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Programs Offered

Psychology B.A.

Cognitive Sciences B.S.

Psychology Ph.D.

Undergraduate Program

Psychology B.A.

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, introduction to developmental psychology, and introduction to cognition. 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; attention; problem solving; judgment and decision making; 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. 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. For a list of current research projects go to

Cognitive Science B.S.

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.

Graduate Program

The psychology program offers three areas of specialization leading to the doctoral degree: cognitive, developmental, and social psychology. The program prepares students for research, teaching, and administrative positions in colleges and universities as well as for positions in schools, government, and other public and private institutions. Each student is primarily associated with one of the three research areas and participates in the courses and research forums sponsored by the faculty in that area. The program requires full-time enrollment as a graduate student. Although applicants for a master’s degree are not accepted, students in the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) program may obtain a master of science (M.S.) degree by fulfilling specific requirements. Note that the program does not offer courses, training, or supervision in clinical psychology.

The cognitive psychology graduate program focuses on research of "Minds, Brains, and Beyond," offering a blend of traditional topics and new directions in cognitive science. With core strengths in language, memory and perception,  we are exploring topics such as: language and discourse comprehension and production; reading; speech; natural language use in conversation; mechanisms of remembering and forgetting; creative cognition; cognitive offloading and transactive memory; human performance, information processing, and computational cognitive modeling; working memory and executive control; visual psychophysics; face perception; sensory integration; perception in virtual reality; cognitive and computational neuroscience; perceptual decision-making, attention, and awareness. Our graduates find careers in academia, tech industries, and more.

The developmental psychology graduate program focuses on research that integrates cultural, interpersonal, and individual aspects of human development. We focus especially on issues of diversity in relation to culture, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, and social economic opportunity as people engage across contexts of family, peers, school, community, technology, and media. Among the topics studied are: moral and emotional development; neurodiversity; language and cognitive development; learning through observation and social interaction; children and playable media; personal and social identities; family and peer relationships; communication technologies; prejudice and discrimination; gender development; adolescent development; the transition to adulthood; school climate and motivation; and diversity issues in university outreach programs. Several of our faculty carry out research in cultural communities outside the U.S. and collaborate with faculty in the U.S. and other Nations. At UCSC, our interdisciplinary collaborations with other programs (such as computer engineering, computational media, education, Latin American/Latino studies, linguistics, and philosophy) help nurture students’ research and prepare them for a wide variety of careers. Graduates of our program have accepted positions in academia, research institutes, and community and non-profit organizations.

The social psychology graduate program at UC Santa Cruz has a unique mission and focus. We use Kurt Lewin’s model of “full-cycle” social psychology (theory-application-action) to study a broad range of topics related to social justice. In this way, knowledge gained in action-oriented research leads, in turn, to the development of new theory. Accordingly, our students learn to apply psychological theories and data to the analysis and solution of a wide range of social problems. We use a variety of research methods to examine justice-related issues in different cultural, political, and policy contexts. Our students are trained in laboratory, field, and survey methods; they are encouraged to attend to issues of race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, and physical ableness; and, in addition to traditional social psychological approaches, are steeped in critical theoretical perspectives such as feminist theory. Our graduates go on to successful careers in academia as well as in community, government, and non-profit settings. Our approach to research and training, combined with the quality and competencies of our faculty, make our program among the nation’s best for the psychological study of social justice issues. Current faculty research interests include: aggression and trauma; educational quality/access; achievement and disparities; feminisms; institutional analysis; intersectionality; narrative and identity; race as a social process; social identities and stigmatization of immigrant-origin students; poverty and economic justice; power and oppression; psychology and law; sexual and gender diversity; sexuality; social identity; social policy analysis; and structural inequality.

Graduate students in psychology may obtain a designated emphasis on the psychology Ph.D. diploma indicating that they have obtained additional training in another discipline such as feminist studies, Latin American and Latino studies, or sociology. For the full list of programs that offer a designated emphasis, see the Fields of Study section of the catalog. For specific requirements for a designated emphasis in a program, please refer to the program statement for that department.

Details on the policies for admission to graduate standing and requirements for the Ph.D. degree, as well as the online application can be found on the Division of Graduate Studies website. The department’s graduate program brochure, and faculty research are available on the department website.