9.13 | Spring 2019 | Undergraduate

The Human Brain


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


9.00 Introduction to Psychology or 9.01 Introduction to Neuroscience, or permission of instructor.

(Available on OCW: 9.00SC, 9.00, and 9.01)

Course Description

The last quarter century has revealed the functional organization of the human brain in glorious detail, including an unexpectedly precise mapping of specific perceptual and cognitive functions to particular cortical regions. This course surveys the core perceptual and cognitive abilities of the human mind and asks how they are implemented in the brain. Specifically, we will explore in some detail a number of distinct domains of cognition like face recognition, navigation, number, language, music, and social cognition, and the cortical regions and networks that implement these functions. Key themes include the representations, development, and degree of functional specificity of these components of mind and brain. The course also emphasizes the inferences that can (and cannot) be drawn from each of the main methods in human cognitive neuroscience. The course will take students straight to the cutting edge of the field, empowering them to understand and critically evaluate empirical articles in the current literature.

Major Goals of the Course

  • To understand the big questions in the field, and what is at stake theoretically for each
  • To appreciate what we have discovered so far about the functional organization of the human brain over the last quarter century
  • To enable you to understand the strengths, limitations, and synergies of the major methods in cognitive neuroscience, including what can and cannot be inferred from each
  • To bring you straight to the cutting edge of the field, empowering you to read and critically evaluate articles in the current literature, and to design your own new experiments

The focus will not be on memorizing details but on understanding principles.

Assignments and Grades

  • Midterm (25%)
  • Final (25%)
  • Readings: Approximately 2 papers per week. There is no textbook for this course as this is a fast-moving field so any textbook would be quickly out of date. We’ll be mostly reading articles that are hot off the press.
  • Written Assignments: short responses to assigned papers worth 2.5 points each. (25%)
  • Quizzes: 8 very short quizzes that will cover lecture material including the lecture in which the quiz is given, and readings. (10%)
  • Experimental Design Assignment: read a review article on intuitive physics and design an experiment using any of the methods of cognitive neuroscience to investigate this topic. (15%)

Information about Course Content

Note that some of the lectures are not available on OCW. Lectures 3, 14, and 22 consisted of student breakout groups, and lectures 17, 19 and 25 were not recorded or were canceled. Lecture 11 was canceled, but students watched the 2018 version of the lecture, which is included here.

For additional lectures from 2018 and many more videos on the brain by Prof. Kanwisher, please visit Nancy’s Brain Talks website.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2019
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments
Lecture Notes
Instructor Insights