The Associative Mind

Module titleThe Associative Mind
Module codePSY3417
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Professor Ian McLaren (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Through interactive seminars, demonstrations and student-led presentations we will examine the interaction between associative and rule-based processes in both animal and human cognition. Associative processes can be characterised as those that we share with other animals and that do not require what we conventionally refer to as conscious thought. Rule-based processes are more akin to the everyday notion of "thinking". An understanding of both will equip you with an understanding of how to explain and influence human and animal behavior. This module will cover much of the basic science that underpins modern day techniques for behavior change and clinical intervention.

The module meets the requirements for BPS accreditation that can lead on to professional qualifications in areas such as educational psychology and is also suitable to go on to a higher degree or research in this area.

This is a specialist final year module suitable for students completing two years of Psychology and interested in Cognition.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of the module is to provide a detailed and critical exploration and evaluation of current proposals concerning the interaction between associative and rule-based processes in both animal and human cognition. Associative processes can be characterised as those that we share with other animals (e.g. rats, pigeons) that are largely automatic, do not require conscious awareness and are surprisingly powerful. Rule-based processes are those that can be controlled, are symbolic in nature and have a great deal of flexibility. The argument offered is that an analysis of both sets of processes is required in order to fully understand human mental life. This position is subjected to a careful critical assessment in the course of the module.

By attending the weekly seminars and participating in the formative assessments, interactive demonstrations, and group presentations you will develop your ability to

  • think as a psychologist
  • problem solve
  • communicate effectively
  • enhance your ability to learn and remember, and
  • present to an audience of your peers.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe comprehensively current research in the field of learning, memory and cognition and explain the technical challenges posed by computational modelling in this field
  • 2. Explain how computational models can be used to make predictions on human behaviour and how empirical data can be used to discriminate between these models.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Acquire detailed, systematic and comprehensive knowledge within the discipline, with in-depth specialisation at the forefront of the discipline in certain areas, and demonstrate advanced critical understanding of this knowledge and of the limits and provisional nature of this knowledge
  • 4. Review and critically evaluate published work at an advanced level and identify the strengths and weaknesses of this work, and at an advanced level structure this literature to present logical, coherent and sustained arguments to support conclusions at an advanced level
  • 5. Address systematically complex problems at an advanced level which may be framed within unpredictable contexts, think critically, creatively and independently, and fully appreciate the complexities of the issues
  • 6. Understand and apply essential principles in designing novel research, and critically evaluate and analyse empirical evidence, and assess the reliability of empirical evidence using a range of defined techniques at an advanced level
  • 7. Illustrate the wider ethical issues relating to the subject and its application at an advanced level

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Interact effectively and supportively within a learning group
  • 9. Manage your own learning using the full range of resources of the discipline and with minimum guidance
  • 10. Describe your own criteria of self-evaluation and challenge received opinion and reflect on your actions, and seek and make use of feedback
  • 11. Select and manage information, and to undertake competently study tasks with minimum guidance
  • 12. Take responsibility for your own work and criticise it
  • 13. Engage effectively in debate in a professional manner and produce detailed and coherent written work; identify complex problems and apply appropriate knowledge and methods for their solution with confidence and flexibility
  • 14. Act autonomously with minimal supervision or direction, within agreed guidelines
  • 15. Manage time effectively to meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will cover the following key topics (it will also include a revision seminar):

  • Introduction: How to learn, and remember what you've learned.
  • Representation Development: Learning to perceive the world. Latent Inhibition, Perceptual Learning and Face Recognition.
  • Representation and Discrimination: Telling things apart. Attractiveness and mate choice.
  • Human Pavlovian Conditioning: The animal in all of us.
  • Classification and Contingency: Or how to predict the future.
  • Rules and Associations: How we solve problems.
  • Associative Memory and Intentional Recollection. Teasing them apart.
  • Retrieval. Once the information is in, how do we get it out?
  • Implicit Learning and Memory: The vexed problem of awareness.
  • Models of Associative Learning and Memory.
  • Revision seminar

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Q&A sessions
Guided Independent Study37Seminar preparation and consolidation
Guided Independent Study40Assessment preparation
Guided Independent Study40Revision for revision seminar and exam


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Engagement in seminar discussion10 x 1 hour Q&A sessionsAllOral
Mini-essays2 givenAllWritten
Mini-reviews2 givenAllWritten

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination603 hoursAllWritten
Essay402000 wordsAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAug Ref/Def
EssayEssayAllAug Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Two assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred in the examination you will have the opportunity to take a second examination in the August/September re-assessment period. Where you have been referred/deferred in the essay you will be required to resubmit the essay. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%; deferred marks are not capped.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Specific reading will be given for each topic.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Psychology, associative mind, learning, memory, cognition

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

PSY2303 Cognition and Emotion or PSY2304 Biological Basis of Behaviour or equivalent

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date