COOL CLASSES: “Neuroscience and Society”

This psychology course examines the intersection between neuroscience research and broad domains of society, including education, law, politics, and the marketplace.

Class name: “Neuroscience and Society”

Taught by: Professor of Psychology Rebecca Compton


Here’s what Compton has to say about her course:

This class focuses on the intersection between neuroscience—research about the brain—and aspects of society such as education, politics, law, and the military. The broad intention is to examine how the discipline of neuroscience is socially situated. This means that neuroscience findings can, at times have implications for societal issues, but it also means that the practice of neuroscience research takes place within a social context, in which social values can influence what neuroscientists choose to study and how findings about the brain are disseminated, interpreted, and used. To take just one example, the problem of brain injuries in professional football has received significant attention in the press. What can neuroscience research tell us about the possible link between repetitive head trauma from concussions and neurodegenerative disease, and how do parties with different agendas facilitate, suppress, or use that research?

Ultimately what I want students to take away from the course is a strengthened ability to think critically about neuroscience. By “think critically,” I include both the ability to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of scientific evidence about the brain, and also the ability to consider broader interpretations of the evidence within societal contexts.

In recent years, many scholars in neuroscience have been engaged in critical self-reflection, trying to find the right balance between promoting exciting and potentially promising research about the brain while not succumbing to “neuro-hype.” I wanted an opportunity for both myself and students to engage with some of this critical reflection. I find that as I get farther in my career, I am more drawn to big-picture questions about “what it all means” and to connecting science with broader issues of societal relevance.



See what other courses the Department of Psychology is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience. 

Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jason Couillard