Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

MA Honours in Cognitive Science

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: n/a
Final award: MA (Hons)
Programme title: Cognitive Science (Humanities)
UCAS code: C851
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics, Computing
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA:

Head of School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.

Date of production/revision: April 2011

External summary

Cognitive Science is an innovative interdisciplinary programme which brings four different disciplines together to address the study of the mind and language. These issues have been studied from a variety of philosophical, theoretical and empirical perspectives. This programme aims to provide students language a foundational understanding of these different disciplines and how they can be combined to provide us with a deeper understanding of the mind.  Students study three core subjects from philosophy, linguistics, psychology or informatics.

Cognitive science analyses and synthesises human and animal behaviour and mental processes, at many levels ranging from the social to the molecular. Social-level descriptions such as language grammars are understood as being implemented in the brain all the way down to the neural and molecular mechanisms of perception, action, thinking, learning and memory. Models of the mind are inspired by artificial intelligent systems, and vice versa.

The University of Edinburgh played a key role in founding this discipline, exploiting and enriching long-standing connections between the disciplines that contribute to the study of human cognition.  The Cognitive Science programme at Edinburgh is jointly organised by the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences and the School of Informatics to create an exciting and stimulating research, teaching and learning environment.  Cognitive Science students can register in either School, and choose their courses from both

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims to develop:

  • an understanding of the diverse approaches to the study of mind, and the relationship between them.
  • the necessary conceptual resources to analyse and criticize different theoretical positions concerning focal topics in the philosophy of mind.
  • the ability to formulate and test hypotheses about psychological and linguistics phenomena.
  • familiarity with theoretical and empirical findings in psychology and linguistics.
  • an understanding of the methodologies (theoretical, philosophical and empirical) employed by the disciplines that contribute to the study of the mind.
  • the study of core computing and human science subjects with a specialisation of their choosing.
  • a knowledge of empirical studies and to the development of improved experimental methodologies.
  • in informatics and psychology, constructing theories and testing them by building models and reasoning about their behaviour.
  • the explaining and modelling of cognitive functions in computational terms.
  • a knowledge of how insights gained from computationally modelling natural systems can be used to provide increasingly sophisticated theories of cognitive processing.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

On completion of the programme, students will have acquired a good knowledge and understanding of:

  • theoretical, philosophical and empirical approaches to understanding the mind.
  • the scope and limitations of the disciplines that contribute to the knowledge of the mind, both theoretically and practically.
  • the theoretical and practical skills required for working within philosophical, linguistic and psychological or computational perspectives on cognitive agents.
  • the main theoretical, empirical and modelling approaches to understanding cognitive agents (both natural and artificial).
  • of the scope, relevance and limitations of the disciplines that contribute to cognitive science.
  • critically evaluating formal and computational models of cognitive processes.
  • specializations of Computational Linguistics, Computational Cognitive Psychology, Philosophy of Cognition, and Computational Neuroscience.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

Throughout the course of the programme, students acquire key research abilities, including the ability to:

  • Identify appropriate frameworks for analysing intelligent behaviour, and synthesise abstract representations of the behaviour within those frameworks.
  • specify and implement computer programs that model aspects of intelligent behaviour.
  • analyse a text and reconstruct its arguments, to find its premises, and the inferences drawn from them.
  • be able to distinguish between validity and soundness, and to assess arguments for both.
  • distinguish relevant from irrelevant considerations in argument
  • look for counter-examples to general claims.
  • use examples appropriately in support of general claims.
  • construct clearly organized arguments.
  • retrieve, sift and select information.
  • gather, handle , organise, analyse and assess data.
  • analyse problems, compare and evaluate different views and formulate independent and well argued hypotheses.
  • plan, undertake, and (in a scholarly and literate fashion) report on a piece of self-initiated research.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

  • analytical thinking skills—the abilities to understand difficult pieces of text, to reconstruct arguments and views, to assimilate and explain difficult ideas;
  • critical thinking skills—the abilities to draw conclusions from positions or bodies of data, to question arguments and (wherever appropriate) to show their flaws, to generate alternative ideas and new solutions to problems;
  • independent thinking skills—the abilities to approach a problem with an open mind and to address problems with an original approach, and the confidence to rely on one’s own intellectual capacities;
  • independent working skills—the ability to motivate oneself, to plan one’s own work, and to set one’s own goals and deadlines.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

Students should acquire skills that can be used in a wide variety of intellectual contexts and forms of employment. These include

  • communicate the results of their work using the standards and conventions appropriate to research in the contributing disciplines of Cognitive Science;
  • written communication skills — students should be able to construct a lengthy, coherent piece of prose that constitutes a well-structured argument or investigation;
  • oral communication skills — students should be able to explain their ideas to others in a discussion and in a more formal presentation;
  • being able to take part in a debate, keeping to the goal of the discussion, maintaining the thread of argument, to be able to argue their point forcefully and to disagree with others while showing respect for their opinions and without causing or taking offence;
  • being able to present a longer argument to an audience with confidence, to use aids such as handouts, overheads properly.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

  • the confidence to rely on one’s own intellectual capacities.
  • the ability to motivate oneself, to plan one’s own work, and to set one’s own goals and deadlines.
  • ability to apply philosophical/analytical skills and techniques to issues arising out with Cognitive Science.
  • the ability to work autonomously.
  • time and priority management skills.
  • distinguish relevant from irrelevant considerations in argument.
  • construct clearly organized arguments.
  • be sensitive to ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings.
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

Students should acquire skills that can be used in a wide variety of intellectual contexts and forms of employment. These include:

  • conduct and analyze empirical studies of natural cognitive systems.
  • apply the methodologies (formal, empirical and computational modelling) employed by the disciplines that contribute to Cognitive Science.
  • computing skills — the ability to use computers for word-processing, information storage and for retrieving information from the world wide web.
  • use of libraries—the ability to use libraries for the recovery of information, and related research skills, including the ability to discriminate between different sources of information, suggested readings, and so on.
  • use computer modelling, linguistic analysis, philosophical reasoning, robotics, neuro-imaging, and psychological experiments.

Programme structure and features

Full details of the degree programme and structure can be seen at <http://www.drps.ed.ac.uk>

Material is presented through a combination of lectures, prescribed readings and students’ own library and bibliographic research. Understanding of knowledge is fostered in tutorials (years 1 & 2); in subsequent years there is increased emphasis on students initiating reading programmes and giving class presentations.

All courses are evaluated by students through end-of-course questionnaires. In addition, students elect class representatives in all years and these representatives provide academic staff with on-going feedback throughout the year on successful and problem areas of courses.

Progression Requirements – Students are normally expected to have gained 120 credits at the end of each year. Progression to Honours will be based on the requirements for entry to Honours to each of the component disciplines.  This is a more stringent requirement that other programmes, but students who fail to meet it in one subject may change to a single or joint-honours programme in their other subjects.

Alternative Exit Points – Students who elect not to progress to Year 2 have the option of switching to single Honours in Linguistics (subject to having taken Linguistics in Year 1), single Honours in Philosophy (subject to receiving a concession to make up the missing courses in year 2), single Honours in Psychology (subject to having taken Psychology).  At the end of their second year students will have the option of switching to an appropriate joint or single-honours degree.

Students who do not progress into Honours may graduate after three years of full-time study, or a longer prescribed period of part-time study, with a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science. 

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Teaching contact through lectures, scheduled tutorials and laboratory sessions is supplemented with additional supervised drop-in laboratory time for several courses.  Formative exercises are often included in the delivery of a course to direct learning to meet learning outcomes. INFBase provides learning support for Informatics students where they can access course tutors out with scheduled tutorial times.

Our facilities

Students are based in the new Dugald Stewart Building, located within the University’s Central Area, and you will have full access to the libraries, computer facilities and specialised laboratories in psychology and linguistics, as well as the facilities available across campus.

Year 1

Students from both degrees study together in a general cognitive science course that gives an overview of perception, memory, motor control, language and reasoning, as well as introducing experimental, neural and computational methods. Students also choose two or three introductory courses from Informatics, Philosophy, Psychology and Linguistics. Courses aim to introduce students to philosophical, linguistic and psychological approaches to studying the nature of language and the mind.

Year 2

You choose among more specific courses in the sub-disciplines such as: Processing Formal and Natural Languages (Informatics) and Knowledge and Reality (Philosophy), as well as second-year courses from Psychology and Language Sciences.

Year 3

You can choose from informatics courses in language processing, neural computation, robotics and vision or machine learning; or from linguistics courses in language evolution, language acquisition or speech processing; or from philosophy courses in ontology of mind, theories of mind, theories of truth or ethics; or from psychology courses in psycholinguistics, memory and perception, attention, development or neuropsychology. In third year you will participate in a group project.

Year 4

Same as Year 3. In fourth year you will undertake an individual research project.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 125750
Year 225750
Year 320800
Year 413870

Assessment methods and strategies

Methods of assessment of intended learning outcomes include written examinations, online programming examinations and summative course work assignments.  Students complete individual and group projects as part of their degree programme, culminating in the honours project in the final year.

The final honours degree classification of the programme is based equally on performance in third and fourth years. Degrees are classified according to the University's standard marking scale with boundaries at 70%, 60%, 50% and40%. Students can be awarded an Ordinary Degree on the basis of their third year marks.

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 164036
Year 2621028
Year 345055
Year 422078

Career opportunities

Computers are now ubiquitous in modern life. The most interesting opportunities in the future are open to those who really know about computing, software and information systems. Graduates with degrees in Cognitive Science have excellent prospects of employment in fields that will shape our society – those which depend on computers, such as economics, entertainment, technology, mobile systems, manufacturing and health, to name but a few – and also those thought of traditionally as more arts orientated, such as the Civil Service, management, finance, journalism, social work and teaching.

Other items

  • all students are assigned a Personal Tutor on admission to the degree programme.
  • student support services include a  PPLS dedicated Student Support Officer, the Advice Place (run by the Students’ Association), the Student Counselling Service, Chaplaincy Centre, the Disability Office, Accommodation Services, International Office, Student Employment Service and the University Careers Service.
  • all students are encouraged to take the opportunity to study abroad in their third year. Consultation with staff before leaving helps advise them on the most appropriate courses to take whilst away.
  •  the degree programme proposed has not yet received accreditation from the British Psychological Society. Only certain routes through the programme will be suitable for accreditation and are in discussion with the BPS whether it would be possible for those routes to receive accreditation.
  • students have access to Inspace,  a laboratory that explores the cultural significance of informatics and new media practice.
  • through Informatics Ventures students set up companies, this funded scheme provides support, helping students to develop ideas and take them to market.
  • The University of Edinburgh is unique in the breadth of our coverage of Informatics and related disciplines, which makes us the UK's top computer science department, rated excellent for both research and teaching, with state-of-the art laboratories and computing facilities.