Course: NEU202
Instructor: Niv
F 2017

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

NEU 202 Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience is a course that focuses both on learning the facts about the field of cognitive neuroscience as well as the skills necessary to carry out science in academia (e.g. read scientific papers and interpret data and figures). The course is a broad introduction to many topics to the rapidly changing field of cognitive neuroscience, a non- exclusive list includes experimental methods, learning, motor control, attention, memory, and neuroeconomics. Because the course moves relatively quickly and covers most topics for only one or two lectures, it is important to focus on the larger principles and ideas from each topic. This approach to the class will serve well on the open-book examinations, where you are tested less for your memorization but more on how you can apply the principles seen in lecture to new situations. The course’s lectures and precepts are run with relatively little overlap in material. The lectures focus on concepts and information, while precepts focus on how to read and interpret scientific papers. Thus, it is important to be an active participant in all parts of the course in order to stay on track in both lecture and precept.

Learning From Classroom Instruction


NEU 202 has two lectures per week. Prof. Niv distributes printed copies of her lecture slides before each lecture, and these are a good format to take notes on. Lectures in NEU 202 are of particular importance, because examinations are based solely on material covered in lecture. This means that paying close attention and making note of all of the case studies and topics covered in lecture is of utmost importance.

Assigned readings/texts

The textbook is not a required resource for the course. Only material that is covered in lecture is ever asked on an examination, and the lecture material is in-depth enough to be successful in the course. However, if there is a topic that interests you more, or if your background in that area is lacking, then the textbook is a useful secondary resource to refer to. But the priority in NEU 202 should be on the material found in lecture, especially when reviewing for exams.


Precept is held once per week, and is largely separate from lectures and self-contained. While lecture focuses on learning about past studies and understanding neuroscience concepts, precept focuses on reading, interpreting, and understanding current neuroscience research. Throughout the term, you will be asked to present a graph or figure from a paper. If you have never read scientific papers before, then take cues from Prof. Niv’s lectures. During lecture, she will give present many figures and graphs, explaining their meaning and significance. Your presentation during precept should follow a similar structure.

Learning For and From Assignments


NEU 202 does not have traditional problem sets, but it does have many small assignments throughout the term that are associated with precepts. Because there are a large number of small assignments with varying due dates (some must be completed multiple times throughout the semester), it is a good idea to explicitly track the upcoming assignments and due dates. The assignments include journal entries, figure presentations, and literature analysis. While each of these individual assignments are manageable, if you are careless with keeping track of them, it is easy to get behind.


NEU 202 has three examinations: a quiz, midterm, and final exam. The style of examinations can be difficult at first, because they are open notes and textbook and focus more on applying concepts than memorization. All questions on exams are short answer questions, where there is a prompt, and you are expected to provide a few sentences as an answer. When studying for exams, it is key to remember that only material covered during lecture will be tested on. Thus, the study process for exams should ideally be occurring during every lecture. As Prof. Niv presents new topics, it is a good idea to be thinking about how they would be tested. As it gets closer to examination time, it is useful to review notes individually as well as with groups. Instead of aiming for memorization, you should always be thinking about concepts and how to apply them to new situations.

External Resources

If a topic in the course is confusing or maybe just interesting to you, searching for journal articles about the topic is a good place to go. Not only will you get more information about the topic, but you will also get practice reading scientific papers, understanding figures, and interpreting conclusions. This extra exploration is encouraged in the course, and students often post interesting links in the course’s Piazza discussion board.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

You can expect NEU 202 to provide a broad overview to the field of cognitive neuroscience, as well as an introduction to the scientific method as it is applied today in scientific research. While the class doesn’t go too deep into any particular focus of cognitive neuroscience and does not actually have any lab component where you practice research concepts, the class is a good introduction for all students who have a general interest in either neuroscience, or conducting scientific research. The course in general attracts a diverse group of students, spanning multiple class years and varying disciplines. The class is very supportive of those who have minimal background in the area, and assumes little prior knowledge. As a result, it is a common course for freshman to take who are interested in neuroscience or the natural sciences. Of course, NEU 202 is a prerequisite course for declaring a Neuroscience major at Princeton, so it is a popular course for those who are considering a Neuroscience major.

After NEU 202, with an introduction to the field of cognitive neuroscience, there are upper-level NEU electives such as NEU 457 Measurement and Analysis of Neural Circuit Dynamics that will go deeper into cognitive neuroscience research techniques, which is useful for those considering graduate level studies in the area. There are also electives like NEU 340 Neuroeconomics that will go more in-depth into a topic that was covered in NEU 202. Thus, NEU 202 is a good foundation for those students interested or considering a neuroscience concentration, as well as those students looking for an introduction into the current scientific understanding of the brain, or even students looking for an introduction of how to research and apply the scientific method in academia today.

Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience

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