Psychology and Neuroscience

At the undergraduate level, this department offers a major in either psychology or neuroscience. Psychology is a broad discipline that seeks to understand human cognition, emotion, and behavior. It is also an applied field that is concerned with testing perception, psychopathology, inheritance of complex behavioral traits, mental health, memory, and social factors that influence behavior. Neuroscience is the study of the mechanisms of nervous system—the brain, the spinal cord, and networks of sensory nerve cells, or neurons. Neuroscientists work to describe how neural circuits transmit signals and process different types of information. The principles of neuroscience are derived from the application of methods from many scientific disciplines, including molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, physiology, structure, and computational modeling. Note that no terminal master’s degree is offered except for the concurrent BA/MA program in cognitive psychology.   

Students contemplating postgraduate education, either in professional or in graduate school, are encouraged to participate in the departmental honors program, which provides special opportunities for individualized attention.   

CU-Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience has been ranked by the National Academy of Sciences as one of the best in the country with respect to the quality of the faculty and their scholarly productivity. Moreover, the department offers undergraduates a wide range of opportunities for involvement in research.

Course codes for this program are PSYC and NRSC.

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and one of the two programs listed below. Additional explanatory notes are available in the department advising office in Muenzinger D243.

Neuroscience Major

Students are subject to the major requirements in effect at the time they formally declare the major. A major in neuroscience requires a minimum of 30 hours in neuroscience course work with grades of C- or better. At least 18 of these hours must be in upper-division course work. The department recommends completing NRSC 2100 by the end of the sophomore year. 

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • Complete one of the following genetics courses: (Please check all prerequisites and corequisites before enrolling in courses.) 
    MCDB 2150 with 2151 Principles of Genetics with Lab or EBIO 2070 Genetics: Molecules to Populations or CHEN 2820 Foundations in Bioengineering—3-4
  • NRSC 2100 Introduction to Neuroscience—4
  • Statistics/Computation requirement (complete one of the following): IPHY 2800 Introduction to Statistics or ECON 3818 Introduction to Statistics with Computer Applications or MATH 2510 Introduction to Statistics or MATH 2520 Introduction to Biometry or PSYC 3101 Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology or BCOR 1020 Business Statistics or APPM 1710 Tools and Methods for Engineering Computing or APPM 2750 Java: Training and Mathematical Algorithms or CHEN 3010 Applied Data Analysis and CHEN 3130 Chemical Engineering Lab 1—3-4

Upper-division Neuroscience Major Requirements

  • Complete MCDB 3135 Molecular Cell Biology 1—3
  • Complete at least two of the following: NRSC 4032 Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, NRSC 4052/PSYC 4052 Behavioral Neuroscience, NRSC 4132 Neuropharmacology, NRSC 4072 Clinical Neuroscience—6-7
  • Complete 12 hours by taking additional courses from upper-division requirement above or from the following neuroscience and general science electives: (Please check all prerequisites and corequisites before enrolling in courses.)
    CHEM 3311 with 3321 Organic Chemistry 1 with Lab
    CHEM 3351 with 3361 Organic Chemistry 1 for Chemistry and Biochemistry Majors with Lab CHEM 4611 Survey of Biochemistry
    CHEM 4711 General Biochemistry 1
    ECEN 3030 Electrical/Electronic Circuits Non-Major
    ECEN 4811 Neural Signals and Functional Brain Imaging
    EBIO 3240 Animal Behavior
    EBIO 3770 Animal Diversity: Vertebrates
    EBIO 3850 Animal Diversity: Invertebrates
    IPHY 3410 Human Anatomy
    IPHY 3430 Introduction to Human Physiology 
    IPHY 3470 Human Physiology 1
    IPHY 4200 Physiological Genetics and Genomics
    IPHY 4720 Neurophysiology
    MCDB 3140 Cell Biology Lab
    MCDB 3280 Molecular Cell Physiology
    NRSC 4011 Senior Thesis/ Research Ethics
    NRSC 4015 Affective Neuroscience
    NRSC 4072 Clinical Neuroscience
    NRSC 4092 Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
    NRSC 4155/PSYC 4155 Cognitive Neuroscience/Neuropsychology
    NRSC 4545 Neurobiology of Addiction
    NRSC 4911 Teaching of Neuroscience
    PSYC 3005 Cognitive Science
    PSYC 4165 Psychology of Perception
    PSYC 4175 Computational Cognitive Neuroscience

Ancillary Foundation Courses 

  • Ancillary molecular biology requirement: EBIO 1210 with 1230 General Biology 1 with Lab or MCDB 1150 with 1151 Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology with Lab or CHEN 2810 Biology for Engineers—3-4
  • Ancillary calculus requirement: MATH 1300 Analytical Geometry and Calculus 1 or MATH 1310 Calculus, Statistics, and Modeling or APPM 1350 Calculus 1 for Engineers or APPM 1340 and 1345 Calculus 1, Part A and Calculus 1, Part B—4-6
  • Ancillary general chemistry sequence requirement: CHEM 1113 with 1114 and CHEM 1133 with 1134 General Chemistry 1 and 2 with Labs or CHEM 1251 and 1271 General Chemistry 1 and 2 for Chemistry and Biochemistry majors or CHEM 1351 and 1371 Honors General Chemistry 1 and 2—10

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in psychology-neuroscience, students should meet the following requirements:

  • The psychology-neuroscience major must be started in the first semester. Adequate progress is defined as cumulative completion of at least one fourth of the required course work for the major during each academic year, including the following specific requirements:
    a) The ancillary molecular biology requirement and the genetics requirement must be completed during the first year; 
    b) All ancillary requirements (molecular biology, calculus, and general chemistry) and Introduction to Neuroscience must be completed by the end of the second year.
  • The psychology-neuroscience major requires at least 51 hours of required course work. Thus, at least 13 hours must be completed yearly, including timely completion of advanced course prerequisites.
  • The four-year guarantee also requires completion of 30 hours of core curriculum courses by the end of the sophomore year. Calculus counts as three hours of QRMS; chemistry and molecular biology count as 13 hours of natural science.

Psychology Major

In order to graduate with a degree in psychology, the department requires that students fulfill the following course requirements with a grade of C- or better. Additional explanatory notes are available in the department advising office, Muenzinger D243.

The department recommends taking PSYC 1001, 2012, 2145, and 2606 by the end of the sophomore year, and 3101 by the end of the junior year.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • PSYC 1001 General Psychology—4
  • PSYC 2012 Biological Psychology—3
  • PSYC 2145 Introductory Cognitive Psychology—3
  • PSYC 2606 Social Psychology—3
  • PSYC 3101 Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology—4
  • One of the following:
    PSYC 3102 Behavioral Genetics—3
    PSYC 3313 Psychopathology—4
    PSYC 4303 Abnormal Psychology—3
  • At least one course from the following upper-division laboratory and methods courses:
    PSYC 3001 Honors Research Methods Seminar—4
    PSYC/NRSC 4052 Behavioral Neuroscience—4
    PSYC 4136 Human Judgment and Decision-Making Lab—4
    PSYC 4145 Advanced Cognitive Psychology—4
    PSYC/NRSC 4155 Cognitive Neuroscience/Neuropsychology—4
    PSYC 4165 Psychology of Perception—4
    PSYC 4175 Computational Cognitive Neuroscience—4
    PSYC 4376 Research Methods in Social Psychology—4
    PSYC 4443 Research Methods in Clinical Psychology—4
    PSYC 4733 Psychological Testing and Assessment—4
  • Additional electives to bring total hours in psychology and neuroscience to at least 31, but not more than 45, of which at least 18 must be upper division. (Students are encouraged to use independent study to gain field or laboratory experience. However, independent study hours are pass/fail credit only and cannot be used toward the 31 hours required for graduation.)
  • In addition to the course requirements listed above, and the minimum of 31 hours in psychology, the student is required to pass one of the following natural science sequences with a grade of C- or better:
    CHEM 1011 and 1031 Environmental Chemistry 1 and 2
    CHEM 1051 and 1071 Introduction to Chemistry and Introduction to Organic and Biochemistry
    CHEM 1113 and 1071 General Chemistry 1 and Introduction to Organic and Biochemistry
    CHEM 1113 and 1133 General Chemistry 1 and 2
    CHEM 1251 and 1271 General Chemistry 1 and 2 for Chemistry/Biochemistry majors
    EBIO 1210 and 1220 General Biology 1 and 2 (formerly EPOB 1210 and 1220)
    MATH 1300 and 2300 Analytical Geometry and Calculus 1 and 2
    MCDB 1150 and 2150 Introduction to MCD Biology 1 and Principles of Genetics
    MCDB 1150 and EBIO 1220 Introduction to MCD Biology 1 and General Biology 2
    PHYS 1110 and 1120 General Physics 1 and 2 (science and engineering majors only)
    PHYS 2010 and 2020 General Physics 1 and 2
    NOTE: Transfer students must complete a minimum of 12 upper-division hours of psychology course work on the Boulder campus with a C- or better. Of those 12 hours, one laboratory and methods course must be included.

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in psychology, students should meet the following requirements:

  • Declare the major by the beginning of the second semester.
  • Complete PSYC 1001, 2012, 2145, 2606, and the natural science sequence during the first two years of study.
  • Complete PSYC 3313 or 3102 or 4303, the laboratory and methods course, and at least two upper-division PSYC electives during the junior (third) year. (If students are unable to enroll in these courses due to oversubscription during the junior year, they will have top enrollment priority the senior year.)
  • Complete remaining elective requirements during the senior year.

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Prerequisites Statement

It is policy to enforce the course prerequisites listed in the course descriptions. If you have not either taken and passed (C- or better) the prerequisites for a course, or obtained permission from the instructor or a departmental advisor to take the course based on equivalent preparatory course work or experience here or elsewhere, you may be administratively dropped from the course. 

Concurrent Bachelor's/Master's Program

Concurrent BA/MA Program with Specialization in Cognitive Psychology

A concurrent BA/MA in psychology, with specialization in cognitive psychology, is offered. Both the BA and MA degree must be completed within a five-year period. In recent years, both basic and applied research in cognitive psychology have come to rely increasingly on related findings, theories, and methods in other cognitive science disciplines, including philosophy, computer science, and linguistics. 

The purpose of this degree program is to provide training that prepares students either for continuing doctoral study in cognitive psychology or for technical careers involving cognitive psychology in government and industry. Students complete the requirements for an undergraduate major in psychology, an interdisciplinary undergraduate certificate in cognitive science, and a master’s degree in the cognitive psychology graduate training program. Because of the demanding nature of this program, only highly qualified students are admitted.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

PhD Programs in Psychology and Neuroscience

Students are admitted for graduate studies leading to the PhD in one of five fields: behavioral genetics, behavioral neuroscience (including learning and motivation), clinical, cognitive, and social psychology. Note that no terminal master’s degree program is offered. The behavioral genetics program focuses on the study of genetic contributions to individual differences in behavior. The fundamental tenet of the behavioral neuroscience program is that a complete understanding of behavior entails unraveling mechanisms and principles at any and all levels of organization (i.e., behavior, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neurochemistry). The major training goals of the clinical psychology program follow the Boulder model in that the preparation of scientist-practitioner is stressed. The clinical psychology program is accredited by the American Psychological Association. The cognitive psychology program includes course work and research in the following areas of cognition: problem solving, thinking, human learning and memory, judgment and decision making, language, artificial intelligence, reading, attention and performance, perception, and information processing. The program in social psychology trains students to conduct research, either applied or basic, in the fields of social cognition, self-concept development, close relationships, and health. Additional courses in the department offer graduate training in the knowledge, theory, and research methodology relating to cultural influences on behavior.

Requirements for the PhD Degree

All students are admitted with the expectation that they will work toward the PhD degree. Many students receive a master of arts degree in the course of working toward the PhD. Students who receive the PhD degree must demonstrate that they are proficient in some broad subject of learning and that they can critically evaluate work in this field; furthermore, they must show the ability to work independently in their chosen field and must make an original contribution of significance to the advancement of knowledge.

In the first year of graduate study, all psychology graduate students enroll in a two-semester graduate statistical sequence. There is a first-year research requirement that starts the student on an active program of research. The student also must enroll in a sequence of courses designed to give exposure to various research topics and methods.

Before admission to candidacy for the PhD degree, the student must pass a comprehensive examination in the field of concentration and related fields. This examination tests the student mastery of a broad field of knowledge, not merely the formal course work completed.

A variety of advanced research seminars are taught on a regular basis. Students are required to be enrolled in at least one substantive course in the department each semester until the comprehensive examinations have been successfully completed. Upon completing the comprehensives, students engage in the dissertation research, culminating in a public oral defense.

Certificate Program

Neurosciences Certificate

The neurosciences certificate program encourages undergraduate students interested in how the brain controls behavior to take courses in the basic sciences while providing the means to specialize in neuroscience. Since this subdiscipline of the biological sciences spans a number of departments at the university (e.g., integrative physiology, psychology, and MCD biology), students are encouraged to obtain greater academic breadth through inter­departmental course selection.   

To obtain the certificate, a student must satisfy the requirements of a major and the certificate program, and maintain a grade point average of 3.200 or better.  

For more information, see