Psychological and Behavioural Sciences
Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) provides the opportunity to study all aspects of psychology ranging, for example, from social relations to neurological processes; or from how a child develops emotionally and intellectually to how someone may suffer from the loss of psychological functions due to illness, age, or accident.
Applicants for this course need not have studied psychology before. Learning the subject requires the ability to analyse and understand theories which have their roots in a broad range of subjects in the humanities and sciences. An education which has developed this intellectual flexibility and a passion for the subject matter is what is required.
The PBS course at Cambridge covers the full range of psychology, including behavioural and cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, as well as the study of atypical development and adult psychopathology.
Psychology shares considerable overlap with disciplines such as anthropology, biological sciences, computer science, economics, linguistics, philosophy, sociology, and many others. It is also of great value in many application areas ranging, for example, from traditional clinical concerns to the design of new technologies, or from how we can best educate ourselves to the workings of the economy or criminality.
While there are a small number of compulsory psychology papers, you will have plenty of choice with options such as the development of social behaviour, psychopathology, cognitive psychology, language, brain mechanisms, gender, family relationships and influences, personality, and group social behaviour. Research projects and a dissertation also enable you to study in greater depth the topics that interest you most.
You will be taught by lecturers and researchers of international excellence in the subject of psychology, as well as staff in the fields of biological and social anthropology, history and philosophy of science, criminology, sociology and education. Seminar programmes throughout the year offer regular talks from guest speakers. In addition to this academic expertise, you will have access to extensive library and computing facilities.
As you progress through each year, you have more opportunity to specialise, and to undertake larger, research-based pieces of work. A diagram outlining the course is shown here, and more information can be found on the course website.
PBS students at Magdalene have plenty of opportunity to interact with students from both science and humanities disciplines. PBS engages in diverse approaches including biological, cognitive, social and developmental. Such approaches can be applied to a variety of substantive topic areas, including: brain mechanisms, close relationships, cognitive psychology, family relationships, gender, intergroup relations, language, perception, personality, psychopathology.
Those interested in the biological side of psychology have the opportunity to take papers from the Natural Sciences Tripos (NST) such as Evolution and Behaviour, and from the Faculty of Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) such as Biological Anthropology.
Those interested in the more socio-cultural aspects of psychology have the opportunity in first year to study subjects from HSPS such as Sociology and Social Anthropology.
It is also possible for candidates to combine psychology with papers from subjects such as archaeology, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, and philosophy.
The College library currently has nearly 400 psychology titles, and this collection is being continually expanded and updated. The librarian schedules library tours in the first week of term to show you how to get the most out the resources available to you.
At Magdalene we aim to make two or three offers in PBS each year, and we usually receive about four or five applications per place.
The Director of Studies, Dr Catherine O'Brien, is an attentive ‘DoS’ and supervisor on first- and second-year papers. She will ensure that your interests are nurtured and that you are placed with the best possible supervisors who can give you a solid foundation, guiding you to ask the right questions; if not answer them, as well as develop your chosen specialities. Other Magdalene Fellows with research interests related to Psychology include Dr Brendan Burchell (Social Psychology), Professor Paul Dupree (Biology), and Dr Hannah Critchlow (Neuroscience).
Is human aggression innate or learnt? Is it affected by the weather? Are emotions a hindrance to rational judgements and decision-making or are they in fact a help? Can we ‘speed up’ children’s cognitive development through teaching them or do we need to wait for their cognitive structures to mature?
We are looking for students who struggle to ‘pick sides’ in any of these debates. Psychology asks that you analyse complexity, navigate between tensions, and appreciate the validity of the different perspectives. Psychology is the study of the interface between mind and body. You should therefore have a good understanding of brain structures and processes, and bodily systems. Equally, you should understand the socio-cultural factors influencing or constituting our behavior and the meanings we attach to it.
We are looking for those who can think both philosophically and neurobiologically about psychology. While personal experience of mental illness – whether in yourself or someone close to you – can catalyse an interest in psychology, you should also be interested in wider aspects of psychology, including methodology, statistics and the various paradigms through which we study different aspects of the human psyche.
Apart from achieving outstanding exam results, you need to be open-minded, curious, engaged and passionate about psychological phenomena and current issues. You should have thought about the connections between psychology and other disciplines, and its applications. You should enjoy writing essays – expressing yourself clearly and combining ideas and empirical evidence in a coherent, lucid and compelling way. Finally, you should have read a good selection of psychology books and articles, which you can discuss enthusiastically and critically.
There are no subject requirements for Psychological and Behavioural Studies at Magdalene, but Mathematics and Biology are both considered helpful. Psychology is neither particularly recommended nor a disadvantage.
Our typical offer conditions are A*AA at A-level or 41-42 in the IB with 7,7,6 at Higher Level.
Interviews and Written Assessment
Applicants called for interview in Cambridge will receive two interviews exploring their interests, knowledge and aptitude for study, amongst other things. One will be a subject interview with the Director of Studies and another subject specialist; the other is likely to be with two College Fellows in other subjects. Both interviews will last 20-15 minutes. Candidates may be given a passage to read just before the subject interview.
Applicants will also need to take a written assessment. The assessment for PBS is a pre-interview assessment. This means that you will have to register to sit the assessment at an assessment centre near to you (for most applicants this will be your school or college). Registration for the pre-interview assessment is separate from your UCAS application and it is essential that you are registered by your centre before the deadline, which is 15 October 2018. The pre-interview assessments this year will take place on 2 November 2018. More information about registering for the assessment can be found here.
The admissions assessment for PBS will last for two hours and consist of two sections. Section 1 is multiple choice and consists of three parts, of which applicants complete two: Part A (Thinking Skills Analysis; compulsory), and either Part B (maths/science) or Part C (reading comprehension). Section 2 consists of a choice of essay/text response questions, of which the candidate chooses one. More details of the assessment, including some sample questions, can be found here.
Please note that your performance in the pre-interview assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.