Undergraduate Program

Psychology majors at UC Santa Cruz are introduced to theory and scientific research in the field. Students begin with lower-division courses that include introductory psychology, precalculus, statistics, and introduction to developmental psychology. Majors take a total of eight upper-division courses. These include Psychology 100, Research Methods in Psychology; six courses in the four areas of psychology—developmental, cognitive, social, and clinical-personality psychology; and one upper-division course outside the major from an approved list.

Cognitive psychology focuses on topics such as perception; brain and behavior; motor control; learning and memory; thinking, feeling, and emotions; psycholinguistics; computational modeling, and human-computer interaction. Our cognitive psychologists extend traditional boundaries in the study of cognition to encompass bodies, physical environments, sociocultural contexts, and information technologies. Social psychology involves the study of persons embedded within social contexts. Social psychology courses at UC Santa Cruz are organized around themes of social justice. Developmental psychology is concerned with processes of cognitive, language, social, emotional, and personality development across the life span. Additionally, both developmental and social psychology are concerned with issues of diversity including race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual identity, social class, and family structure. Clinical-personality psychology focuses on issues of individual traits, psychological distress, well-being, and adjustment.

In addition to the general psychology major, an intensive major (described as a concentration in the Psychology B.A. program statement) is also available. The department also administers a major in cognitive science. Students primarily interested in clinical and counseling psychology should realize that training in these areas does not occur at the undergraduate level but requires professional training through an advanced degree. UC Santa Cruz does not offer advanced degrees in clinical or counseling psychology.

Students are encouraged to carry out research projects. Interested psychology majors will find research opportunities in courses, as research assistants in faculty members’ research programs, or through faculty-sponsored independent study. This research may be carried out in specialized research laboratories or in the field. Students usually join an ongoing project in which a faculty member is engaged. Students who are especially interested in a career involving empirical research should become involved in a professor’s ongoing research by their junior year. Some recent research topics include “Learning in Infancy,” “Family Conversations About Science,” “Museums As Sites of Social Change,” “Interacting With Robots,” “Sex and Social Identity,” “Family Roles and Independence in First-Generation College Students,” “How Do You Find Things Online?,” and “Gender Bias and Adolescents Motivation in Math and Science.”

Cognitive science focuses on achieving a scientific understanding of how human cognition works. Its subject matter encompasses cognitive functions (such as memory and perception), the structure and use of human language, the evolution of the mind, artificial intelligence, and more.

The cognitive science degree provides a strong grounding in the principles of cognition through courses in cognitive psychology, and, in addition, provides breadth in the interdisciplinary aspects of cognitive science such as anthropology, linguistics, biology, philosophy, and computer science. Graduates will be well prepared for advanced training in research fields of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience, technology industries such as human-computer interaction, and health fields, such as the treatment of brain disorders.

The cognitive science major is intended for students wishing to enter doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in cognitive psychology, cognitive science, or cognitive neuroscience to pursue careers in research; enter the field of public health to work with individuals with neurological disorders or learning disabilities; to enter the field of human-computer interaction design; or pursue other related careers.