The Major in Cognitive Science


Cognitive science is the empirical study of intelligent systems, including the human mind. An interdisciplinary science, it combines results from biology, computer science, linguistics, mathematics, neuroscience, philosophy and psychology to the study of language processing, perception, action, learning, concept formation, inference and other activities of the mind, with applications for information technology and the study of artificial intelligence.  Penn has a long and prominent tradition in cognitive science. Our program, for research as well as education, has placed a special focus on formal and computational methods, which bring about a certain level of rigor, concreteness, and precision.

For advising information about the SAS undergraduate major in Cognitive Science, please contact Program Director Dr. Charles Yang.

For general program information, please contact Program Manager Jessica Marcus: jmarcus@upenn.edu.

Cognitive Science advising is held at 3401 Walnut Street, Room 315C. To access the C Wing of 3401 Walnut, please use the “B&C Wing” entrance, the set of double glass doors located next to Modern Eye. Advising hours for Spring 2020 will be held on Wednesdays from 12:00pm to 2:00pm.

The BA in Cognitive Science in the College requires a total of 16 course units:

  • ONE credit for the core course COGS 001
  • SIX credits in the breadth requirement
  • and NINE credits in a concentration area chosen by the student.

Guidelines for Study Abroad in Cognitive Science

Core Course: 1 credit

The interdisciplinary field of Cognitive Science is surveyed in the following course, which should normally be your first stop if you are interested in the major.
The core course is offered every year in the Fall term ONLY. 

Currently (as of June 1st 2020), we do not yet have a confirmed time for COGS001 in Fall 2020; we are working very hard to resolve this as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience. 

  • Introduction to Cognitive Science (COGS 001/CIS 140/LING 105/PHIL 044/PSYC 207)

Breadth Requirement: 6 credits

To ensure more substantive knowledge of the wide-ranging fields that contribute to Cognitive Science, all students must take one course from each of the following six areas. The breadth requirement classes do not count (again) toward the concentrations. Please note that the courses listed are those typically used for the breadth requirement. Most of the PSYC and PHIL classes accepted in the concentrations listed below can be used to satisfy the breadth requirements as well. To determine whether a course meets the breadth requirement for the COGS major, please contact Dr. Charles Yang at: cogs-pd@sas.upenn.edu.

  • Psychology (PSYC 001, PSYC 151)
  • Computation (CIS 110, CIS 120, PHIL 005/LGIC 10)
  • Language (LING 001, LING 106)
  • Philosophy (PHIL 004, PHIL 244, PHIL 205)
  • Neuroscience (BIBB 249/PSYC 149, BIBB/BIOL/PSYC 109)
  • Mathematics (STAT 111, MATH 104, MATH 114/115)

Advanced Placement credit will not be counted toward the major requirements.

Concentration: 9 credits

Beyond the more structured breadth requirements, the student chooses one of four concentrations: Cognitive Neuroscience, Computation and Cognition, Language and Mind, or a special Independent Concentration constructed to meet a set of interests not included in one of the other concentrations.

The Program Director advises students when they are first considering the major and while still fulfilling the breadth requirements; handles administrative duties such as major declaration and certification; and is the final authority in all matters relating to the major requirements. To determine whether a course meets the concentration requirement, please contact Dr. Charles Yang at: cogs-pd@sas.upenn.edu.

Cognitive Science has become even more interdisciplinary as the field matures. We recognize the importance of specialized skills, especially those honed in the biological, economic, computational and mathematical sciences, in cognitive research, education, and application. At the same time, we strive to ground our program in the empirical studies of cognition in Linguistics, Psychology, and Neuroscience; tools are important, but we also need to know what they are for. In light of these considerations, we broadly limit technical courses — generally in Biology, Chemistry, Computer and Information Science, Economics, Mathematics, Networked & Social Systems, Statistics, etc. — to no more than 4, in any combination, among the 9 concentration credits. A technical class is one which provides useful background for the student’s concentration, but contains no or virtually no content on the empirical study of cognitive science. For students in the Computation and Cognition concentration, a fifth credit in Artificial Intelligence, or other topics directly related to human cognition, may be allowed upon approval. Those four credits are usually drawn from the list of courses below; for suitability of courses not listed below, please contact the Program Director.

We would like our students to maximize their educational experience in the Cognitive Science Program by forming a deeper understanding of some select topics or themes. To this end, we suggest that the course selection, similar to other Majors, consists of a mix of lower-level introductory classes and higher-level advanced courses, including graduate level courses (subject to prerequisites and/or instructor’s permission). We especially advise against taking introductory classes that have significant overlapping materials, including similar courses that are offered in different departments. Please contact the Program Director should these concerns arise during your course planning and selection process.

Currently, only the Cognitive Neuroscience concentration has a specific required course: Introduction to Brain and Behavior (BIBB 109/BIOL 109/PSYC 109); but in many instances the advisor will identify one or more courses essential to the track of interest to the student. For example, at least one course in Statistics, such as STAT 111, is strongly recommended to students specializing in Cognitive Neuroscience.

The list below indicates courses that have historically been approved for Concentration requirements. We strive to keep this list comprehensive as well as up to date. The courses in Psychology suitable for Cognitive Science generally have an odd course number; they are courses in the area of Brain, Cognitive, and Decision science, following the research program and numbering convention in the Department of Psychology. Courses that are offered in Fall 2020 are highlighted in the list below.

Please note: This is not a list of required courses. To find out whether a course not on this list will be approved for the COGS major, please contact Dr. Charles Yang at: cogs-pd@sas.upenn.edu.

Concentration 1: Cognitive Neuroscience

• Introduction to Brain and Behavior (BIBB 109/BIOL 109/PSYC 109) – required
• Perception (PSYC 111)
• Learning (PSYC 121)
• Neuroendocrinology (PSYC 139/BIBB 260 OR BIBB 460)
• Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience (PSYC 149/BIBB 249)
• Language and Thought (PSYC 151)
• Intro to Developmental Psychology (PSYC 181)
• Visual Neuroscience (PSYC 217/BIBB 217)
• Psychology of Language (PSYC 235)
• Neuroscience and Society (PSYC 247)
• Judgment and Decisions (PSYC 253)
• Human Memory (PSYC 259)
• Behavioral Economics and Psychology (PSYC 265)
• Cognitive Development (PSYC 281)
• Philosophy of Biology (PHIL 226)
• Physiology of Motivated Behaviors (BIBB 227/PSYC 127)
• Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology (BIBB 251/BIOL 251)
• Language Acquisition (LING 270)
• Drugs, Brain and Mind (BIBB 270/PSYC 225)
• Cognition and Perception (PSYC 411)
• Human Brain Imaging (BIBB 421)
• Big Data, Memory, and the Human Brain (PSYC 429)
• Neurobiology of Autism (BIBB 430)
• Animal Cognition (BIOL 432/PSYC 431)
• Psycholinguistics (PSYC 435)
• Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (BIOL 442/PSYC 421)
• Big Data, Memory, and the Human Brain (PSYC 429)
• Systems Neuroscience (BIOL 451)
• Neuroeconomics (PSYC 473)
• Neurodegenerative Diseases (BIBB 475)
• Biological Bases of Psychological Disorders (BIBB 480)
• Computer Analysis and Modeling of Biological Signals and Systems (LING 525)
• Theoretical Neuroscience (PHYS 585)

Concentration 2: Computation and Cognition

• Formal Logic I = Ideas in Logic and Computation (PHIL 005/LGIC 010)
• Formal Logic II = Logic I (PHIL 006/MATH 570/LGIC 320)
• Perception (PSYC 111)
• Programming Languages and Techniques I/II (CIS 120, CIS 121)
• Psychology of Language (LING 235/PSYC 235)
• Language and Thought (PSYC 151)
• Attention and Memory (PSYC 155)
• Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science (CIS 160)
• Strategic Reasoning (PPE 201)
• What is Meaning? (PHIL 205)
• Philosophy of Science (PHIL 225 or 425)
• Epistemology (PHIL 231 or 331)
• Judgment and Decisions (PSYC 253)
• Human Memory (PSYC 259)
• Discrete Probability, Stochastic Processes and Statistical Inference (CIS 261)
• Automata, Computability, and Complexity (CIS 262)
• Behavioral Economics and Psychology (PSYC 265)
• Language Acquisition (LING 270)
• Decision Processes (OIDD 290)
• Res. Experience in Perception (PSYC 311)
• Introduction to Algorithms (CIS 320)
• Philosophy of Perception (PHIL 330)
• Cognitive Psychology (PSYC 351)
• Robotics: Planning and Perception (CIS 390)
• Artificial Intelligence (CIS 421)
• Topics in Logic (PHIL 412/MATH 571/LGIC 320/CIS 518)
• Logic II (PHIL 413/CIS 571)
• Philosophy of Mathematics (PHIL 414)
• Game Theory (PPE 417/PHL 417)
• Philosophy & Visual Perception (PHIL 423)
• Philosophy of Psychology (PHIL 426/526)
• Big Data, Memory, and the Human Brain (PSYC 429)
• Philosophy of Mind (PHIL 430)
• Introduction to Human Language Technology (CIS 430)
• Theory of Knowledge (PHIL 431)
• Origins of Analytic Philosophy (PHIL 442)
• Modal Logic (PHIL 445)
• Brain Development (PSYC 449)
• Visual Cognition (PSYC 459)
• Neuroeconomics (PSYC 473)
• Language and Neuroeconomics (LING 480)
• Logic in Computer Science (CIS 482)
• Games and Signals (LING 495)
• Computational Learning Theory (PHIL 517)
• Machine Learning (CIS 520)

Concentration 3: Language and Mind

• Formal Logic I = Ideas in Logic and Computation (PHIL 005/LGIC 010)
• Introduction to Sociolinguistics (LING 102)
• Language and Brain (LING 104)
• Introduction to Formal Linguistics (LING 106)
• Introduction to Speech Analysis (LING 120)
• Psychology of Language (LING 135/PSYC 235)
• Language and Thought (PSYC 151)
• Introduction to Developmental Psychology (PSYC 181)
• What is Meaning? (PHIL 205)
• Sound Structure of Language (LING 230)
• Animal Communication (PSYC 241)
• Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (PHIL 244)
• Introduction to Syntax (LING 250)
• Formal Semantics and Cognitive Science (LING 255)
• Language Acquisition (LING 270)
• Wittgenstein: Mind and Language (PHIL 344)
• Language and Game Theory (LING 354)
• Semantics I (LING 380/580)
• Morphological Theory (LING 404)
• Philosophy of Language (PHIL 405)
• Animal Cognition (BIOL 432)
• Origins of Analytic Philosophy (PHIL 442)
• Modal Logic (PHIL 445)
• Language and Neuroeconomics (LING 480)
• Games and Signals (LING 495)
• Dynamics of Language (LING 515)
• Computational Learning Theory (PHIL 517)
• Phonetics I, II (LING 520, 521)
• Computer Analysis and Modeling of Biological Signals and Systems (LING 525)
• Computational Linguistics (CIS 530)
• Phonology I, II (LING 530, 531)
• Syntax I, II (LING 550, 551)
• Semantics II (LING 554)
• Developmental Psycholinguistics (LING 570)
• The Mental Lexicon (LING 575)


Additional information

• At most, 3 of the 6 credits required for the COGS minor may be counted to fulfill the requirements of another major or minor.

• The minimum grade for any course counted toward the COGS program is C-. Students must have a GPA of 2.0 in courses counted towards the major in order to be admitted to the COGS major.

• Students who wish to enroll in COGS 301 (Independent Study) or COGS 398 (Senior Thesis) must develop a research plan with their research advisor prior to enrolling in either course. Click here for more information.

• Students who wish to receive a degree with honors must have a minimum GPA of 3.5 for courses counted toward the major, and 3.0 cumulative for all courses. The student must also complete a senior-year research project on a topic in cognitive science approved by the Program Director and supervised by the concentration advisor. Credit can be received by enrolling in COGS 398 (Senior Thesis); see the Program Director for details. Typically, a thesis of approximately 30-40 pages is expected.

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