COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE II (PSYCH4BN3) Course Outline - Winter 2018-19, Term II

NOTE: This course outline may be updated as the course proceeds. For the most up-to-date version please go to


Professor Sue Becker, becker at mcmaster dot ca
Office hours: by appointment.

Course Assistance - TA:

Christie MacLeod, maclec15 (at mcmaster dot ca)


Fridays 11:30-2:20 PC-411 and PC-205

Course Objectives

This course will allow the student to gain an in-depth level of insight into selected topics in cognitive neuroscience. In the fall 2018-19 term, the particular focus will be on the functions of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) memory system, executive functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the fronto-striatal reward (FSR) system, and how alcohol abuse affects these functions. This course will have relatively few formal lectures, and will rely heavily upon small group projects and problem-based learning. Students will read, present and discuss articles from the primary literature, design their own experiment, and conduct a pilot study into the relationship between alcohol consumption and either MTL, PFC or FSR cognitive functions, and analyze and present their results to the class.

Materials and Fees

There is no course textbook.


Participation 20%
Assignment 1 5% Submit hard-copy at start of class week 2
Assignment 2 10% Submit via email to instructor by 5pm on class day, week 3
Assignment 3 5% Submit hard-copy at start of class week 4
Assignment 4 15% Submit writeup and presentation (e.g. poster/slides/pamphlet) via email to instructor by 5pm on December 10
Presentation 1 15% In class, week 7
Presentation 2 15% In class, week 12
Final Project 15% Submit hard-copy to instructor by December 15, 10am
Participation marks will be based on 3% attendance, 7% in-class discussions, and 10% group work conducted during class time. The group work component will be based 1/5 on peer assessments of each person's contribution to the group, and 4/5 on the assessment by the TA's and professor.
Assignment 1. Selection of cognitive tests: see this link.
Assignment 2: Ethics application (group work) , see this link.
Here is the main MREBFormForAssignment2.docx , with sections highlighted in yellow that you will need to complete, and some sections already completed (in red typeface)
Samples of Letter of Information/Consent and recruitment materials can be found on the MREB website
A generic version of the experimental protocol we will be following has been approved by the McMaster Research Ethics Board, contingent upon the instructor's approval of the specific projects to be carried out. All projects must be approved by the course instructor before the research can be carried out.
Assignment 3. Selection of research articles see this link.
Assignment 4. Outreach Activity.
Students will give a presentation to a group of elementary or high school students based on what they have learned in the course. You are welcome to draw on what you've learned/presented in your lit reviews, describe your current research etc, or cover something other than that but related. The goal is give an informative and impactful presentation. You should also begin by telling the students a bit about your own story, how you got to university, how you came to major in Psychology (or whatever your major is). The poster/slide presentation, accompanying presentation notes, and a writeup summarizing and reflecting on this outreach experience will be submitted by email to the instructor. The submission should include your slides/poster plus any accompanying notes (this part can be done by the entire group) and a 2-page reflection (double-spaced, written entirely on your own) on this experience, discussing what was the value of this activity, how could it be improved etc.
Final project write-up. see this link.
Presentation 1: Literature Review. see this link.
Presentation 2: Final Project Presentation. see this link.

Policy on missed work, extensions and late penalties

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulations in the Undergraduate Calendar “Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work”. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. Late assignments will not be accepted unless for valid medical or extenuating personal reasons, in which case a make-up assignment may be assigned in lieu of the missed work, at the instructor's discretion.

Late projects will result in a penalty of 20% per day deducted from the project mark.

Missed presentations due to illness: It is the student's responsibility to create powerpoint slides for his/her portion of the group presentation well in advance of the presentation date so that in the event of an illness, other group members can present the slides on behalf of the student. If there is an extended illness that prevents a student from working on the presentation, please discuss the matter with your instructor and special arrangements will be made for you to do a make-up presentation or other project.

Academic Integrity

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: .Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty.), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to McMaster's

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one.s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Academic accommodation of students with disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Week-by-week Course Outline

NOTE:In case a class must be cancelled due to weather etc, everything in the schedule will shift 1 week later.

At certain points in the course it may make good sense to modify the schedule outlined below. The instructor reserves the right to modify elements of the course and will notify students accordingly (in class, via email and post any changes to the course website).

Week 1 Sept 7
  • Overview of course structure and evaluation.
  • Effects of alcohol on the brain and body, Part I.
  • Functions of the medial temporal lobe (MTL), prefrontal cortex (PFC) and fronto-striatal reward system (FSR). Common tests of MTL, PFC and FSR functions.
Group work: divide into groups, discuss MTL/PFC/FSR tests and alchohol questionnaire.
Homework:Assignment 1 due at the start of class in Week 2.
Week 2 Sept 14
Due today at start of class:Assignment 1 - Test descriptions.
Group work: Discuss tests, and choose 1-2 tests for your study.
  • Effects of alcohol on the brain and body, Part II.
  • Research ethics overview.
Link to slides will be added here
Class discussion: ethics issues specific to the proposed study, e.g. legal and confidentiality issues re studying underage drinking, right to withdraw, social/peer pressure in recruitment and in group test situations.
Group work: Discuss logistics of carrying out the study. How will it be implemented, e.g. in powerpoint etc. How will data be collated, analyzed etc. Work on ethics application, consent and debriefing forms.
Homework:Assignment 2 (Ethics app) is due by 5pm on the day of the class in week 3.
Week 3 Sept 21
Due today at 5pm:Assignment 2 (Ethics applications). Submit one per group via email to your professor.
Group work: Finalize ethics application. Begin setting up the study. Discuss lit review and presentations. Begin tracking down articles and planning the presentation.
Homework:Assignment 3. Each group member should have selected 2-3 articles to include in their group's Lit Review Presentation. Bring copies of full references including abstracts to hand in at start of class in week 4.
Week 4 Sep 28
Due today at start of class: Assignment 3 (selection of research articles).
Discuss Assignment 4: Outreach Activity
Group work: Finalize setting up the study. Work on Literature Review presentations.
Week 5 Oct 5
First dry run of your experiment
Work on Lit Review Presentations
Work on Outreach Activity
Week 6 Oct 19
Second dry run of your experiment
Work on Lit Review Presentations
Work on Outreach Activity
Week 7 Oct 26
Lit Review Presentations
Week 8 Nov 2
Group work: Collect data, work on data analysis.
Week 9 Nov 9
Group work: Collect data, work on data analysis
Week 10 Nov 16
Group work: Collect data, work on data analysis
Week 11 Nov 23
Group work: Finalize analyses, prepare presentations
Week 12 Nov 30
Project Presentations
Dec 10: Assignment 4 poster and writeups (group work) due.
Dec 17: Final project (individual) writeups due.

Related courses taught by Sue Becker

Psych 3BN3 - Cognitive Neuroscience I
Psych 734 - Neural network models of cognition and perception (graduate course)