Topics Courses, 2020-2021

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 50.02

Decision Making: Linking Behavior to Brain

In 21S at 9L, Alireza Soltani
In our daily lives we are faced with many decisions: what to eat for lunch, whether to spend the next hour on Instagram or on homework, or what courses to take next quarter. Some of those decisions require gradual deliberation while others can be made quickly. Nevertheless, to make any decision we rely on external information and what outcomes we expect from those decisions. Decisions are easy to make if information is complete and the outcomes are certain. But how does the brain combine different sources of partial information to make decisions in the face of uncertain outcomes?

In this course we will examine decision making from both behavioral and neurobiological points of view. Specifically, we will learn about different methods used in psychology, economics, and neuroscience (e.g. operant conditioning, game theory, reinforcement learning, prospect theory, electrophysiology, neuroimaging) to study decision making at various levels, from cognitive processes to underpinning neural activity and mechanisms. 

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

PSYC 50.07


In 21W at 2, Kelly Finn
Ever wonder what it's like to be a cat, or a fish, or a bat, or an octopus? Without careful consideration of another animal's sensory capacities, cognitive capabilities, and social situation, we risk inappropriately ascribing our own human characteristics and motivations to them when explaining their behavior (i.e. anthropomorphization). This course explores the "umwelts" or sensory self-worlds of non-humans, using concepts from information theory to deconstruct what they may be perceiving.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6, and PSYC 10

PSYC 50.08

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

In 20X 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 21W 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: PSYC 35, PSYC 37, PSYC 45 or PSYC 46

PSYC 50.12

Neuroscience of Stress

In 20F at 2A, Katherine Nautiyal
This course explores the neuroscience of stress, beginning with an overview of the neural and endocrine responses to a stressor, including their beneficial functions. Next, the course will cover a series of focused topics on how stress influences physiology, behavior and cognition, and how various physiological systems can influence the stress response. This includes an understanding of anxiety disorders, depression, and the susceptibility and resilience to stressors, as well an examination of how stress effects learning and memory, immunity, and sex behavior. Topics also include how individual differences such as how age, sex, and immunity influence neural and endocrine responses to stress.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6 and one of the four core neuroscience classes, or instructor permission.

PSYC 50.13

Hemispheric Differences

In 21W at 12, Margaret Funnell
The goal of this course is to explore differences between the right and left hemispheres of the human brain.  We will examine evidence from a variety of sources, including neuroanatomical studies, neuroimaging experiments, animal models, studies involving patients with unilateral brain lesions, and split-brain research, to characterize the nature of the structural and functional differences between the two hemispheres.  We will also study the development of laterality (ontogenetic and phylogenetic) to better understand why the two hemispheres of the human brain are specialized for different functions.

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

PSYC 50.14

Functional Neuroimaging of Psychiatric Disorders: Insights into the Human Brain-Mind in Health and Disease

TBD, David Silbersweig
Functional brain imaging has revolutionized the study of systems-level behavioral neuroscience and psychiatric disorders, through the ability to localize and characterize distributed brain activity directly associated with perception, cognition, emotion and behavior in disorders where there are not gross brain lesions. This seminar will introduce students to translational neuroimaging methods at the interface of neuroscience, psychology and medicine. It will cover recent and ongoing advances in our understanding of fronto-limbic-subcortical brain circuitry across the range of psychiatric disorders (e.g. mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, addictions). It will discuss new, emerging biological (as opposed to descriptive) taxonomies and conceptualizations of mental illness and its treatment. It will explore the implications of such knowledge for issues such as consciousness, meaning, free will, emotion, resilience, and religiosity. It will incorporate clinical observations, scientific data and readings, and examine future directions in brain-mind medicine.

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


Issues in Information Processing

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

PSYC 51.02

Facial Perception

In 20F at 10A, Maria Ida Gobbini
This course will focus on face perception, 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 the representation of person knowledge and the mental states of others focusing also on what happens when these systems are impaired.

Faces play a fundamental role in facilitating social exchanges. Therefore, particular emphasis will be put on different aspects of face perception from face perception in different animal species to recognition of identity and decoding of different type of social cues in humans. A brief overview of person perception through other modalities such as voice perception and body posture also will be discussed.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 51.09

Human Memory

In 21S at 2, 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.

PSYC 51.12

Visual Cognition

In 21W at 2A, Viola Störmer
In this course, we will learn about visual cognition: how we encode, use, and interpret visual information. We hope you will internalize principles of visual cognition research, including methods, paradigms, and design of experiments.  After the course, you should have knowledge about the human ability to perceive, recognize, remember, and imagine objects and scenes; and about different theories on perception, attention, and memory. We'll discuss things from both a cognitive psychology and neuroscientific perspective.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisites: PSYC 1 or 6; and PSYC 10; and PSYC 21, PSYC 27, PSYC 28, or PSYC 38


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 20F 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

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

PSYC 53.10

Social Affective Decisions

In 21W 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, PSYC 28, or PSYC 38

PSYC 53.14

Social Neurocognition

In 21S at 12, Arjen Stolk
This course will provide students with a thorough background in the emergent field of social cognitive neuroscience. A broad range of social phenomena will be examined at multiple levels. First, at the social level including experience and behaviors. Second, at the cognitive level which deals with information processing systems. And lastly, at the neural level which deals with brain/neuronal bases of the first two levels. Topics include joint action, animal and human communication, and altered social functioning in psychiatric and neurological disorders. These topics will be discussed at both general and specific (article) levels.

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 54.02

Health Psychology

In 21W 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) health promotion; 2) chronic physical illness; and 3) interacting with the US healthcare system. This course utilizes a multi-modal learning approach and will include lectures, readings, large and small group class discussions, videos, guest speakers, and self-reflection of your own health behavior. 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 via doctor/patient/medical system aspects of care. We will also review health promotion/behavior change strategies.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 54.03

Forms of Therapy

In 21S 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 21S 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, PSYC 28, or PSYC 38; or PSYC 6.

PSYC 54.06

Aging and Life Stories

In 20F at 2, Robert Santulli
The goal of the course is to learn about the biological, psychological, sociocultural, and clinical aspects of aging, and to appreciate the lived experience of older people.  Learning will occur in two ways: (1) traditional classroom activities, such as lectures, readings, discussions, and the like; and (2) regular meetings with an elder in the community, to 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 influenced the individual's personality, life course, and adaptation to old age.

Enrollment limited to 24 students.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6, or instructor permission.

PSYC 54.07

Clinical Science Practicum

In 20F 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.