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Module PSP-3004:
The Social Brain

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Prof Paul Downing

Overall aims and purpose

Humans spend much of their time in the company of other people, whose behaviour is complex, often unpredictable, and highly relevant to our own daily lives. Making sense of all of this places strong demands on the "social brain". We can think of the social brain as a system that continuously (and often unconsciously) seeks answers to questions: Is anyone there? Who is that? What are they looking at? What are they doing? What are they feeling? What are they thinking? How do I feel about them? Modern social-cognitive neuroscience has uncovered a great deal about the brain systems that ask and answer these questions. The module will cover important concepts and findings in this area. There is a particular emphasis on understanding the “typical” social brain - we do not focus on mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders.

Course content

Over the lecture series, we consider the social brain from the point of view of the kinds of "questions" that it must be asking about others around us. What are the brain processes that answer those questions? E.g.

  1. Is someone there? (person detection)
  2. Who is there? (person recognition)
  3. What are you looking at? (gaze perception)
  4. How are you feeling? (emotion perception)
  5. What are you doing? (action perception)
  6. What are you thinking? (mentalising)
  7. How do I feel about you? (trust)
  8. How will you react? (social prediction)

Assessment Criteria


Adequate answer to the question, largely based on lecture material. Limited elaboration of arguments.


Reasonably comprehensive coverage. Well organised and structured. Good understanding of the material.


Comprehensive and accurate coverage of the area clarity of argument and expression. Depth of insight into theoretical issues.

Learning outcomes

  1. Have an understanding of major questions, theoretical perspectives, and debates in human social-cognitive neuroscience.

  2. Understand some of the key evidence on how the brain supports social-cognitive processes in humans.

  3. Be able to think and write critically about current research in human social-cognitive neuroscience.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Written assignment, including essay Review of Journal Article

Students will select one from a list of short journal articles and write a very brief summary of the findings, followed by a critical review of one or more aspects of the study.

Written assignment, including essay Review of Journal Article 2

Students will select one from a list of short journal articles and write a very brief summary of the findings, followed by a critical review of one or more aspects of the study.

EXAM Final Exam

Set of essay questions on material drawn from the whole semester.


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 24
Private study 176

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • Understand the scientific underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
  • Apply multiple perspectives to psychological issues and integrate ideas and findings across the multiple perspectives in psychology.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in written form.
  • Retrieve and organise information effectively.
  • Handle primary source material critically.
  • Use effectively personal planning and project management skills.
  • Work effectively under pressure (time pressure, limited resources, etc) as independent and pragmatic learners.
  • Problem-solve by clarifying questions, considering alternative solutions, making critical judgements, and evaluating outcomes.
  • Reason scientifically and demonstrate the relationship between theory and evidence.
  • Understand and investigate the role of brain function in all human behaviour and experience.
  • Comprehend and use psychological data effectively, demonstrating a systematic knowledge of the application and limitations of various research paradigms and techniques.
  • Employ evidence-based reasoning and examine practical, theoretical and ethical issues associated with the use of different methodologies, paradigms and methods of analysis in psychology.


Resource implications for students

Students are encouraged to obtain a copy of "The student's guide to social neuroscience 2nd Ed" by Jamie Ward. It is also available in an e-version from the library.

Reading list

"The student's guide to social neuroscience" by Jamie Ward, Psychology Press. 2nd Edition.

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: