Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module ANTH30D7: Comparative Cognition and Culture

Department: Anthropology

ANTH30D7: Comparative Cognition and Culture

Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • ANTH2061 Evolution, Variation and Adaptation OR ANTH2071 Our Place in Nature


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to a comparative approach to considering the evolution of cognitive capacities and culture.
  • To explore theoretical concepts in depth through the consideration of strengths and weaknesses of research in evolutionary anthropology and psychology in explaining the evolution of cognition and culture.
  • To provide students with a set of critical tools to understand the importance of good communication of science to the public and how to do it.


  • The module will involve comparing a variety of species (mainly nonhuman primates) to humans and within humans, taking a cross-cultural approach.
  • An examination of strengths and weaknesses of different study approaches, including wild vs. captive animal studies and ethnographic vs. experimental studies.
  • Topics that may be covered include: defining culture, social learning processes, cultural transmission biases, teaching, cumulative culture, enculturation and cognition, culture and the extended mind, cultural influences on intelligence, cooperation, prosocial behaviour, theory of mind, innovation, tool use, technical intelligence and language.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • At the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate advanced levels of current knowledge and intensive understanding in evolutionary anthropology theories.
  • Deploy analytical skills specific to evolutionary studies of comparative cognition and culture.
  • Be competent in accessing and assimilating specialised research literature of an advanced nature in a manner suitable for public communication
  • In depth knowledge of the evolutionary anthropology of comparative cognition and culture, with emphasis on interpretation and comprehensive understanding of primary or secondary data.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Deploy analytical skills for interpreting and critiquing the literature on comparative cognition and culture.
  • Present in written form theoretical concepts and empirical research on comparative cognition and culture in a clear and accessible manner
Key Skills:
  • Preparation and effective communication of research methods, data, interpretation and arguments in written form.
  • Distilling complex information into a form suitable for public communication (science journalism).

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

  • Lectures will provide students with an outline of key knowledge and debates in the topic area, discuss the literature that students should explore, and provide relevant examples and cases studies.
  • Seminars will integrate tutorial and practical elements. Tutorial elements will develop topics introduced in lectures and required reading to analyse aspects or case studies in greater depth and to prepare students for their summative assignment. Practical elements will provide students with hands-on experience of public communication.
  • Student preparation and reading time will allow engagement with specific references in advance of tutorials/workshops and general and particular reading related to the assessment, which will be a written assignment.
  • Summative assessment will consist of two 1000 word science articles in which students will apply concepts and perspectives covered in the course in a way suitable for public communication.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 Weekly 1 hour 10
Seminars 15 Fortnightly 1 hour 5

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: %
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Science Article 1 1000 words 50%
Science Article 2 1000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

500 word precis of first Science Article. Verbal feedback in tutorials/workshops.

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