Basic science modules

The following modules have been mapped to the MRCPsych syllabus, 1-4 (inclusive), and cover the basic science topics. They are currently under development by Higher Trainees and the Editorial team.


If you are a consultant and you would be willing to provide feedback on these modules, please see our Expert Reviewers page and contact us noting your areas of expertise.


If you would like to see how we have divided our modules or want to target your learning for the exams, take a look at our syllabus pages.


Click the links below to view the modules in the following categories or scroll down to see the full list.


Psychology (10 modules)

Social psychology (7 modules)

Social science and socio-cultural psychiatry (9 modules)

Human development (8 modules)

Neuroanatomy (6 modules)

Neurophysiology (6 modules)

Neurochemistry (4 modules)

Molecular genetics (4 modules)

Neuropathology (2 modules)

Clinical psychopharmacology (6 modules)

History of psychiatry (1 module)


Please note that the descriptions provided beneath the module titles are not comprehensive;
cross-refer to the syllabus for full details on what each module should include.


Psychology (10 modules)


1. Learning theory (published)

Classical, operant, observational and cognitive models. The concepts of extinction and reinforcement. Learning processes and aetiological formulation of clinical problems, including the concepts of generalisation, secondary reinforcement, incubation and stimulus preparedness. Escape and avoidance conditioning. Clinical applications in behavioural treatments: reciprocal inhibition, habituation, chaining, shaping, cueing. The impact of various reinforcement schedules. The psychology of punishment. Optimal conditions for observational learning.

(Syllabus: 1.1.1) 


2. Basic principles of visual and auditory perception (published)

Figure ground differentiation, object constancy, set, and other aspects of perceptual organisation. Perception as an active process. The relevance of perceptual theory to illusions, hallucinations and other psychopathology. The development of visual perception as an illustration of constitutional/ environmental interaction.

(Syllabus: 1.1.2) 


3. Attention and information processing (published)

The application of these to the study of schizophrenia and other conditions.

(Syllabus: 1.1.3) 


4. Memory (published)

Influences upon and optimal conditions for encoding, storage and retrieval. Primary working memory storage capacity and the principle of chunking. Semantic episodic and skills memories and other aspects of long-term/secondary memory. The process of forgetting. Emotional factors and retrieval. Distortion, inference, schemata and elaboration in relation. The relevance of this to memory disorders and their assessment.

(Syllabus: 1.1.4) 


5. Thought (published)

The possible relationship with language. Concepts, prototypes and cores. Deductive and inductive reasoning. Problem-solving strategies, algorithms and heuristics.

(Syllabus: 1.1.5) 


6. Personality (published)

Derivation of nomothetic and idiographic theories. Trait and type approaches and elementary personal construct theory. Resume of principles underlying psychoanalytic, social learning, cognitive neuroscience and humanistic approaches. The interactionist approach. Construction and use of inventories, rating scales, grids and Q-sort.

(Syllabus: 1.1.6) 


7. Motivation: needs and drives (published)

Extrinsic theories (based on primary and secondary drive reduction) and homeostasis. Hypothalamic systems and satiety. Intrinsic theories, curiosity and optimum levels of arousal. Limitations of approach and attempts to integrate. Cognitive consistency. Need for achievement (nAch). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

(Syllabus: 1.1.7)


8. Emotion: components of emotional response (published)

Critical appraisal of James-Lange and Cannon-Bard theories. Cognitive appraisal, differentiation and the status of primary emotions. Emotions and performance.

(Syllabus: 1.1.8)


9. Stress: physiological and psychological aspects (published)

Situational factors: life events, daily hassles/uplifts, conflict and trauma. Vulnerability and invulnerability, type A behaviour theory. Coping mechanisms. Locus of control, learned helplessness and learned resourcefulness. Resilience.

(Syllabus: 1.1.9)


10. States and levels of awareness (published)

Levels of consciousness and evidence for unconscious processing. Arousal, attention and alertness. Sleep structure and dreaming. Parasomnias. Biorhythms and effects of sleep deprivation. Hypnosis and suggestibility. Meditation and trances.

(Syllabus: 1.1.10) 



Social Psychology (7 modules)


1. Attitudes (published)

Components and measurement by Thurstone, Likert and semantic differential scales. Attitude change and persuasive communication. Cognitive consistency and dissonance. Attitude-behaviour relationships.

(Syllabus: 1.2.1) 


2. Self-psychology (published)

Self-concept, self-esteem and self-image. Self-recognition and personal identity.

(Syllabus: 1.2.2)


3. Interpersonal issues (published)

Person perception, affiliation and friendship. Attribution theory, ‘naive psychology’ and the primary (fundamental) attribution error. Social behaviour in social interactions. ‘Theory of mind’ as it might apply to pervasive developmental and personality disorders. Elemental linguistics as applied to interpersonal communication.

(Syllabus: 1.2.3) 


4. Social influence: leadership, power, conformity and obedience (published)

Types of social power. Influence operating in small and large groups or crowds: conformity, polarisation and ‘groupthink’, deindividuation. Communicative control in relationships.

(Syllabus: 1.2.4) 


5. Intergroup behaviour (published)

Prejudice, stereotypes and intergroup hostility. Social identity and group membership.

(Syllabus: 1.2.5) 


6. Aggression (published)

Explanations according to social learning theory, operant conditioning, ethnology, frustration and arousal concepts. The influence of television and other media.  Family and social backgrounds of aggressive individuals.

(Syllabus: 1.2.6)


7. Altruism (published)

Social exchange theory and helping relationships. Interpersonal co-operation.

(Syllabus: 1.2.7)



Social science & socio-cultural psychiatry (9 modules)


1. Social class, socioeconomic status and their relevance to psychiatric disorder and healthcare delivery (forthcoming)

Social class, socio-economic status and their relevance to psychiatric disorder and health care delivery.

(Syllabus: 1.3.1) 


2. The social roles of doctors (published)

Sick role and illness behaviour.

(Syllabus: 1.3.2) 


3. Family life in relation to major mental illness (published)

Particularly the effects of high Expressed Emotion).

(Syllabus: 1.3.3) 


4. Social factors and specific mental health issues (published)

Particularly depression, schizophrenia and addictions. Life events and their subjective, contextual evaluation.

(Syllabus: 1.3.4)


5. A social history of mental health institutions (published)

(Syllabus: 1.3.5) 


6. Basic principles of criminology and penology (published)

(Syllabus: 1.3.6) 


7. Stigma and prejudice (published)

(Syllabus: 1.3.7) 


8. The mental health of ethnic minorities (published)

Acculturation and mental health.

(Syllabus: 1.3.8) 


9. Ethics and philosophy in psychiatry (published)

(Syllabus: 1.3.9)



Human Development (8 modules)


1.   Conceptualising and studying development (published)

Basic frameworks for conceptualising development: nature and nurture, stage theories, maturational tasks. Possible definitions of maturity. Examination of gene-environment interactions with specific reference to intelligence. Relative influence of early versus later adversities. The relevance of developmental framework for understanding the impact of specific adversities such as trauma.  Historical models and theories: Freud and general psychoanalytic; social-learning, Piaget. Methodology for studying development: cross sectional, cohort and individual studies. Identification and evaluation of influences.

(Syllabus: 2.1, 2.2)


2. Family relationships (published)

Bowlby attachment theory and its relevance to emotional development, affect regulation and human relationships in childhood and later on. Conditions for secure attachment. Types and clinical relevance of insecure and disorganised attachment. Early separation and its consequences. Consequences of failure to develop selective attachments. Brief consideration of attachment, maternal ‘bonding’ parental sensitivity. Other aspects of family relationships and parenting practices. The influence of parental attitudes compared with parenting practices. Systemic theory including supportive systems in development and aspects of distorted family function: e.g. discord, overprotection, rejection, and enmeshment. The impact of bereavement, parental divorce and intra-familial abuse on subsequent development and mental health of the child. The relevance or otherwise of different family structure including cultural influences on family and stages of family.

(Syllabus: 2.3, 2.4)


3. Development of temperament (published)

Individual temperamental differences and their impact on parent-child relationships. Origins, typologies and stability of temperament and the evolution of character and personality. Childhood vulnerability and resilience with respect to mental health. Cognitive development with critical reference to Piaget’s model. The impact of attributions and beliefs, and cultural, genetic and other influences. The relevance of pre-operational and formal operational thought to communication with children and adults. Development of emotion literacy and emotional regulation in childhood and adolescence including development of fears in childhood and adolescence with reference to age. Possible aetiological and maintenance mechanisms.

(Syllabus: 2.5, 2.6, 2.10)


4. Development of language (published)

Basic outline of language development in childhood with special reference to environmental influences and communicative competence.

(Syllabus: 2.7)


5. Development of social competence and morals (published)

Development of social competence and relationships with peers: acceptance, group formation, co-operation, friendships, isolation and rejection. The components of popularity. moral development with critical reference to Kohlberg’s stage theory. Relationship to development of social perspective taking.

(Syllabus: 2.8, 2.9)


6. Adolescence and sexual development (published)

Adolescence as a developmental phase with special reference to pubertal changes, task mastery, conflict with parents and authority, affective stability and ‘turmoil’. Normal and abnormal adolescent development. Sexual development including the development of sexual entity and preferences.

(Syllabus: 2.11, 2.12)


7. Adaptations in adult life (published)

Adaptations in adult life, such as pairing, parenting, illness, bereavement and loss. The development of personal (ego-) identity in adolescence and adult life. Work, ethnic, gender and other identities. Pregnancy and childbirth and their stresses both physiological and psychological. Mid-life ‘crises’.

(Syllabus: 2.13-15)


8. Normal ageing (published)

The impact of normal ageing on physical, social, cognitive and emotional aspects if individual functioning. Social changes accompanying old age, importance of loss, personality changes with ageing.  Social and economic factors in old age; attitude, status of the elderly, retirement, income, accommodation, socio-cultural differences. Genetic influences on development including gene environment interactions. Neuroimaging and its role in understanding development. Up to date findings in this field.

(Syllabus: 2.16-18)



Neuroanatomy (6 modules)


1. The functional anatomy of the brain (published)

The general anatomy of the brain  and the functions of the lobes and some of the major gyri including the prefrontal cortex, cingulate gyrus and limbic system. Basic knowledge of the cranial nerves and spinal chord.

(Syllabus: 3.1.1) 


2. The anatomy of the basal ganglia

(Syllabus: 3.1.2)


3. The internal anatomy of the temporal lobes (published)

I.e. hippocampal formation and amygdala.

(Syllabus: 3.1.3) 


4. The major white matter pathways (published)

E.g. corpus callosum, fornix, Papez’s circuit and other circuits relevant to integrated behaviour (see neurophysiology section).

(Syllabus: 3.1.4)


5. The types of cell found within the nervous system (published)

(Syllabus: 3.1.5)


6. The major neurochemical pathways (published)

Including the nigrostriatal, mesolimbic and mesocortical dopamine pathways, the ascending noradrenergic pathway from the locus coeruleus, the basal forebrain cholinergic pathway, the brain stem cholinergic pathway, the corticofugal glutamate system and serotonin pathways.

(Syllabus: 3.1.6)



Neurophysiology (6 modules)


1. The physiology of neurons (published)

The basic concepts in the physiology of neurons, synapses and receptors, including synthesis, release and uptake of transmitters. A basic knowledge of action potential, resting potential, ion fluxes and channels.

(Syllabus: 3.2.1)


2. The neural and endocrine systems (published)

The physiology and anatomical pathways of the neural and endocrine systems involved in integrated behaviour including perception, pain, memory, motor function, arousal, drives (sexual behaviour, hunger and thirst), motivation and the emotions, including aggression, fear and stress. Knowledge of disturbances of these functions with relevance to organic and non-organic (functional) psychiatry.

(Syllabus: 3.2.2)


3. The development of cerebral functions (published)

The development and localisation of cerebral functions throughout the life span from the foetal stages onwards and their relevance to the effects of injury at different ages to the brain and to mental function. An understanding of neurodevelopmental models of psychiatric disorders and of cerebral plasticity.

(Syllabus: 3.2.3)


4. Neuroendocrine disorders (published)

An understanding of the neuroendocrine system, in particular the control of the secretion of hypothalamic and pituitary hormones (by releasing factors and by feedback control) and posterior pituitary function. The main hormonal changes in psychiatric disorders. A basic understanding of neuroendocrine rhythms and their disturbance in psychiatric disorders.

(Syllabus: 3.2.4)


5. The physiology of arousal and sleep (published)

A basic knowledge of the physiology of arousal and sleep and with particular reference to noradrenergic activity and the locus coeruleus.

(Syllabus: 3.2.5)


6. The EEG (published)

The normal EEG (including frequency bands) and evoked response techniques. The applications to investigation of cerebral pathology, seizure disorders, sleep and psychiatric disorders. The effects of drugs on the EEG.

(Syllabus: 3.2.6)



Neurochemistry (4 modules)


1. Neurotransmitters (published)

Transmitter synthesis, storage and release. Ion channels and calcium flux in relation to this.

(Syllabus: 3.3.1) 


2. Neuroreceptors (published)

Receptor structure and function in relation to noradrenaline, serotonin, dopamine, GABA, acetylcholine, excitatory amino acids. Pre-synaptic and post-synaptic receptors.

(Syllabus: 3.3.2)


3. Pharmacology of neurotransmitters (forthcoming)

Basic pharmacology of noradrenaline, serotonin, dopamine, GABA, acetylcholine, excitatory amino acids.

(Syllabus: 3.3.3)


4. Neuropeptides (forthcoming) 

Neuropeptides, particularly corticotrophin releasing hormone and cholecystokinin and the encephalins/endorphins.

(Syllabus: 3.3.4)



Molecular Genetics (4 modules)


1. Basic genetics (published)

Chromosomes, cell division, gene structure, transcription and translation, structure of the human genome, patterns of inheritance .Traditional techniques in genetics: family, twin and adoption studies.

(Syllabus: 3.4.1) 


2. Techniques in genetics (forthcoming)

Restriction enzymes, molecular cloning and gene probes, Southern blotting, restriction fragment length polymorphisms, recombination. Gene analysis and gene tracking: Distinction between direct gene analysis and gene tracking. Genetic markers, linkage studies, lod scores. Genome wide association studies, genetic variants.

(Syllabus: 3.4.2-4)


3. Chromosomal abnormalities and inherited conditions in psychiatry (published)

Conditions associated with chromosome abnormalities and principal inherited conditions encountered in psychiatric practice and the genetic contribution to specific psychiatric disorders.

(Syllabus: 3.4.5-6)


4. Clinical genetics (published)

Prenatal identification. Genetic counselling. The organisation of clinical genetic services, DNA banks. Molecular and genetic heterogeneity. Phenotype/genotype correspondence. Endophenotypes. Gene X Environment interaction. Epigenetics.

(Syllabus: 3.4.7-8)



Neuropathology (2 modules)


1. Neuropathology: Part 1 – dementia (published)

Neuropathology of Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Pick’s Disease, Fronto-Temporal Dementias, and Lewy Body diseases including Parkinson’s Disease.

(Syllabus: 3.5.1)


2. Neuropathology: Part 2 – prions and HIV (published)

Neuropathology of Prion Diseases and HIV brain disease.

(Syllabus: 3.5.2-3)



Clinical Psychopharmacology (6 modules)


1. General principles of clinical psychopharmacology (published)

Brief historical overview of the development of psychotropic drugs. Their classification. Optimising patient compliance. Knowledge of the placebo effect and the importance of controlling for it. The principles of rational prescribing of psychoactive drugs.

(Syllabus: 4.1) 


2. Pharmacokinetics: Part 1 – introduction (published)

General principles of absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination. Drug interactions.  Particular reference to a comparison of oral, intramuscular and intravenous routes of administration as they affect drug availability, elimination as it affects the life of the drug in the body and access to the brain through the ‘blood-brain barrier’. Applications of these to choice of administrative route and timing of doses. The relationship of ageing, culture, ethnicity to pharmacokinetics.

(Syllabus: 4.2.1)


3. Pharmacokinetics: Part 2 – therapeutic drug monitorin (published)

Relationships between plasma drug level and therapeutic response: the possibilities and limitations of this concept with specific examples such as lithium, antidepressants and anticonvulsants.

(Syllabus: 4.2.2)


4. Pharmacodynamics: Part 1 (published)

Synaptic receptor complexity, main receptor sub-types, phenomena of receptor up- and down- regulation. Pharmacogenetics.

(Syllabus: 4.3.1)


5. Pharmacodynamics: Part 2 (forthcoming)

The principal CNS pharmacology of the main groups of drugs used in psychiatry with particular attention to their postulated modes of action in achieving therapeutic affect: at both molecular/synaptic and systems levels. These groups would include ‘anti-psychotic’ agents, drugs used in the treatment of affective disorder (both mood altering and stabilising), anxiolytics, hypnotics and anti-epileptic agents. The relationship of culture, race and ethnicity to pharmacodynamics. Neurochemical effects of ECT.

(Syllabus: 4.3.2-3)


6. Adverse Drug Reactions (published)

Understanding of dose-related as distinct from ‘idiosyncratic’ ADRs.

The major categories of ADRs associated with the main groups of drugs used in psychiatry and those associated with appropriate corrective action.

The importance of assessing risks and benefits for every individual patient in relation to his medication. Risks and benefits of psychotropic drugs in acute, short- and long-term use including effects of withdrawal. Knowledge of official guidance on the use of particular drugs (e.g. the Royal College Guidelines on the use of Benzodiazepines, NICE guidance). The information database for adverse drug reactions and how to report them. Prescribing of controlled drugs.

(Syllabus: 4.4, all parts) 



History of Psychiatry (1 module)


1. A brief introduction to the history of psychiatry (published)

This module has been designed specifically to complement the suite of basic science modules by providing historical contexts to the figures and theories discussed. It is not drawn from a specific area of the syllabus.


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