A Comprehensive Guide to Cognitive Science Courses

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If you’re interested in pursuing a career that integrates the study of the mind, cognitive science might be for you. This interdisciplinary field draws from anthropology, biology, psychology, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and sociology to learn how the mind determines behavior.

Cognitive scientists attempt to unite these perspectives to study the human brain and how it allows us to perceive, control actions, generate and understand language, perform logical reasoning, and even have consciousness.


As with most majors, cognitive science requires students to take several introductory courses to gain foundational knowledge. Once these courses are completed, students can choose from various electives to expand their education and learn more about the topics they are interested in.

What are cognitive science courses majors are created to incorporate the theories and approaches of psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and neuroscience into studying human cognition. This interdisciplinary approach gives students a broad and in-depth grasp of the human mind and an appreciation for various methods of human understanding.

The core of the major is a sequence of introductory courses that provide students with an overview of the cognitive science subfields: Cognitive Neuroscience, decision-making, language, mind, machines & computation, and perception. The core also includes advanced courses focusing on specific subfields and studies covering the broader scope of cognitive science.

Throughout the core courses, students are encouraged to develop their research projects and apply the methods of cognitive science to them. They are encouraged to engage with the work of cognitive scientists from across disciplines. They can pursue a significant project in their final year culminating in an honors thesis.

The cognitive science major offers a wide range of interdisciplinary electives, from coursework on topics like artificial intelligence to courses in other areas of the liberal arts. It also offers a particular track called “decision and cognition.” This track provides sustained, cohesive instruction in a single content area: contemporary approaches to decision-making and choice. This track introduces students to the theories of judgment and decision-making from psychology, emerging neurocircuit models of reward and reinforcement from neuroscience, algorithmic models of planning and action selection from computer science, formal approaches to rational choice from philosophy and political science, and cutting-edge methods for understanding irrationality from behavioral economics.

Core Courses

Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that draws on anthropology, biology, linguistics, neuroscience, and philosophy to understand how the mind works. It can be used in various careers, including software development, education, medical research, and the health sciences.

UCSC’s cognitive science significant offers four tracks. Each track focuses on a specific research area of contemporary cognitive science.

The language and cognition track provides students with a solid theoretical introduction to language study through required courses in linguistics and the philosophy and psychology of language. It then broadens language investigation to include coursework in computational linguistics and computer science, formal methods, and language development and learning.

Another MIT course, neuroscience of cognition, gives students an understanding of how the brain and cognitive processes work from both behavioral and computational perspectives. It explores topics like neural networks, perception of speech, robotics, and computational psycholinguistics.

For students interested in computer programming, Google has an online course on machine learning that teaches fundamental concepts in this field. 

A required course for BSCI undergraduates, critical thinking in the brain sciences trains students in analyzing, reviewing, critiquing, and defending the scientific claims of cutting-edge primary research in brain sciences: molecular, systems, cognitive, and computation. Through class discussions, constructive feedback from instructors, and practice in reviewing, critiquing, presenting, and defending research, students develop their ability to think critically about the content of scientific papers.

Computational Methods

In cognitive science, students study human thought and behavior using various techniques. The interdisciplinary field draws on tools and ideas from psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, economics, computer science, and philosophy.

Courses in this area often draw on brainwave recordings to study perception, memory, language, decision-making, and more. Others focus on the computational modeling of cognition or neural networks.

For example, you can learn about the computational basis of learning, thought, and intelligence in one of the top environments for training in this area. In addition, several courses explore the computational foundations of psychology and neuroscience.

These include a graduate-level seminar on designing programming tools from a human-centered perspective, combining critical reading and discussion with programming projects that rely on principles in cognitive science and human-computer interaction. Another course covers aspects of individual and socially distributed cognition, using empirical examples drawn from natural and experimental settings that presuppose, tacitly or explicitly, socially distributed knowledge among participants.

Finally, you can also take a course that studies the computational basis of hominid cognition, integrating data on evolution, hominid prehistory, primate behavior, comparative neuroanatomy, cognitive development, and collaboration. The course involves lectures, readings, and group projects that generate a timeline of five million years of human mental evolution.

You can pursue a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science or a master’s or doctorate in this field. In some universities, the major is a standalone degree; in others, it is part of a more extensive program that includes other areas such as psychology, linguistics, or anthropology.


Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that examines the processes of reasoning, language, memory, and visual information processing. It has applications in education, artificial intelligence, and human-machine interaction. It has also been a source of research on mental disorders, including autism and schizophrenia.

Some of the most exciting and challenging courses in cognitive science focused on computational methods. They included studies in online recommendation systems and introductory computer programming, which taught students how to create programs that imitate the brain’s functioning.

Another introductory course was a computational complexity theory class that explored the computational mechanisms behind many theories used to understand complex adaptive systems.  Cognitive models should be evaluated based on how well they explain empirical data. It is a reasonable way to approach the task of cognitive science. It does not require a priori plausibility, but it ensures that a model will be computationally feasible and likely make sense of the empirical data it explains.

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