Cognitive Science

Cognitive Science is the study of the mind, i.e., of how knowledge is acquired and used. Cognitive scientists use theories and methods drawn from many disciplines including cognitive psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, linguistics, computer science, artificial intelligence, physics, mathematics, biology, and anthropology. They ask questions such as: How do people acquire language? What are the neural bases of perceiving, learning and remembering? What is the nature of knowledge? Can machines think? How do experts differ from novices? Are there innate ideas? How did human intelligence evolve?

Cognitive Science at Georgetown

The Interdisciplinary Program in Cognitive Science offers a Minor in Cognitive Science, and courses open to all students. More than fifty faculty members participate in the program. They come from several departments on the Main, the Medical Center, and Law Center campuses. We have close ties with the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, a Ph.D. program based in the Medical Center. We encourage undergraduate students to learn about faculty and graduate student research projects at Georgetown, and to work as partners in that research.

We foster student involvement in research in several ways. Both of our core courses, which are open to all students, are team-taught and interdisciplinary. This offers the chance to experience an unusually large range of perspectives and disciplines, all in a single course. In our spring core course (Research Modules in Cognitive Science, ICOS-202), students spend time in several faculty laboratories, when they read about, discuss, and experience first-hand the research projects underway at Georgetown. Students undertaking our Minor may choose to conduct a senior thesis in Cognitive Science, though a thesis is not required.

We also encourage undergraduate students to meet and learn from graduate students on the Main and Medical Center campuses. Every fall we offer a course, Drugs, the Brain and Behavior (ICOS-325), which was initiated and is taught by a team of advanced Ph.D. students from Georgetown’s Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience. Students taking this course learn about brain disorders from enthusiastic young scientists who are doing their dissertation research on these topics.

Minor in Cognitive Science

The Minor in Cognitive Science normally requires that students have a Major (planned or declared) in one of the following participating disciplines: Biology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Mathematics, Philosophy, Physics or Psychology. Students undertaking other majors may seek permission to take the Minor by contacting the Director of the Program or the College Dean’s Office.

To complete the Minor, students must earn a minimum of 18 credits distributed as follows:

  • 6 credits for the two core Cognitive Science courses: Introduction to Cognitive Science (ICOS-201), and Research Modules in Cognitive Science (ICOS-202).
  • 12 credits consisting of four designated distribution courses in at least two of the participating disciplines outside the Major (see the list of designated courses on the Cognitive Science home page,
The Distribution Requirement

The purpose of the distribution requirement is to give the student a broad background in Cognitive Science. This is why students are required to take at least one designated course in each of two departments outside of their major field. For purposes of this distribution requirement, Cognitive Science (ICOS) counts as a department. Therefore, if the student takes a course offered (or cross listed) by Cognitive Science—other than the two core required courses (ICOS-201, 202)—this counts as one of the two departments outside the student’s Major.

The Cognitive Science Senior Thesis Option

Students who are not writing a thesis for their Major are encouraged to exercise the Cognitive Science Senior Thesis option. They should enroll for the Senior Thesis in Cognitive Science (ICOS-391, 392), for a minimum of 4 credits (maximum of 6 credits) distributed across the two semesters. The number of credits and their distribution across semesters must be approved by the thesis mentor. Regardless of the number of credits, the senior thesis substitutes for one of the four distribution courses. Thus, students undertaking a thesis in Cognitive Science need take only three, instead of four, designated distribution courses.

A list of Faculty in Cognitive Science who are interested in mentoring Cognitive Science theses may be found on the Cognitive Science website ( Students considering the thesis option (ICOS-391, 392) should identify a senior thesis mentor as early as possible, preferably in the early spring of the junior year. They should plan to work on the thesis throughout the senior year.

Theses in some disciplines might require preparatory work during the junior year, which can be started within the context of an ICOS tutorial (ICOS-301, 302). Tutorial credits do not count toward the distribution requirement. All students undertaking ICOS-391, 392 should notify the Director at the beginning of the senior year, at the latest. The student must submit an abstract outlining the proposed thesis to the Director no later than October 15 of the senior year. This abstract must be signed by the faculty mentor, thereby indicating the mentor’s approval of the abstract and the mentor’s willingness to advise and grade the thesis. The deadline for submitting the final draft of the thesis to the mentor is the final day of classes in the spring semester. Upon completion of the thesis, the student must submit the thesis title, an abstract outlining the completed work, and an electronic version of the complete thesis to the Director.

Students who are undertaking a thesis in their Major are encouraged, but not required, to conduct the thesis for their major in an area related to Cognitive Science. However, they should not enroll for any thesis credits other than those required for the major. Students completing a thesis in their major should take a total of four distribution courses approved for the ICOS Minor.

(For course listings for Cognitive Science see