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 50.01

Neuroscience of Mental Illness

The goal of this course is to explore the neuroscience of mental disorders. The ways in which we conceptualize and categorize psychopathology is changing rapidly, particularly as we gain insights into the neurological correlates of mental illness. We will review the characteristics of specific mental disorders and then delve into current neuroscientific research. We will focus in particular on the fundamental processes underlying psychopathology so that we can gain a better understanding of neurological relationships amongst seemingly disparate disorders. Although the class is focused on neuroscience, mental disorders cannot be fully understood without considering the experience of those suffering from these disorders. To better understand the experience of mental illness, we will watch a series of films and read a personal account of mental illness.

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

PSYC 50.02

Decision Making: Linking Behavior to Brain

In 21S, Remote with synchronous components in the F block, 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


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

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

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

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.


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

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, Remote with synchronous components in the D block, 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

Viola Störmer
In this course, we will explore how physical energy (e.g., lights) is converted into neural code, and how that neural code is interpreted to render our meaningful and rich experience of the world. We will learn how our own memories, attention, and cultural background influence our perception of people, objects, scenes, and emotions; what we can learn from optical illusions; what and why we forget certain visual images but remember others; what the failures of visual attention mean in real-life contexts (such as in clinical settings, e.g., mammography, or the TSA), and how experience shapes our ability to see. 

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


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

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 Neurodevelopment

In 21S, Remote with synchronous components in the K block, 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.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6, PSYC 21, PSYC 28, or PSYC 38


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

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 53.13

Social Neuroscience

This class will focus on the principles of social neuroscience 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

PSYC 53.14

Social Neurocognition

In 21S, Remote with synchronous components in the E block, 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.

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 54.02

Health Psychology

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

William Hudenko

Two Sections will be offered in 21S:
Remote, with synchronous components in the K block OR
Remote, with on-campus components in the J  block

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, Remote with synchronous components in the D block, 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

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 didactic activities, such as lectures, readings, discussions, and the like; and (2) regular meetings, over Zoom, 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 16 students.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6, or instructor permission.

PSYC 54.07

Clinical Science Practicum


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.

PSYC 54.08


In 21S, Remote with synchronous components in the J block, Melissa Herman
This course will survey the theory and research of leadership from a social psychological perspective, with an eye toward the policy implications of various leadership strategies.  Students are expected to do a substantial amount of reading and writing each week, actively participate in discussion during each class session, and complete a group research project.  At the conclusion of the course, students should be able to communicate what good leadership is, what good leaders do, who makes a good leader and why, and how leadership impacts organizational success.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1