Applications are now closed for the 2022-23 intake.
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 modules (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
Philosophical Foundations of 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 PALS0049 Intermediate Statistics: Data analysis and visualisation with R 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 and subject to availability and space. The range of optional modules available can vary from year to year. A list of optional modules offered to students in the previous academic year is shown below. Although this gives a good guide as to what modules will be available in the coming academic year, we cannot guarantee that each of these modules will be offered. If you are interested in a particular module, please contact the programme administrator who should be able to advise you on its likely availability.
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.
*Due to the uncertain nature of COVID-19 and its effects on module intake numbers, we cannot guarantee that all modules will run, or that you will definitely get a place on selected modules, but we will endeavour to ensure where possible that your first choice is approved by departments.
Module Code Title Credits Term BECH0001 Behaviour Change: An Interdisciplinary Approach 15 T1 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 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 PSYC0161 Understanding Individuals and Groups 15 T1 PSYC0163 Current Issues in Attitude Research 15 T2 PSYC0164 Social Neuroscience 15 T2 PSYC0283 Moral Cognition 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 and Admissions Tutor (Principles of Cognition and Knowledge, Learning and Inference): Costi Rezlescu
- Application and Entry
September 2022Location: 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.
31 March 2022.
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.
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:
- Policy Adviser at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports
- EMEA Recruitment Manager
- Computer Vision Product Manager
- Associate in the emerging technology department at PwC, focusing on virtual and augmented reality
- Life sciences strategy consultant
- Research Associate at The Cognition Company
- Behavioural Insights in Higher Education, Evaluation Researcher
- Financial Conduct Authority, Behavioural Economics Team
- RBS, Manager in the Behavioural Risk team
- 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).
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
What are the term time dates?
For further information on term dates please visit: Term Dates
The 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:
For further information on sources of funding, 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 strongly encouraged (see Recommended Reading).
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?
We hold some virtual open days. These are usually advertised on the Departmental website. See further information here.
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. You can also contact the Admissions team directly if you have a more complex query concerning academic qualifications equivalences: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can international or EU students take this programme part-time?
Do you have an entrance exam or interview process?
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).
Once I have applied can I change my mode of attendance from full-time to part-time of vice versa?
Yes, if you are a Home student you can change your mode of attendance up until the end of the first two weeks of teaching. It is not possible to change mode after the first two weeks of term. International students may only take this programme full-time.
How can I apply for a PhD?
- Recommended Reading
A couple of relevant and very readable introductory books:
- 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
- Richard Thaler, 2016, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics.
Philosophical foundations of cognitive science
- Kane, Robert H., and Carolina Sartorio. Do We Have Free Will?: A Debate. Routledge, 2021.
- Seth, Anil. Being you: A new science of consciousness. Penguin, 2021.
- Kim, Jaegwon. Philosophy of mind. Routledge, 2018.
- Mumford, Stephen, and Rani Lill Anjum. Causation: a very short introduction. OUP Oxford, 2013.
Knowledge, Learning and inference
- Friston, K. (2010). The free-energy principle: a unified brain theory? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11(2), 127–138.
- Lagnado, D. A. (2021). Explaining the Evidence: How the Mind Investigates the World. Cambridge University Press.
- 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.
Advanced Statistics: Data analysis and modelling with R
Course materials are available as online books. Note that these are works in progress and subject to changes:
- Speekenbrink, M. "Statistics: Data analysis and modelling". https://mspeekenbrink.github.io/sdam-book/
- Speekenbrink, M. "An R companion to Statistics: data analysis and modelling. https://mspeekenbrink.github.io/sdam-r-companion/
Additional books you might find useful are:
- Field, A., Miles, J., & Field, Z. (2012) "Discovering statistics using R", Sage.
- Judd, C.M., McClelland, G.H., & Ryan, C.S. "Data Analysis: A Model Comparison Approach" (3rd or 2nd edition), Routledge, 2017.
- Navarro, D. "Learning statistics with R". https://learningstatisticswithr.com/
- Navarro, D., Foxcroft, D.R., & Faulkenberry, T. J. "Learning statistics with JASP". https://learnstatswithjasp.com/
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.
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.
- Part-Time Study
Part-time students will take two years to complete this degree. You will be expected to attend a minimum of 2 days a week for core modules (Monday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday). Term 1 one requires 3 days a week. You will also need to attend lectures for your optional module which may mean that you are in college for an additional day or half day. You will also be expected to devote extra time for private study. Please ensure that you have a (minimum) of 1-2 days per week off work for the whole year and not just during term time.
Work on the research project starts in the second year but students are encouraged to start to consider their research interests in their first year.
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 (October-December): TWO core modules (we encourage students to take PALS0049 Intermediate Statistics: Data analysis and visualisation with R in their first year)
* Term 2 (January-March): ONE core module
* Term 3 (April onwards): Dissertation (to be completed in the second year)
We highly recommend that you complete at least 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 research project, due in mid-August.
By the end of Year 2 you will have completed an additional 3 core modules, TWO optional modules (in total over the 2 years), and your dissertation project.
- Fees and Funding
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: https://www.gov.uk/studentfinancesteps