Mental architecture and basic processes



The aim of this advanced course is to provide an updated overview of the most relevant questions regarding the structure of our mind, integrating research from Psychology, Cognitive Neuropsychology, Neuroscience and related disciplines, as Philosophy of Mind and human Decision-Making sciences. With that aim, we will review the influence of the information-processing cognitive revolution in formulating the notion of mental architecture and how this concept has evolved recently due to the last 30 years of research into understanding brain dynamics (i.e., the neural architecture supporting cognitive processing, learning and brain plasticity) as well as new research from computational and decision making sciences. This new interdisciplinary research arena made cognitive science to evolve and to reformulate previous important debates, as for example: (i) the modularity of the mind, (ii) nativism and the origins of knowledge, (iii) how knowledge is constructed and replayed in the brain, (iv) interaction between knowledge, meta-knowledge structures and reasoning, (iv) cognitive and emotional forecasting and prediction (v) the impact of motivation in decision making, (vi) free will and moral responsibility, (vi) first- vs. third-person perspectives and (vii) the problem of understanding consciousness. Besides, we will review questions regarding the levels of explanation across different disciplines, research strategies and methodologies as well as recent advances in studying the mind and the brain. Overall, the aim of the course will be to engage students into the curiosity of mind and brain architectures and the fascination of understanding how our rich mental life is made possible. 

Course plan

1. From Learning to Cognition and back to Learning: an historical perspective

2. How cognitive (functional) structures are supported by brain networks and their underlying computational principles.

3. Acquisition of Knowledge and meta-Knowledge.

4. Volitional aspects: information-seeking and the valuation system.

5. The problem of individual differences in cognition.

6. Who is piloting and monitoring our actions and thoughts?

7. Inner speech and the Language of Thought.

8. Forward and Backward thinking: simulation and memory replay.

9. Biases in cognition and decision-making.

10. Appraisal of "the other".

11. Free will, moral intuition and agency.

12. Creativity, art and altered states of thought and consciousness

13. Mind and brain re-organization and repair


  • Lectures (face-to-face sessions or held online).
  • Weekly readings of articles related to each topic.
  • Group discussion
  • Elaboration of 3As (Affirm, Argue and Ask) reflection exercises (related to two or three articles recommended in each topic). The objective of this methodology, as in flipped classroom strategies, is to encourage the students to study and think about the incoming topic of the class before the presentation of the topic, while focusing on some selected readings (sometimes offering contrasting views). The student will need to write an essay (max. 900) words in which he/she describes and summarized the reading, focus on an element of the reading in which he/she disagree and provide a critical constructive view of the reading considering the existing research background. Students will post the essay in the forum (on-line campus) and all students will be encouraged to read the essays of the other students (even commenting on them). The essays of the students will be supervised and evaluated before the class in which the topic is going to be discussed, and the professor will summarize and outline the comments, ideas and critiques raised by the students during the next class, in order to encourage debate and discussion of the current topic.
  • In order to encourage development of oral presentation skills and presentation of arguments, students will be encourage to simulate a pod-cast (record it and place it on-line available to all students) in which two students will present two different views of the same topic and discuss it using different resources.
Examination-based assessment

Under exceptional and justified circumstances a single evaluation (100% of the grade) can be scheduled. 

Re-evaluation of this assessment can only be considered for students having failed with grades ranging from 3 to 4.9. The maximum final grade can only be 5.



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Churchland P. (2019). Conscience. The Origins of Moral Intuition. Norton.

Ellis, A. & Young, A.W. (1996). Human Cognitive Neuropsychology. Psychology Press.

Elman, J. et al. (1998). Rethinking Innateness. A connectionist Perspective on Development. MIT Press.

Gazzaniga MS, Ivry RB, & Mangun GR. (2009). Cognitive Neuroscience: The biology of mind. 4th Edition

Fodor, J.A. (1983). The modularity of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Fodor, J.A. (2000). The mind doesn’t work that way. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Frank, R.H. (1988). Passions within Reasons. The strategic role of the emotions. W.W. Norton & Company.

Gallagher, S. (2005). How the body shapes the mind. Clarendon Press. Oxford.

Gallistel, C.R. & King, A.P. Memory and the Computational Brain: Why Cognitive Science will Transform Neuroscience. New York: Wiley/Blackwell; 2009.

Holyoak, K. & Morrison, R. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. Cambridge University Press.

Hillis, AE. (2002). The Handbook of Adult Language Disorders. Taylor & Francis Group

Nagel, T. (2012, 15th ed) Mortal Questions. Cambridge University Press.

Neisser, U. (1967). Cognitive Psychology. Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Osherson, D.N. (Ed.) (2000). An Invitation to Cognitive Science. The MIT Press (4 volumes

Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York. Norton.

Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E. (2017). Self-Determination theory. Guilford Press. NY.

Shafer-Landau, R. (2013). Ethical theory an anthology (2nd ed.) John Willey & Sons

Shallice, T. (1988). From Neuropsychology to Mental Structure. Cambridge University Press.

Thagard, P. (2005). MIND. Introduction to Cognitive Science. The MIT Press.

Thagard, P. (2000) Mind readings. Introductory selections to cognitive science. The MIT Press.

Thaler, R. (2015). Misbehaving. The making of behavioural economics. Penguin Books.

Wilson, R.A. & Keil, F.C. (1999). The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Hardman, D. (2009).Judgment and Decision Making. Psychological Perspectives. BPS Blackwell.