Psychology: An Introduction (Online)


This course introduces the science of psychology, exploring the richness of human functions, uncovering the brain’s secrets, revealing its complexities. Studies from the biological, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioural and social approaches are presented. This course is appropriate for gaining understanding of psychology and in preparation for more specialised courses.

Listen to Dr Anna Scarna talking about the course:

Psychology is the study of human behaviour. It takes the form of a number of different approaches, including biological, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioural and social theories. In this course students are introduced to key research studies in each of these areas, and find out the answers to questions such as: What does the brain look like? How does it work? How do we think? How do we learn languages? How do we remember, and why do we forget? Why do we like to eat, drink, sleep and have sex? Why do we conform and whom do we obey? Why do we disobey? Why and how do we fall in love? How do relationships break up? This course explores the richness of human functions and uncovers the secrets behind the brain, revealing its complexities and answering questions about how and why we behave (and misbehave!). The course reveals how psychologists study human behaviour in laboratory conditions and explains some of the difficulties encountered in doing so. The course is designed for those wishing to acquire an understanding of psychology as a science, and the contributions of psychologists in the understanding of human behaviour.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Introduction

  • The history of psychology as an academic discipline
  • Psychology as a science
  • Research methods
  • Working with experimental results

Unit 2: This is your brain

  • Brain neurophysiology at the cellular level
  • The brain structures
  • The separation of brain and mind?

Unit 3: The development of thought and language

  • Learning to think
  • The development of language
  • Can animals learn language?

Unit 4: How memories are formed

  • Memories are made of this
  • The biological basis of memory
  • Memory for future events
  • Brain damage and forgetting

Unit 5: Behaving ourselves: Reward and punishment

  • Learning to behave: Skinner’s theory
  • Classical conditioning
  • Applications to everyday life

Unit 6: The development and measurement of personality

  • Early theories of personality – the four humours
  • The ‘super three’ or the ‘big five’ traits?
  • Reliability and validity
  • Biological approaches

Unit 7: Why do we conform and whom do we obey?

  • Conformity
  • Compliance
  • Internalisation
  • Identification
  • Obedience

Unit 8: Eating, drinking, sleeping and sex: Theories of motivation

  • Biological and psychological theories of motivation
  • Hunger
  • To sleep perchance to dream ...
  • Sex
  • Psychological theories of motivation

Unit 9: Why do fools fall in love? Theories of attraction and relationship formation

  • The formation of relationships
  • How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
  • Theories of romantic relationship formation
  • Evolutionary theories of partner selection

Unit 10: When it all breaks down: Brain damage, tumours and strokes

  • Brain damage
  • The case of Phineas Gage
  • Neuropsychological problems

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr Jo Molle

Jo is a psychologist with a background in mental health research completing projects for various univerisities as well as the NHS . She is also a qualified integrative counsellor working in general practice with children, young people and adults

Dr Anna Scarna

Dr Anna Scarnà is a psychologist who is interested in language, personality traits, and psychological disorders. Her research has been on non-drug treatments for mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, and autism in females. Anna's most recent work has involved the occurrence of trauma in chimpanzees who were taught sign language and she has written two books about Nim Chimpsky: Primatology, Ethics and Trauma (2023) and Trauma in Sentient Beings: Nature, Nurture, and Nim (2024), both published by Routledge.

Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to an understanding of five approaches in psychology: biological, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioural and social psychology.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts.
  • Group discussions of particular issues.
  • Online participation in mock experiments.
  • Discussions of experimental and ethical issues.
  • Students will be directed to websites relevant to each session (occasionally as a requirement, usually as optional additional reading).

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you will be able understand:

  • Aspects of psychology from multiple theoretical perspectives with reference to their history.
  • The major theories of psychology and what psychologists do.
  • How psychologists conduct experiments.
  • Why some psychologists (e.g. Skinner, Freud, Milgram) used certain methods.
  • The tools used for appropriate evaluation of the science behind the main topics in Psychology.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.