University of Otago

Course Description

  • Course Name


  • Host University

    University of Otago

  • Location

    Dunedin, New Zealand

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    PSYC 210 and PSYC 211 and PSYC 212

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Credit Points

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
    3 - 4
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
    4 - 6
  • Overview

    Evolutionary, biological and neural approaches to the understanding of mental function.

    Biopsychology provides biological (evolutionary, physiological and neural) answers to questions like: 'How do we see?', 'What causes mental disorders?' and 'How does memory work?' PSYC 317 challenges students to think like a neuroscientist about the mind and to think like a psychologist about the brain. It looks at all aspects of the mind - perception, cognition, memory, emotion, etc - in terms of the biology of normal function, modelling via computational networks and neuropsychiatry. PSYC 317 provides a foundation for students intending to pursue a postgraduate career in clinical psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychology and psychiatry and is a useful background for those interested in artificial intelligence, computational modelling, robotics and any subdiscipline of psychology or neuroscience.

    Course Structure
    This course is different. It aims to teach you a way of thinking not a body of "facts". Most students see it as their most challenging paper at 300 level. In particular, students who are unwilling to start taking control of their own learning and who are unhappy without spoon feeding will find it very hard. It integrates biological analysis of the mind with psychological analysis of brain function ? covering anatomy, behaviourism, computational models, pharmacology, physiology, psychology and zoology. It looks at the insights that neuroscience and evolutionary biology can give us into the normal and abnormal mind. It provides a research-informed overview of the entire area, with a particular focus on emotion and memory. In both of these areas, detailed biological (and even molecular) analysis gives us deep insights into the way the mind works and the way that brain function supports the mind. The paper is designed to accommodate students majoring in either Psychology or Neuroscience, with specific background material provided to help in each case.

    Goal: Thinking Like a Biopsychologist
    -Biology of the Normal Mind
    -Computational Networks

    Section 1 ? Brain and Schizophrenia (lectures 1-9)
    -Cognition ? Brain and Schizophrenia
    -Mental Mechanisms ? Understanding the Mind
    -Neural Mechanisms ? Understanding Neural Activity
    -Mood ? Brain and Depression
    -Personality ? Brain and Sexual Orientation
    -Development ? Nature and Nurture
    -A Paradigm Case ? Conditioned Fear

    Section 2 ? What is Learning? (lectures 10-22)
    -Reinforcement ? Activity-Dependent Facilitation (ADF)
    -Association ? Long-Term Potentiation (LTP)
    -Sleep ? Perchance to Dream?

    Section 3 ? What is an Emotion? (lectures 23-27)
    -Adequate Stimuli ? Perception and Cognition
    -Action Tendencies ? Goals
    -External Expressions ? Perceived Goals
    -Internal Expressions ? Feelings
    -Recursive Interactions ? Theories of Emotion
    -Evolution of Emotion ? Definition by Function

    Section 4 ? From Fear to Anxiety and Stress (lectures 28-36)
    -The Problem of Defining Fear Versus Anxiety
    -Ethoexperimental Analysis
    -Clinical Pharmacology
    -Neuropharmacological Analysis
    -Neuropsychology of Anxiety

    Section 5 ? Brain/Mind: The Big Picture (lectures 37-39)
    -The Brain/Mind as a Whole ? Consciousness

    Internal Assessment: Internal assessment is worth 50% of the final grade. This consists of two reports, one worth 20% and one worth 30% of the overall mark.

    Terms: A student who completes fewer than 50% of the assignments in a paper will not meet terms and may not sit the final examination in that paper.

    Learning Outcomes
    -To demonstrate integrated biological and psychological thinking (ie to always use biology to understand the mechanisms of the normal mind; to always use psychology to frame questions and integrate the answers; to have an integrated biological plus psychological perspective on mental disorders)
    -Understand the benefits and problems of the fundamental methods of biopsychology ? particularly recording the electrical activity of the brain
    -Know how to identify biological factors underlying normal and disordered perception, action, cognition, emotion, learning, memory and personality
    -Use an evolutionary approach to emotion and understand how biological and psychological factors have separate but interacting roles
    -Understand in detail the ways neural plasticity can underlie learning, memory, development and personality
    -Have a detailed neuropsychological understanding of anxiety and fear as a model of biopsychological analysis

    Required Reading: Pinel, J. P. J., & Barnes, S. J. (2014). Introduction to Biopsychology (9th ed.). Pearson New International Edition, Pearson Education Ltd, Harlow. Also available electronically at

    Additional readings are provided, and all the course material is provided electronically via Blackboard.

    The 8th edition was published as Pinel, J. P. J. Biopsychology, and second-hand editions of this can be used for the paper.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

Please reference fall and spring course lists as not all courses are taught during both semesters.

Availability of courses is based on enrollment numbers. All students should seek pre-approval for alternate courses in the event of last minute class cancellations

Please note that some courses with locals have recommended prerequisite courses. It is the student's responsibility to consult any recommended prerequisites prior to enrolling in their course.