Module PPP-3003:
Brain Develop & Degeneration

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Kami Koldewyn

Overall aims and purpose

The emphasis of the course will be on providing students with a foundation for understanding the relationship between biological factors and the brain across the life span, as illustrated by neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. These disorders will be discussed in the context of life-span development and compared to “normal” childhood development and “normal” aging. Students will become familiar with the clinical features of each disorder and the genetic, molecular and neural causes and consequences. Similarities and differences between disorders will be emphasized with a special focus on “vulnerable” brain systems and molecular pathways. Students will build on knowledge gained in their second year, learning how each disorder impacts cognition, behaviour, neural structures and molecular and intracellular systems. Students will read relevant scientific articles and become familiar not only with the genetic, molecular and neuroscientific tools used to study these disorders but also best practice in designing and implementing studies involving people with neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. Through reading and group discussion, students will also gain practice in understanding and evaluating the current neuroscientific and genetic literature.

Course content

  • Brief review of basic neuroanatomy and neurobiology (in-depth aspects of both will be covered as they become relevant to specific disorders)
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders discussed will include (but not be limited to) Williams Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Down Syndrome and Rett Syndrome.
  • Neurodegenerative disorders discussed will include (but not be limited to) Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Fragile X Tremor and Ataxia Syndrome, (FXTAS) and Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Genetic mechanisms commonly involved in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders
  • Clinical, cognitive and neural phenotypes of these disorders
  • Overview of techniques used in assessing and describing these disorders (e.g., neuropsychological testing, genetic techniques, neuroimaging).
  • Ethical implications of genetic and neural studies of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders ntent

Assessment Criteria


  • Comprehensive and accurate coverage of the area with clarity of argument and expression. Depth of insight into theoretical issues.
  • Deep understanding of genetic and neural underpinning of covered disorders and the ability to connect them to other similar disorders covered only briefly
  • In depth knowledge of various disorders and the ability to thoroughly explain the similarities and differences between them.
  • Evidence that the student’s understanding does not only rely on lecture material but is also based on core texts and additional reading of recommended papers as well as knowledge and skills learned in other modules across the psychology course.


  • Adequate answers or writing to the question, largely based on lecture material. No real development of arguments.
  • Basic understanding of genetic and neural underpinnings of the covered disorders
  • Adequate knowledge about various disorders and some ability to compare and contrast them


  • Reasonably comprehensive coverage of the topic. Well organised and structured writing. Good understanding of the material.
  • Good understanding of genetic and neural underpinnings of the covered disorders
  • Good knowledge of various disorders and the ability to explain several similarities and differences between them.

Learning outcomes

  1. Describe the clinical, cognitive and neural phenotype of each disorder presented during the course.

  2. Demonstrate knowledge of various brain systems and structures that are impacted in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders at both a whole-brain and a cellular (e.g. dendrites, synapses, neurotransmission) level.

  3. Demonstrate knowledge of the genetic abnormalities that can have neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative consequences (e.g., chromosomal abnormalities, deletion, duplication, SNPs).

  4. Engage in both in-class and on-line discussions of topics and material relevant to the module.

  5. Compare and contrast disorders and show the ability to describe these similarities and differences at a behavioural, cognitive and biological level.

  6. Critically evaluate current theories in neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration through in-depth analysis of contemporary research papers.

  7. Engage in critically thinking about and discussing the ethical challenges involved in researching these disorders as well as the ethical implications of applying the findings from such research.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Review of Scientific Papers

Students will write short (<500 word) reviews of the original scientific paper we read each week. Students will complete four of these short reviews in preparation for writing a longer (1500 word) review of a paper of their own choosing. All of these will be marked and feedback on the shorter critiques will help students prepare for writing the longer piece (due at the end of the module).


Students will create a ~1500 word blog or 5-minute vlog exploring the ethics around a neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative disorder. In the b/vlog, students will connect a "real-world" event (covered by the main-stream media in some way) to at least one scientific article and discuss both in the context of ethics.


Students will engage in on-line discussion each week - sharing relevant articles with each others and continuing in-class discussion of relevant topics. In addition, students will lead a small-group discussion during one week's seminar session. Participation will be marked every week, but on an exemption basis (students must contribute at least 4 comments/shares during the week to get full credit).

EXAM Final Exam

Will cover the entire semester and consist of 20 short-answer questions and a short "seen" essay for which students can plan before entering the exam.

Participation 1 1
Participation 2 1
Participation 3 1
Participation 4 1
Participation 5 1
Participation 6 1
Participation 7 1
Participation 8 1
Participation 9 1
Participation 10 1

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 33
Private study

Note that this time includes not only both reading and studying time, but also time dedicated each week to on-line interaction and discussion with fellow classmates.

Seminar 11

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.
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Caring - Showing concern for others; caring for children, people with disabilities and/or the elderly
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • 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.
  • Be sensitive and react appropriately to contextual and interpersonal psychological factors.
  • 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.
  • Be aware of ethical principles and approval procedures.


Resource implications for students

Students will not need to purchase textbooks and, although a few textbooks will be available in the library as a resource, students will not be *required* to do any reading outside the articles listed in the Talis reading list.

Talis Reading list

Reading list

All required readings will be provided and include both primary scientific articles and articles discussing ethical issues relevant to module content. In addition to the required reading for each week, review articles and other helpful reading will be provided as "reference reading material".

Courses including this module