Cognitive Psychology Requirements


The Cognitive Psychology Doctoral Program is designed for students desiring a rigorous research-oriented education in preparation for research and teaching careers in basic and applied areas of cognitive psychology.

  1. The first year of the Cognitive Program is similar for all students and consists of PSYC 751 (Research Seminar in Cognitive Psychology) each semester, a core Cognitive Psychology course in one or both semesters (see 5.3 for a list of core courses), statistics, research, and possibly an additional course in one of the semesters.
  2. The Program Director, with the advice of the faculty and based on conversation with the student, assigns each student an advisor for the first year, chosen as much as possible to match the student’s interests.
    1. The advisor supervises the student’s research and helps the student plan his or her sequence of courses.
    2. A student can change advisors with the consent of the Director.
  3. At the end of the spring term each year, the student prepares a brief report summarizing progress-to-date and plans for the future. This report, along with supporting materials (e.g. grades, faculty judgments), will provide the basis for an annual evaluation of progress and recommendations regarding continued funding. The report should include:
    1. An updated Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. Requirements Progress Report,
    2. A brief narrative on the student’s research over the past 12 months, and
    3. A brief personal statement of perceived successes and failures within the past year, as well as goals for the coming year.
  4. Because research is best learned by doing it, each student is expected to engage in research throughout his/her graduate career. Initially, the research may be on a project developed by or with the extensive help of the advisor. With experience, however, the student should become increasingly independent in pursuing research ideas and designs. The series of research requirements is designed with this goal in mind. Students are encouraged to engage in additional research as time and interests permit.
    1. The First-Year Research Project: The student enrolls in PSYC 991 for the Fall and Spring under the supervision of an advisor. A presentation on the work will be made in the Cognitive Talk Series during the Spring or the following Fall. It is not necessary that the first-year research culminate in a completed piece of work. It is expected, however, that reasonable progress will be made in developing, planning, and executing a project. It is acceptable, but not required, that this project result in a proposal for the M.A. thesis.
    2. The Second-Year Research Project: For many students, this project will be a continuation of previous research work. For students entering without a relevant Master’s degree, this project will culminate in a Master’s thesis approved by a committee of three faculty members in accordance with department rules. Such a student enrolls in PSYC 993 during the Fall. it is expected that the M.A. preliminary thesis meeting will be completed during the second year and the M.A. thesis successfully defended by the end of Spring or in the succeeding Fall. For other students, the second-year project may be the precursor to dissertation research or part of the dissertation research itself; each such case will be considered individually.
    3. Third and Subsequent Year Research: This work is directed toward the completion of the Ph.D. dissertation. The dissertation proposal should be defended before the end of the Fall of the fourth year and the dissertation itself by the end of the fifth year.
  5. The M.A. Degree:
    1. Students entering the program without a relevant Master’s degree are expected to earn one. The question of whether a student entering with a Master’s needing to earn a second one at UNC will be considered on an individual basis.
    2. Students are required to take PSYC 751: Research Seminar in Cognitive Psychology in each semester of their first two years in the program.
    3. Students are required to take three core Cognitive Psychology courses in their first two years in the program (of course, students are encouraged to take additional core courses in the first two years or in subsequent years). Grades of P or higher in these three core courses and in PSYC 751 satisfy the M.A. examination requirement. The core Cognitive Psychology courses are: PSYC 739, 742, 743, 744, 746, and 740. PSYC 740 is the Cognitive Psychology Seminar and this course encompasses multiple topics and may be taken multiple times provided the seminar covers different topics.
    4. See 4.2 regarding the M.A. thesis.
    5. See “M.A. and Ph.D. Requirements in Psychology,” distributed by the Department, for course and other M.A. requirements.
  6. Ph.D. course requirements beyond the first-year:
    1. In addition to the courses required for the M.A. degree (see 5.2 and 5.3), the student must take at least two additional courses or seminars on the Cognitive Psychology list, although a larger number will be advisable for many individuals. Courses not on the list may be substituted with the approval of the student’s advisor and the Director provided the courses are not also serving another requirement.
    2. Out-of-the-area courses and/or courses for a minor are required as specified in “M.A. and Ph.D. Requirements in Psychology.”
  7. Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam:
    1. The student and advisor, with approval of the Director, will select an examination committee of three faculty (two faculty members plus the advisor).
    2. The exam consists of a major review paper. Ideally, the review paper will be written in the Spring or Summer of the student’s third-year. The student, with the aid of his/her advisor and advisory committee, will select a topic within his/her specialty area and prepare a review paper suitable for submission to the Psychological Bulletin, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, or a similar journal. The paper should provide a critical, thoughtful, and comprehensive review of the literature with regard to a specific, well-defined topic of current interest. More than a simple literature review, the paper should make a positive contribution in some manner that will render it of interest to researchers in the area. After the student’s topic is approved by the advisory committee, the student will have three months to complete the paper. During this time, the student will work independently of the advisor and committee. It is hoped that following the completion of the paper and feedback from the committee, the student will actually submit the paper to a suitable journal, but that is not part of the exam process. If the committee finds the paper unsatisfactory, the committee may allow the paper to be revised and resubmitted. In such a case, only a single revision is allowed.
  8. Ph.D. Dissertation is completed during the third and subsequent years of research. The dissertation proposal should be defended before the end of the Fall of the fourth year and the dissertation itself by the end of the fifth year.
  9. In order to gain teaching skills and experience, the student is encouraged, but not required to, engage in at least two semesters of supervised teaching.
  10. All Departmental requirements must be met.
  11. Minor areas of studying outside/inside the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience are encouraged, but not required.

Criteria for Progress


A student must remain in good standing according to the Graduate School and Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and must meet the following criteria for the Cognitive Psychology Program. Failure to do so may result in loss of financial support and possibly of office space and participation in the program. The time frame specified in this curriculum assumes that the student will complete the Ph.D. in five years, including summer activities. The criteria are written for students entering without a relevant Master’s degree. Modifications for students already holding such a degree will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Criteria for progress include:

  1. Satisfactory judgement by the program faculty for the year,
  2. Received a grade of P or higher in core Cognitive Psychology Courses,
  3. Completion of a first-year research project,
  4. Completion of the major requirements of the Cognitive Psychology Program, according to the program’s timetable, and
  5. Completion of the professional competency requirement by the end of the fifth-year.

Cognitive Psychology Courses


  • PSYC 708 Biological Foundations of Psychology
  • PSYC 739 Cognitive Neuroscience
  • PSYC 740 Cognitive Psychology Seminar
    • Encompassing multiple topics; may be taken multiple times.
  • PSYC 741 Professional Development
  • PSYC 742 Attention
  • PSYC 743 Cognitive Aging
  • PSYC 744 Psycholinguistics
  • PSYC 746 Memory
  • PSYC 760 Advanced Cognitive Development
  • PSYC 821 Introduction to Neuropsychological Assessment
  • PSYC 822 Advanced Neuropsychological Assessment
  • PSYC 852 Mathematical Psychology
  • PSYC 869 Advanced Social Cognition
  • Others, as approved by the student’s advisor and the Program Director. In certain cases, a 400 or 500 level course may be relevant and may be taken as a Cognitive Psychology course (but not a core course) with the approval of the student’s advisor and Director. Some relevant courses are:
    • PSYC 400 Conditioning and Learning
    • PSYC 425 Advanced Perceptual Processes
    • PSYC 430 Human Memory
    • PSYC 431 Introduction to Cognitive Science
    • PSYC 432 Psychology of Language
    • PSYC 433 Behavioral Decision Theory
    • PSYC 434 Cognitive Neuroscience
    • PSYC 435 Topics in Cognition
    • PSYC 461 Cognitive Development
    • PSYC 462 Development of Language
    • PSYC 508 Behavior and the Brain: Introduction to Neuropsychology

For more information regarding courses, please review the current Graduate Record. Note: Any additional courses must be taken as necessary, in consultation with an advisor, and all program and departmental requirements must be fulfilled.