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Discover the Fascinating World of the Brain

The purpose of this minor is to acquaint the student with different disciplines within the field of Neuroscience.

The student will become familiar with the workings and functions of different types of brain cells and brain areas. The student will learn how this knowledge can be used to understand characteristics of the healthy brain (e.g., perception, attention, learning and memory), of the developing brain (pre- and postnatal), and of the diseased brain (e.g., depression, addiction, eating disorders).

Overview courses

  • Cognitive Neuroscience

    In the first course, students learn how the brain “perceives” the outside world and how this leads to cognitive behavior. This course is a general, basic introduction into brain composition (e.g., cell types), brain structure, brain function, and neuronal communication, after which the biological basis of cognitive processes such as perception, consciousness, language, learning and memory are discussed.

    See study guide.

  • Nature versus nurture

    Students are introduced to the history of “nature-versus-nurture” research, and will learn how twin- and family studies have pathed the way for current genome-wide gene-discovery studies. Students will familiarize themselves with the most recent behavioral genetics results, and will learn how these translate to state-of-the-art neuroscience research. Students are immersed in this new world of genetic information through discussions and presentations on the ethical aspects of DNA research.

    See study guide.

  • Brain in trouble

    The focus of this course is on the etiology of mental disorders, such as addiction, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and mood disorders, with special attention to the nature-versus-nurture discussion. Various treatment options for these conditions - including the use of pharmacological agents, behavioral therapy, and deep brain stimulation - are elucidated and discussed. Students will be challenged to critically reflect on the boundaries between normality and abnormality and the societal implications.

    See study guide.

  • The developing brain

    The focus of this course is on the phases of brain development over the lifespan. The brain performs differently at various ages; the young brain is very plastic, whereas the aging brain gradually loses its adaptive capacity. In addition to normal brain development, specific genetic and environmental factors will be discussed that contribute to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia, gender dysphoria and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

    See study guide.

  • Mind and Machine

    In the final course, we take one step beyond the brain itself and look at the interaction between mind and machine. We will study the basic principles of artificial intelligence (AI) and brain computer-interfaces (BCI), and discuss current applications in society and associated ethical issues. Students experience hands-on how BCI can be used to self-regulate brain activity. They work in groups to investigate how science meets science fiction when developing a new application of AI and BCI in a product or a service. The entrance level of the course is for students without a background in exact sciences.

    See study guide.

  • Video minor Brain & Mind

  • Brain & Mind during COVID-19

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the VU University will offer all teaching online in a blended format. The teachers of the Minor Brain & Mind are currently busy adjusting their courses to assemble an instructive, educational, entertaining, and varied curriculum. To give you an impression, planned forms of tuition for Cognitive Neuroscience and Nature versus Nurture (Sept-Oct) include:

    -    Short video pitches on selective topics

    -    Longer live and/or pre-recorded lectures

    -    Live online Q & A sessions

    -    Live discussions on specific topics

    -    Weekly opinion/discussion assignments

    -    Weekly live online computer practicals

    -    Live online student group-presentations on ethical topics

     To assure interaction and contact between students, we will install course-specific student working groups (SWGs), i.e., groups of students who actively and intensively collaborate on assignments and on mastering the offered substantive content.

    Communication with students will take place via Canvas, via Slack, an online workspace where people can share files, chat and ask questions (i.e., contact their specific SWG, the entire class, or the teachers), and via Zoom (live online sessions).

    We are confident that quality of the teaching, and the learning aims and goals of the different courses, is guaranteed in the current format.

    To be able to participate actively and fully in this new form of online education, and to be able to partake in the online exams, students require a laptop/computer with camera and microphone and access to reliable internet/WIFI. The VU has made a limited number of computer spaces available on the campus, for students lacking these facilities at home.