Understanding Science: The Brain - Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology
“It ought to be generally known that the source of our pleasure, merriment, laughter and amusement, as of our grief, pain, anxiety and tears, is none other than the brain.” – Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BCE).
At a Glance
- Live online course
- 2 hours a week
- Thursdays 19:00 - 21:00
- 20 weeks: October to March
- Tutor: Angela Richards
- Fees from £230 to £420
- Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
‘It ought to be generally known that the source of our pleasure, merriment, laughter and amusement, as of our grief, pain, anxiety and tears, is none other than the brain’. - Hippocrates
‘The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around’. - Thomas A. Edison
As indicated above, at least as far back as Hippocrates our species has been fascinated with the brain. By the time we are born, we have on average about 86 billion brain cells which get pruned down mostly during childhood.
On this 20-week course we will delve into the inner workings of this fascinating organ - the brain. We will explore questions such as: What is the brain? How does it function? How is it affected by what we do – our behaviour? What can happen when something goes wrong? Even a basic understanding of the brain can affect the way we live our lives and view the world, which has the potential to impact on aspects of physical health and mental wellbeing. This course aims to give you an insight into the brain’s intricacies in a way that is accessible, interesting, and relatable to all.
We will start with considering distinctions between neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry before embarking on a journey of the building blocks of the brain. We will aim to build an understanding of what the brain is and how it works before covering a range of specialist topics across the disciplines of neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry.
The course will be taught in an interactive manner. In addition to tutor input, you will get opportunities to discuss your own ideas and experiences with a variety of people, learn from each other, and take part in tasks and games that will build your understanding of each topic.
This is an introductory course as no science knowledge is assumed so we will be spending a considerable amount of time on the basics of neuroscience for beginners.
Online Access to Course
This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.
Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.
The proposed course programme is set out below but students will also have the opportunity to suggest and request specific topics.
Week 1: Overview of the course / Neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry: What’s the difference?
In this session we lay the foundations of the three disciplines that inform our understanding of the brain. We will then build upon this by considering how integration of all three provide a multi-dimensional understanding of the relationship between the nervous system and mental functioning.
Week 2: Basic anatomy of the Brain 1 – Structures we share with other animals
This is one of two sessions that introduces you to aspects of brain anatomy (neuroanatomy). A large part of our understanding of neuroanatomy has been achieved by investigating animal brains. It is therefore fundamental that you have knowledge about the oldest brain structures that are common to all mammals, including those in and around the brain stem.
Week 3: Basic anatomy of the Brain 2 – Advanced structures in the human brain
This session complements part one of neuroanatomy. Although there are indeed many similarities between the human brain and that of other animals, appreciation of the ways in which our brain has progressed is essential for understanding of our own functioning. Therefore, in part two of this introduction to neuroanatomy, we will delve into the workings of the human brain, consider aspects that distinguish our brain from other animals and the need for such departures.
Week 4: Localising functions and the senses
In gross neuroanatomy, it is possible to map our functions on to different parts of the brain. So, it is useful to consider research on how this is achieved and what this tells us about connections between the brain and behaviour. This is one of the themes that runs through the course and for this session our focus will be on the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes.
Week 5: The mystery of the nerve impulse and chemicals in the brain
You will learn about the very important chemicals that communicate messages across the brain. These are called neurotransmitters. They include dopamine, serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and acetylcholine.
Week 6: What’s in there? Neuroscience instruments for mapping the brain
You may be wondering – how do we know these facts about the brain? This has been partly made possible by the development of physical devices that provide recordings of brain activity. This class will focus on large magnets used to measure blood flow in the brain (functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI); electrodes attached to the scalp (electroencephalogram, EEG); and the administration of radioactive elements to trace brain activity (positron emission tomography, PET scan).
Week 7: Psychological and psychiatric tools for investigating the brain
You will gain an insight into the materials that psychologists and psychiatrists rely on for assessment of an individual’s cognitive and emotional functioning. These inform diagnosis, treatment and predictions of potential treatment success where relevant (prognosis). They include the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association and the ‘International Classification of Diseases’ (ICD 11) published by the World Health Organisation (WHO). We will also consider the controversies attached to such global manuals that classify mental disorders.
Week 8: Mental illness and the brain: Emotional disorders of depression and anxiety
The most common mental disorders in the UK are depression and anxiety. When experienced together, for people in the UK, there is a prevalence of 7.8% meeting the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of ‘mixed anxiety and depression’. We will consider the signs and symptoms needed to meet the clinical criteria for either depression or anxiety. These two mental illnesses will be used as a case study to illustrate the big clinical problem of co-morbidity
Week 9: When the brain ‘loses touch with reality’: Psychosis
There is an estimated prevalence of psychotic disorder in the UK population of nearly 1%. As a clinical category, psychosis is a major mental disorder and schizophrenia is one of its major forms. We will look at brain activity and the two main symptoms of psychosis which are delusions and hallucinations.
*** Christmas break ***
Week 10: Organic brain injury: Dementia and neurodegenerative disorders
You will learn about the relationship between changes within the brain and neurocognitive disorders. Amongst the range of neurodegenerative disorders discussed, dementia provides a useful illustration of how internal brain damage impacts on the demise of a person’s psychological and psychiatric condition. We will also consider aspects of treatment and how useful these are for neurodegenerative disorders.
Week 11: Bad brain science and neuroethics: Case studies you won’t believe
You will hear about clinical trials and other types of experiments into brain and behaviour that by today’s standards are considered unethical. This includes research conducted in places like pharmaceutical companies and universities that used drugs to alter patients’ and students’ brain activity without their knowledge. We will consider how such studies have contributed to what we currently know about the brain and psychology.
Week 12: Hijacking your brain: psychoactive drugs, motivation and addiction
The journey in this session will lead you to understanding the mechanisms of action of prescriptive and recreational drugs. Prescriptive drugs include selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines. Illicit drugs include nicotine, cocaine and heroin. Drugs cleverly mimic the brain’s natural chemical messengers and trick it into responding which can lead to an individual’s dependence on such drugs. Psychological and psychiatric aspects related to addiction will also be considered.
Week 13: Intelligence and learning
We all have intelligence, though individuals’ capacity to learn and adapt to environments vary. You will discover brain structures involved in this process. Activity in the brain areas most associated with intelligence include the prefrontal cortex, the temporal cortex and the parietal cortex.
Week 14: Language and the brain
Language and communication are essential for our survival. You will learn about the variety of brain structures involved in language. The most researched are Broca’s area and Wernicke's area.
Week 15: The global brain: Cultural neuroscience
We will consider the bidirectional relationship between the brain and a person’s environment. It is relevant to look at how methods used in neuroscience that were previously described in earlier classes, such as neuroimaging, illustrate the different uses of the brain according to a person’s culture.
Week 16: Mind vs Brain?: Consciousness
You will learn about methods used in neuroscience and psychology to understand what has been termed the ‘hard problem’. When investigating consciousness, researchers and philosophers alike refer to the concept of ‘qualia’. It seems contradictory that something as unique as the subjective experience of consciousness can be studied using the physical tools of neuroscience. However, in this session, we will explore consciousness by integrating the fields of neuroscience and psychology.
Week 17: Dos and Don’ts for the brain and psychological wellbeing. What you can to do to achieve health in both
Now that you have acquired a basic understanding of the brain, at this stage it would be useful to consider the healthy applications of this knowledge. This is the first in a series of three sessions that considers how to reduce emotional problems and achieve ‘good brain health’. In this session we will identify the brain systems, or ‘neurocircuits’, that impact on mental well been and the application of positive psychiatry and psychology in everyday context.
Week 18: The brain on the couch – psychological therapies and the brain
For this session we will look at some of the popular psychological therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy and humanistic/person centred therapy. The neuroscience evidence base for their effectiveness comes from a range of research methods including various neuroimaging techniques and clinical trials.
Week 19: The existential brain, mindfulness, yoga and meditation
Many individuals are attracted to self-help approaches to mental wellbeing. Studies have shown that people can use forms of complementary health to train the brain to release its happiness inducing chemicals such as endorphins and endocannabinoids. In this session we will discover the influence that practices such as mindfulness, yoga and meditation have on neurogenesis (development of new neurons) and neuroplasticity (rewiring of existing neurons). Of particular interest are neurocircuits such as the default mode network (DMN) and structures including the amygdala, cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.
Week 20: 21st Century advances: Brain surgery, technology and the brain
In our last session of this year’s course, we look towards the future. With technological advances in science in the wake of COVID, it is appropriate and timely to consider what the future holds for brain and mental health science. This will involve a closer relationship with engineering to simulate and stimulate brain functioning; artificial intelligence for brain surgery; virtual reality tools for behavioural neuroscience and therapeutic rehabilitation; the application of haptic technology as a sophisticated application for connecting the brain with psychological experiences. One of the examples we will consider is the insertion of microwires deep into the brain which allows the injection of electrical signals into precise locations.
Overview of the course
Neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry: What’s the difference?
There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text.
Dr Angela Richards has a background in experimental methods, the NHS and academia. She has been involved in research into memory in animals and brain scanning in older people. She has taught various aspects of neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Her main interest is in neurodegenerative disorders and technology, especially dementia. As part of a team she was a co-finalist for an Alzheimer’s Society award.
Course Delivery: Live Online Taught Courses
All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.
All times stated are British Standard Time.
To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.
This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.
Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.
We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.
Course Fees and Rate Categories
|Hours||Weeks||Standard Rate||Internal Rate||Associate Rate|
|40||20|| £420 (Early Bird Rate: £380*)
||£250 (Early Bird Rate: £230*)||£330 (Early Bird Rate: £300*)|
|* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October only | All fee rates quoted are for the whole 2-term course.|
Rate Categories and Discounts
- Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.
- Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
- Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
- Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
- Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact email@example.com before completing the online enrolment form
- Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
- Austrian Cultural Forum staff
- City & Guilds College Association members
- Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
- Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
- Harrods staff
- Historic Royal Palaces staff
- Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
- Members of the Friends of Imperial College
- Members of the Kennel Club
- Members of the London Zoological Society
- Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
- Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
- Natural History Museum staff
- National Health Service (NHS) employees
- Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
- Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
- Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
- Royal Geographical Society staff
- Science Museum staff
- Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
- Students (non-Imperial College)
- Teachers and other staff of UK schools
- Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
- Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
- Victoria and Albert Museum staff
It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.
Applicable terms & conditions
Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.
|Hours||Weeks||Autumn term||Spring term||Summer term||Summer School|
|40||20||18 Oct - 18 Dec 2021 (9 weeks)* PLUS||10 Jan - 26 Mar 2022 (11 weeks)||n/a||n/a|
|* Followed by the Christmas break|
Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021
Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:
- Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
- First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
- The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
- The following email notifications are sent:
|What is sent||When is it sent||What does it contain|
|1. Payment confirmation||Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application||
|2. Enrolment confirmation||Is sent within 10 working days. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received||
|3. Programme information||Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts||
|If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756
- Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the tutor, Dr Angela Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Questions about your enrolment and payment should be sent to the Programme Administrator, email@example.com
If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.