Brain and Mind

Discover the Fascinating World of the Brain

Integration of disciplines

What happens inside our brain when we think and act? This intriguing question has occupied many generations of scientists.

The purpose of this minor is to acquaint the student with different disciplines within the field of Neuroscience. The student will become familiar with the workings and functions of different types of brain cells and brain areas. The student will learn how this knowledge can be used to understand characteristics of the healthy brain (e.g., perception, attention, learning and memory), of the developing brain (pre- and postnatal), and of the diseased brain (e.g., depression, addiction, eating disorders).

In addition, the students will be familiarized with recent findings from the fields of human genetics and will actively participate in nature-versus-nurture debates. Finally, this minor provides an introduction into recent technological advances in brain-machine interfaces, deep brain stimulation, and robotics in the context of Neuroscience. The integration of disciplines such as biology, psychology, sociology, and genetics, is central to this minor. Students learn to think critically about how knowledge of the brain and the human genome can be applied to tackle societal issues.

The minor Brain & Mind is developed in particular for students with a great interest in the brain, but limited or no background in neuroscience. The minor traditionally hosts students from many different study backgrounds, and students from different universities, both from the Netherlands and abroad.

Cognitive Neuroscience: 

In the first course, students learn how the brain “perceives” the outside world and how this leads to cognitive behavior. This course is a general, basic introduction into brain composition (e.g., cell types), brain structure, brain function, and neuronal communication, after which the biological basis of cognitive processes such as perception, consciousness, language, learning and memory are discussed.

Nature versus nurture: 

Students are introduced to the history of “nature-versus-nurture” research, and will learn how twin- and family studies have pathed the way for current genome-wide gene-discovery studies. Students will familiarize themselves with the most recent gene-discovery results, and will learn how these translate to state-of-the-art neuroscience research. Students are immersed in this new world of genetic information through discussions and presentations on the ethical aspects of DNA research.

Brain in trouble:

The focus of this course is on the etiology of mental disorders, such as addiction, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and mood disorders, with special attention to the nature-versus-nurture discussion. Various treatment options for these conditions - including the use of pharmacological agents, behavioral therapy and deep brain stimulation - are elucidated and discussed. Students will be challenged to critically reflect on the boundaries between normality and abnormality and the societal implications.

The developing brain:

The focus of this course is on the phases of brain development over the lifespan. The brain performs differently at various ages; the young brain is very plastic, whereas the aging brain gradually loses its adaptive capacity. In addition to normal brain development, specific genetic and environmental factors will be discussed that contribute to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia, gender dysphoria and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Mind and Machine:

In the final course, we take one step beyond the brain itself and look at the interaction between mind and machine. We will study the basic principles of artificial intelligence (AI) and brain computer-interfaces (BCI), and discuss current applications in society and associated ethical issues. Students experience hands-on how BCI can be used to self-regulate brain activity. They work in groups to investigate how science meets science fiction when developing a new application of AI and BCI in a product or a service. The entrance level of the course is for students without a background in exact sciences.

For specific information about each course, please visit our study guide.

Dr. Christiaan de Kock (Cognitive Neuroscience) works at the Department of Integrative Neurophysiology and is head of the research group In Vivo Neurophysiology. His research focusses on how individual cortical neurons encode sensory stimuli and how sensory representation is affected by behavior. In addition, his group investigates the relationship between structure and function of  individual neurons in adult human cortex.

Dr. Martijn van den Heuvel (Cognitive Neuroscience) works at the Department of Complex Trait Genetics and is head of the research group Connectomics. In his research on the organization of the human brain network, he studies how complex brain function and disfunction may arise from the topological network properties, thus bridging the fields of psychology, neuroimaging, mathematics, informatics, and medicine.

Dr. Tinca Polderman (Nature vs Nurture) works at the Department of Complex Trait Genetics and is head of the research group Psychiatric Etiology. Her research concerns the role of nature and nurture, including their interaction, in psychiatric traits, and mainly focusses on Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Dr. Sophie van der Sluis (Nature vs Nurture) works at the Department of Complex Trait Genetics and is head of the research group Phenotypic Modelling and Genetics. Her work aims to integrate psychometric principles with genetic research and mainly focuses on the question how the success of genetics studies is affected by the way cognitive and neuropsychiatric traits are measured, operationalized and conceptualized.

Prof. dr. Taco J. De Vries (Brain in Trouble) works at the Department of Psychopharmacology and is head of the research group Addiction. His research aims to unravel the neurobiological mechanisms underlying drug addiction and focusses specifically on relapse mechanisms related to alcohol and nicotine. His research has a strong multidisciplinary character, including behavioural analysis, proteomics, neurophysiology and opto- and chemogenetic approaches.

Dr. Hylke Vervaeke (Brain in Trouble) is a fulltime lecturer of Neuroscience at the VU University Amsterdam and at the Amsterdam University College. She obtained her MSc in Biomedical Sciences and conducted PhD research on the behavioural aspects and social context of ecstasy use.

Dr. Michel van den Oever (The Developing Brain) works at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology and is head of the research group Memory Circuits. His research aims to gain detailed insight in the neural circuitry that mediates the formation and retrieval of stable, long-lasting associative memories, and focusses specifically on the spatial and temporal organization of memories related to drugs of abuse and fear in the brain.

Dr. L. Niels Cornelisse (Mind and Machine) works at the Department of Functional Genomics and is head of the research group Synaptic Computation. His research focuses on systems biology of the synapse. He studies the computational properties of synapses in health and disease, with a focus on autism, combining electrical recordings in neurons with modeling of neural systems.

Dr. Klaus Linkenkaer-Hansen (Mind and Machine) works at the Department of Integrative Neurophysiology and is head of the research group Neuronal Oscillations and Cognition. His research focusses on the complex dynamics of neuronal oscillations and its implications for cognition in health and disease, and is guided by the theories and methods from the physics of self-organization and complexity.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the VU University will offer all teaching in the period September-December 2020 (and possibly after that) online in a blended format. The teachers of the Minor Brain & Mind are currently busy adjusting their courses to assemble an instructive, educational, entertaining, and varied curriculum. To give you an impression, planned forms of tuition for Cognitive Neuroscience and Nature versus Nurture (Sept-Oct) include:

-    Short video pitches on selective topics
-    Longer live and/or pre-recorded lectures
-    Live online Q & A sessions
-    Live discussions on specific topics
-    Weekly opinion/discussion assignments
-    Weekly live online computer practicals
-    Live online student group-presentations on ethical topics

To assure interaction and contact between students, we will install course-specific student working groups (SWGs), i.e., groups of students who actively and intensively collaborate on assignments and on mastering the offered substantive content.

Communication with students will take place via Canvas, via Slack, an online workspace where people can share files, chat and ask questions (i.e., contact their specific SWG, the entire class, or the teachers), and via Zoom (live online sessions).

We are confident that quality of the teaching, and the learning aims and goals of the different courses, is guaranteed in the current format.

To be able to participate actively and fully in this new form of online education, and to be able to partake in the online exams, students require a laptop/computer with camera and microphone and access to reliable internet/WIFI. The VU has made a limited number of computer spaces available on the campus, for students lacking these facilities at home.

Admission and registration

This minor is open to third year BSc students with a background in alpha and gamma sciences (e.g., Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Law, Artificial Intelligence) and students from Lifesciences (e.g., Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Movement Science) with a broad interest. Students from Biomedical Sciences and Health and Life Sciences, as well as students who plan to pursue a career in Neuroscience, cannot follow this minor but are referred to the more specialized university minor Biomolecular and Neurosciences. 

Secondary course students (bijvak) can also register for this minor.

Please see the application procedure for more information.

International students

For practical questions about e.g. housing and how to register for courses as an international student, please contact our International Office.
Rules and ways of examination and receiving course credits (ECs) appear to differ between countries. To avoid surprises, we wish to explicitly inform you on the customs at the VU University and thus this minor. To receive credits for the different courses in this minor, you must pass the course-specific exams and assignments. The forms and rules of examination differ between the 5 courses. The rules are described in detail in the course-specific Course Guides, so please read these carefully to avoid surprises. Important to realize is that you do not receive any credits if you do not pass the exams. Generally: being present, and handing in assignments on time, is not sufficient to pass the course and receive the credits.

If you did not pass the exam, we offer 1 resit opportunity. Experience has taught us that the resits are often scheduled on dates that are inconvenient for international students. (For example, resits are planned the week after Christmas break, but some international students only stay until Christmas. Or resits are planned on the 2 day of the month, while the lease of your apartment expires on the last of the month). All the dates for exams and resits are known at the start of the minor, so please check the schedule carefully, so that you are aware of the exams or resits that may be problematic for you. If a resit is scheduled for a date that is inconvenient for you, please take that into account while studying for the exam! If you do fail the exam, and you are no longer in the Netherlands on the date that the resit takes place, then it is in principle impossible to take the resit. Please be aware of this possible problem and address it early by contacting the course coordinators!

Questions about the programme

For specific questions regarding content, please contact Dr. Sophie van der Sluis: / 31.(0)20.598 6833.

brain & Mind

Student testimonials

Anne-de-VriesAnne de Vries, 3rd year BSc in Public Administration and Organizational Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2018
It was an amazing experience to be in such a different field of science. I have learned different perspectives and methodologies that helped my scientific development in general, and the minor has broadened my view upon sociological, psychological and societal issues. Besides that, the diversity within this minor makes it so much fun, I met amazing students from all over the world! I would recommend this minor to anyone who wants to deepen their knowledge of human nature.

Ninke-NieuwenhuisNinke Nieuwenhuis, 3rd year Chemistry student, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2018
This minor will give you a great introduction to the workings of the brain and the mind. The beta and gamma sides of neuroscience really come together in this minor. As a beta student, I could assist students with an alpha background with biological and chemical brain subjects , and they helped me with the more gamma-related topics. This way I made some really good friends from all around the world; Germany, America, Bulgaria and off course the Netherlands.

Samenvatting Brain and Mind




1 semester (30 EC)


1 September


Gezondheid en Beweging