Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2008-2009 (archived)


Department: Psychology


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2008/09 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Brain Processes of Cognition and Perception (PSYC2111) OR Memory and Language (PSYC2081) OR Modules to the value of 100 credits from Level 2 Applied Psychology (C810)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • BIOL3351 Behavioural and Evolutionary Ecology


  • The course will introduce students to the main findings and theoretical issues that have been derived from research into animal behaviour. This broadly consists of associative learning theory, cognitive ethology, and behavioural ecology
  • Develop an understanding of the similarities and differences between different ways of studying animal behaviour. In particular, emphasis will be placed on cognitive, associative, and evolutionary approaches


  • This module covers advanced topics in animal behaviour and cognition from both psychological and ethological viewpoints.
  • The course will integrate findings from associative learning theory, cognitive psychology, ethology, economics, and behavioural ecology; all areas which have historically been considered separate
  • Topics include for example:
  • Why study animals?
  • Why study a conceptual nervous system?
  • Theoretical and empirical analysis of Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning
  • The conditions of learning. Formal accounts of associative learning: Elemental and attention-based models of associative learning
  • Cognition and Ethology: application of learning theories to the ‘real’ world
  • Animal navigation
  • Social learning: application of learning theory to social learning
  • Darwinian theory, adaptations, the ‘modern synthesis’
  • Early ethology experiments, for example, imprinting, fixed action patterns and sign stimuli
  • The paradigm shift that occurred within animal behaviour/evolutionary biology from 1963 culminating with the publication of the Selfish Gene in 1976
  • Mathematical and economic modelling of animals behaviour. For example, foraging, defence and altruism
  • The link between ethology and human behaviour
  • Criticisms of the adaptationist approach to animal behaviour
  • The module will cover related conceptual and historical issues in psychology

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will be expected to aquire:
  • Detailed knowledge of associative, social and spatial learning and cognitive ethology, including current theories, evidence and research methods
  • Detailed knowledge of the roles of ecology and evolution in animal behaviour including current theory, evidence and research methods
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to review critically and consolidate understanding of a coherent body of animal behaviour work and apply it appropriately
Key Skills:
  • Good written communication skills
  • Good IT skills in word processing, data manipulation and presentation
  • Abilities to work independently in scholarship and research within broad guidelines

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students' acquisition of detailed knowledge will be facilitated by lectures, and, for example, small group work, audio-visual materials, discussions and detailed reading lists
  • These modes of teaching provide students with detailed knowledge of the key theories and the skills needed to evaluate different theoretical positions in light of current evidence
  • The examination will assess students' detailed knowledge and understanding of the subject.
  • The summative assignment requires students to critically review an empirical study and evaluate its position within the field. For example, to review an article in the style of an academic manuscript review
  • To assess the evaluation of the position of the summative empirical study within its field, the range and appropriateness of sources included will constitute part of the overall assessment of the assignment
  • Some modes of teaching, for example, the use of group discussions and small group work, will ensure that students are exposed to a range of different theoretical positions, and encouraged to understand their inter-relations
  • These modes pf teaching will also give students the opportunity to interpret and evaluate the significance of empirical work
  • The summative assignment and written examination assesses students' acquired knowledge of theoretical principles and empirical studies and their ability to organise and synthesise them coherently and critically in written form in response to a set question
  • The summative assignment and examination will also assess students' written communication skills
  • Feedback on the summative assignments will be available as early as possible, allowing students plenty of time to benefit from feedback on this aspect of their work

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures and Seminars 22 1 per week 2 hours 44
Preparation and Reading 156
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Examination 100%
Component: Summative Assignment Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment 2000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:


Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University