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Subject Summary: Part II Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour

The PNB course spans a broad range of fields, processes and associated experimental approaches. Closing the gap between these areas, from molecular and cellular properties to cognitive neuroscience and behaviour may be the most challenging field in the life sciences and perhaps in Science in general. In fact, it is often the case that two neuroscientists simply cannot understand each other, let’s say if one is a psychologist working on the metacognitive processes involved in judgement and the other one is interested in imprinting or the nature of neural network in the spinal cord that mediate locomotion in the lamprey. Yet, they are both interested in the same organ, namely the central nervous system.

Whether cellular neuroscience, or genes and behaviour, or Psychology are more appealing to you, PNB offers a unique opportunity to venture in the breadth of what neuroscience is about: a multi-level investigation of the brain that ranges from psychology, to behaviour, neural systems, cellular and molecular mechanisms, down to genes and how they relate back to each of these other levers of integration. This interdepartmental course is therefore a unique opportunity for you to tailor your Part II experience and training sampling knowledge and approaches from complimentary modules offered by the departments of Psychology, Zoology and PDN, which you would not find in each of these departments otherwise.

PNB offers you that unique opportunity to be able to understand the brain from each level of integration and to get a feel for how these levels interact with each other to support the emerging properties of the brain that are emotion, motivation, decision-making, and associated disorders. For example, ‘How do we perform an action?’, ‘How is that motor programme stored in our genetic code and influenced by epigenetic mechanisms?’, ‘Why would we want to perform that action?’ and ‘How do we remember it?’ are key contemporary questions in neuroscience that pertain to the understanding of what goes wrong in the brain, at the molecular, cellular and neural levels in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease. There is nothing more exciting than starting to understand the relationships between genes and behaviour, behaviour and cognition and the underlying cellular mechanisms!

This course provides an integrated treatment of the neurosciences and is built around lectures and a research project. Teaching is organised in modules of 24 lectures drawn from existing Part II modules offered by Psychology, PDN and Zoology, sometimes with additional input from other Departments. Each module will be delivered within a single term (either Michaelmas or Lent) at a rate of three lectures per week for each module. Students must attend four modules in total which will be subject to examination at the end of Easter Term. There are no restrictions on choice of modules because they will be timetabled to ensure no clashes between them. However, students cannot choose more than three modules offered by the same department in order to maximise the inter-disciplinary experience that PNB provides them on their final year.

In addition, students complete a two-term research project in the laboratory of an individual supervisor based in one of the contributing departments or elsewhere in the Cambridge Neuroscience Community. All single subject students must offer a Research Project Report and associated grant proposal, which together must not exceed 8,000 words, excluding appendices, footnotes, and bibliography. The course is best suited for students who have studied some neurobiology in Part IB, either in MVST or in NST, but others will be able to take it if they are prepared to do some background reading.

Programme Specification: Part II Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour

This course is taught jointly by the Departments of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience; Psychology and Zoology.


  1. to provide an advanced multidisciplinary course in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour;
  2. to enable students to understand the principles of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour and to provide practical and conceptual training in research in brain, behaviour and neuroscience
  3. to provide training in research skills through the provision of a two-term research project;

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. be able to demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of a wide range of topics in psychology, neuroscience and behaviour;
  2. be able to evaluate the practical techniques required to investigate brain, behaviour and neuroscience;
  3. be able to analyse, interpret and communicate data obtained during a research project;
  4. be able to critically analyse research literature and present such analyses in both written and oral form.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures and associated seminars, workshops, supervisions, and a research project.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • four unseen written examinations (for aims 1 and 2 and learning outcome 1);
  • a grant proposal and a project report of no more than 4000 words each based on a research project undertaken by the student over two terms (for aims 1-3 and learning outcomes 2-4);

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.

Recommended: NST Part IB Neurobiology

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.