Contacts | Program of Study | Program Requirements | Introductory Courses | Formal Foundations Courses | Core Discipline Courses | Extra-Disciplinary Courses | Summary of Requirements for the BA in Cognitive Science | Grading | Honors | Courses

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Program of Study

Cognitive science explores the nature of cognitive processes such as perception, reasoning, memory, attention, language, decision making, emotion, motor control, and problem solving. The goal of cognitive science, stated simply, is to understand how minds work, in humans, animals, and machines. Cognitive science emerged in the latter part of the 20th century at the intersection of computer science, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, and is an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor, drawing on tools and ideas from the social sciences, the physical and biological sciences, and the humanities. Topics of research include (but are not limited to) cognitive development, cognitive processing, judgment and decision making, language and communication, the neurological bases of cognition, perception, and memory, philosophy of mind, and artificial intelligence. A defining feature of cognitive science is its emphasis on integration among fields, for a truly interdisciplinary study of the mind. Students will be trained in formal methods of analysis and modeling that are common in majors in the physical and biological sciences, but often absent from majors in the humanities and social sciences; at the same time, students will also be trained in the advanced reasoning skills that define humanistic inquiry, but are often absent from more technical or applied majors.

The undergraduate major in Cognitive Science at the University of Chicago is designed to embody this interdisciplinary approach to the study of the mind and brain. Students gain broad knowledge of the field by taking courses in each of the five main disciplinary areas—computer science, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience—and then develop further focus and depth of understanding by taking additional courses in two of these disciplinary areas. Students will form key technical foundations through a Formal Foundations requirement, and will gain critical training in integrating interdisciplinary perspectives through the two core foundational courses: COGS 20001 Mind, Brain and Meaning and COGS 20002 Cognitive Models. A distinguishing feature of the Cognitive Science major at the University of Chicago is the centrality of the humanistic component of the study of the mind: starting immediately with the foundational course sequence, questions about what it means to learn, communicate, and think will be assigned equal significance to, and asked alongside, questions about what it is to learn, communicate, and think. Training emphasizes both engagement with the principal theories of mind and the evidence that bears on choices between them, and development of the conceptual and practical skills needed for understanding and conducting theoretical and empirical work in the field.

Students who are majoring in Cognitive Science may visit the Department of Cognitive Science homepage at to learn about events and resources on and off campus and for links to information on employment opportunities.

Program Requirements

Students majoring in Cognitive Science will receive the degree of bachelor of arts. To qualify for the BA, students must minimally satisfy the general education requirements and take an additional 15 required courses for the major, which fall into four categories: Introductory Courses, which engage students with the core questions, intellectual history, and analytical methods that unify cognitive scientific research (200 units); Formal Foundations Courses, which give students the analytical tools to explore different strands of contemporary cognitive scientific research (200 units); Core Discipline Courses, which provide breadth and depth in the five core disciplines (900 units); and Extra-Disciplinary Courses, which engage students with cognitive scientific work in areas beyond the core disciplines (200 units). These courses and their pedagogical roles in the major are described in more detail below.

Note that some courses may be used to satisfy different requirements; but no single course may be “double counted” towards satisfaction of two requirements. For example, a student who takes PHIL 20100 Introduction to Logic may count it either towards satisfaction of the Formal Foundations requirement or towards satisfaction of the Philosophy Core Discipline requirement, but not both.

Introductory Courses

There are two introductory courses in the Cognitive Science major, COGS 20001 Mind, Brain and Meaning and COGS 20002 Cognitive Models, which serve two purposes. First, they introduce students to the empirical questions, theoretical concepts, and analytical methodologies that led to the emergence of cognitive science as a distinct field of study and continue to drive contemporary research. Second, they will highlight the ways that these issues manifest in the core disciplines of cognitive science—philosophy, psychology, linguistics, computer science, and neuroscience—and the ways that progress on central questions about the nature of the mind have been informed by interactions, conversations, and collaborations across the disciplines. Ideally, both courses will normally be co-taught by faculty from different fields, with the dual goal of providing substantive disciplinary expertise in more than one area, and of manifesting, in the classroom, the kind of interdisciplinarity that defines the field.

Formal Foundations Courses

The Cognitive Science major requires students to develop expertise in the formal analytical methods used in the field. The specific formal skills that will be most useful to individual students depend on their particular areas of interest, so students are free to select any two courses from an approved set of options from a range of courses in mathematics, computer science, statistics, and logic. Though not formally required, experience with the equivalent of one course in calculus is highly recommended, as expertise in this area is required for many of the Core Discipline courses. (NOTE: Calculus I-II may be used to satisfy the Formal Foundations requirement only if the courses are not used to satisfy the general education requirement in the mathematical sciences.)

The following list provides examples of courses that could be used to satisfy the Formal Foundations requirement, but it is meant to be illustrative only and is not exhaustive. Students may petition for approval of a course not on this list as satisfaction of the Formal Foundations requirement by submitting a proposal and rationale to the Director of the Cognitive Science Program.

Cognitive Science Formal Foundations Courses

CHDV 39301Qualitative Research Methods100
CMSC 12100Computer Science with Applications I100
CMSC 12200Computer Science with Applications II100
CMSC 14100Introduction to Computer Science I100
CMSC 14200Introduction to Computer Science II100
CMSC 14300Systems Programming I100
CMSC 14400Systems Programming II100
CMSC 15100Introduction to Computer Science I100
CMSC 15200Introduction to Computer Science II100
CMSC 15400Introduction to Computer Systems100
CMSC 25300Mathematical Foundations of Machine Learning100
CMSC 27100Discrete Mathematics100
LING 21020Formal Foundations of Linguistics100
LING 22500Quantitative Research Methods in Linguistics100
MATH 13100Elem Functions and Calculus I (or higher)100
MATH 13200Elem Functions and Calculus II (or higher)100
MATH 19620Linear Algebra100
MATH 27700Mathematical Logic I100
MATH 28000Introduction to Formal Languages100
PHIL 20100Introduction to Logic100
PSYC 20200Psychological Research Methods100
PSYC 20250Introduction to Statistical Concepts and Methods100
STAT 24400Statistical Theory and Methods I100
STAT 24500Statistical Theory and Methods II100
STAT 27410Introduction to Bayesian Data Analysis100

Core Discipline Courses

The core disciplines of cognitive science are computer science, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. The Core Discipline requirements are designed to strike a balance between breadth and depth in the core disciplines, while also allowing students a great deal of freedom to construct an individualized plan of study that best matches their interests in cognitive science. Students in the Cognitive Science major must take:

  • Five Core Discipline breadth courses: one approved course in each of the five core disciplines
  • Four Core Discipline depth courses: two additional courses in two of the core disciplines

Approved electives from each of the five core disciplines are listed below; students may, in addition, request approval of a course that is not on this list by submitting a proposal and rationale to the Director of the Cognitive Science Program.

Cognitive Science Core Discipline Courses: Computer Science

CMSC 13600Introduction to Data Engineering100
CMSC 14100Introduction to Computer Science I100
CMSC 14200Introduction to Computer Science II100
CMSC 14300Systems Programming I100
CMSC 14400Systems Programming II100
CMSC 15100Introduction to Computer Science I100
CMSC 15200Introduction to Computer Science II100
CMSC 15400Introduction to Computer Systems100
CMSC 20600Introduction to Robotics100
CMSC 21800Data Science for Computer Scientists100
CMSC 23900Data Visualization100
CMSC 25300Mathematical Foundations of Machine Learning100
CMSC 25400Machine Learning100
CMSC 25500Introduction to Neural Networks100
CMSC 25700Natural Language Processing100

Cognitive Science Core Discipline Courses: Linguistics

LING 20101Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology100
LING 20201Introduction to Syntax100
LING 20301Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics100
LING 21020Formal Foundations of Linguistics100
LING 27010Psycholinguistics100
LING 28610Undergraduate Computational Linguistics100

Cognitive Science Core Discipline Courses: Philosophy

PHIL 20100Introduction to Logic100
PHIL 22960Bayesian Epistemology100
PHIL 23000Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology100
PHIL 23501Philosophy of Mind100
PHIL 24010Meaning and Reference100
PHIL 26000History of Philosophy II: Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy100

Cognitive Science Core Discipline Courses: Psychology

PSYC 20400Cognitive Psychology100
PSYC 20500Developmental Psychology100
PSYC 20700Sensation and Perception100
PSYC 21510Neuroscience of Communication100
PSYC 23200Introduction to Language Acquisition100
PSYC 23820Attention and Working Memory in the Mind and Brain100
PSYC 25101The Psychology of Decision Making100
PSYC 28990Constructing consciousness: How do we go from matter to mind?100

Cognitive Science Core Discipline Courses: Neuroscience

NSCI 20101Foundations of Neuroscience100
NSCI 20130Systems Neuroscience100
NSCI 21000Social Neuroscience100
NSCI 21015Biological Psychology100
NSCI 21625Cognitive Neuroscience in Humans and Rodents100
NSCI 21750Ethics through a Neurobiological Lens100
NSCI 22010Neuroscience of Consciousness100
NSCI 23700Methods in Computational Neuroscience100

Extra-Disciplinary Courses

The Extra-Disciplinary requirement ensures that students also engage with cognitive scientific work outside the core disciplines, in areas such as music, anthropology, religion, economics, and political science, and so are exposed to the full breadth of the interdisciplinary study of the mind. Students in the major must take a total of two Extra-Disciplinary courses.

A partial list of courses that could be used to satisfy the Extra-Disciplinary requirement is provided below; as above, students may also request approval of courses not included in this list, or courses from other fields, by submitting a proposal and rationale to the Director of the Cognitive Science Program.

Cognitive Science Extra-Disciplinary Courses

ANTH 21355Remembering: An Anthropological Approach100
ANTH 24321Psychological Anthropology100
ASTR 23000Cosmos and Conscience: Looking for Ourselves Elsewhere100
BPRO 28400Thinking Psychoanalytically: From the Sciences to the Arts100
BUSN 20710Behavioral Economics100
ENGL 12720Inventing Consciousness: Literature, Philosophy, Psychology100
CHDV 20703Literacy, Language, and Education100
CHDV 22580Child Development in the Classroom100
CHDV 23100Human Language and Interaction100
CHDV 27950Evolution and Economics of Human Behavior100
MUSI 20719Music and Mind100
MUSI 43720Music and Affect100
PLSC 24210Politicizing the Passions: Emotions and Collective Action100
RLST 23750The End of Metaphysics and the Future of Philosophy100

Summary of Requirements for the BA in Cognitive Science

COGS 20001 Mind, Brain and Meaning100
COGS 20002 Cognitive Models100
Two Formal Foundations Courses200
Five Core Discipline breadth courses500
Four Core Discipline depth courses400
Two Extra-Disciplinary courses200
Total Units1500


All courses used to satisfy requirements for the major must be taken for quality grades. With consent of the instructor, nonmajors may take COGS courses for P/F grading.


Students wishing to receive a BA in Cognitive Science with honors must carry out an independent research project that culminates in an honors thesis. Any student who has maintained a 3.25 or better overall GPA and a 3.5 or better GPA in courses that count towards the major may apply to receive a degree with honors; the deadline for application is the end of the fifth week of the third quarter before the student graduates, canonically Autumn Quarter of the fourth year. Applications must include a research proposal of no more than three pages, which explains the project and its significance, documents the student’s preparation for the work, and has been approved by a faculty advisor or advisors. Students are strongly encouraged to identify co-advisors from distinct disciplines. The thesis must be submitted by the fifth week of the quarter in which the student plans to graduate.

This program may accept an honors thesis or project used to satisfy the same requirement in another major with the consent of both program directors. Students should consult with the relevant program directors by the earliest BA proposal deadline, or by the end of their third year if neither program publishes a deadline. The Petition to use a Single Bachelor's Paper for Two Majors form, to be signed by both program directors, must be completed and returned to the College adviser by the end of Autumn Quarter of the student's year of graduation.

Cognitive Science Courses

COGS 20001. Mind, Brain and Meaning. 100 Units.

What is the relationship between physical processes in the brain and body and the processes of thought and consciousness that constitute our mental life? Philosophers and others have puzzled over this question for millennia. Many have concluded it to be intractable. In recent decades, the field of cognitive science--encompassing philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, and other disciplines--has proposed a new form of answer. The driving idea is that the interaction of the mental and the physical may be understood via a third level of analysis: that of the computational. This course offers a critical introduction to the elements of this approach, and surveys some of the alternative models and theories that fall within it. Readings are drawn from a range of historical and contemporary sources in philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and computer science. (B) (II)

Instructor(s): J. Bridges; L. Kay; C. Kennedy     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): PHIL 36520, PSYC 36520, LING 36520, PSYC 26520, PHIL 26520, LING 26520, NSCI 22520

COGS 20002. Cognitive Models. 100 Units.

A foundational principle of cognitive science is that the workings of cognitive systems--whether biological, mechanical, or digital--can be productively represented by the operation of formal computational models. This course provides a survey of popular modeling frameworks (such as Bayesian rational agents, connectionist networks, dynamical systems, etc.), as well as the cognitive phenomena that these models have been used to simulate. We will discuss the theoretical commitments of these models, assess strengths and weaknesses of each framework for addressing different types of cognitive questions, and analyze the implications of these models' successes and failures for our understanding of the mind.

Instructor(s): Yu Ji, Eugene     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): LING 30002, LING 20002

COGS 20100. Perspectives on large language models: computational, cognitive, social. 100 Units.

In this interdisciplinary course, students will delve into the multifaceted world of large language models (LLMs), investigating their computational, cognitive, and social dimensions. The course covers an array of topics, such as the history and evolution of LLMs, computational underpinnings like neural networks and training methodologies, cognitive aspects of human-like language understanding, communication, and creativity, as well as crucial ethical and social considerations, encompassing fairness, transparency, trustworthiness, and privacy. Through both lectures and discussions, we will examine the scientific and practical applications and limitations of LLMs across diverse domains and contemplate the future prospects and challenges LLMs pose for science, technology, and society. Through critical discourse, hands-on exercises, and case studies, our goal is to foster a comprehensive understanding of LLMs, empowering students to critically assess these models and contribute to ongoing dialogues regarding their broader implications. Prior experience in computer science or cognitive science is beneficial but not mandatory. Note: this course primarily focuses on cultivating reflective thinking about LLMs, rather than programming or implementation. Students with programming skills are, however, encouraged to utilize them to facilitate their learning.

Instructor(s): Eugene Yu Ji     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): LING 20110



Program Director
Prof. Chris Kennedy
Rosenwald 205E

Administrative Contact

Program Coordinator
Melinh Lai


Shekinah Thornton
Rosenwald 203