Psychology department provides window to the brain

Aug. 18, 2005 1:28 p.m.
Green Hall

Green Hall, built in 1927, is the home of the Department of Psychology, its library and the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior.

Photo: John Jameson

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Princeton's Department of Psychology offers students an array of innovative courses as well as ample opportunities for research.

To ensure undergraduate majors understand the main trends in contemporary psychology, the department provides courses in a range of subfields, including social and personality psychology, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

The Ph.D. program, which prepares students to teach and conduct research in the field, requires them to specialize in one of four areas: systems neuroscience; cognitive neuroscience; perception and cognition; and personality and social psychology.
Just as graduate students have the option of specializing in neuroscience, undergraduates can earn a certificate in neuroscience. Students who pursue this opportunity have strong interests in molecular biology and psychology and pursue an interdisciplinary study of brain function in their junior and senior independent work.

An additional undergraduate program is under development. Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, the department's Brain, Machine and Mind initiative is creating a program that will examine modern society's attempt to construct individual and group identity in the face of technologies that come ever closer to understanding and replicating the mechanisms of human thought and feeling. The program's first course, "Human Identity in the Age of Neuroscience and Information Technology," debuted in fall 2004. Like several of the department's ventures, the program will take an interdisciplinary approach. For example, the first course featured guest lecturers from 13 departments -- from classics to computer science, psychology to physics.

An interdisciplinary approach also is at the core of the department's Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior. The center's goal is to understand the biological parts and processes behind phenomena such as consciousness, moral behavior and logical thought. In addition to combining psychology and neuroscience, the center draws on expertise and advances in mathematics, physics, chemistry and molecular biology. The center houses a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, a device that shows what portions of the brain are active during actions and thought processes.

Another important resource in the department is the Psychology Library, which contains more than 35,000 volumes, including monographs, bound journals and standard and specialized reference materials. The library, the department and the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior are located in Green Hall.