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Module PCP-3004:
Cognitive Neuroscience

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr George Houghton

Overall aims and purpose

This aim of this course is to introduce students to the primary methods in experimental and theoretical cognitive neuroscience, and the way in which the subject aims to unite the cognitive/behavioural and the the neural levels. All the methods are illustrated by their use in research on the brain/neural basis of cognitive representations and processes, e.g., functional localisation with fMRI, mapping time course of cognitive processes with ERP, investigating the neural coding of cognitive representations with single and multi-cellular recordings.

Course content

This course introduces students to the primary methods in experimental and theoretical cognitive neuroscience. On the experimental side we concentrate on haemodynamic (fMRI and PET) and electrophysiological (ERP and neural recording) techniques. On the the theoretical side, we review models of neural encoding, learning and representation, and consider how these may be used to explain cognitive/behavioural data. Topic areas covered typically include: face processing, written word processing, prefrontal lobe function, the control of action, episodic and semantic memory, the hippocampus and space/time encoding, Hebbian learning and the modifiable synapse.

Assessment Criteria


Adequate answer to the question, largely based on lecture material, or textbook level presentation. Provides no additional insight into the material.


Reasonably comprehensive coverage. Well organised and structured. Good insight and understanding of the material, showing some reading of primary literature.


Comprehensive and highly accurate coverage of the topic/question; outstanding clarity of argument, expression and organisation. Good depth of insight into theoretical and experimental issues.

Learning outcomes

  1. Students will have an understanding of the basic principles of neural encoding, representation and learning. They will understand the way in which these principles can be used to produce cognitive theories that can be related to brain function.

  2. Students will be able to describe and contrast the experimental methods most frequently used by psychologists working in the Cognitive Neurosciences, with particular emphasis on ERPs, fMRI, and neural-level recording.

  3. Students will be able to evaluate critically the relative suitability of these methods to tackling particular questions in cognitive psychology.

  4. Students will be able to describe and exemplify the use of the methods in a variety of specific domains, such as studies of object and face recognition, executive control, motor control, memory systems, attention, task switching, reading and spelling.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Proposal for a cognitive neuroscience study.

The student should choose a cognitive neuroscience topic that interests them (not necessarily one covered in the course), and (i) describe a previous study from the primary literature on this topic , and (ii) describe a plan for their own study based on the previous study (employing a cognitive neuroscience method).

EXAM Final Exam

Th exam consists of (i) a 48 question MCQ covering the entire course (ii) 2 essay questions. The MCQ and EACH essay question have equal weight. For the essay questions, one must be answered from each of two sections.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


The course is taught by lectures, with additional suggested readings. All lecture powerpoints are made available on Blackboard, along with any supplementary materials. Recorded lectures appear on Panopto.

Students are actively encouraged to ask questions at any point during lectures, and questions will be regularly addressed to the class by the lecturer.

Private study

The course contains a fair amount of rather technical material, fully illustrated in the lectures and presentations. Students will need to study this material and the associated readings in detail in their own time. The course assignment requires you to design your own study on a topic of your choice. You will need to search the primary literature for a previously published study on which to base your own.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Be computer literate for the purpose of processing and disseminating psychological data and information.
  • 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.
  • Reason scientifically and demonstrate the relationship between theory and evidence.
  • Understand and investigate the role of brain function in all human behaviour and experience.
  • 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


Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: