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The Cognitive Neuroscience of Anxiety & Trauma - PSY00063H

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  • Department: Psychology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alex Pike
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module will cover:

  • the cognitive neuroscience of how we process threats (i.e. something that is a real or imagined danger)

  • how differences in threat-processing might lead to anxiety disorders (such as phobias or generalized anxiety disorder)

  • how traumatic events might change how we experience threats

  • how understanding the above factors can inform intervention and clinical practice

The existence of threatening situations, stimuli or events is unfortunately a fact of life. Differences in how we process threats (and, indeed, in our thresholds for processing something as a threat) may result in anxiety disorders, which are globally some of the most common and debilitating mental illnesses. Relatedly, traumatic events may also change how we process threats.

The aim of this module is to allow students to understand how threats are processed, both cognitively and neurobiologically, and how threat processing may go awry. A subsidiary aim is to consider how this might change after traumatic experiences. At the end of the module, we will discuss how this knowledge can be applied to treatments for both anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, and the limitations and strengths of our current approaches for understanding the brain.

This module will be relevant to all students interested in understanding anxiety from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, and to all those interested in further clinical work or research in anxiety or PTSD.

Module learning outcomes

  • Outline theories of how threat is processed in the brain, and relate these to clinical conditions such as phobia and generalised anxiety disorder

  • Describe relevant constructs and their relationships: anxiety, fear, childhood maltreatment, trauma, threat processing, PTSD

  • Summarise how threat processing may be affected by traumatic experiences

  • Explain brain areas and/or circuits that may be altered after childhood maltreatment or trauma, paediatric PTSD, and adult PTSD

Module content

  • Threat, and adaptive and maladaptive anxiety
  • Anxiety disorders and PTSD: similarities and differences
  • Clinical psychology constructs: intolerance of uncertainty, catastrophizing
  • Neurobiology of threat processing
  • Learning about threats and punishments
  • Traumatic experiences and threat processing
  • Other effects of trauma on the brain
  • Treatments for anxiety and PTSD
  • Future-focused session: how do we improve the situation?


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Anxiety & Trauma
5 hours 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Anxiety & Trauma
5 hours 100

Module feedback

All marks will be released via e:vision.

Indicative reading

  • Robinson, O. J., Pike, A. C., Cornwell, B., & Grillon, C. (2019). The translational neural circuitry of anxiety. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 90(12), 1353-1360.

  • Hein, T. C., & Monk, C. S. (2017). Research Review: Neural response to threat in children, adolescents, and adults after child maltreatment–a quantitative meta-analysis. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 58(3), 222-230.

  • McCrory, E. J., Gerin, M. I., & Viding, E. (2017). Annual research review: childhood maltreatment, latent vulnerability and the shift to preventative psychiatry–the contribution of functional brain imaging. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 58(4), 338-357.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.