Cognitive Psychology

The faculty in the cognitive area have breadth in (1) research content areas, (2) methodologies, and (3) applications to which their research contributes.  Content areas include memory (Chad Dodson, Nicole Long, Per Sederberg), computational modeling (Per Sederberg), big data/data science approaches to brain imaging (Jack Van Horn), social cognition and epigenetic approaches to development (Jamie Morris), cognitive aging (Mariana Teles Santos Golino), and education (Dan Willingham).  The area’s research laboratories make use of virtual reality, eye tracking, and brain imaging technologies including EEG and fMRI.  Finally, the area contributes to a number of applied concerns, human-computer interaction, eye-witness testimony, cognitive decline during aging, education practice, and autism.  Overall, the area has considerable strength in the content and techniques of cognitive neuroscience as well as in behavioral research. 

Our goal is to train researchers in cognitive psychology and cognitive science. We help our students prepare for careers in pure research (typically in university settings), as well as applied research in industry, where the skills of cognitive psychologists are in demand. We take care to tailor programs of study to each student's interests: we encourage some of our students to deepen their mathematical training, others to study topics in neuroscience, computer science, linguistics. We also insure that our students learn how to teach, give lectures to colleagues, write well, and obtain funding for their research. All of our students become seasoned data-analysts, and many learn how to program computers.

We divide your studies into three phases; at the end of each phase, you submit a written report. During the first phase, which takes two years, you take core courses in cognitive psychology and statistics, and associate yourself with one or two faculty members as a research apprentice. Many graduate programs earmark each entering student as a "student of Professor X." In our program the choice is yours. We also encourage each student to do research in more than one lab. In each lab, you first attend weekly lab meetings to familiarize yourself with ongoing research projects. Eventually you develop your own research project, which culminates in a paper, the predissertation report (analogous to a Master’s Thesis).

Along with doing research and taking courses, you attend a weekly meeting of Cognitive Studies (a.k.a. “Cog Lunch”), a series of lunchtime lectures and free-wheeling debates led by guest speakers from other universities, colleagues from the University, our faculty, and our students. After your first year, we encourage you to develop your oratorical skills by giving one presentation a year. This participation continues throughout your residency in our program.

We also encourage you to give papers at conferences (at first on research performed with faculty) and to begin establishing a publication record. Many of our students have published several articles by the time they receive their doctorate.

Throughout your studies you work as a teaching assistant in undergraduate courses (such as Introductory Psychology, Research Methods & Data Analysis, Introduction to Perception, Introduction to Cognition, Cognitive Neuroscience), and are a participant in the department’s Teacher Training program. We believe that one of the best ways to understand a topic in depth is to teach it to beginners.

During the second phase of your studies, you deepen your involvement in research, take a few advanced seminars, and over a period of a year or so, you write the three parts of an individually tailored Qualifying Exam: (1) a review of research on a topic you wish to understand; (2) a detailed course outline for an undergraduate course you would like to teach (or an equivalent undertaking); (3) a referee's critical review of a manuscript submitted for publication (usually an article sent by a journal editor to your advisor who has been asked to review the article).

During the third phase of your studies, you focus on your dissertation. Out of the research you have conducted to this point, emerges a problem at the frontier of knowledge. Your dissertation committee approves your proposal, which you write in the form of a grant application to the National Institutes of Health, one of the principal sources of funding in our field. In your last year and a half to two years, you perform your dissertation research, and write your thesis.

Each Spring we invite outstanding prospective students to visit the department. We are sure that once you have had first-hand contact with our first-rate research programs, our congenial faculty, and our enthusiastic students, you will want to spend the next few years of your life learning how to discover what makes the mind tick.

We recommend that you now review the research interests of our core faculty.


The following faculty hope to admit graduate students to the Cognitive Area during the 2023-2024 admission cycle for entrance in August 2024:

Chad Dodson, Nicole Long, Jamie Morris, and Per Sederberg.


The Cognitive Psychology Program accepts applications for Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowships in Quantitative Neurobiology of Behavior.

Please note:

The application for the PhD programs in the Department of Psychology has eliminated the GRE requirement, beginning with the applications for the 2021 admissions. 

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