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Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience

The Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) program marshals the talents of over 30 faculty in Psychological Sciences at Vanderbilt to examine fundamental problems in perception, attention, memory, thinking, and problem solving. Specialties within these broad areas of research include:

View list of Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience faculty here

  • Visual Perception (binocular vision, motion perception, object recognition, perception of geometric structure, perceptual learning and expertise, scene perception, change detection, perceptual development)
  • Attention and Performance (focused attention, dual-task performance, executive control, task switching, and automatization)
  • Concepts and Categories (categorization, conceptual structure, knowledge representation)
  • Thinking and Reasoning (causal reasoning, analogical problem solving, decision making, numerical reasoning, thinking with diagrams, metacognition)
  • Perception and Action (perceptual-motor coordination, development of reaching)
  • Spatial Cognition (spatial vision, spatial memory and orientation)
  • Learning and Memory (learning in real-world contexts, perceptual learning and expertise, explicit/implicit learning)
  • The Cognitive Bases of Emotion and Emotional Experience (emotion elicitation, facial expression of emotion, vocal expression of emotion)

Many of Vanderbilt's cognitive science research endeavors involve extensive collaboration among faculty and students. Indeed, a fundamental belief of the faculty in the CCN program is that the problems facing the field are sufficiently difficult that multidisciplinary, collaborative efforts are often essential. Students therefore benefit from close research interactions with a number of faculty members in a number of departments.

An especially important part of this approach is the many centers and institutes devoted to this kind of interdisciplinary research. These include the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center (headed by David Calkins, this center is based on a core grant for vision research support services, and a training grant), the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development and Disabilities (led by Elizabeth Dykens, and devoted to understanding disruptions in typical development), the Vanderbilt Institute of Imaging Sciences (headed by John C. Gore, this includes a 3T MR magnet that is devoted to basic neuroimaging research).

The CCN program is also closely affiliated with the Developmental Science program. A number of faculty members study the development of perceptual and cognitive capabilities in the individual, and how these abilities are influenced by social experiences and institutions. The Cognitive and Cognitive Neuroscience program has an excellent concentration in the learning sciences, and several members' work in interdisciplinary teams focuses on learning in schools.

Graduate students in the CCN program become active in research during their first semester in the program and are required to engage in collaborative research throughout the degree program. Course work includes introductory survey courses, specialized didactic courses, advanced seminars, and methods courses. Students also receive strong training in professional speaking and writing by way of semester research reports and colloquia. 

The research facilities, which are superb, include extensive laboratory space, equipment, and a large number of microcomputers (PCs, Macintosh, and Linux workstations) for data collection, data analysis, eye tracking, word processing, and computational modeling. Members of the department also have access to the University's broadband network and to Vanderbilt’s Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education (ACCRE). 

For more information, please contact the program co-directors: Sean Polyn and Sarah Brown-Schmidt. Visit the "how to apply" page for more information about applying to the PhD program. Please note that for applicants to the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) division, GRE scores are only required if the applicant is applying to work with a faculty member whose primary appointment is in the Department of Psychology and Human Development in the Peabody School of Education; for CCN applicants intending to work with faculty in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, the GRE is optional.