The Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences is a top-ranked experimental psychology program with world-class faculty and state-of-the-art technology. The National Research Council rated the program in the top 15% of psychology programs nationwide.
Faculty members include prominent scholars working in four graduate research training areas:
- Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience
- Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology
- Neuroscience and Behavior
- Social Psychology
The Ph.D. program in Psychological & Brain Sciences is designed to be completed in five to six years. During the first year, students complete a core set of courses designed to provide comprehensive coverage of theoretical and empirical issues in psychology and gain research experience under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Beyond the first year, students participate in advanced courses and seminars in which specialized topics are considered on more intensive levels. Students become skilled researchers as they obtain experience working in one or more faculty laboratories. Coursework, independent study, and research activities typically become more specialized as students progress through the program, culminating in comprehensive candidacy examinations and the completion of a doctoral dissertation. There is no foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree in Psychological & Brain Sciences at UCSB.
The Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences does not admit for a Master’s degree. Admission is to the Ph.D. program only.
The graduate program is large enough to field a full range of graduate courses and seminars, but small enough to provide a sense of community and a high level of faculty attention per student. With 42 full-time faculty members supervising ~70 graduate students, our excellent student-to-faculty ratio ensures an enriched and personal graduate experience where each student works closely with a faculty mentor. The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences offers not only a quality research-oriented program, but one whose graduates have been highly successful in the competition for academic, private sector, and post-doctoral positions.
Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience
Students in the CPCN area are encouraged to acquire a broad background in the cognitive and perceptual sciences as well as mastery of one or more specialty areas.
In addition to developing an individualized research plan with a faculty advisor, students in the CPCN area are required to take a modest set of core content courses including statistics, and a selection from courses in memory, perception, cognitive neuroscience, cognition and neuroanatomy. Students may also select from courses in fMRI methods and modeling, EEG, matlab programming, multivariate statistics and computational neuroscience. These methods courses in the CPCN area provide rigorous training in the rapidly growing field of cognitive neuroscience. In addition to their content and methods courses, there are a variety of seminars, including the weekly CPCN Seminar. The seminar series attracts many prominent cognitive and perceptual scientists to the campus and also offers opportunities for students and faculty within the program to present their current work. Students may also choose to enhance and broaden their training through interdisciplinary emphases in Cognitive Science and Quantitative Methods.
Students also have access to the neuroimaging facilities in the UCSB Brain Imaging Center, which is located in the basement of the new addition to the Psychology Building. The main research tool of this center is a Siemens 3 Tesla MRI scanner that is fully dedicated to research. Other facilities on campus that enrich the program include the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, the Neuroscience Research Institute and the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies.
Recognizing that prospective students have many choices when deciding which graduate program to attend, the CPCN faculty has carefully designed a program with the goal of preparing students to be leading researchers and educators. What makes the CPCN program at UCSB unique and different from other programs around the country?
- A unique intellectual environment in which students get first hand exposure and personal interaction to the most world prominent scientists visiting our campus through the speaker and fellow Sage Center
- Access to state of the art research tools in a highly collaborative environment. A unique aspect of the CPCN program is the use of many state of the art research tools including brain imaging, high-density EEG, virtual reality, eye and limb tracker technology, and innovative mathematical/computer modeling.
- The study of theoretical issues and real world problems in cognition, perception and action. The range of real world problems that CPCN faculty study is broad with implications in the fields of education, medicine, human factors, and law. Topics include false memory, the study of the use of multimedia in learning, human/computer interaction, spatial cognition in surgical skills, the perception of medical images, and neuro-metrics.
- Emphasis on preparing graduate students for successful academic careers in research and teaching as well as opportunities in the private sector.
- Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research groups in CPCN include the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, and the Cognition and Technology Research Group. In addition, members of CPCN are active participants of UCSB interdisciplinary programs including the Cognitive Science Program, the Center for Information Technology, the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies
We encourage you to contact a faculty member for any of your questions!
Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology
The DEVO area brings a unique perspective to psychology, which can be applied to any topic. Faculty and students within the program share an interest in human relationships, cognitive processes, and human development. To these topics, they bring approaches that span the fields of developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, and social psychophysiology.
Zoe Liberman and Tamsin German bring expertise in cognitive development-- by studying infants, young children, and adults--to understand both human universals and cultural variation. Their studies focus on investigating the origins of human cognition, and how it changes with experience across development. Much of their work addresses the design of core knowledge systems: ones that reliably develop in all human beings and are specialized for reasoning about a particular domain of knowledge (e.g., other minds; social relationships). They ask whether different types of experience (e.g., bilingualism; religiosity) impact how these domain-specific inference systems arise and are used across the lifespan.
Dan Conroy-Beam, Leda Cosmides, and Jim Roney bring expertise in how natural selection designs adaptations. Over deep time, natural selection builds mechanisms that are well-designed for solving ancestral problems of survival and reproduction: adaptations. Evolutionary psychologists use theoretical biology, computational modelling, and hunter-gatherer studies to identify the adaptive problems our hunter-gatherer ancestors faced. By asking what properties a cognitive system would need to solve one of these problems, they are able to derive--and test--hypotheses about the design of the mind.
The search for cognitive systems that are specialized for particular functions is rare in psychology, but common in DEVO. The possibility that these systems are more common--and more complex--than most people think is a theme that runs through all of our research.
Some faculty interests include:
Dan Conroy-Beam combines evolutionary computational modeling and studies of romantic relationships to understand the information processing design of human mating psychology. His research attempts to map the algorithms responsible for evaluating prospective partners, navigating dynamic mating markets, and regulating romantic relationships.
Zoe Liberman investigates the origins and development of how humans reason about people based on their personal relationships and social groups. Her research provides evidence that the foundations of the human tendency to divide the world into social groups -- particularly groups based on the language(s) that people speak-- has its roots in infancy.
Jim Roney is investigating the endocrinology of human mating psychology, including hormonal correlates of human motivational priorities, the role of fluctuating hormone concentrations in perceptions of others' attractiveness, and hormonal responses to social interactions with potential mates.
Tamsin German has been concerned with how core knowledge impacts human reasoning across the lifespan. For example, she finds that humans’ concepts of “God” (even for highly religious individuals) are rooted in their understanding of everyday agents.
Leda Cosmides has a long-standing interest in the evolutionary psychology of human cooperation, with research on cognitive adaptations for reasoning about social exchange, alliance detection, coalitional (group) cooperation, and the evolution of moral cognition. She has provided empirical evidence of cross-cultural universals in the evolved design of anger, pride, and shame--emotions central to human cooperation.
Neuroscience and Behavior
The graduate program in Neuroscience and Behavior offers a balance between basic research and practical laboratory training in contemporary behavioral and systems neuroscience.
The primary aim of the program is to help students gain an understanding of brain-behavior relationships with particular interest in identifying the biological mechanisms important for human and animal behavior. At UCSB, the faculty interests can be categorized into three broad subareas of research: visual neuroscience, behavioral neuroscience, and psychopharmacology. Within these three subareas of specialization, the varying backgrounds and expertise of the faculty provide the student with an opportunity to explore such diverse research topics as: the biology of color vision; the development and plasticity of neural circuitry, cytoarchitecture, and neurotransmitter systems; the control of adult neurogenesis; the neuroendocrinological and biopsychological analysis of motivated behavior; the neurobiology and neurochemistry of drug reward and dependence; and animal models of the neurobiological bases of neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
Laboratory research is complemented by a wide range of graduate level courses offered by faculty in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences as well as in pharmacology, neurobiology, and biochemistry. The program is enriched throughout the academic year by an active "Neuroscience and Behavior" colloquium series in which prominent scholars from both within and outside the university are invited to visit the campus and share their research findings. Faculty and students also benefit from the interdisciplinary interactions stemming from their involvement in the UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute, where optical imaging and genomics/proteomics facilities are also available.
In addition to an extensive range of different faculty research laboratories, the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences provides technical support staff and facilities that greatly enhance the quality of the work environment and increase the research possibilities open to graduate students. Each faculty laboratory is linked with the campus Molecular Modeling Computing Facility, the UCSB Library, and on-line reference data bases, such as PubMed and PsychInfo. There are workshops within the Psychology Building for metal, carpentry, and electronic fabrication, as well as extensive computing facilities, all of which are available for graduate student use.
A relatively small sized program with excellent research facilities, the Neuroscience and Behavior program provides a student with a personal approach to a high quality graduate education.
Ranked among the top programs nationally, the graduate program in Social Psychology at UCSB trains experimental social psychologists for research and teaching positions in academic settings and for research careers in the private sector. The program offers a balance between theory-oriented basic research and problem-oriented applied research.
The Social Psychology Program consists of faculty members whose research spans the spectrum of human social behavior. Providing a multi-faceted approach to social-psychological phenomena, faculty investigate the cognitive, affective, and motivational processes underlying intraindividual, interpersonal, intragroup and intergroup behaviors. Specific topics currently studied include, for example, attitude change and social influence; stereotyping; self-knowledge; stigma; coping with stressful life events; decision making; judgment; inference and attributional reasoning; affective and cognitive processing; interpersonal perception and impression formation; close relationships; challenge and threat; and social influences within virtual environments. Many of these topics are the focus of research by more than one faculty member, allowing students to study them from a variety of perspectives.
Students are expected to obtain a broad background in social psychology by taking advantage of the range of graduate seminars offered by program members, as well as by participation in the program’s weekly area meetings, and speaker series, which attracts many prominent social and personality psychologists to the campus. Students are also expected to gain research mastery in one or two specialty areas. Research training focuses on mainstream experimental methodology, complemented by opportunities for specialization in social cognition, social psychophysiological and immersive virtual environment techniques. In addition, the program offers opportunities for interdisciplinary training in communication and human development. We intentionally limit the number of students admitted to our program so that students are able to work closely with faculty and other graduate students in research and teaching. Each student works with a primary advisor, but is encouraged to collaborate with other members of the program to develop an individualized program of study and research.
The Social Psychology Program enjoys truly outstanding research facilities which are equipped with state-of-the-art video, audio, computer, and psychophysiological data collected capabilities.
The Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences does not admit for a M.A. degree. Admission is to the Ph.D. program only, although students may complete a M.A. degree while they are enrolled. Students who have received a Master’s degree from another institution are encouraged to apply, but this will not advance progress through the Ph.D. program.
Psychological & Brain Sciences is an experimental psychology program that trains experimental psychologists for research and teaching positions in academic settings and for research careers in the private sector. If you are interested in a clinical, counseling psychology program, please see the Graduate School of Education.
Applications to the program are accepted for fall quarter only. All application materials are due by December 1.
To be considered for admission, applicants must have:
- Received a bachelor's degree or its equivalent from an accredited university prior to the quarter for which the applicant seeks admission
- At least a B average in undergraduate coursework
International applicants who have conducted their post-secondary education outside of the United States must have completed an undergraduate degree program equivalent to a University of California bachelor's degree by the beginning of their graduate program at UCSB. Equivalent undergraduate degrees usually include a minimum four years of university work and above-average scholarship.
Psychological & Brain Sciences Requirements
Admission to the Department is competitive and is based on consideration of intellectual potential, research experience, academic achievement, and program fit.
Successful applicants to the program typically have:
- an overall grade point average in upper division (junior and senior) academic classes above 3.5 (on a 4-point scale)
There is no foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree.
The applicant's record, as described in the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation, should indicate a commitment to research. Students considering application to the program are encouraged to gain research experience with their undergraduate faculty mentors in their junior and senior years.
Students are required to submit a statement of purpose, which should include descriptions of research experience and research interests. This program emphasizes the benefits of individualized attention and close faculty-student interaction, both of which are facilitated by a suitable match between the applicant's interests and the faculty's research expertise. Applicants are strongly encouraged to seek some familiarity with the research of faculty members with whom they might like to work and note these in the statement of purpose.
Letters of recommendation that include specific details of personal interactions with the applicant, particularly in classroom and research settings, are more informative than letters that include only abstract generalizations about the applicant.
Satisfaction of minimal standards does not, however, guarantee admission. Since the number of qualified applicants far exceeds the number of places available, many well-qualified applicants cannot be accommodated.
The Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences is committed to providing financial support for all qualified graduate students in our programs through competitive support packages. Students who are considered for admission to the Ph.D. program are considered for all forms of campus-based support. The department typically guarantees a minimum of 15 quarters (through the end of the 5th year) of financial support to all students admitted to the Ph.D. program. Students may receive some combination of an assistantship, fee fellowship, and fellowship stipends.
Quarterly teaching assistantships (TA) and graduate student research (GSR) assistantships are the most common forms of support for students. Both assistantships provide a monthly salary, payment of in-state fees, and health insurance benefits. Non-Resident Tuition for 1st year graduate students that come to UCSB from outside of California (both domestic and international) will also be paid for by the department through a teaching assistantship or graduate student research assistantship. At the end of the first year, all out-of-state students are required to declare California residency. Nonresident students are required to declare California residency after their first year.
All students are encouraged to apply for fellowships offered by outside agencies, including:
- American Psychological Association
- Ford Foundation
- National Science Foundation
- U.S. Public Health Service
Interested undergraduates should start their preparations early in their senior year. Our students have an impressive success rate in securing fellowships, both on and off campus. Continuing graduate students are also eligible to apply for campus fellowships to supplement their teaching or research assistantship income.
For complete information on financial options as a graduate student, visit the Graduate Division.
How to Apply
Applications to the Ph.D. program are accepted for the fall quarter only. Admission is to the Ph.D. program only.
The Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences is an experimental psychology program that trains experimental psychologists for research and teaching positions in academic settings and for research careers in the private sector. If you are interested in a clinical, counseling psychology program, see the Graduate School of Education.
International students from non-English speaking nations must demonstrate proficiency in the English language.
Application Deadline, Fees, & Fee Waivers
All application materials must be submitted by December 1. Applications are only considered for the fall quarter of each year. No late applications will be accepted.
All applications require a non-refundable application fee of $105 for domestic applicants and $125 for international applicants. Graduate Division will not process your application until the application fee has been received. A limited number of application fee waivers are available to qualified U.S. citizens and permanent residents who demonstrate evidence of financial need or proof of participation in an undergraduate research program. McNair Scholars and California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) applicants are among those eligible. Fee waivers are not available to international applicants.
Required Application Materials
Submit ALL materials in the online application
- Three letters of recommendation
- GRE NOT REQUIRED for Fall 2021 admissions cycle
- Scholarly writing sample, preferably in APA format. No page limit (submitted in the online application).
- Statement of Purpose
- Personal Achievements & Contributions Statement
- Resume or CV
- TOEFL scores (if applicable)
Letters of Recommendation
Three letters of recommendation are required. You will be asked to supply the name, email address, and current institution of each recommender. The online application will then provide instructions to each of your recommenders via email. Letters that include specific details of personal interactions with the applicant, particularly in classroom and research settings, are more informative than letters that include only abstract generalizations about the applicant. Letters of recommendation must be received by December 8. Applications that do not have three letters of recommendation will not be considered after this date. Do not wait until the last minute to request a letter.
You must submit transcripts from every higher education academic institution that you have attended. Final/official transcripts will be required for all applicants who are admitted and have indicated their intent to enroll at UCSB by submitting a Statement of Intent to Register (SIR). Remove your Social Security number by crossing/blacking out numbers before uploading (if applicable). Check with the Graduate Division website for more information on uploading transcripts.
Scholarly Writing Sample
Submit a scholarly writing sample, preferably in APA style, that best demonstrates your writing and research abilities. There is no page requirement. This writing sample should be an example of your academic work and is not to be confused with the Statement of Purpose or the Personal Achievements & Contributions Statement, which you also must submit (more information below).
Statement of Purpose
Give a brief statement outlining your reasons for undertaking a graduate program, your particular area of specialization within the major field, your past academic work, and your plans for future occupation or profession. Include any additional information that may assist the selection committee in evaluating your preparation and aptitude for graduate study at UCSB. There is no page requirement, but most statements are 2-3 pages long.
Personal Achievements & Contributions Statement
Describe any aspects of your personal background, accomplishments, or achievements that you feel are important in evaluating your application for graduate study. For example, please describe if you have experienced economic challenges in achieving higher education, such as being financially responsible for family members or dependents, having to work significant hours during undergraduate schooling or coming from a family background of limited income. Please describe if you have any unusual or varied life experiences that might contribute to the diversity of the graduate group, such as fluency in other languages, experience living in bicultural communities, academic research interests focusing on cultural, societal, or educational problems as they affect underserved segments of society, or evidence of an intention to use the graduate degree toward serving disadvantaged individuals or populations. There is no page requirement, but most statements are 2-3 pages long.
Resume or CV
List your positions of employment or volunteer work/community service since high school, either full or part-time, including the hours per week worked and the nature and dates of employment or service.
GRE Scores (Not Required)
For the Fall 2021 admission cycle, the GRE is NOT required.
A Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score is required for international students from non-English speaking countries, except those who have completed an undergraduate or graduate education at an institution whose primary language of instruction is English. The university minimum TOEFL score is 80 internet-based test, 550 for paper-based test or IELTS overall band score of 7. The UCSB institution code is 4835. The online application requires you to enter the test date and sixteen digit registration number found on your official report of scores from ETS.
How to Submit Documents
UCSB accepts PDF and Microsoft Word (.doc and .docx) documents for upload in the online application. The maximum file size allowed is 4 MB per document.
What Happens After I Apply?
You can check your application status online. Final decisions will be made by April.
Satisfaction of minimal standards does not guarantee admission. Since the number of qualified applicants far exceeds the number of places available, many well-qualified applicants cannot be accommodated.
Students in the Psychological & Brain Sciences program are required to complete a certain number of courses, research requirements, and milestones in order to be a candidate for the PhD degree.
During the first two years, students take classes, complete research projects, and give an oral presentation. After students pass qualifying exams at the beginning of the third year, they have more flexibility in their schedule and typically begin to devote more time to research and dissertation activities.
Download the PDFs listed at the bottom of this page for further details on requirements.
The graduate program in Psychological and Brain Sciences is highly competitive. We typically admit about 10% of applicants to our program. As the statistics below indicate, our time to degree compares well with national norms and our graduates are very successful in finding employment, in academia and in the private and government sectors.
The Fall 2023 application will open in September 2022. The deadline to apply is December 1, 2022. All letters of recommendation must be received no later than December 8, 2022.