Psychology 120B.01: Looking Inside the Disordered Brain

April 1, 2012

At Duke, “anxiety” is hardly an unusual word. But where does anxiety disorder come from? How about schizophrenia? Obsessive-compulsive disorder? Depression?

These questions drive Ahmad Hariri’s course “Looking Inside the Disordered Brain,” which begins its third iteration this coming fall. While the course tends to attract biology and psychology stu- dents, Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, insists that the sub- ject matter is intended for a broad audience.

That said, the course maintains a necessarily strong biology component, as students must first understand the physical structure of the brain. Only then can students move on to comparing normal and irregular behavior in the brain. Using a three-pronged rubric of anatomy, behavior, and disorder, the students delve into the four major parts of the brain. Students explore the amygdalae, or the threat center; the hippocampus, or the memory center; the prefrontal cortex, or the decision- making circuit; and the striatum, which includes the reward-seeking circuitry of the brain.

The class recently became a requirement for graduate students in clinical psychology, and while the course continues to draw students from a variety of disciplines, many tend to come from a traditional psychology background. Hariri finds his biggest challenge is helping these students transition to the less familiar biology of the course, and vice versa.

Even so, Hariri emphasizes that the class is open to any students willing to work (provided they have the appropriate academic background) and should be of interest to anyone who has wondered about the function and structure of the brain. “There’s nothing more interesting, more captivating, and exciting than exploring human behavior,” he says, “unless you’re not at all curious about human nature, which I think is maybe one or two people on campus.”

Professor: Ahmad R. Hariri is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and an investigator in the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. As director of the Laboratory of NeuroGenetics, he oversees the Duke Neurogenetics Study, an effort to map predictive links among genes, brain, behavior, and environment.

Prerequisites: PSY 101RE: Biological Bases of Behavior

Readings: Various articles; textbook in production

Assignments: Weekly attendance and participation