Psychological & Brain Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience Major, Personality and Individual Differences Specialization

Program Requirements

  • Total units required: 45-49 units (36-37, as well as prerequisites, for the major requirements plus 9-12 units for the specialization)

How does the brain think? Cognitive neuroscience refers to how mental functions are linked to the operation of the brain and nervous system. The goal of cognitive neuroscience is to provide an understanding of psychological processes such as attention, memory, thinking, and emotion in terms of physical principles and biological components. At the same time, cognitive neuroscience aims to provide an understanding of the psychological constraints on how the brain functions, computes, and generates behavior. Students who pursue the undergraduate major in Psychological & Brain Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience (PB&S:CN) will gain a strong foundation in how to study the brain and mind at various levels of analysis, including cellular biology, brain systems, cognitive and affective function, and neural computation. In addition, they will gain an appreciation of the relation between healthy cognitive and brain function and its breakdown in various disease states and disorders. The PB&S:CN major provides excellent preparation for a career in health and medical professions, scientific research, computer fields, education, and law.


Students must complete the following courses outside of Psychological & Brain Sciences:

Math 132Calculus II3
Biol 2960Principles of Biology I4
Total Units7

Note: Each of these prerequisites has its own prerequisites: Math 132 Calculus II requires Math 131; for Biol 2960 Principles of Biology I, taking Chem 111A and Chem 112A (concurrently) is strongly recommended. These courses are biology and pre-med prerequisites as well, and they are typically completed during a student's first year. They may alternatively be satisfied through AP credit or any other mechanism approved by the respective department or the College. These prerequisites do not earn credit toward the P&BS:CN major, but must be completed with a passing grade (C- or above) by the end of the student’s third-year to remain in good standing for the major.

Required Courses

Psych 100BIntroduction to Psychology3
Psych 300Introduction to Psychological Statistics3
Psych 301Experimental Psychology4
or Psych 3011 Experimental Psychology
Psych 3401Biological Psychology3
or Psych 344 Principles of the Nervous System
Psych 360Cognitive Psychology3
Psych 3604Cognitive Neuroscience3
Total Units19

Note: The first three requirements (i.e., Psych 100B Introduction to Psychology, Psych 300 Introduction to Psychological Statistics, and Psych 301 Experimental Psychology/Psych 3011 Experimental Psychology) are the same as those for the regular P&BS major. Psych 344 Principles of the Nervous System is home-based in Biology; students should register under the cross-listed Psych L33 course designation, not Biol 3411 Principles of the Nervous System.

Exemption from Psych 100B Introduction to Psychology is possible in the following circumstances:

  • Completion of an equivalent course transferred from another institution, if approved by the director of undergraduate studies.
  • An AP psychology test score of 5, an IB score of 6 or 7, or a British A-Level grade of A. 
  • SDS 2200, SDS 3200, or DAT 120 may substitute for Psych 300 Introduction to Psychological Statistics. No AP math course can substitute for Psych 300 Introduction to Psychological Statistics.

In cases where an exemption is granted (e.g., Psych 100B, Psych 300), no credits are earned toward the major, so exempt courses must be made up with additional P&BS content electives (approved by the major advisor).

Additional Cognitive and Biological Distributions

Students must complete two courses — one each from the Distribution A and B lists:

Distribution A eligible courses:*

Psych 321Developmental Psychology3
Psych 330Sensation and Perception3
Psych 358Language Acquisition3
Psych 361Psychology of Learning3
Psych 380Human Learning and Memory3
Psych 4099Human Evolutionary Psychology3
Psych 4182Perception, Thought, and Action3
Psych 433Psychology of Language3
Psych 3175Applied Statistical Analysis with R3
Psych 3890Advanced Psychological Statistics: The General Linear Model and Beyond3

Distribution B eligible courses:*

Psych 345Genes, Environment, and Human Behavior3
Biol 3057Physiological Control Systems3
Biol 3151Endocrinology3
Biol 328Principles in Human Physiology4
Biol 3421Introduction to Neuroethology3
Biol 3422Genes, Brains, and Behavior3
Biol 363The Neuroscience of Movement: You Think, So You Can Dance?3
Physics 350Physics of the Brain3
Psych 3175Applied Statistical Analysis with R3
Psych 3890Advanced Psychological Statistics: The General Linear Model and Beyond3

Note: Psych 3175 Applied Statistical Analysis with R or Psych 3890 Advanced Psychological Statistics: The General Linear Model and Beyond can be allowed to fulfill either Distribution A or B; students must complete at least one non-statistics course for the Additional Cognitive and Biological Distributions requirement.

Computation Requirement

Students must complete one of the following courses:*

CSE 131Introduction to Computer Science3
Psych 3175Applied Statistical Analysis with R3
Psych 4631Introduction to Computational Cognitive Science3
Psych 5007Statistics and Data Analysis in MATLAB2

With prior approval, another course involving a significant computational/programming component may be substituted.

Capstone/Depth Requirement

Students must complete three of the following courses:*

Capstone/Depth eligible courses:

Psych 4182Perception, Thought, and Action3
Psych 4412Advanced Cognitive Neuroscience (or Psych 4413 Advanced Cognitive Neuroscience (WI))3
Psych 4512Neurobiology of Learning & Memory3
Psych 4631Introduction to Computational Cognitive Science3
Psych 4746Biological Pathways to Psychopathology: From Genes and the Environment to Brain and Behavior3
Psych 4765Inside the Disordered Brain: Biological Bases of the Major Mental Disorders3
Biol 404Laboratory of Neurophysiology4
Biol 4030Biological Clocks3
Biol 4580Principles of Human Anatomy and Development3
Biol 4582The Physiology and Biophysics of Consciousness2
Phil 4212Philosophy of Neuroscience3

Additional Capstone/Depth eligible courses: 

  • Psych 333 (all 3 units must be completed in one semester and in one lab to be considered for approval; taken Credit/No-Credit) can be used satisfy up to 3 units of the Capstone/Depth requirement.
  • FYP 3001 Ampersand: Research in Mind, Brain, Behavior (two consecutive semesters must be completed; 3 units total) can substitute for Psych 333.
  • Psych 444B (3 units; taken for a letter grade and requiring a final paper) can be used to satisfy up to 6 units of the Capstone/Depth requirement.
  • The Honors Program in Psychology (Psych 498/Psych 499 can be used to satisfy up to 3 units total of the Capstone/Depth requirement).
In total, no more than 6 units of the above may be applied toward the Capstone/Depth requirement.
Note: Unless a student explicitly petitions for an exception and is granted written prior approval, only the above Capstone/Depth eligible courses can be counted toward the Capstone/Depth requirement. Contact for the petition.

If a course falls into more than one category, it can be used to fulfill only one of those categories (i.e., no double-counting).

Acceptance Into the Psychological & Brain Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience Major

Acceptance into the major is contingent upon an application and then approval by the major committee. As part of this application, the student will meet with an appropriate advisor who will carefully review the requirements and oversee the student's progress. A brief, one-page statement from the student about why they feel the cognitive neuroscience major is appropriate for them will be requested as part of the application.

Washington University students will be considered for admission to the P&BS:CN major no sooner than during their third semester (sophomore year). Decisions are based on the student's statement and academic record as well as the interview with the advisor. A minimum GPA of 2.0 is required for admission into the major.

Personality and Individual Differences Specialization

To augment the major in Psychological & Brain Sciences, the department offers the option of a specialization for students who wish to engage more intensively with a specific area within the discipline.

A specialization may be a valuable experience for students planning on graduate study in psychology or related fields or for those who have a particular interest or want to gain expertise in one of the approved specializations. It may provide a useful preparation for the Honors program in psychology, or it may serve as a substitute for the Honors experience for those students who may not qualify for Honors.

Completion of a specialization entails 12 units:

  • Three courses (9 units), at least one of which must be an advanced, 400-level course; and
  • A semester of research in an appropriate, approved lab consisting of Psych 444C Independent Study for a Concentration in Psychological and Brain Sciences, which requires the successful completion of an American Psychological Association–style research paper or an approved Honors project. In some cases, a relevant internship or practicum may be an appropriate alternative to research experience. (Note: Students may be required to complete a preliminary semester [3 units] of Psych 333 Independent Study in Psychological and Brain Sciences, depending on the nature of the project intended for Psych 444C; the additional independent research is at the discretion of the research mentor and will not be counted toward the completion of the specialization requirements.)

One course taken for a specialization may be used to fulfill no more than one of the core categories or distribution requirements of a Psychological & Brain Sciences major (i.e., one course could double-count for the major and the specialization). None of the units for a specialization can be counted for any other major or minor (i.e., there is no double counting with another major or minor). For those pursuing the Psychological & Brain Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience major, the Cognitive Neuroscience Specialization is not an option.

Each specialization has a Psychological & Brain Sciences faculty advisor/coordinator who will meet with interested students to help ensure the successful and appropriate completion of the specialization and who serves as the liaison with the Psychological & Brain Sciences Undergraduate Studies Committee. A student may pursue only one specialization.

Students should contact Shelley Kohlman ( in Somers Family Hall, Room 207B, to arrange a specialization. Forms are available from Shelley, and completed forms must be returned to her in order for a specialization to be considered officially "in progress."

Recognition of the specialization will appear on the student’s academic record under Milestones once all requirements have been met.

Requirements for the Personality and Individual Differences Specialization

This specialization allows students to acquire deeper knowledge of how and why individuals differ from one another and the ways in which individual (e.g., personality) and group (e.g., gender) differences influence behavior, emotion, experience, identity, and psychopathology. The core course for the specialization (Psych 353) considers personality more generally. The seminars explore, in depth, specific aspects of personality and individual differences, including biological bases of individual differences (i.e., genetics), the interpersonal processes associated with personality and personality judgment, individual differences in self and identity, group differences, and personality pathology.

Advisor/coordinator: Professor Tammy English

Course work required:

Psych 353Psychology of Personality3

Electives (must include two courses, at least one of which is at the 400 level):

Psych 345Genes, Environment, and Human Behavior3
Psych 3645Understanding Emotions3
Psych 413Contemporary Topics in Social Psychology (with prior approval only)3
Psych 4355Personality Development Across the Life Span3
Psych 4367Seminar in Positive Psychology3
Psych 4555Emotion Regulation3
Psych 4593Psychology of the Good Life3

Research mentorship: Prior approved research mentorship with a relevant faculty member and successful completion of a research paper (i.e., Psych 444C Independent Study for a Concentration in Psychological and Brain Sciences or Psych 498 Study for Honors/Psych 499 Study for Honors)

Relevant faculty: Tammy English, Patrick Hill, Derek Isaacowitz, Josh Jackson, Michael Strube, Jesse Sun, Renee Thompson, and Emily Willroth (other potential faculty mentors may be approved)

Additional Information

Transfer Credit

If accepted by the College of Arts & Sciences, transfer credits will be evaluated by the director of undergraduate studies in the P&BS department for their applicability toward either major in P&BS.

Senior Honors Program in Psychological & Brain Sciences

The primary goal of the honors program in P&BS is to provide students who have achieved a superior academic record with the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive empirical investigation under the direction of a faculty member.

To be admitted into the honors program, students must meet the following requirements:

  • Have overall and P&BS grade point averages of at least 3.65
  • Complete both Psych 300 and Psych 301 (or Psych 3011)
  • Have an approved honors research advisor

Contact Info

Contact:Shelley Kohlman