Majors & Programs


Psychological & Brain Sciences

What is Psychology?

The discipline of Psychology encompasses a large and diverse area of study that is empirical, theoretical, and practical. As the science concerned with the understanding of behavior and the mind, psychology includes such areas as the biological bases of behavior; brain-behavior interactions; cognitive neuroscience; learning, memory, cognition, motivation, emotion, sensation, and perception; the study of social interactions, persuasion, and attitudes; aging and development; personality; clinical, abnormal, and health psychology; and leisure and work experiences. A common aspect of all the sub-disciplines is the emphasis on research and the development and expansion of knowledge concerning behavior and the mind.

Why Study Psychology?

Issues to be Understood and the Tools for Their Understanding

Behavior is ubiquitous—one might say we are what we do. As the science of behavior, then, psychology’s goal is to understand the experiential, social, biological, cognitive, and developmental factors of behavior to know why we do what we do, what influences our actions and thoughts, and how to modify our behavior. Psychology is a multi-purpose discipline that provides the tools needed to evaluate information critically, consider alternative hypotheses, derive the information that will be needed to distinguish among alternative possibilities, and write proficiently. Psychology provides the content and tools necessary for understanding ourselves and those who are different from us.

Psychology and Your Career

Directly Related and Other, Service-Related Careers

Students planning to pursue careers in the field will undertake graduate study in order to obtain an advanced degree (e.g., M.A., Ph.D., or PsyD). They may take positions as teachers and researchers with universities or government, private, and corporate institutions. Others pursue careers in private practice or in hospitals.

For those not pursuing graduate degrees in psychology, many go on for advanced training in closely related areas such as social work and all health-related fields, including medicine, physical/occupational/recreational therapy, and nursing. Others pursue graduate study in related areas, such as the neurosciences.

Professional Careers

Psychological study has obvious relevance for the vast array of careers involving interaction with people. You may work with organizations such as philanthropic groups, hospitals, or businesses, or pursue the field of education. Many preprofessional students major in psychology as a foundation for graduate school in business administration (e.g., M.B.A.) or for the study of law or medicine.

Psychological & Brain Sciences at Washington University

Teachers, Researchers, and Professionals

Our Psychological & Brain Sciences faculty members are active teachers, researchers, and professionals. They are committed to the education and development of their students as exemplified by many having won teaching and mentoring awards from the university. Our faculty members are actively engaged in research that spans a range of interests, involving human and non-human animals; children, young adults, older adults; and normal and special populations. They are leaders in the field who have won numerous awards and recognition for their research.

The Majors

The major in Psychological & Brain Sciences requires a minimum of 34 units, at least 25 of which must be at the advanced level. Included in the requirements are the following:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Psychological Statistics
  • Experimental Psychology laboratory course
  • At least one class chosen from each of five distribution areas:
    • Social/Personality
    • Abnormal/Affective
    • Biological and Neurological Bases of Behavior
    • Behavior/Cognition
    • Lifespan Development


Psychological and Brain Sciences majors also have the option of pursuing a concentration that allows them to engage more intensively with a specific area within the discipline. Concentrations include an advanced 400-level class and a semester of research in an appropriate, approved lab or a relevant internship or practicum. Among the concentrations are: Cognition in Children; Cognitive Neuroscience; Reading, Language, and Language Acquisition; Lifespan Development; Experimental Psychopathology; and Personality and Individual Differences.

The major in Psychological & Brain Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience requires a minimum of 37 units in addition to math and biology prerequisites. Included in the requirements are the following:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Psychological Statistics
  • Experimental Psychology laboratory course
  • Additional courses in the areas of Biological Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • A Computation Requirement
  • Capstone/Depth Requirements

To Begin With

  • The department offers a special one-unit freshman seminar (Psych 102) in which critical and controversial issues in psychology are investigated.
  • A one-unit research seminar (Psych 109) in different faculty members discuss their research and in which information about courses and opportunities in the department are provided.
  • Mind-Brain-Behavior: The Psychological & Brain Sciences Department is an integral component of the Mind-Brain-Behavior program, a two-year sequence of classes and research. The first semester is taught by a team of psychologists, including a cognitive psychologist and a neuroscientist. The second semester is taught by a member of the Philosophy Department. Year 2 is coordinated by a member of the Psychological & Brain Sciences faculty, during which the student is involved in a research project.

Independent Research Opportunities

Because of the importance of research in advancing psychological knowledge, there are numerous and varied opportunities for you to become involved in psychological research conducted within the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences and affiliated programs. The research opportunities permit you to become deeply involved in ongoing psychological research and train you to be prepared for and effective in pursuing graduate study and contributing to the scientific discipline.

Honors Program

The Honors Program in Psychological & Brain Sciences is a two-semester program undertaken during your senior year that provides those students who have achieved a superior academic record with the opportunity to conduct and complete a comprehensive empirical investigation under the direction of a faculty member. You will participate in all aspects of the planned investigation, including developing the research question, designing the appropriate methodology, collecting and analyzing data, and completing the written thesis. In addition, you will present your findings at the Honors Poster Symposium.


Internships are designed to provide you with the opportunity to apply psychological principles in non-academic settings, such as social service agencies, business, and industry. Students pursue an internship for several reasons, including the rewards of helping others, development of preprofessional skills, and exploration of career interests and goals.


The Practicum in Applied Behavior Analysis offers an opportunity for you to be trained in applied-behavior-analytic techniques and to work with a child with autism spectrum disorder. The practicum may be of benefit if you are considering a career in an applied or health-related setting, or for those considering graduate training, or a career in education. A special reason to pursue the practicum is the satisfaction you gain from helping a family and bettering the life of a child.

Study Abroad

As a Psychological & Brain Sciences major, you have the opportunity to enrich your program of study by spending a semester of your junior year at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia; the University of Sussex in England; or DIS-Study Abroad in Scandinavia in Copenhagen, Denmark. A Spanish-language program in Psychology is available at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile. In the psychology study abroad program, you will enroll in select psychology classes, as well as a course directly related to the country in which you are studying, and undertake a research mentorship or practicum.

Psi Chi

Psi Chi is the National Honor Society in Psychology, founded in 1929 for the purpose of encouraging, stimulating, and maintaining scholarship in and advancing the science of psychology. Membership is open to undergraduates who are making the study of psychology one of their major interests and who meet the minimum qualifications.

Awards and Recognition

The Psychological & Brain Sciences Department sponsors two awards to undergraduates in recognition of outstanding scholarship, service, and scientific research achievement, each of which carries a cash prize:

  • Hyman Meltzer Memorial Award — recognizes an undergraduate Psychology major who has demonstrated a significant commitment to serving others.
  • John A. Stern/Hoopes Undergraduate Research Award — recognizes an undergraduate Psychology major who has compiled an outstanding record of achievement in research.

Each year, the department conducts the UR-PSYmposium, the Undergraduate Research Symposium in Psychology, at which selected undergraduates are recognized for their research and at which they present their work at a formal research colloquium, along with the annual Honors poster session.

The Minor

You may want to pursue a minor in Psychological & Brain Sciences in addition to another area of study. The minor in Psychological & Brain Sciences requires 15 units of graded course work, including the 3-unit Introduction to Psychology class. The 12 units in addition to the introductory class must be at the advanced level.

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