Course Syllabus

Neurosciences Cognitive Core Module

Spring Quarter 2021

Instructors: Russell Poldrack and Justin Gardner


Office Location: Building 420 Room 314 (RP)/300 (JLG)

TA: Akshay Jagadeesh (


Course meetings will be via zoom (links are in menu at left). Scanning will be conducted at the Center for Neurobiological Imaging: Basement of Psychology Department, Building 420

Overview of the course:

The goal of this module is to provide you with a hands-on introduction to cognitive neuroscience research.  Rather than trying to give a broad overview of this area of research (which would be impossible in three weeks), instead we will do a deep-dive into a specific area (attention, working memory, reinforcement learning), showing you the entire process from conceptualizing a study to collecting and analyzing fMRI data.  


There will be reading assignments posted with brief written components due one hour before classes to facilitate discussion. The main goal will be to develop, run, analyze and interpret an experiment in small groups. You will first read a classic monkey physiology paper about your chosen topic (attention, working memory or reinforcement learning) and lead discussion (figure by figure) in class during the first week. With a combination of assignments and in class activities you will work with your group to translate that monkey physiology paper into a human neuroscience experiment using BOLD imaging. Each group will be responsible for presenting their findings at the end of the third week. To connect to modern literature each group will also be responsible for choosing and presenting a paper in the third week. Groups are expected to work together on both the experiment and the paper, however, half the group will be primarily responsible for presenting the paper and the other half the results of the experiment.

Learning goals:

You will be able to...

  • ...take an idea for a human cognitive neuroscience experiment through design, acquisition, analysis and interpretation
  • ...critically evaluate cognitive neuroscience research based on your experience running an experiment

Pre-reading: Before the core, please take a look at: 

Poldrack RA, Farah MJ (2015) Progress and challenges in probing the human brain. Nature 526:371–379. 

Also, take a look at the following, very basic, introductory textbook: The Student’s Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience, Jamie Ward, Psychology Press, ISBN: 978-1-84872-272-9. Take a look at least at Chapters 4 (The imaged brain), 7 (The attending brain), 9 (The remembering brain). If you do not have immediate familiarity with this level of content from your undergraduate training, then you will want to read carefully to get up to speed before the module.


 Will be based in equal parts upon written assignments, class participation, group project and presentation.

Course Schedule: 

Date Time Location Topic Assignment Reading
Week 1
Mon 3/29 10:00-12:15


Introduction to cognitive neuroscience Due before class: Analysis of NYT Op-Ed
Wed 3/31 10:00-12:15


Attention / memory / reinforcement learning / replication discussion Due before class: Attention, working memory and reinforcement learning classic papers 
Thu 4/1 2:00-6:00 Center for Neurobiological Imaging: Basement of Psychology Department, Building 420 Prep scans (only for people who will be in the scanner) To use the MRI facilities, everyone needs to do the MRI Safety assignment!
Fri 4/2

10:00 - 12:15


Designing a neuroimaging study Due before class: Experimental design for attention, working memory or prediction error
Week 2
Mo 4/5 10:00-12:15


Anatomy and retinotopy analysis

Due before class:

BOLD models tutorial

Wed 4/7 10:00-12:15


Guest lecture: Tirin Moore

Due before class:

Tirin Moore Lecture Question 

Th 4/8 2:00 - 8:00PM Center for Neurobiological Imaging: Basement of Psychology Department, Building 420 Scanning at CNI (your group will be assigned a slot during this time) Your group will need to have your experimental design ready to run!
Fri 4/9 10:00 - 12:15


Data Analysis 



Week 3
Mo 4/12 10:00-12:15


Paper Presentations Your group will present a modern cognitive neuroscience paper related to your experiment in ~30 minutes
Wed 4/14 10:00-12:15


Guest Lecturer: Kalanit Grill-Spector

Due before class:

Kalanit Grill-Spector Lecture Question 


Fri 4/16 10:00-12:15


Experiment presentations

Your group should be ready to present the results of your experiment in ~30 minutes


Experiment group:

Sign up here:

Students with Documented Disabilities

Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE).  Professional staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare an Accommodation Letter for faculty dated in the current quarter in which the request is being made. Students should contact the OAE as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations.  The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk (phone: 723-1066, URL: 

Honor code

We will abide by the Stanford University Honor code. Please familiarize yourself with it.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due