Cognitive and Decision Sciences MSc
The Cognitive and Decision Sciences MSc at UCL studies the cognitive processes and representations underlying human thought, knowledge and decision-making. It integrates a wide range of disciplines and methodologies, with the core assumption that human cognition and choice are computational processes, implemented in neural hardware.
This program studies the cognitive processes and representations underlying human thought, knowledge and decision-making. It integrates a wide range of disciplines and methodologies, with the core assumption that human cognition and choice are computational processes, implemented in neural hardware. Key topics include: the nature of computational explanation; the general principles of cognition; the scope of rational choice explanation; probabilistic models of the mind; learning and memory; applications to economics and business. The program involves intensive training in experimental design and methodology, building computational models, and carrying out a substantial piece of original research.
The program draws on an outstanding faculty, ranging across many disciplines, including internationally renowned researchers in psychology, computational modelling, neuroscience and economics. London is one of the global “hot-spots” for research in cognition, decision-making, and neuroscience; and it is an intellectual “hub”, with a high density of research seminars and scientific meetings that attract leading international researchers. London is also one of the world’s foremost commercial and political centres, with consequent opportunities for high-level applied research; and it is a vibrant, culturally diverse and international city, with world-class music, theatre and galleries.
Who should apply?
This program will appeal to outstanding students interested in pursuing a research career in the cognitive and decision sciences, as well as to students wishing to develop an understanding of core theoretical principles of human thought to tackle applied problems, e.g., in business or public policy. The program will involve challenging formal, conceptual, and empirical work, and hence outstanding talent and motivation, including the ability to think clearly and creativity, and rapidly acquire and integrate new knowledge, is more important than specific disciplinary background. Relevant undergraduate backgrounds include psychology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, mathematics, statistics, physics and engineering.
Why study this degree at UCL?
The programme draws on an outstanding academic staff, ranging across many disciplines, including internationally renowned researchers in psychology, computational modelling, neuroscience and economics.
London is one of the global hotspots for research in cognition, decision-making, and neuroscience; and it is an intellectual hub with a high density of research seminars and scientific meetings that attract leading international researchers.
London is also one of the world's foremost commercial and political centres, with consequent opportunities for high-level applied research; and it is a vibrant, culturally diverse and international city, with world-class music, theatre and galleries.
Department: Division of Psychology & Language Sciences
Student / staff ratios › 181 staff including 173 postdocs › 780 taught students › 440 research students
Research Excellence Framework (REF)
The Research Excellence Framework, or REF, is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. The 2014 REF was carried out by the UK's higher education funding bodies, and the results used to allocate research funding from 2015/16.
The following REF score was awarded to the department: Division of Psychology & Language Sciences
83% rated 4* (world-leading) or 3* (internationally excellent)
Learn more about the scope of UCL's research, and browse case studies, on our Research Impact website.
Students undertake modules to the value of 180 credits. The programme consists of six core modules (total of 90 credits), two optional modules (total of 30 credits) and a research dissertation (60 credits). All modules have the value of 15 credits (apart from the dissertation).
The six core modules will provide students with a firm basis in both the theory and practice of cognition science and decision-making. The two specialist modules are selected by students from a wide list of options. The options and research project will allow students to pursue their own specific interests, and complete a significant piece of research work.
Teaching and Assessment
The programme is delivered through a combination of lectures, seminars, class presentations, and practical, statistical, computational and experimental class work. Student performance is assessed through unseen written examination, coursework, essays, practical experimental and computational mini-projects, and the dissertation.
All students undertake an independent research project which culminates in a dissertation of approximately 12,000 words max.
The programme has the following obligatory components (please note you can see further information on each of the below modules by typing in the module code in the search function of the module catalogue):
Module code Title Credits Term PSYC0084 Introduction to Cognitive Science 15 T1 PSYC0085 Principles of Cognition 15 T1 PSYC0086 Judgment and Decision-Making 15 T2 PSYC0087 Knowledge, Learning and Inference 15 T2 PSYC0090 MSc Cognitive and Decision Sciences Dissertation 60 T2/3 PSYC0146 Generic Research Skills: Statistics 15 T1 PSYC0157 Computer Programming 15 T1
In addition, students register for two optional modules (each worth 15 credits) in consultation with the programme director, subject to availability and space. The range of optional modules available can vary from year to year. As a good guide to the optional modules available, the range of optional modules offered to students in the previous academic year included those shown below. Although this give a good guide and we endeavour to keep modules running, we cannot guarantee that each of these modules will be offered in the coming academic year. If you are interested in a particulary module, please contact the programme administrator who should be able to advise you on its likely availability.
(Please note you can see further information on each of the below modules by typing in the module code in the search function of the module catalogue):
Module code Title Credits Term BECH0001 Behaviour Change: An Interdisciplinary Approach 15 T1 BECH0005 Transport Behaviour Change: Theory and Practice 15 T2 NEUR0016 Neural Computation: Models of Brain Function 15 T1 PSYC0028 Applied Decision-making 15 T2 PSYC0030 Human Learning and Memory 15 T1 PSYC0031 Cognitive Neuroscience 15 T2 PSYC0032 The Brain in Action 15 T2 PSYC0055 Talent Management 15 T2 PSYC0056 Business Psychology Seminars 15 T2 PSYC0057 Consumer Behaviour 15 T1 PSYC0073 Designing and Analysing fMRI experiments 15 T2 PSYC0088 Neuroscience of Emotion and Decision-Making 15 T2 PSYC0089 Evolution and Social Behaviour 15 T2 PSYC0161 Understanding Individuals and Groups 15 T1 PSYC0163 Current Issues in Attitude Research 15 T2 PSYC0164 Social Neuroscience 15 T2 PSYC0165 Social Cognition: Research Methods 15 T2 SECU0040 Understanding and Interpreting Forensic Evidence 15 T2
Programme Director and module convenor (Judgment and Decision Making): Adam Harris
Programme Lecturer (Introduction to Cognitive Science): Dave Lagnado
Module convenor (Generic Research Skills: Statistics): Maarten Speekenbrink
Module convenor (Programming for Cognitive Science): Christos Bechlivanidis
Module convenor (Principles of Cognition and Knowledge, Learning and Inference): Costi Rezlescu
Course Administrator: Alexa Richardson
- Application and Entry
September 2019Location: London, Bloomsbury
Application and next steps
Students are advised to apply as early as possible due to competition for places. Those applying for scholarship funding (particularly overseas applicants) should take note of application deadlines.
Who can apply?
This programme will appeal to outstanding students interested in pursuing a research career in the cognitive and decision sciences, or to those wishing to develop an understanding of core theoretical principles of human thought to tackle applied problems in a range of areas including marketing, finance, and public policy.
- All applicants
- 2 March 2019
For more information see our Applications page.Apply now
What are we looking for?
When we assess your application we would like to learn:
- why you want to study Cognitive and Decision Sciences at graduate level
- why you want to study Cognitive and Decision Sciences at UCL
- what particularly attracts you to this programme
- how your academic and professional background meets the demands of this rigorous programme
- where you would like to go professionally with your degree
Together with essential academic requirements, the personal statement is your opportunity to illustrate whether your reasons for applying to this programme match what the programme will deliver.
Applicants should be informed of outcomes towards the end of April 2019 although some decisions may be earlier.
Other courses that are relevant for entry to this course include: psychology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, mathematics, statistics, physics and engineering.
References - Please note that an applicant should submit an application with referee contact details. After you have submitted an application your referees will be contacted by UCL requesting a reference.
Graduate Student Loans are now available to UK/EU students. For further information:
Destinations of past masters graduates include:
- Lecturer at Stanford University, USA
- Lecturer at Edinburgh University
- Various research assistant roles including: focusing on the human cognition under sleep deprivation (at the cognitive neuroscience lab in Duke-NUS), surgical simulators (observing live operations and rate team work in the operating team, working on surgical stress simulations rating team skills, leading a simulation involving a newly designed portable simulated operating theatre setting up and recruiting surgeons to run simulations in this simulated operating environment then rating their non-technical skills including communication, decision making, leadership etc, and interviewing them), in an engineering lab working on decision making aspects of disaster situations, looking at the cognitive causes of diagnostic error.
- These Research Assistants roles are within various universities including: UCL, Birkbeck College, University of British Columbia, Singapore National University, King's College London, Imperial College, St. Mary's Hospital
- Senior Researcher in Millward Brown in the Neuroscience Practice Looking at automated facial coding, emotional priming, intuitive associations and eye tracking to assess brand equity, advertising effectiveness and print and digital campaigns.
- Civil Service (Ministry of Education), Advisor to Minister of Education
- Extending the masters research thesis to develop a research paper 2015
- An Asset manager in Geneva, Switzerland, specifically dealing with the currency market 2015
- A behavioural scientist for the department of Work and Pensions working as part of a behavioural change unit within the communications team
- Cabinet Office on the Behavioural Insights Teams (2 students from the same cohort)
- Decision Technology, Research Analyst
- RBS Manager
- The Independent Media Consultant
- New Africa Analysis Editorial Assistant
- UNon-Government Organisation Development Officer
- Financial Company Software Engineer
- Financial Information Company Analyst Developer
- Marketing analyst at The Piaggio Company
- Final Mile consultancy company (based in India). It integrates Cognitive Neuroscience and Behavioural Economics
- SML Consult Clean Technology Analyst
- European Commission Trainee PgCert in Personal and Professional development
- University of East Anglia Individualator
- Instinct Laboratories Consumer Insight Researcher
- Decision Technology Graduate Research Analyst
- The General Medical Council Policy Research Assistant
- University of Greenwich Director of Development + Communication
- Holden Pearman Research Analyst
- China Telecom Marketing Assistant
- Elis Ltd Company Director
- Buranarumluk School Teacher
- Sony: Human Interface Designer
- Contributor on a book for a university Professor
- Department of Children’s, Schools and Families (policy making for disciplinary procedures
- User Interface designer in an electronics company
- Project manager in market risk change programme in a high profile bank
- Data Co-ordinator
- Providing marketing / social solutions based on the principle of neurology and behavioural economics
- Head of the Deputy Group CRO (Chief Risk Officer) Office in a large investment bank
- Psychology lecturer in psychology and risk management.
- Director of Development and Communications (in a university).
- Published books about what people need to have in place for success., coaching senior staff in large corporations.
- Freelance copywriting/copyediting/proofreading.
- Research assistant to published fiction author.
- Market research company 2015
- Intern in Public Health England Behavioural Insights Team on the trial on "reducing antibiotic prescribing" 2015
Many students go on to undertake PhD/further studies
Research areas include: cognitive and decision sciences, Alzheimer’s disease, social and developmental psychology neuroscience, cognitive modelling, medicine, risk perception in medical decision making, judgmental forecasting, how people learn about and exploit the causal structure of their environment, responsibility, causality and counter factuals, cognitive processes and representations underlying
judgment and decision-making, human decision making using both formal modelling approaches and behavioural experiments, social perception of faces, how people use experiences in decisions to learn for the future, causal learning and superstition.
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL, in social neuroscience. Research centred on exploring the cognitive and neural mechanisms underpinning mimicry and overimitation. Exploring how these mechanisms are modulated by top-down social processes and how they differ between healthy adults and those with autism spectrum condition. Utilising a variety of techniques including behavioural studies, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)
Universities include: University College London, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Imperial College, Queen Mary, Universidad de Granada, Stanford, Cambridge, MPI Berlin
September 2019Location: London, Bloomsbury
Application and next steps
Register interest in your chosen subjects.
Receive notice of graduate open days, events and more.
If you would like any further information on the programme content, you can contact any of the following people:
Programme Lecturer: Adam Harris
Programme Lecturer: Christos Bechlivanidis
What are the term time dates?
For further information on term dates please visit: Term Dates Main teaching is the the 1st and 2nd term. During the 3rd term there is no teaching as this period is for development on the research project as well as other coursework submissions.
Information on Scholarships/funding:
Unfortunately there is very little on offer in terms of funding for this course. For information, please visit: Scholarships/Funding
Are there any prerequisites to enable entry to this course?
No. There are no prerequisites. We do however, make aware that the Statistics module is set at an advanced level and advise that those without any statistical experience may find this difficult. Pre-course reading is encouraged: Charles M. Judd, Gary H. McClelland, and Carey S. Ryan, "Data Analysis: A Model Comparison Approach" (2 edition), Routledge, 2008. (for further information, please visit: Data Analysis This book covers almost all the module content for 2011-12 and is the recommended book. Alternatively you can also refer to 'Discovering Statistics with SPSS' by Andy Field
What do our students say?
Keith "Since starting the MSc in CoDeS, I feel my mind has expanded- pressed outwards by the new ideas, thoughts, and understanding I have of human behaviour, cognition and social interaction. I love understanding ‘why’ people flirt, gamble, make ‘silly decisions’; or even just ‘consciousness’. As a mature foreign student I was humbled by the Departments drive to ensure students bond together well, are supported academically, and are encouraged to pursue their own personal interests; be it world domination, academia, or curing the world of Tuberculosis."
Pedro "By far the best part of the Master's are the seminars and optional talks. Of course, the regular schedule of classes and research opportunities are a fundamental part of the learning experience, but at UCL there are so many extra curricular activities that might interest you, that is impossible not to be excited about them. This reminds me of another point: if you have the time, do the course part time. Double the time to dedicate to your projects, double the time to think about your research, half the pressure on essays and exams, but most of all, twice as many seminars. I can't think of a better learning experience short of a PhD."
What other Master's programmes, Research programmes or Professional Doctorates are available within the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences?
Can you offer any advice on student accommodation?
Accommodation is dealt with by UCL Residencies. For further information and contacts, please visit: Accommodation
If I meet academic requirement how likely am I to be accepted?
We would be unable to answer this question as we would need to see a complete application. Most students who apply do meet the entry requirement so it is important to view your personal statement, references and grades on your transcript.
Can I send in my CV and/or covering letter for advice on whether I am likely to be successful?
No. We will only consider a full application.
If I have 2:2 in my degree but have relevant experience, will I still be considered for the course?
No. Only If your degree was taken 5 or more years ago and you have relevant work experience since then.
What should I include in my personal statement? How long should it be?
For further information please visit: Personal Statement Information
Do you have any Open Days?
I'm in my final year of my degree. Can I still apply even though I do not know my final grade?
Yes. If you are made an offer it will be conditional that you receive a 2:1 for your final award.
The grading system for my degree is different to that of the UK. How can I check the equivalent grades for the UK?
For International Equivalencies, please look under 'Application and Entry'. Then select your country for equivalent alternative requirements.
Do you have an entrance exam?
Do you consider GRE results?
Once I have completed my application, can I change my referee?
Yes. You can do this via the online Applicant Portal.
Once logged in, you should be able to see that the status of your application is ‘Application Incomplete – Pending References’. If you click on the ‘View’ button next to this status, you will be taken through to a screen where you can see which reference (if either) has been uploaded. If we have not received a reference from one of the referees, you will be given three options: to amend the contact details for the referee (in case you made a typo when inputting the referee’s e-mail address), to replace an existing referee with a new one or to resend the reference request e-mail (a maximum of one per day).
How can I apply for a PhD?
- Recommended Reading
A couple of relevant and very readable introductory books:
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (2009, HarperCollins)
- This book provides an excellent introduction to many issues covered in the course: Computing the mind' Shimon Edelman, Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978019532067
- Kahneman, D. 2012, Thinking fast and slow. Penguin
- Oaksford, M., & Chater, N. (2007). Bayesian rationality: The probabilistic approach to human reasoning. Oxford University Press
- Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics (2016), Richard Thaler
Introduction to Cognitive Science
- Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction by John Heil (Routledge), 2013, 3rd edition
- Causation: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum (Oxford University Press), 2013
- Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science by Andy Clark (Oxford University Press), 2013, 2nd Edition
Principles of Cognition
- Nadel, L. and Piattelli-Palmarini, M. (2002). What is cognitive science? In L. Nadel (ed.), Encyclopaedia of cognitive science (Vol. 1, pp. xiii–xli). London: Nature Publishing Group.
- Doyen, S., Klein, O., Pichon, C. L., & Cleeremans, A. (2012). Behavioral priming: it's all in the mind, but whose mind? PloS one, 7(1), e29081.
- Squire, L. R., & Wixted, J. T. (2010). The Cognitive Neuroscience of Human Memory Since H.M. Annual Review of Neuroscience, (April), 259–288.
- Alter, A. L., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2009). Uniting the tribes of fluency to form a metacognitive nation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13(3), 219-235.
- Harris, L. T., Todorov, A., & Fiske, S. T. (2005). Attributions on the brain: Neuro-imaging dispositional inferences, beyond theory of mind. Neuroimage,28(4), 763-769.
- Hockett, C. F. (1960). The Origins of Language. Scientific American.
- Geschwind, N. (1970). The organization of language and the brain. Science, 170(3961), 940–944.
- Barsalou, L. W. (2009). Simulation, situated conceptualization, and prediction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1521), 1281-1289.
- Zwaan RA (2014). Embodiment and language comprehension: reframing the discussion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 18, 229-234.
- Chater, N., & Brown, G. D. (1999). Scale-invariance as a unifying psychological principle. Cognition, 69(3), B17–B24.
- Stewart, N., Chater, N., & Brown, G. D. A. (2006). Decision by sampling. Cognitive Psychology, 53(1), 1–26.
- Friston, K. (2010). The free-energy principle: a unified brain theory? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11(2), 127–138.
Generic Research Skills (Statistics)
- Charles M. Judd, Gary H. McClelland, and Carey S. Ryan, "Data Analysis: A Model Comparison Approach" (2nd or 3rd edition), Routledge, 2008. (http://www.dataanalysisbook.com/) It is strongly recommended that you read this book before the course as this will improve your engagement with the lecture content, especially with complex topics.
- MacKinnon, Fairchild & Fritz (2007). Mediation analysis. Annual Review of Psychology (skip ““Extensions of the single-mediator model” section)
- Peugh & Enders (2005). Using SPSS mixed procedure to fit cross-sectional and longitudinal multilevel models. Educational and Psychological Measurement.
Judgment and Decision Making
(in order of relevance)
- Newell, B.R., Lagnado, D.A., Shanks, D.R. (2015), Straight Choices: Psychology of Judgment and Decision. Psychology Press. 2nd Edition.
- Koehler, D. & Harvey, N. (2004). Blackwell handbook of judgment and decision making. Blackwell.
- Hastie, R., & Dawes, R. M. (2010). Rational choice in an uncertain world: The psychology of judgment and decision making. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
- Baron, J. (2000). Thinking and deciding. CUP
- Gilovich, T., Griffin, D., & Kahneman, D. (2002). Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (2000). Choices, Values, and Frames. CUP.
Knowledge, Learning and inference
- Duda, R. O., Hart, P. E., & Stork, D. G. (2000). Pattern classification. Wiley. (2nd edition).
- Pearl, J. (1988). Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems: Networks of Plausible Inference. Morgan Kaufman Publishers.
- Pearl, J. (2000). Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference. CUP.
- Oaksford, M. & Chater, N. (2007). Bayesian Rationality. OUP.
- Russell, S. & Norvig, P. (2003). Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. Prentice Hall. (2nd edition).
- Sloman, S. A. (2005). Causal Models: How people think about the world and its alternatives. OUP.
- Part-Time Studying
Part-time students will take two years to complete this degree. You will be expected to attend one day a week for core modules (Monday or Wednesday). You will also need to attend lectures for your optional module which may mean that you are in college for an additional day (half day). You will also be expected to devote extra time for private study. Please ensure that you have a (minimum) of one day per week off work for the whole year and not just during term time.
Work on your research project should be spread out over 2 years and students are strongly encouraged to make substantial inroads in to it in their first year.
Part-time students can sometimes find the start of the course overwhelming, and feel that they are missing out by not attending the other modules, or because they do not have as much time as other students for reading or attending optional departmental seminars. Try not to let this worry you too much. You will soon find that there are some advantages to doing the course in two years (e.g. project is more spread out), and you will go in to your second year with the confidence of knowing that you have far more background knowledge than your newly-arrived full time peers.
What part-time students will complete over the two years:
By the end of 2 years you will need to have completed 6 core modules, 2 optional modules and your dissertation.
* Term 1 (Sept- Dec): TWO core modules
* Term 2 (Jan - March): ONE core module
* Term 3 (April+): Dissertation (to be completed by end of second year).
We highly recommend that you complete ONE optional module in your first year.
By the end of Year 1 you will have completed: 3 core modules and ideally 1 optional module.
* Term 1: TWO core modules
* Term 2: ONE core module
* Term 3: Work on main research project due in August.
By the end of Year 2 you will have completed an additional 3 core modules, have completed TWO optional modules (in total over the 2 years) and your dissertation.
For a comprehensive list of the funding opportunities available at UCL, including funding relevant to your nationality, please visit the Scholarships and Funding website.
Graduate Student Loans are now available to UK/EU students. For further information: