Majors & Programs



Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology (PNP) is a unique interdisciplinary program dedicated to the conviction that answers to the deep questions about minds and their nature depend on the adoption of a variety of perspectives.

In addition to philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology, PNP draws upon a number of allied disciplines that contribute to our understanding of the mind. These include biology, linguistics, education, and cultural anthropology. Each of the disciplines investigates facets of the mind using distinctive modes of inquiry. Neuroscience investigates mental ‘hardware’ by scrutinizing the brain; psychology is concerned with the ‘software’; linguistics affords insights into the mind by exploring language, one of its most complex products; cultural anthropology approaches the mind by looking at the workings of society; and philosophy provides conceptual tools needed for understanding the nature of the mind and its standing in the physical world.

The PNP major is ideal for students hoping to develop an understanding of relationships among the approaches used by these disciplines, and an appreciation of how they can provide converging perspectives on the mind.

The Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Major

The PNP major is available both as a stand-alone major and as a second major. Majors elect to pursue one of two tracks:

  • The Cognitive Neuroscience (CN) track integrates the study of higher brain functioning with behavioral research directed at understanding activities such as perceiving, attending, remembering, and acting.
  • The Language, Cognition, and Culture (LCC) track addresses the importance of language in human cognition, and the integration of cognition with the broader cultural milieu.

Why study Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology?

PNP students begin with a rigorous grounding in philosophy and psychology, then develop a multi-faceted perspective on the mind by merging the contributions of other disciplines. In the CN track, PNP majors learn how biological and behavioral research are consolidated in neuroscience. In the LCC track, students draw on courses in anthropology, education, English, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology.

PNP students have the advantage of gaining a multi-faceted perspective on their area of interest before pursuing more specialized study after graduation. PNP can help prepare students for many professional and academic fields including medicine, psychology, cognitive science, biology, linguistics, philosophy, and education. PNP students develop their skills as critical thinkers and problem solvers in mastering the art of expressing their ideas clearly and defending them cogently. Majors are encouraged to incorporate empirical research projects into their program of study, and most do.

Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Faculty

PNP students have the opportunity to study with stellar faculty in the allied disciplines. The research interests of PNP faculty include:

  • The psychology and neurobiology of false memories
  • Cognitive and language deficits in schizophrenia
  • Neuroimaging studies of vision, attention, language, and memory
  • Concepts and conceptual representation
  • Philosophy of neuroscience, cognitive science, and science in general
  • African-American language and education
  • Consciousness and the nature of the self
  • The relation between thought and language
  • The neurobiology of motor control.

Special Opportunities Related to PNP at Washington University

Washington University affords an ideal setting for the kind of interdisciplinary research that is a hallmark of PNP. Special opportunities include:

  • The Mind-Brain-Behavior Program, a two-year sequence open to a limited number of incoming students, regardless of major. The centerpiece of the first year is a team-taught course focusing on topics in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. In the sophomore year, students conduct a significant research project.
  • PNP supports a popular study abroad program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
  • PNP majors are invited to join faculty, graduate students and postdocs at a monthly lecture series that convenes on the Medical School campus.
  • PNP majors can pursue honors in PNP during their senior year. Opportunities for senior honors research are available throughout the University. PNP advisors can help students identify appropriate research mentors.

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