Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


Neuroscience is the study of the brain and nervous system. It encompasses questions about the structure and function of the nervous system, neural development and plasticity, and how behaviors and cognition arise from the brain. Neuroscience is an inherently multidisciplinary area of study, integrating approaches from a diverse set of fields at many levels of analysis.


Students must complete six neuroscience-related courses to complete the minor. At least three of the classes cannot be counted towards the student’s major and must be classes offered by departments outside the student’s major department. Electives from outside departments allowed for a student’s major cannot be double-counted for the Neuroscience minor. 


Introductory Courses for Neuroscience

Two introductory courses from different departments selected from the following:

BIO 130 - Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology

A concept-driven survey course designed to provide broad introduction to the biochemistry, physiology, and molecular biology of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Topics include structure/function relationships of biological macromolecules; the roles of such molecules in cellular metabolism and membrane biology; molecular biology of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis; the cell cycle; elementary genetics; and cellular communication. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Chemistry 120 or 130 or permission of instructor. Prerequisites may be taken concurrently with 130.

COGS 101 - Introduction to Cognitive Sciences

An interdisciplinary introduction to the discovery of the mind through philosophical texts, psychological experiments, artificial intelligence, the study of nerve cells and neural networks and investigations into language. The purpose of the course is to foster an appreciation of the wonder and complexity of minds and brains, both human and otherwise. Not open to seniors in spring semester.

KINE 104 - Introduction to Neuroscience

This course provides a basic introduction to the nervous system [for students with little or no experience in this area].  It will include an introduction to how nerve and glial cells contribute to different brain functions.  Brain structures and systems and how they act to produce sensory experience, thought, emotion, and memory will also be covered.  Other topics might include: factors that affect embryonic development of the nervous system, and the effect of drugs, environment, stress, education, and age on the brain.  This course is not open to students who have taken Biology 333, Cognitive Science 320, Kinesiology 301 or Psychology 322.

PSYC 101 - Introduction to Psychology

Introduction to the primary subject matter areas, assumptions, and methods of psychology as the science of behavior. Topics include: physiology, learning, perception, motivation, development, emotion, cognition, social processes, personality, and psychopathology. This course is a prerequisite for all upper division coursework. Open only to frosh and sophomores. Core Credit only when taken at Occidental. Students with a 4 or 5 on the AP Psychology exam or a 6 or 7 on the IB Psychology exam are not eligible for Psych 101, but may take 200- or 300-level classes.

Methods or Statistics Requirement

One methods or statistics course selected from the following:

BIO 268 - Biostatistics

The application of statistical methods to the solution of biological problems. Focus will be on applied statistics (as opposed to mathematical statistics) to study variation in nature. This course will survey descriptive statistics, probability and probability distributions, and methods of hypothesis testing (e.g., analysis of variance, regression, correlation, goodness of fit as well as selected nonparametric procedures). Course includes laboratory workshops sessions. Prerequisite: Bio 130 and Bio 105, 106, 110, or 115 or permission of instructor.

PSYC 200 - Methods in Psychological Science

Introduces scientific methodology in the context of psychological research. Basic concepts in scientific inquiry and specific observational, correlational, and experimental techniques are covered. Includes an introduction to descriptive statistics. Prerequisite: Psychology  101 or 102 with a grade of C- or better. This course is a prerequisite to many 300-level courses in Psychology.

COGS 201 - Empirical Methods in Cognitive Science

This course provides students with a foundation to think critically about research in cognitive science and lays the groundwork for the original research that will be done in the senior year. We will examine primary literature, considering carefully the processes involved in moving from a general idea to a specific research question. We will consider the strengths and weaknesses of a range of approaches to studying cognition with a focus on experimental design. Laboratory sessions will introduce students to basic research tools and data collection. The course will culminate in an original research proposal. Prerequisite: Cognitive Science 101 Corequisite: COGS 310L

Core Courses

At least two courses selected from the following and offered by different departments. Please note that the only PSYC490 that applies to the Neuroscience minor is the seminar taught by Dr. Dess or Dr. Chapman.  Students who elect to use PSYC 322 to meet this requirement must also register for Psych322L.

BIO 320 - Developmental Biology

Animal development with an emphasis on the molecular mechanisms that regulate cell fate, cell adhesion and motility, and the formation of different tissue types. Cell signaling pathways and gene regulatory mechanisms that control development and are relevant to adult stem cell biology and cancer biology are stressed throughout the course. The laboratory focuses on major invertebrate and vertebrate model organisms and both classical and molecular genetic approaches used to study animal development. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week plus 1-2 hours arranged. Prerequisites: Bio130; and Bio 221 or Bio 224 or Bio 226. Co-requisite: Biology 320L.

BIO 333-533 - Neurobiology

Emphasis on cell biology and phsyiology of neurons. Development and plasticity of the nervous system in invertebrates and vertebrates. Overview of selected central nervous system structures and their function and the cellular and molecular basis of selected nervous system diseases and disorders. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week plus 1-2 hours arranged. Prerequisites: Bio 130 and Bio 240 or Bio 226

BIO 340-540 - Advanced Animal Physiology

Dynamic physiological properties will be examined in single cells, tissues, and whole organisms. Emphasis will be placed on the physiology of excitable cells and their integration in the whole animal. Laboratories will utilize advanced recording techniques including microelectrodes, isometric tension measurements, semi-intact preparations and modern electronics. Prerequisite: Bio 240, Bio 226, Bio 333, COGS 250, PSYC 312, PSYC 322, PSYC 403, or CHEM 301 or permission of instructor.

COGS 320 - Cognitive Neuroscience

This course will introduce students to the biology of the mind. It will provide an overview of neuroanatomy and characterize the neural mechanisms supporting complex cognitive processes including vision, attention, consciousness, language, memory, learning, emotion, and action. We will also emphasize the importance of converging methodologies in studying the link between the mind, brain, and behavior. Methodologies we consider include behavioral measures of cognition, neuropsychology, electrophysiology, anatomical and functional neuroimaging, single-cell recordings, and computational modeling. Laboratory sessions will allow students get hands-on experience with these methodologies, as well as arm them with the tools to understand and evaluate primary research in cognitive neuroscience. Prerequisite: Cognitive Science 101, Biology 130, or Psychology 322, or permission of the instructor. Co-requisite: Cognitive Science 320L.

PSYC 322 - Physiological Psychology

The study of neural, glandular, and metabolic processes mediating behavior, thought, and feelings. This course is identical to Psychology 312 except that students who enroll in Psychology 322 may enroll concurrently or subsequently in the laboratory (Psyc 322L). Core Laboratory Science credit will only be awarded for students completing both Psychology 322 and 322L. Students who have received credit for Psychology 312 may not enroll. Prerequisite: Psychology 101 or 102. Offered in Fall only.

PSYC 403 - Psychophysiology

A study of the relation between psychological states and processes (cognition, learning, emotion, psychopathology) and physiological response processes (autonomic nervous system responses, covert muscle activity, EEG, FMRI). Includes six three-hour laboratories per semester. prerequisites: psyc 200 or cogsci 310, and one of psyc 301, psyc 306, psyc 322, psyc 330, psyc 448, or cogsci 370

PSYC 490 - Contemporary Topics Seminar

PSYCH 490 seminars taught by Dr. Dess, Dr. Chapman or Dr. Schell can be applied to the Neuroscience minor.

Eating: From Cells to Society. Eating is fundamental to life, more so than drinking or sex. It infuses the thoughts, feelings and behavior of humans and other animals and thus serves as a model system for psychological inquiry. It is also, for better and for worse, intensely personal and thus serves as a model system for inquiry into the self. This course will explore eating from cellular to cultural levels of analysis. Prerequisites: Psychology 200 and one of the following: Psychology 302, 323, 321, or 336.

Teamwork Within Diverse Environments. Examination of how individual and group differences influence the performance of workgroups. The course focuses on theoretical and practical concerns related to the key topics of teamwork and leadership, as they are performed within the context of a diverse work environment. Some related issues of fairness in managing diversity will also be introduced. Prerequisites: Psychology 201 and either Psychology 340 or 323.

Trauma. This course focuses on the experience of, and responses to trauma in its many forms - natural disaster, war and genocide, child abuse, assault and violence. The impact of trauma for both the individual and society at large are examined in the context of a stress, coping, resilience framework. Prevention and intervention strategies will be explored. Prerequisites: Psychology 330.

Visions of Love and Community. This seminar examines love as an interpersonal, intergroup, and structural experience. We draw from social, evolutionary, and personality psychology to explore theories of love, relationship formation, satisfaction, and dissolution; the biological bases of attraction; common challenges in relationships (jealousy, conflict, violence), and critical challenges to “love” within individualistic, capitalistic, patriarchal, and heterosexist societies. Students will better understand how familial, interpersonal and institutional relationships shape one’s sense of identification with and communal responsibility for others. Prerequisite: Psychology 200, 323 and one of the following: 321 or 448.


Neuroscience Elective

A final elective class can be selected from the 300 level classes listed above in Core Courses or one of the following 200- or 300-level classes in Biology, Cognitive Science, Kinesiology or Psychology.

BIO 240-540 - Vertebrate Physiology

Physical and metabolic activities of cells and tissues; properties of the cellular environment; regulatory and homeostatic functions of organ systems. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week plus two hours arranged. Prerequisites: Biology 130 plus any other 100-level Biology course except Bio 103), or permission of instructor (Bio 130 may be taken concurrently).

BIO 224-524 - Genetic Analysis

Intensive, concept-driven exploration of genetic information transfer between generations. Topics include Mendelian principles, allelic and genetic interactions at the phenotypic level, complex traits, genetic mapping, DNA repair and genome maintenance, epigenetics, and principles of gene regulation. Includes one three-hour laboratory session per week plus 1-2 hours arranged. Prerequisites: Chemistry 120 or 130 and Biology 130, or permission of instructor.

BIO 226 - Cell Biology

A course designed to provide a thorough understanding of the intracellular processes of eukaryotic cells. The course will discuss topics including the molecular basis of cellular organization, structure and function, cell motility, organelle biogenesis and function, cellular communication and signaling, and intracellular processes such as apoptosis and autophagy. Includes one three-hour laboratory session per week plus two hours arranged. Prerequisite: Biology 130.

BIO 378-578 - Animal Behavior

Emphasizes the evolutionary approach to the study of animal behavior, drawing broadly from the various disciplines within biology concerned with the factors that determine which organisms survive and reproduce. The course material will be divided into four broad categories: sensory capabilities, feeding patterns, spacing patterns, and reproduction. For each topic, theory and application will be presented. Students will analyze research papers and lead discussions on an aspect of each major topic. The laboratory portion of the course will focus on observational and experimental approaches to studying animal behavior in the lab and in the field. We will make use of local resources such as zoos, aquaria, wildlife conservation areas, veterinarians, and animal rehabilitation facilities. An independent research project is required. This course is designed for biology majors, although it would be appropriate for students from other majors. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week and weekend field trips to be announced. Prerequisite: Any 100-level Biology course except Biology 103, or permission of instructor. Biology 270 and/or 280 are recommended.

BIO 221 - Molecular Biology

This course focuses on understanding the processes in a cell, at a molecular level, that transfer information from genetic information through the expression of functional proteins. Topics include: Basic structure of DNA, RNA and Proteins; gene structure; chromosomal organization; genomic structure and organization; DNA replication; transcription, translation and processing of gene products; molecular regulation of gene expression mechanisms in prokaryotes and eukaryotes; regulatory and catalytic RNA including siRNA and miRNA; and the techniques to study these processes. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week plus two hours arranged. Prerequisites: Biology 130 and Chemistry 220; or permission of instructor.  Includes one three-hour laboratory per week plus two hours arranged. Prerequisites: Biology 130 and Chemistry 220; or permission of instructor.

COGS 230 - Mind, Brain, and Behaviour

This course addresses the question: how can we understand the mind scientifically? We will explore answers to this question via a critical survey of neural and behavioral evidence bearing on the nature of core cognitive capacities, including perception, memory, emotion, decision-making, rationality, and consciousness. We will explore these sources of evidence in a comparative perspective, drawing on evidence of both human and (non-human) animal cognition to more adequately characterize the nature of cognition generally.

COGS 242 - Computational Approaches to Cognition

Computational modeling provides important insights into how the mind/brain may work. We will examine three different approaches that have been used to provide insights into cognition: symbolic methods, connectionism, and probabilistic methods. We will use computer software to explore how these approaches work in practice. Specific applications such as perception, language, and memory will be covered. The assumptions and limitations of each approach, as well as the metaphor of mind/brain as a computer, will be critically considered. This course has a mandatory laboratory component which will include both experimentation and computer programming. No previous programming background is required.  Prerequisite: Cog Sci 101 as prereq or coreq
OR prereq of Phil 225, Math 186, 210, 214, 252, or CS 157, 161, 165, or 211 OR permission of instructor


COGS 292 - Brain Plasticity

Mechanisms of brain development, growth, neurogenesis, maturation, and changes that occur during life. Emphasis will be placed on current literature and studies done in nonhuman animals and humans. We will also talk about what it takes to maintain a healthy brain. Prerequisite: CogSci 101, 104, or permission of instructor.

KINE 301 - Human Anatomy II

A structural survey of the human body covering the nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, and integumentary systems. Lecture will also include the special senses of vision, hearing and olfaction. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Not open to Frosh

PSYC 302 - Perception

Consideration of contemporary research and theory related to sensation and perception. Topics ranging from sensory neurophysiology to phenomenology are covered. Prerequisite: Psychology 101 or 102.

PSYC 334 - Health Psychology

Consideration of psychological influences on health and illness, including health-and illness-promoting behavior and lifestyles, cognitive and emotional processes, and social and institutional practices. Prerequisite: Psychology 200 with a grade of C- or better.

PSYC 336 - Evolutionary Psychology

This course surveys the emerging field of Evolutionary Psychology. It begins with the historical, social, and political context of evolutionary theory, reviews tenets of modern evolutionary theory, explores the relationship between evolution and other change processes, and applies evolutionary reasoning to psychological phenomena and contemporary social issues. Prerequisite: Psychology 101 or 102.


Regular Faculty

Renee Baran

Associate Professor, Biology; Advisory Committee, Biochemistry; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

B.A., Macalester College; Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Nancy Dess

Professor, Psychology; Advisory Committee, Kinesiology; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

B.A., UCLA Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Carmel Levitan

Associate Professor, Cognitive Science; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

B.A., Stanford University; Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Diana Card Linden

Professor, Cognitive Science; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

A.B., M.A., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

Anne Schell

Professor, Psychology; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

B.S., Baylor University; M.A., Ph.D., USC

Joseph Schulz

Associate Professor, Biology; Advisory Committee, Biochemistry; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

B.S., Indiana University; Ph.D., UC San Diego

Aleksandra Sherman

Assistant Professor, Cognitive Science; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

B.A., Rutgers University; Ph.D., Northwestern University

Kerry Thompson

Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Associate Professor, Biology

B.A., M.A., Ph.D., UCLA