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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 module will provide 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. Neurodevelopmental disorders discussed will focus on those of known genetic origin, and neurodegenerative disorders discussed will focus on protein accumulation disorders. All disorders will be discussed in the context of life-span development and compared to “typical” childhood development and “normal” aging. Students will become familiar with the clinical features of each disorder as well as the genetic, molecular and neural causes and consequences. Similarities and differences between disorders will be emphasised with a special focus on “vulnerable” brain systems and common 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 the ethical questions and issues inherent 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 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 and/or molecular 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

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
  • 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 outside of provided module material.
  • 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 covered in class and some inclusion of outside material.
  • Good but not comprehensive understanding of the 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. Propose interesting and relevant research questions, including critical assessment of potential approaches to answering such questions

  2. Differentiate between, reflect on, and appreciate the value of (and difference between) clinical and statistical significance

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

  4. Demonstrate engagement with materials in weekly seminars.

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

  6. 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.

  7. Demonstrate knowledge of the genetic changes that can have neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative consequences (e.g., chromosomal abnormalities, mutations (or various types), deletion, duplication, SNPs).

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

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

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

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Mini-Critique 1 10
INDIVIDUAL BLOG Blog/Video Blog 20
EXAM Final Exam 25
ESSAY Review of Scientific Paper 20
ESSAY Mini-Critique 2 10
COURSEWORK Weekly Seminar Work 15

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 33
Private study

Note that this time includes not only reading, writing, and studying time, but also time dedicated each week to on-line interaction and discussion with the lecturer and with fellow classmates. There is weekly reading and the reading needs to be done to be prepared for the small-group discussions in the seminar.


Time will be set-aside at the beginning of each seminar for questions about and clarifications from that week's lecture. The remainder of the time will be spent in small-group discussions of that week's reading [which will include one empirical paper and one ethics-related paper]. We'll pull together back into a whole class at the end to highlight the most central points from the reading.


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.
  • 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

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

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: