Information

How to get started in Cognitive Science?

How to get started in Cognitive Science?

I'm currently studying Philosophy and am planning to focus on the Philosophy of Mind/Perception + Philosophy of Language in the forthcoming years. However, I'd really wish to get into Cognitive Science for my further postgraduate career, but I'm not sure where to start given the vastness of the field. I believe that I still can incorporate some Psychology or Computer Science modules into my current curriculum in the next semester.

My question is, if I want to get into the Cognitive Science, which pre-requisites are essential to master beforehand? By pre-requisites I mean the range of subjects that would facilitate my transition into the field. I've found several 'Introduction to Cognitive Science' textbooks, but none of them happen to elaborate upon the pre-requisites.


Cognitive sciences is an extremely broad term, and really more of an interdisciplinary term for fields related by a focus on explaining behavior in terms of mental processes, with varying ways of operationalizing what that means exactly. (See MaríaAnt's excellent answer to a previous question, "What is the difference between behavioral science and cognitive science?")

Mathematics

Mastering some types of math is extremely helpful for postgraduate work. You will need to be very comfortable with doing algebra at least to a high school precalculus level, for starters. Understanding and expressing a hypothesis in the form of a statistical model is almost entirely algebraic, and unless you're comfortable manipulating differences and interactions between variables, you'll be limited to relatively simple questions. You'll also have a considerable head start if you have at least a passing familiarity with inferential logic, standard probability theory, matrix algebra and basic calculus.

Theoretical content

There is no theoretical content which should be learned universally before going into cognitive science, really. If you want to work in a particular field of cognitive science, then it is of course necessary to familiarize yourself with that particular field's literature. If you want to work with perception, you should be intimately familiar with the perception literature and relevant models, but need not necessarily know much about the clinical literature; if you want to work with AI, computer science is essential, where it's not at all critical in educational psychology. Different (sub)fields tend to be their own little fiefdoms.


Steven Pinker
Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology
Harvard College Professor

In the mid-20th century, psychology was no longer “the science of mental life” (as William James had defined it), but “the science of behavior.” Mentalistic concepts —thoughts, memories, goals, emotions — had been banned as unscientific, replaced by associations between stimuli and responses.

But new ideas about computation, feedback, information, and communication were in the air, and psychologists realized they had enormous potential for a science of mind. Four Harvard scholars used them to launch the “cognitive revolution.”

George Miller noted that people could label, quantify, or remember about seven items at a time, whether they were tones, digits, words, or phrases. That meant the human brain must be constricted by a bottleneck of seven (plus or minus two) units, which Miller called “chunks.”

Linguist Noam Chomsky, while at the Harvard Society of Fellows, noted that people can produce and understand an infinite number of novel sentences. They must have internalized a grammar, or set of rules, rather than having memorized a list of responses. Children are not taught this grammar, and so are equipped with a “language acquisition device” that instantiates a “universal grammar.”

Jerome Bruner co-authored “A Study of Thinking,” which analyzed people as constructive problem-solvers rather than passive media as they mastered new concepts. His colleague Roger Brown analyzed the relationship of concepts to language and initiated a new science of language development in children.

In 1960, Bruner and Miller founded the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies, which institutionalized the revolution and launched the field of cognitive science. Today the study of the human mind is among the most exciting frontiers of science. Its practical applications include the design of software, the diagnosis of neurological disease, and the formation of public policy, and its theories have revolutionized our understanding of ancient problems such as consciousness, free will, and human nature.


MBB (Cognitive Science)

The Cognitive Science Track (commonly known as the MBB Track) in Psychology is one of the options available in the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative, which was formed to create an "interdisciplinary community of investigators whose research aims to elucidate the structure, function, evolution, development, and pathology of the nervous system in relation to human behavior and mental life." In psychology, this can take many forms: studying the development of language in infants, the way in which our neurons process information and how this may be modeled by computer systems, how we come to be aware of what we know, and much more.

This track allows students to combine coursework in Psychology with a few common courses in the MBB curriculum that focus on neuroscience and behavior (namely, NEURO 80 and an MBB seminar). Concentrators in this track will also have the opportunity to participate in MBB symposiums and programs that bring together students from the various concentrations that participate in MBB. In many cases, students also take full advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of MBB to combine their psychology and MBB coursework with coursework in a related MBB area, such as computer science, linguistics, philosophy, or history and science. This track differs from the Life Sciences (CNEP) Track in that it counts a smaller total number of biology-related courses toward concentration requirements, but allows a broader range of related coursework to be integrated and count toward requirements. In short, it is less a strict neuroscience track, and is more interdisciplinary than the Life Sciences track.

The MBB Track requires an application for admission, a 3.5 College GPA at time of application, and a senior honors thesis.

Course Sequence Recommended for Students Considering the MBB Track

Complete requirements can be found in the "Mind/Brain/Behavior Track" column of the Requirements Chart.

Students who are strongly considering this track should plan on enrolling in the following during their first two years.

First Semester

Second Semester

Third Semester

Fourth Semester

Research Methods:
PSY 1901 (Fall or Spring)

At least one of the following Foundational Courses during first two years:
PSY 14, PSY 15, PSY 16, PSY 18, or NEURO 80 (formerly MCB 80)*

* MCB 81 is no longer offered as of the 2018-19 academic year, but if you have taken it previously, it may count in lieu of NEURO 80.

Ideally, students will take the Introductory Course by the end of their first year, and should complete at least one Foundational Course by the end of their sophomore year. Students must take NEURO 80 (MCB 81, if taken before Fall 2018, can count in lieu of NEURO 80), and then one additional Foundational Course from the following list.

  • PSY 14, Cognitive Neuroscience
  • PSY 15, Social Psychology
  • PSY 16, Developmental Psychology (or SLS 15 if taken previously)
  • PST 18, Abnormal Psychology

In the third or fourth semester, students should enroll in PSY 971, Contemporary Issues in Psychology (Sophomore Tutorial) and the required Research Methods course, PSY 1901, Methods of Behavioral Research. Students in the MBB track must also take a qualifying lab course as part of their Research Methods requirement. If you are planning to pursue the MBB track, we encourage you to get involved in research as early as possible - you may even want to enroll in a lab course by the end of your sophomore year.

If you find yourself with space in your schedule, you can also get a head start on fulfilling the Statistics requirement by taking PSY 1900, Intro to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences.

In addition to completing the course requirements for the MBB Track in Psychology, students must also complete MBB program-wide requirements, including participating in a non-credit junior symposium and a non-credit senior research workshop. Please see the MBB Certificate website for details.


Careers in Cognitive Neuroscience

Have you ever wondered why we do the things we do? What makes us tick?

Human beings are utterly complicated animals, with utterly complicated thought processes. Ultimately, however, we are controlled by chemicals and electrical impulses. This, of course, is an overly simple explanation, and the actual processes that the brain goes through in order to produce certain reactions or thoughts are very complicated.

The enigma of what makes us tick can partly be explained by cognitive neuroscience, a very specific area of neuroscience. Cognitive neuroscience is the study of human cognition, or thought, as it relates to neuroscience, or the biological functions of the brain and nervous system. Basically, the goal of this type of neuroscience is to help psychologists understand how the physical and biological parts of the brain influence or create the less tangible parts, like thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and memories.

Cognitive neuroscience is a relatively new field, and the coining of this term actually has a very short, yet interesting, history. In the 1970's, a small group of scientists and psychologists planned a dinner. Besides good food and banter, these dinner plans also included discussing how the brain enables the mind. Two attendants made a fateful decision to share a taxi to get to the dinner. It just so happens that these two gentlemen, Michael Gazzaniga and George Miller, were a neuroscientist and a cognitive psychologist.

Actually, it would be more appropriate to say "The Beginning". The beginning of modern cognitive neuroscience, that is.

Featured Psychology Programs

Why Do We Need Cognitive Neuroscientists?

As mentioned above, cognitive neuroscientists play an important role in understanding the human mind. By better understanding how the mind works in relation to the physical aspects of the brain, scientists are often able to devise more effective treatment methods for certain disorders.

Not all mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders are able to be treated with counseling and psychotherapy alone. Some more severe disorders may need to be treated with medication as well. These medications alter how the brain functions, enabling it to work more efficiently or - in theory - how it is supposed to.

Some disorders that may benefit from medication include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Bipolar disorder

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Cognitive Neuroscientist?

Psychologist Educational Track School ProgramsAverage Education LengthChoosing Online or Campus
1. Earn a Bachelor's DegreeView Programs4 YearsOnline or Campus
2. Earn A Master's DegreeView Programs2 Additional YearsOnline or Campus
3. Earn a PHD or PsyDView Programs2-4 Additional YearsOnline or Campus

Because cognitive neuroscience is a vast mixture of several different disciplines, individuals interested in becoming cognitive neuroscientists may pursue a few different educational paths. A four year bachelor's degree is often the starting point for a cognitive neuroscientist. In fact, some cognitive neuroscientists may even have more than one bachelor's degree to start with.

Psychology, neurology, neuropsychology, or psychiatry degrees are all good places to start. Pursuing a cognitive neuroscience career also usually requires advanced degrees as well. For instance, most will go on to earn their master's degrees and doctoral degrees. To find schools that are available in your area for these programs visit our Find a School section.

Besides a number of biology and psychology courses, future cognitive neuroscientists will also usually take several courses in mathematics and research methods.

What Does a Cognitive Neuroscientist Do?

>A cognitive neuroscientist is primarily a researcher, on a quest to find out how our brains contribute to our cognitive function. These professionals might conduct research a few different ways.

With today's technological boom, scientists and researchers are using computers more and more. A cognitive researcher is no exception. He might use computer simulations, for example, to test theories and hypotheses. A cognitive neuroscientist career might also involve monitoring a patient's brain activity with special equipment.

A cognitive neuroscientist might also study and test samples of brain tissue, in order to better understand the mysteries of the human mind.

Where Do Cognitive Neuroscientists Work?

When first starting their careers, cognitive neuroscientists will first usually complete a fellowship, which are very similar to internships. During a fellowship, a cognitive neuroscientist will work alongside experienced professionals in the field. Most cognitive neuroscience fellowships last a couple years. After completing their fellowships, cognitive neuroscientists are then able to look for permanent employment in a number of different facilities.

Universities will often hire cognitive neuroscientists as researchers and professors. Some other possible places of employment might include research facilities and pharmaceutical companies.

What Is the Median Annual Salary of a Cognitive Neuroscientist?

Cognitive neuroscientists (categorized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as medical scientists) earned a median salary of $88,790 as of May 2019.

Cognitive neuroscientists working for pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing companies earned the highest average salary during this time, at $111,630, followed by those working in research and development companies, at $95,770.


Medical School

If you'd rather work to help cure diseases and examine patients, a medical degree might be the right option. Medical training equips you to become a neurologist, and some neurologists work on cognitive neuroscience projects. With a medical degree, you'll get the same training as every other student, but can choose to specialize in neurology during your residence. Depending on the school you choose, you may also be able to take courses in neurology, neuroscience and psychology, which can give you the background you need.


Brain and Cognitive Sciences


The human brain is the most complex, sophisticated, and powerful information-processing device known.

To study its complexities, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology combines the experimental technologies of neurobiology, neuroscience, and psychology, with the theoretical power that comes from the fields of computational neuroscience and cognitive science.

The Department was founded by Hans-Lukas Teuber in 1964 as a Department of Psychology, with the then-radical vision that the study of brain and mind are inseparable. Today, at a time of increasing specialization and fragmentation, our goal remains to understand cognition- its processes, and its mechanisms at the level of molecules, neurons, networks of neurons, and cognitive modules. We are unique among neuroscience and cognitive science departments in our breadth, and in the scope of our ambition. We span a very large range of inquiry into the brain and mind, and our work bridges many different levels of analysis including molecular, cellular, systems, computational and cognitive approaches.

Since the field of brain and cognitive sciences is relatively young and extremely dynamic, there is no single text that encompasses the subject matter covered in most of the classes offered by the department. To educate and train future scientists, readings are from primary journal articles or research papers. This approach provides broad coverage, as well as the depth needed, so that students are exposed to cutting-edge knowledge in the various specialties of neuroscience and cognitive science. Browsing the course materials in MIT OpenCourseWare, the jewels are revealed in the detailed reading lists that provide a window on the current thinking in each subject.

Central to our mission is the training of graduate students in the brain and cognitive sciences, and the education of undergraduate students. Our graduate students benefit from the comprehensiveness of our program as well as by conducting research with individual faculty members who are on the cutting edge of their fields. The Department recently expanded its undergraduate program to include both neuroscience and cognitive science and our major is now one of the fastest growing in the institute.

In addition to the Brain and Cognitive Sciences courses listed below, see also OCW&rsquos Supplemental Resources associated with the department.


Cognitive psychology

The origin of cognitive psychology occurred in the 1960s in a break from behaviorism, which had held from the 1920s to 1950s that unobservable mental processes were outside of the realm of empirical science. This break came as researchers in linguistics and cybernetics as well as applied psychology used models of mental processing to explain human behavior. Much of the work derived from cognitive psychology has been integrated into other branches of psychology and various other modern disciplines such as cognitive science, linguistics, and economics. The domain of cognitive psychology overlaps with that of cognitive science, which takes a more interdisciplinary approach and includes studies of non-human subjects and artificial intelligence.


How to Obtain a Basic Knowledge of Psychology

This article was co-authored by George Sachs, PsyD. George Sachs is a Licensed Psychologist and the Owner of Sachs Center based in New York, New York. With over ten years of experience, Dr. Sachs specializes in treating ADD/ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in children, teens, and adults. He holds a BS in Psychology from Emory University. Dr. Sachs earned his Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Chicago. He completed his clinical training in Chicago at Cook County Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the Child Study Center. Dr. Sachs completed his internship and postdoctoral work at the Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, where he supervised and trained therapists in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). He has been trained as a Gestalt Therapist and certified by the Gestalt Associates Training Program of Los Angeles. Dr. Sachs is the author of The Adult ADD Solution, Helping the Traumatized Child, and Helping Your Husband with Adult ADD. He has appeared on the Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, CBS, and WPIX discussing his holistic approach to ADD/ADHD treatment.

There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 143,240 times.

Learning about psychology is genuinely fascinating, and it can even benefit you in your everyday life. Improved people skills, better communication, and a deeper understanding of yourself are just a few of the benefits of studying psychology. If you're not sure how exactly to get started, don't worry. This article will show you how you can teach yourself the basics of psychology, plus how to go about taking actual courses if it's something you're serious about pursuing.


Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Wundt opened the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1879. This was the first laboratory dedicated to psychology, and its opening is usually thought of as the beginning of modern psychology. Indeed, Wundt is often regarded as the father of psychology.

Wundt was important because he separated psychology from philosophy by analyzing the workings of the mind in a more structured way, with the emphasis being on objective measurement and control.

This laboratory became a focus for those with a serious interest in psychology, first for German philosophers and psychology students, then for American and British students as well. All subsequent psychological laboratories were closely modeled in their early years on the Wundt model.

Wundt's background was in physiology, and this was reflected in the topics with which the Institute was concerned, such as the study of reaction times and sensory processes and attention. For example, participants would be exposed to a standard stimulus (e.g. a light or the sound of a metronome) and asked to report their sensations.

Wundt's aim was to record thoughts and sensations, and to analyze them into their constituent elements, in much the same way as a chemist analyses chemical compounds, in order to get at the underlying structure. The school of psychology founded by Wundt is known as voluntarism, the process of organizing the mind.

During his academic career Wundt trained 186 graduate students (116 in psychology). This is significant as it helped disseminate his work. Indeed, parts of Wundt's theory were developed and promoted by his one-time student, Edward Titchener, who described his system as Structuralism, or the analysis of the basic elements that constitute the mind.

Wundt wanted to study the structure of the human mind (using introspection). Wundt believed in reductionism. That is, he believed consciousness could be broken down (or reduced) to its basic elements without sacrificing any of the properties of the whole.

Wundt argued that conscious mental states could be scientifically studied using introspection. Wundt’s introspection was not a casual affair, but a highly practiced form of self-examination. He trained psychology students to make observations that were biased by personal interpretation or previous experience, and used the results to develop a theory of conscious thought.

Highly trained assistants would be given a stimulus such as a ticking metronome and would reflect on the experience. They would report what the stimulus made them think and feel. The same stimulus, physical surroundings and instructions were given to each person.

Wundt's method of introspection did not remain a fundamental tool of psychological experimentation past the early 1920's. His greatest contribution was to show that psychology could be a valid experimental science.

Therefore, one way Wundt contributed to the development of psychology was to do his research in carefully controlled conditions, i.e. experimental methods. This encouraged other researchers such as the behaviorists to follow the same experimental approach and be more scientific. However, today psychologists (e.g. Skinner) argue that introspection was not really scientific even if the methods used to introspect were. Skinner claims the results of introspection are subjective and cannot be verified because only observable behavior can be objectively measured.

Wundt concentrated on three areas of mental functioning thoughts, images and feelings. some of these areas are still studied in cognitive psychology today. This means that the study of perceptual processes can be traced back to Wundt. Wundt’s work stimulated interest in cognitive psychology.

On the basis of his work, and the influence it had on psychologists who were to follow him, Wundt can be regarded as the founder of experimental psychology, so securing his place in the history of psychology. At the same time, Wundt himself believed that the experimental approach was limited in scope, and that other methods would be necessary if all aspects of human psychology were to be investigated.


How Cognitive Traps Make It Harder to Let Go of Our Stuff

Take a moment to think about all your seldom-used belongings, all the furniture, clothes, electronics, kitchenware, knickknacks and everything in between. How much extra stuff do you own?

For many of us, the answer seems to be “a lot.” And, as evidenced by the popularity of Marie Kondo and her “magic of tidying up,” getting rid of these surplus possessions has been a positive experience for people across the world. But while decluttering and simplifying their belongings provides lasting joy for many, it remains quite difficult for many of us to let go of our things.

Why are our brains are so resistant to giving away, selling, or tossing the unnecessary? Certainly emotional attachment plays a large role. There are practical concerns for a financial hit if we get rid of something and then have to buy it again, and a desire to avoid wastefulness. However, we also fall victim to thinking traps and biases that cloud our judgment about what is worth keeping around.

Here are three cognitive traps that make it harder to get rid of our clutter, and how to harness this knowledge to remove your unneeded stuff.

1. The endowment effect means we overvalue our possessions. The endowment effect is the idea that people assign more value to things once they own them. In a famous experiment, researchers gave college students coffee mugs and then offered them a chance to sell the mugs to other students. The new owners of the coffee mugs valued their gifts much more highly than those without the mugs, asking for about twice as much money to sell the mugs as buyers were willing to pay.

It’s easy to see how this effect plays out in our own lives, making us more likely to cling to our belongings simply because we own them. The good news is that when you appreciate how the endowment effect works, it can make it easier to get rid of unnecessary stuff. Use this simple thought experiment to get you started: Look around at some of the things you own, and ask how much you would sell them for. Now ask yourself how much you’d be willing to pay for the same object. The difference can be shocking, and it’s a powerful tool in helping you let go of less important possessions.

2. The sunk cost fallacy means we keep things we don’t use. Imagine you buy some expensive new personal care product, bring it home and try it out, then realize you absolutely hate it. The product cannot be returned. You should just give it away, but some part of your brain keeps telling you that since it was expensive, you ought to keep it around just in case. The years go by and the product sits on your shelf, taking up space but never used again.

This is a prime example of the sunk cost fallacy—our inability to see that certain expenses are simply lost, never to be regained. In this case, there's no way to recoup the money you spent on the product. However, instead of getting rid of it and moving on, you keep it around indefinitely.

By better understanding sunk costs, we can more easily get rid of the things we retain simply because they were expensive or otherwise hard to obtain. The key is to appreciate that the money, time, or other resources we exhausted to get these articles is gone forever.

When it comes to deciding what to hold onto, the best thing to do is to forget about these costs and decide whether we have any other reasons to keep those things around. If the answer is no, it’s probably time to divest.

3. The IKEA effect means we assign extra value things we helped create. Arguably one of the best-named cognitive biases, the IKEA effect refers to the fact that we strongly value the things we helped build, and is linked to the sunk cost fallacy described above. In the key study, researchers first had participants build IKEA furniture. After the furniture was complete, these people were willing to spend substantially more money to buy the furniture they built compared to the same IKEA furniture assembled by someone else.

The relevance of this data is blatantly obvious to all of us who own or have owned IKEA furniture, but it’s important for everyone else too. The point is that we are apt to highly value anything we worked on ourselves. This can get us into trouble if we’re constantly repairing or patching up our belongings, when it might instead be best to let them go.

Certainly, there’s no reason to start getting rid of everything you helped build or the many things in your home you’ve worked on. Pride in our work is a good thing. The important idea is that we can get stuck holding onto extra stuff simply because we had a hand in putting it together. Understanding whether you’re keeping something because it adds value to your life instead of simply because you worked on it provides insight into what is and isn’t worth keeping around.


Degree Requirements and Admissions

At Harvard Extension School, your admission is based largely on your performance in three specific Harvard Extension courses that you complete before submitting an application.

To get started, we invite you to explore degree requirements, confirm your initial eligibility, and learn more about our unique “earn your way in” admissions process.

I am so grateful for the flexibility Harvard gave me to study and work at the same time. It helped me to inform my work with evidence and to create physical spaces and therapy approaches that are usable for other therapists, in order to help more children globally.


Medical School

If you'd rather work to help cure diseases and examine patients, a medical degree might be the right option. Medical training equips you to become a neurologist, and some neurologists work on cognitive neuroscience projects. With a medical degree, you'll get the same training as every other student, but can choose to specialize in neurology during your residence. Depending on the school you choose, you may also be able to take courses in neurology, neuroscience and psychology, which can give you the background you need.


Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Wundt opened the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1879. This was the first laboratory dedicated to psychology, and its opening is usually thought of as the beginning of modern psychology. Indeed, Wundt is often regarded as the father of psychology.

Wundt was important because he separated psychology from philosophy by analyzing the workings of the mind in a more structured way, with the emphasis being on objective measurement and control.

This laboratory became a focus for those with a serious interest in psychology, first for German philosophers and psychology students, then for American and British students as well. All subsequent psychological laboratories were closely modeled in their early years on the Wundt model.

Wundt's background was in physiology, and this was reflected in the topics with which the Institute was concerned, such as the study of reaction times and sensory processes and attention. For example, participants would be exposed to a standard stimulus (e.g. a light or the sound of a metronome) and asked to report their sensations.

Wundt's aim was to record thoughts and sensations, and to analyze them into their constituent elements, in much the same way as a chemist analyses chemical compounds, in order to get at the underlying structure. The school of psychology founded by Wundt is known as voluntarism, the process of organizing the mind.

During his academic career Wundt trained 186 graduate students (116 in psychology). This is significant as it helped disseminate his work. Indeed, parts of Wundt's theory were developed and promoted by his one-time student, Edward Titchener, who described his system as Structuralism, or the analysis of the basic elements that constitute the mind.

Wundt wanted to study the structure of the human mind (using introspection). Wundt believed in reductionism. That is, he believed consciousness could be broken down (or reduced) to its basic elements without sacrificing any of the properties of the whole.

Wundt argued that conscious mental states could be scientifically studied using introspection. Wundt’s introspection was not a casual affair, but a highly practiced form of self-examination. He trained psychology students to make observations that were biased by personal interpretation or previous experience, and used the results to develop a theory of conscious thought.

Highly trained assistants would be given a stimulus such as a ticking metronome and would reflect on the experience. They would report what the stimulus made them think and feel. The same stimulus, physical surroundings and instructions were given to each person.

Wundt's method of introspection did not remain a fundamental tool of psychological experimentation past the early 1920's. His greatest contribution was to show that psychology could be a valid experimental science.

Therefore, one way Wundt contributed to the development of psychology was to do his research in carefully controlled conditions, i.e. experimental methods. This encouraged other researchers such as the behaviorists to follow the same experimental approach and be more scientific. However, today psychologists (e.g. Skinner) argue that introspection was not really scientific even if the methods used to introspect were. Skinner claims the results of introspection are subjective and cannot be verified because only observable behavior can be objectively measured.

Wundt concentrated on three areas of mental functioning thoughts, images and feelings. some of these areas are still studied in cognitive psychology today. This means that the study of perceptual processes can be traced back to Wundt. Wundt’s work stimulated interest in cognitive psychology.

On the basis of his work, and the influence it had on psychologists who were to follow him, Wundt can be regarded as the founder of experimental psychology, so securing his place in the history of psychology. At the same time, Wundt himself believed that the experimental approach was limited in scope, and that other methods would be necessary if all aspects of human psychology were to be investigated.


Brain and Cognitive Sciences


The human brain is the most complex, sophisticated, and powerful information-processing device known.

To study its complexities, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology combines the experimental technologies of neurobiology, neuroscience, and psychology, with the theoretical power that comes from the fields of computational neuroscience and cognitive science.

The Department was founded by Hans-Lukas Teuber in 1964 as a Department of Psychology, with the then-radical vision that the study of brain and mind are inseparable. Today, at a time of increasing specialization and fragmentation, our goal remains to understand cognition- its processes, and its mechanisms at the level of molecules, neurons, networks of neurons, and cognitive modules. We are unique among neuroscience and cognitive science departments in our breadth, and in the scope of our ambition. We span a very large range of inquiry into the brain and mind, and our work bridges many different levels of analysis including molecular, cellular, systems, computational and cognitive approaches.

Since the field of brain and cognitive sciences is relatively young and extremely dynamic, there is no single text that encompasses the subject matter covered in most of the classes offered by the department. To educate and train future scientists, readings are from primary journal articles or research papers. This approach provides broad coverage, as well as the depth needed, so that students are exposed to cutting-edge knowledge in the various specialties of neuroscience and cognitive science. Browsing the course materials in MIT OpenCourseWare, the jewels are revealed in the detailed reading lists that provide a window on the current thinking in each subject.

Central to our mission is the training of graduate students in the brain and cognitive sciences, and the education of undergraduate students. Our graduate students benefit from the comprehensiveness of our program as well as by conducting research with individual faculty members who are on the cutting edge of their fields. The Department recently expanded its undergraduate program to include both neuroscience and cognitive science and our major is now one of the fastest growing in the institute.

In addition to the Brain and Cognitive Sciences courses listed below, see also OCW&rsquos Supplemental Resources associated with the department.


How Cognitive Traps Make It Harder to Let Go of Our Stuff

Take a moment to think about all your seldom-used belongings, all the furniture, clothes, electronics, kitchenware, knickknacks and everything in between. How much extra stuff do you own?

For many of us, the answer seems to be “a lot.” And, as evidenced by the popularity of Marie Kondo and her “magic of tidying up,” getting rid of these surplus possessions has been a positive experience for people across the world. But while decluttering and simplifying their belongings provides lasting joy for many, it remains quite difficult for many of us to let go of our things.

Why are our brains are so resistant to giving away, selling, or tossing the unnecessary? Certainly emotional attachment plays a large role. There are practical concerns for a financial hit if we get rid of something and then have to buy it again, and a desire to avoid wastefulness. However, we also fall victim to thinking traps and biases that cloud our judgment about what is worth keeping around.

Here are three cognitive traps that make it harder to get rid of our clutter, and how to harness this knowledge to remove your unneeded stuff.

1. The endowment effect means we overvalue our possessions. The endowment effect is the idea that people assign more value to things once they own them. In a famous experiment, researchers gave college students coffee mugs and then offered them a chance to sell the mugs to other students. The new owners of the coffee mugs valued their gifts much more highly than those without the mugs, asking for about twice as much money to sell the mugs as buyers were willing to pay.

It’s easy to see how this effect plays out in our own lives, making us more likely to cling to our belongings simply because we own them. The good news is that when you appreciate how the endowment effect works, it can make it easier to get rid of unnecessary stuff. Use this simple thought experiment to get you started: Look around at some of the things you own, and ask how much you would sell them for. Now ask yourself how much you’d be willing to pay for the same object. The difference can be shocking, and it’s a powerful tool in helping you let go of less important possessions.

2. The sunk cost fallacy means we keep things we don’t use. Imagine you buy some expensive new personal care product, bring it home and try it out, then realize you absolutely hate it. The product cannot be returned. You should just give it away, but some part of your brain keeps telling you that since it was expensive, you ought to keep it around just in case. The years go by and the product sits on your shelf, taking up space but never used again.

This is a prime example of the sunk cost fallacy—our inability to see that certain expenses are simply lost, never to be regained. In this case, there's no way to recoup the money you spent on the product. However, instead of getting rid of it and moving on, you keep it around indefinitely.

By better understanding sunk costs, we can more easily get rid of the things we retain simply because they were expensive or otherwise hard to obtain. The key is to appreciate that the money, time, or other resources we exhausted to get these articles is gone forever.

When it comes to deciding what to hold onto, the best thing to do is to forget about these costs and decide whether we have any other reasons to keep those things around. If the answer is no, it’s probably time to divest.

3. The IKEA effect means we assign extra value things we helped create. Arguably one of the best-named cognitive biases, the IKEA effect refers to the fact that we strongly value the things we helped build, and is linked to the sunk cost fallacy described above. In the key study, researchers first had participants build IKEA furniture. After the furniture was complete, these people were willing to spend substantially more money to buy the furniture they built compared to the same IKEA furniture assembled by someone else.

The relevance of this data is blatantly obvious to all of us who own or have owned IKEA furniture, but it’s important for everyone else too. The point is that we are apt to highly value anything we worked on ourselves. This can get us into trouble if we’re constantly repairing or patching up our belongings, when it might instead be best to let them go.

Certainly, there’s no reason to start getting rid of everything you helped build or the many things in your home you’ve worked on. Pride in our work is a good thing. The important idea is that we can get stuck holding onto extra stuff simply because we had a hand in putting it together. Understanding whether you’re keeping something because it adds value to your life instead of simply because you worked on it provides insight into what is and isn’t worth keeping around.


Cognitive psychology

The origin of cognitive psychology occurred in the 1960s in a break from behaviorism, which had held from the 1920s to 1950s that unobservable mental processes were outside of the realm of empirical science. This break came as researchers in linguistics and cybernetics as well as applied psychology used models of mental processing to explain human behavior. Much of the work derived from cognitive psychology has been integrated into other branches of psychology and various other modern disciplines such as cognitive science, linguistics, and economics. The domain of cognitive psychology overlaps with that of cognitive science, which takes a more interdisciplinary approach and includes studies of non-human subjects and artificial intelligence.


How to Obtain a Basic Knowledge of Psychology

This article was co-authored by George Sachs, PsyD. George Sachs is a Licensed Psychologist and the Owner of Sachs Center based in New York, New York. With over ten years of experience, Dr. Sachs specializes in treating ADD/ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in children, teens, and adults. He holds a BS in Psychology from Emory University. Dr. Sachs earned his Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Chicago. He completed his clinical training in Chicago at Cook County Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the Child Study Center. Dr. Sachs completed his internship and postdoctoral work at the Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, where he supervised and trained therapists in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). He has been trained as a Gestalt Therapist and certified by the Gestalt Associates Training Program of Los Angeles. Dr. Sachs is the author of The Adult ADD Solution, Helping the Traumatized Child, and Helping Your Husband with Adult ADD. He has appeared on the Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, CBS, and WPIX discussing his holistic approach to ADD/ADHD treatment.

There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 143,240 times.

Learning about psychology is genuinely fascinating, and it can even benefit you in your everyday life. Improved people skills, better communication, and a deeper understanding of yourself are just a few of the benefits of studying psychology. If you're not sure how exactly to get started, don't worry. This article will show you how you can teach yourself the basics of psychology, plus how to go about taking actual courses if it's something you're serious about pursuing.


Degree Requirements and Admissions

At Harvard Extension School, your admission is based largely on your performance in three specific Harvard Extension courses that you complete before submitting an application.

To get started, we invite you to explore degree requirements, confirm your initial eligibility, and learn more about our unique “earn your way in” admissions process.

I am so grateful for the flexibility Harvard gave me to study and work at the same time. It helped me to inform my work with evidence and to create physical spaces and therapy approaches that are usable for other therapists, in order to help more children globally.


Steven Pinker
Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology
Harvard College Professor

In the mid-20th century, psychology was no longer “the science of mental life” (as William James had defined it), but “the science of behavior.” Mentalistic concepts —thoughts, memories, goals, emotions — had been banned as unscientific, replaced by associations between stimuli and responses.

But new ideas about computation, feedback, information, and communication were in the air, and psychologists realized they had enormous potential for a science of mind. Four Harvard scholars used them to launch the “cognitive revolution.”

George Miller noted that people could label, quantify, or remember about seven items at a time, whether they were tones, digits, words, or phrases. That meant the human brain must be constricted by a bottleneck of seven (plus or minus two) units, which Miller called “chunks.”

Linguist Noam Chomsky, while at the Harvard Society of Fellows, noted that people can produce and understand an infinite number of novel sentences. They must have internalized a grammar, or set of rules, rather than having memorized a list of responses. Children are not taught this grammar, and so are equipped with a “language acquisition device” that instantiates a “universal grammar.”

Jerome Bruner co-authored “A Study of Thinking,” which analyzed people as constructive problem-solvers rather than passive media as they mastered new concepts. His colleague Roger Brown analyzed the relationship of concepts to language and initiated a new science of language development in children.

In 1960, Bruner and Miller founded the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies, which institutionalized the revolution and launched the field of cognitive science. Today the study of the human mind is among the most exciting frontiers of science. Its practical applications include the design of software, the diagnosis of neurological disease, and the formation of public policy, and its theories have revolutionized our understanding of ancient problems such as consciousness, free will, and human nature.


MBB (Cognitive Science)

The Cognitive Science Track (commonly known as the MBB Track) in Psychology is one of the options available in the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative, which was formed to create an "interdisciplinary community of investigators whose research aims to elucidate the structure, function, evolution, development, and pathology of the nervous system in relation to human behavior and mental life." In psychology, this can take many forms: studying the development of language in infants, the way in which our neurons process information and how this may be modeled by computer systems, how we come to be aware of what we know, and much more.

This track allows students to combine coursework in Psychology with a few common courses in the MBB curriculum that focus on neuroscience and behavior (namely, NEURO 80 and an MBB seminar). Concentrators in this track will also have the opportunity to participate in MBB symposiums and programs that bring together students from the various concentrations that participate in MBB. In many cases, students also take full advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of MBB to combine their psychology and MBB coursework with coursework in a related MBB area, such as computer science, linguistics, philosophy, or history and science. This track differs from the Life Sciences (CNEP) Track in that it counts a smaller total number of biology-related courses toward concentration requirements, but allows a broader range of related coursework to be integrated and count toward requirements. In short, it is less a strict neuroscience track, and is more interdisciplinary than the Life Sciences track.

The MBB Track requires an application for admission, a 3.5 College GPA at time of application, and a senior honors thesis.

Course Sequence Recommended for Students Considering the MBB Track

Complete requirements can be found in the "Mind/Brain/Behavior Track" column of the Requirements Chart.

Students who are strongly considering this track should plan on enrolling in the following during their first two years.

First Semester

Second Semester

Third Semester

Fourth Semester

Research Methods:
PSY 1901 (Fall or Spring)

At least one of the following Foundational Courses during first two years:
PSY 14, PSY 15, PSY 16, PSY 18, or NEURO 80 (formerly MCB 80)*

* MCB 81 is no longer offered as of the 2018-19 academic year, but if you have taken it previously, it may count in lieu of NEURO 80.

Ideally, students will take the Introductory Course by the end of their first year, and should complete at least one Foundational Course by the end of their sophomore year. Students must take NEURO 80 (MCB 81, if taken before Fall 2018, can count in lieu of NEURO 80), and then one additional Foundational Course from the following list.

  • PSY 14, Cognitive Neuroscience
  • PSY 15, Social Psychology
  • PSY 16, Developmental Psychology (or SLS 15 if taken previously)
  • PST 18, Abnormal Psychology

In the third or fourth semester, students should enroll in PSY 971, Contemporary Issues in Psychology (Sophomore Tutorial) and the required Research Methods course, PSY 1901, Methods of Behavioral Research. Students in the MBB track must also take a qualifying lab course as part of their Research Methods requirement. If you are planning to pursue the MBB track, we encourage you to get involved in research as early as possible - you may even want to enroll in a lab course by the end of your sophomore year.

If you find yourself with space in your schedule, you can also get a head start on fulfilling the Statistics requirement by taking PSY 1900, Intro to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences.

In addition to completing the course requirements for the MBB Track in Psychology, students must also complete MBB program-wide requirements, including participating in a non-credit junior symposium and a non-credit senior research workshop. Please see the MBB Certificate website for details.


Careers in Cognitive Neuroscience

Have you ever wondered why we do the things we do? What makes us tick?

Human beings are utterly complicated animals, with utterly complicated thought processes. Ultimately, however, we are controlled by chemicals and electrical impulses. This, of course, is an overly simple explanation, and the actual processes that the brain goes through in order to produce certain reactions or thoughts are very complicated.

The enigma of what makes us tick can partly be explained by cognitive neuroscience, a very specific area of neuroscience. Cognitive neuroscience is the study of human cognition, or thought, as it relates to neuroscience, or the biological functions of the brain and nervous system. Basically, the goal of this type of neuroscience is to help psychologists understand how the physical and biological parts of the brain influence or create the less tangible parts, like thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and memories.

Cognitive neuroscience is a relatively new field, and the coining of this term actually has a very short, yet interesting, history. In the 1970's, a small group of scientists and psychologists planned a dinner. Besides good food and banter, these dinner plans also included discussing how the brain enables the mind. Two attendants made a fateful decision to share a taxi to get to the dinner. It just so happens that these two gentlemen, Michael Gazzaniga and George Miller, were a neuroscientist and a cognitive psychologist.

Actually, it would be more appropriate to say "The Beginning". The beginning of modern cognitive neuroscience, that is.

Featured Psychology Programs

Why Do We Need Cognitive Neuroscientists?

As mentioned above, cognitive neuroscientists play an important role in understanding the human mind. By better understanding how the mind works in relation to the physical aspects of the brain, scientists are often able to devise more effective treatment methods for certain disorders.

Not all mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders are able to be treated with counseling and psychotherapy alone. Some more severe disorders may need to be treated with medication as well. These medications alter how the brain functions, enabling it to work more efficiently or - in theory - how it is supposed to.

Some disorders that may benefit from medication include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Bipolar disorder

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Cognitive Neuroscientist?

Psychologist Educational Track School ProgramsAverage Education LengthChoosing Online or Campus
1. Earn a Bachelor's DegreeView Programs4 YearsOnline or Campus
2. Earn A Master's DegreeView Programs2 Additional YearsOnline or Campus
3. Earn a PHD or PsyDView Programs2-4 Additional YearsOnline or Campus

Because cognitive neuroscience is a vast mixture of several different disciplines, individuals interested in becoming cognitive neuroscientists may pursue a few different educational paths. A four year bachelor's degree is often the starting point for a cognitive neuroscientist. In fact, some cognitive neuroscientists may even have more than one bachelor's degree to start with.

Psychology, neurology, neuropsychology, or psychiatry degrees are all good places to start. Pursuing a cognitive neuroscience career also usually requires advanced degrees as well. For instance, most will go on to earn their master's degrees and doctoral degrees. To find schools that are available in your area for these programs visit our Find a School section.

Besides a number of biology and psychology courses, future cognitive neuroscientists will also usually take several courses in mathematics and research methods.

What Does a Cognitive Neuroscientist Do?

>A cognitive neuroscientist is primarily a researcher, on a quest to find out how our brains contribute to our cognitive function. These professionals might conduct research a few different ways.

With today's technological boom, scientists and researchers are using computers more and more. A cognitive researcher is no exception. He might use computer simulations, for example, to test theories and hypotheses. A cognitive neuroscientist career might also involve monitoring a patient's brain activity with special equipment.

A cognitive neuroscientist might also study and test samples of brain tissue, in order to better understand the mysteries of the human mind.

Where Do Cognitive Neuroscientists Work?

When first starting their careers, cognitive neuroscientists will first usually complete a fellowship, which are very similar to internships. During a fellowship, a cognitive neuroscientist will work alongside experienced professionals in the field. Most cognitive neuroscience fellowships last a couple years. After completing their fellowships, cognitive neuroscientists are then able to look for permanent employment in a number of different facilities.

Universities will often hire cognitive neuroscientists as researchers and professors. Some other possible places of employment might include research facilities and pharmaceutical companies.

What Is the Median Annual Salary of a Cognitive Neuroscientist?

Cognitive neuroscientists (categorized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as medical scientists) earned a median salary of $88,790 as of May 2019.

Cognitive neuroscientists working for pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing companies earned the highest average salary during this time, at $111,630, followed by those working in research and development companies, at $95,770.