PY0649 - Plants and the Human Brain

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What will I learn on this module?

n this module you will learn about the human psychopharmacology of plant derived chemicals – their effects and mechanisms of action with regards human brain function, and other health parameters. As such the module feeds into the ‘health’ pathway within the psychology programme.
In terms of content, the module will describe the psychopharmacology of the three main groups of secondary metabolites: the alkaloids, which provide us with caffeine, a host of poisons, a handful of hallucinogens, and most drugs of abuse (e.g. morphine, cocaine, amphetamines, LSD, and nicotine); the phenolics, including polyphenols, which constitute a significant and beneficial part of our natural diet in terms of their modulation of a range of health parameters; and the terpenes, a group of multifunctional compounds which provide us with the active components of cannabis and a multitude of herbal extracts such as sage, ginseng, ginkgo and valerian, all of which are purported to improve health and brain function.
The module will be unique in that you will also learn ‘why’ these plant- and fungus-derived chemicals have their effects on the human brain. In other words, what causes plants to synthesise chemicals that can have profound effects on the human brain? The answer to this question resides in the intersecting genetic heritage of mammals, plants, and insects and the surprising biological similarities between the three taxa, and the many ecological roles that these 'secondary metabolite' plant chemicals are trying to play for the plant. How these factors inter-relate with the human psychopharmacology of each of the main groups of plant chemicals will be discussed.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn through lectures, workshops, and independent learning. The lectures will cover theories and concepts that will enable you to tackle guided workshop exercises and the formative/summative assessments. The understanding of the material will be supported by technology enhanced learning; e.g. the use of Panopto to record the tutors’ voice over particularly complex slides/materials, and workshop activities that will include your contributing to the curation of a collection of relevant videos hosted on internet services such as YouTube. Support in the form of individual tutorials with the module tutor will be available as and when required.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

You will be supported within scheduled teaching time by the module tutor who will make a variety of resources available to you. You will also be supported by directed learning and group work/activities during the workshop elements. All of the academic resources you require will be available via the eLearning Portal. This will include lecture slides, related supplementary materials, recommended readings, video clips and other technology enhanced learning. Discussion board use will also be encouraged to facilitate group communication.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
• MK1 You will be expected to show a critical understanding of how best available empirical evidence can be applied to construct and evaluate arguments, and reason scientifically on psychological issues.
• MK2 You will be able to critically evaluate the application of knowledge about plants and the human brain in the context of the Health pathway

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
• MIP1 You will take charge of your own career development learning, critically reflect and evaluate own strengths and development areas for the purposes of career enhancement and future learning. You will be able to apply disciplinary knowledge to solve complex problems and use understanding of professional practice in order to achieve appropriate career goals.
• MIP2. You will be able to apply the methodologies and ethical considerations to real-world scenarios. This is a valuable skill to enhance employability.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
• MPV1 You will develop the characteristics of a Northumbria Psychology graduate as you value the role of research in the creation of new knowledge.

How will I be assessed?

Formative Assessment
You will provide a brief, bullet-point, proposed structure for your summative assessment essay. Feedback will be provided in writing and any potential issues will be discussed (MK1, MK2, MIP2).

Summative Assessment
You will be required to write a 3500 word essay worth 90% of the module mark. The essay will require the critical discussion of the scope and methodologies employed in human psychopharmacological research within a substantive area of the extant literature. This will assess learning outcomes MK1, MK2, MIP2, MPV1

The second assessment is a self-reflective account in which you will be asked to consider how this module has impacted on your employability and future career (MIP1). This will be worth 10% of the module mark (500 words)

Feedback will be provided in writing for the formative assessment, with verbal discussion of any potential issues with individual students.
Feedback will be provided individually, in writing, for the summative assessment using EMA.

You will be required to arrange a tutorial with your personal guidance tutor for formal feedback on your reflection.





Module abstract

Plants provide us with most of our social drugs, all of our herbal extracts, and a wide range of health enhancing dietary compounds. ‘Plants and the Human Brain’ will focus on the human psychopharmacology of these plant derived chemicals; exploring the effects that these diverse chemicals have on the human brain and other health parameters, and their mechanisms of action. A unique aspect of the module is that it will address the largely overlooked question of ‘why’ plant chemicals affect the human brain, setting these discussions within the evolutionary imperatives for plant chemical synthesis and the ecological roles that these chemicals play in the everyday life of the plant. Throughout, the module will adopt a Research-Rich Learning approach, with the content set within the context of the module tutor’s own research within this field. Elements of Technology Enhanced Learning will be adopted where appropriate to enrich the learning experience. You will be assessed by an assignment and a reflective piece of writing on how understanding of content and skill development on this module can improve your employability.

Course info

UCAS Code C800

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years full time or 4 years full time with optional study abroad year

Department Psychology

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2020

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