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The Neurobiology of Depression - PSY00076M

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  • Department: Psychology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. David Pitcher
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21
B Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

In this course, we will examine the biological and brain basis of depression. Depression is a common and disabling health problem that leads to considerable disability for the individual and the community. It is the most common reason for claiming incapacity benefit in the UK and has been estimated to cost the UK billions of pounds per annum in lost productivity. This course has two aims. Firstly, we will seek to understand the biological mechanisms that malfunction in individuals with depression. Secondly, we will investigate how understanding these biological mechanisms can lead to better treatments.

This is a module with a STRONG biological component. If you have not enjoyed the neuroscience aspects of the Brain and Behavior strand in 1st and 2nd years then you are likely to find several aspects of this module challenging. We talk about the brain, neurochemistry and genetics and how a greater understanding of these factors can advance our understanding of depression. I strongly suggest you look at the papers in the indicative reading section below as these are typical of the content we will cover.

Each two hour seminar will be split into two halves. In the first half I will give a lecture focused on that weeks topic. In the second half, students will be required to give presentations on primary research papers related to the topic of the lectures. ALL STUDENTS will be required to present, if you are uncomfortable giving a presentation please contact me before you select this module. The aim of these presentations is to engage with primary research and to convey key points in a form that can be easily understood and used for revision.

Module learning outcomes

  • Describe the brain mechanisms that malfunction in patients with depression
  • Critically evaluate the differences between the experimental methods used to study depression and what they measure: these will include fMRI, PET, EEG and TMS.
  • Critically evaluate the evidence detailing the putative neuro-chemical changes underlying depression
  • Compare and contrast the pharmacological and behavioural methods used to diagnose and assess depression
  • Describe and contrast the biological and environmental causes of depression
  • Understand and describe the efficacy of anti-depressants drug treatments for depression
  • Provide an informed evaluation of the efficacy of alternate treatments for depression such as CBT, ECT and TMS

Module content

The course consists of 8 Seminars. Each seminar examines the neurobiology of depression from a different perspective

  1. The Brain
  2. Cognition
  3. Neurochemistry
  4. Genetics.
  5. Pharmacology
  6. Brain Stimulation
  7. Behavioral Treatments
  8. Building Better Biomarkers


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 40
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
The Neurobiology of Depression
N/A 60

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 40
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
The Neurobiology of Depression
N/A 60

Module feedback

The marks on all assessed work will be provided on e-vision.

Indicative reading

Disner, Beevers, Haigh & Beck. (2011). Neural mechanisms of the cognitive model of depression. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 12, 467- 480.

Berton & Nestler. (2006). New approaches to antidepressant drug discovery: beyond monoamines. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7, 137-51.

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.