Topics Courses, 2024-2025

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 24F 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 50.02

Decision Making: Linking Behavior to Brain

In 25W at 12, 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 50.03


In 25S, 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 50.08

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

In 24X 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 25W 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 50.15

Sleep and Sleep Disorders

In 25W 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 51.02

Face Perception

In 24F at 10, James Haxby

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.

Crosslisted as: COGS 11.04

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

PSYC 51.13


In 24F at 3A, Samantha Wray

The deceptively simple tasks of perceiving and producing language require the performance of complicated and often overlapping functions at high speeds. How can we study the representations and processes that make language possible as they interact in the black box that is the human mind? The goal of this course is to provide a broad understanding of research focusing on how the human mind structures, stores and accesses linguistic information. 

Prerequisites: LING 1 or COGS 1 or Instructor Permission

Crosslisted as:  LING 25 LING 50.01 COGS 50.05

Dist: SOC

PSYC 51.16

Computational Models of Behavior

In 25S at 11, John Murray

Psychology and neuroscience have long sought to learn how brains function — such as, how we make decisions and learn from experience — by studying behavior during cognitive tasks. But how much can behavioral data really reveal about how the brain does what it does? This endeavor has been revolutionized by the development of computational models of behavior, mathematically defined algorithms describing mental processes that generate behavioral outputs from sensory and internal variables. In this approach, quantitative behavioral data can be compared to simulated behavior from models, and the model parameters can be fit to empirical data.

The goal of this course is to understand how computational models of behavior can be used to gain insight into psychological and neural processes. We will focus on canonical models of decision making and reinforcement learning. We will place emphasis on conceptual issues such as the purpose and logic of computational modeling and its role in experimental science.

Prerequisite: One of PSYC 1 or PSYC 6; and PSYC 10 (or equivalent)


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 24F, 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 52.09

The Reading Brain: Education and Development

In 25S, 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. 

Crosslisted as: COGS 33, EDUC 50, 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 24F 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 53.14

Social Neurocognition

In 24F at 9L, 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


PSYC 53.15

Positive Psychology

In 25S at 3A, Laurie Veillette

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 54.03

Forms of Therapy

In 25S 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 54.04

Forensic Psychology

In 24X at 6A, Anne Corbin

This course introduces students to the various ways psychology relates to the law and its systems and processes. The course focuses on the role of the forensic psychologist in the criminal justice system and other workplaces. It also focuses on the tools and responsibilities of a forensic psychologist.

Prerequisite: One of the following: PSYC 1, PSYC 6, COGS 1, SOCY 1, or SOCY 2.

Dist: SOC.

PSYC 54.05

Consumer Neuroscience

In 25W at 2, 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 54.08


In 24F 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