Topics Courses, 2022-2023

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 23W at 12, Margaret Funnell

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: This course requires a strong background in neuroscience; at minimum, successful completion of PSYC 6.

PSYC 50.03


In 23S, at 12, Jeff Stott

Neuroethology is the mechanistic and evolutionary approach to the study of animal behavior ('ethology') and its underlying neural circuit processes. A central theme of neuroethology is its focus specifically on behaviors that have been honed by natural selection (like mate selection, communication, locomotion). Often, this can be best understood in model organisms that have unique and highly specialized adaptations. In this course we will ask questions such as, how do bats echolocate? Does birdsong give us insight into how the human brain acquires language? What can a crab teach us about plasticity in the nervous system? Through a combination of readings, video content, and in-class discussion, we will examine general principles of nervous system function highlighted by each model organism. Classes will contain a mix of lectures, discussion, activities, and student presentations.

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

PSYC 50.07


In 22F, Kelly Finn at 11

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 or equivalent Statistics course

PSYC 50.08

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

In 22X at 2, Sean 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 23S 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 

PSYC 50.14

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

In 22F at 3A, 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

PSYC 50.15

Sleep and Sleep Disorders

In 23W at 3A, Glen Greenough

Sleep is a bodily function that is preserved among all animal species.  Sleep is essential for life and optimal functioning.  This course will examine the neuroanatomical and neurophysiologic underpinnings of sleep.  Normal and disordered sleep will be discussed.  The pathologic processes that disrupt normal sleep and lead to disordered sleep in human beings will also be examined.  The consequences of disordered sleep, inadequate sleep or poor-quality sleep on individuals and society as a whole will be discussed.  

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 51.14

Sustainable Choices: Understanding Human Cognition To Save The Planet

In 23W, Alireza Soltani

Every choice we make in our daily life has an impact on the environment we live in and on life on earth in general. While perceiving this impact is impossible in most cases, the enormous human population and globalization make the cumulative impact of every simple choice very profound. In this multi-disciplinary course, we explore how human activities affect life on earth in terms of climate change, biodiversity, deforestation, pollution, etc., in order to learn about the intricate link between our everyday choices and eco-sustainability, as well as how physical and biological laws limit or improve our ability to be sustainable. This course is focused on learning about the impact of our choices as it is focused on learning about heuristics/biases that humans exhibit when making those choices and how these heuristics/biases emerge in the brain. The course brings together ideas from Neuroscience, Psychology, Economics, Physics, and Biology among other fields to teach students about how and to what extent decisions we face in everyday life, directly or indirectly, influence life on earth, and how negative impacts can be mitigated by understanding the neural bases of human decision making.



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 22F 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 Neurodevelopment

In 23S 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.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6, PSYC 21, PSYC 28, or PSYC 38 (Previously offered as PSYC 27)

PSYC 52.08

STEM Learning and Education

In 23W at 10A, David Kraemer

How do we learn, understand, and teach science, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM disciplines)? In this class, we will explore the nature and development of the scientific mind; how we formulate theories, design experiments, and understand scientific, technological, and mathematical concepts; and how we learn and teach related skills in the classroom, addressing the debate about the effectiveness of direct instruction and hands-on approaches. Open to all classes.

Crosslisted as: EDUC 46 and COGS 32

PSYC 52.09


In 23S at 9L, Donna Coch

The majority of children entering first grade do not know how to read; the majority of children leaving first grade do know how to read, at least at a basic level. What is involved in the amazing development of the ability to make meaning of marks on a page? What goes on in the brain during reading and learning to read? We explore answers to these questions and more in this introduction to reading as we investigate the roles of orthography, phonology, semantics, syntax, and comprehension in reading. We focus on the development of reading behaviors, the brain bases of reading skills, and how scientific discoveries can inform educational practices. Open to all classes.

Crosslisted as: EDUC 50, COGS 33, and LING 11.19


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 Motivations in Decision-Making

In 23S 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 28, or PSYC 38 (Previously offered as PSYC 27)

PSYC 53.15

Positive Psychology and Resilience

In 22F at 10A, Mark Detzer

This course will provide an overview of the field of Positive Psychology.  Students will be provided with opportunities to learn theory and research pertaining to the psychology of human strengths, assets, abilities, and resilience. Recent empirical research will be reviewed, and students will be asked to apply the information in written assignments and class discussion. Topics will include: subjective well-being and positive emotions; optimal performance; personal fulfillment; optimal medical health; resilience; emotional intelligence; creativity; optimism; hope; self-efficacy; goals and life commitments; wisdom; humility/ compassion/ altruism; forgiveness; gratitude; love; moral motivation and the virtues (strengths of character); intrinsic motivation and flow; social support; positive coping; spirituality, meaning and purpose in life; the civic virtues (altruism, volunteerism, "prosocial" behavior).

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 23W at 3A, Mark Detzer

This course will explore the relationship between psychology and health.  We will study clinical psychology research and treatment contributions to 1) health promotion; 2) chronic physical illness; and 3) interaction with the US healthcare system. This course utilizes a multi-modal learning approach and will include lectures, readings, small and large group class discussions, videos, guest speakers, and self-reflection of each student's own health behavior. Through in-depth study of topics such as lifestyle and health, stress, cancer and palliative care, chronic physical pain, and insomnia, we will explore illness and the individual/family, adherence/self-management, and medical treatment issues including doctor/patient/medical system aspects of care.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 54.03

Forms of Therapy

In 23S 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 23W 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 28, or PSYC 38 (Previously offered as PSYC 27); or PSYC 6.

PSYC 54.06

Living with Cognitive Decline and Dementia

In 22X at 2A, Robert Santulli

The goal of the course is to learn about Alzheimer's disease and other dementias from a variety of perspectives.  This will occur in two ways: (1) traditional classroom activities, including lectures, readings, videos, and discussions; and (2) weekly meetings with a person with dementia and a close family member. Through these methods, you will come to appreciate the lived experience of this devastating condition.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 54.08


In 22F at 2A, John Jordan 

What makes a great leader?  Why would others follow you?  A century of psychological research clarifies the traits, skills and behaviors of effective leaders, including how they attract, influence, develop and empower followers to excel in different situations.  Readings will explain the psychological science; classroom demonstrations, guest leader interviews, case study discussions and small group challenges will illuminate it.  Outside the classroom, weekly leadership practice assignments will reinforce core concepts, increase self-awareness, and develop leadership capabilities, all in support of a community impact initiative that each student will select, plan and lead (courage required).  Your instructor will apply three decades of experience in developing thousands of leaders at all levels on multiple continents, to guide and challenge you to develop your science-based leadership potential.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or permission of instructor