economics.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 50.08 - Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

In 19X at 2, Shawn Winter
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.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6 or instructor permission

PSYC 50.09 - Motivation, Drugs and Addiction

In 19F at 11, Kyle Smith
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.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6 and one of the following: PSYC 45 or PSYC 46

PSYC 50.10 - The Rhythmic Brain

In 20W 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.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 21, PSYC 27, or PSYC 28


Issues in Information Processing

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 51.01 - The Neuroscience of the Mind-Body Problem

In 20W 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.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6, PSYC 21, or PSYC 28

PSYC 51.09 - Human Memory

In 19F 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.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6.


Issues in Learning and Development

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise stated in the course description)

PSYC 52.04 - Adolescent Risk Behaviors: Corporate and Envrionmental Influences

In 19F 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

PSYC 52.06 - Typical and Atypical Human Development

In 20S at 2A, Caroline Robertson
Approximately one trillion synapses are formed each day during the first three years of life, many of which are pruned away by age five.  What is happening in the brain during these formative years? The goal of this course is to provide insight into the neural basis of human cognition by examining the “tabula rasa” of the human brain and how it changes over the first few years of typical and atypical development. Throughout the course, we will wrestle with questions regarding which facets of our neural machinery and cognitive abilities are innate vs. acquired. We will discuss the development of specific cognitive capacities (e.g. learning to read, recognize faces, pay attention, communicate, socialize) from the perspective of individuals with typical developmental trajectories in each of these domains, as well as from the perspective of individuals with difficulties in each domain (e.g. dyslexia, prosopagnosia, ADHD, autism). This course will draw upon your prior knowledge of psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and neurobiology, and will explore classic and cutting-edge peer-reviewed scientific studies of developmental psychology, neurodevelopment, cognitive development.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
This course is currently being reviewed for the SCI distributive.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6, PSYC 21, PSYC 27, or PSYC 28


Issues in Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience

See below for topics.  Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 53.10 - Social Affective Decisions

In 19F 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

PSYC 53.12. The Behavior of Groups

In 20W at 9L, Melissa Herman
Much of your life is spent in groups: families, classes, teams, cliques, Greek organizations, work teams.  Have you ever wondered what’s going on under the surface or how you can make your groups function better?  Although these groups may be dissimilar in size, format, and function, the psychological processes involved are surprisingly consistent.  This course will analyze psychological theories of group interaction including conformity, competition, conflict, leadership, negotiation, communication, power dynamics, status orders, initiation rites, ostracism, expectation states, and stereotypes.  Readings will include classics such as Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment, Tajfel’s minimalist groups paradigm, Sherif’s Robber’s Cave experiment, Whyte’s Street Corner Society, and Pennington’s Social Psychology of Behavior in Small Groups. Assignments will involve several reading analyses, a final exam, and—of course—a group project.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1.

PSYC 53.13. Social Neuroscience

In 20S at 12, Meghan Meyer
This class will focus on the principles of social neuroscience (SCN) and survey a broad array of topics in the field. Social neuroscience attempts to answer social science questions, such as ‘why does rejection hurt?’ and ‘is empathy innate?’ with neuroscience methods, such as brain imaging and neuropharmacology.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6


Issues in Applied Psychology

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 54.03. Forms of Therapy

In 20S 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

PSYC 54.05. Consumer Neuroscience

In 20S 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.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 and one of PSYC 21, PSYC 27, or PSYC 28; or PSYC 6.

PSYC 54.06. Aging and Life Stories

In 20W at 2, Robert Santulli
The purpose of the course is to learn about the experience of aging and the life course. Learning will occur in two ways: (1) traditional classroom activities - i.e., readings, lectures, presentations, discussions, written assignments, the course discussion board, and the like; and (2) experiential learning. Throughout the term, you will visit with an older person who resides locally. You will be paired with another student, and together, you will meet weekly with your subject and learn about his or her life. Although you will focus on the later years, you will also discuss those early and mid-life experiences which have significantly influenced the individual’s life course and personality.

Enrollment limited to 16 students.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6.

PSYC 54.07. Clinical Science Practicum

In 19F at 2A, William Hudenko
This course is designed to provide students with an experiential learning opportunity by applying knowledge and skills gained in the classroom to actual work settings while under both site and academic supervision.  Students who have an interest in clinical psychology will learn about the different facets of working in a social service, mental health, or other community setting while assessing their own skills and suitability for this kind of graduate work or employment experience.   Students will spend up to 10 hours/wk at their practicum site and will be mentored onsite.  Additional supervision will be provided by a clinical science faculty member during regularly scheduled class times and didactic instruction will be offered to complement and enhance work that is completed at practicum sites.

Enrollment limited to 15 students.
Prerequisite: PSYC 24 and instructor permission.