BSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Hormones & Behaviour

Unit code BIOL31721
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

This course defines how endocrine and brain circuits control sexual, affiliative and aggressive behaviour. Students are introduced to comparative examples from the animal kingdom and underlying genetic mechanisms, as well as neuroendocrine circuits and peptide relays in the brain. Where possible, examples are drawn from the medical literature to indicate the common nature of these processes in our own species, and governing our behaviour.

Pre/co-requisites

Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Endocrinology BIOL21261 Pre-Requisite Recommended

Aims

This course defines how endocrine and brain circuits control sexual, affiliative and aggressive behaviour. Students are introduced to comparative examples from the animal kingdom and underlying genetic mechanisms, as well as neuroendocrine circuits and peptide relays in the brain. Where possible, examples are drawn from the medical literature to indicate the common nature of these processes in our own species, and governing our behaviour.

Learning outcomes

To teach student how brain circuits and evolutionary forces have moulded the social and sexual behaviour of man and animals.

Syllabus

Setting the scene: Sexual Dimorphism of the Brain and the role of sex steroids. Discovery of aromatization mechanisms and local oestrogen concentrating neurons. Implications of mutations in these pathways in animals and man. The hypothalamus as a key regulator of the endocrine system. Hypothalamic peptides as releasing hormones and as neurotransmitters - examples of GnRH (sexual behaviour) and Oxytocin/Vasopressin (affiliative behaviour). We the move on to define how sexual differentiation mechanisms define sexual behaviour, from the concept of switches on chromosomes, consequences of sex reversal in man and animals and gender identity. We next move to Africa and studies in animals of sexual mimicry, including the famous example of the spotted hyena, and the strange case of the enlarged clitoris and false testis (!), and how mutations in steroid metabolism pathways may drive this process. In birds, we enter the looking glass world where females are the heterogametic sex, and consider hormonal and primary genetic mechanisms controlling singing, sexual behaviour, plumage development and brain differentiation. Hot tempered alligators are animals without sex chromosomes, so we look at reptiles and how the environment controls brain and behaviour. We also look at weapons of war, and sexual aggression and its control by hormones.

In mammals, we move to the story of how two closely related peptide hormones control sexual and affiliative behaviour in females and males - the endocrinology of love and consider their role in man. The early environment matters, and we consider the remarkable evidence that maternal behaviour affects the wiring and organisation of chromosomes in mammals, with long-term effects on stress, including man. We move to Australia to consider the remarkable story of the marsupial mouse, Antechinus, where the males all die within a week or so of mating, and link this to brain stress pathways. We then move to strange world of genomic imprinting, where genes are suppressed or activated depending on which parent you inherited them from - the study of epigenetics and behaviour. Lastly, we move back to Africa, and look at our nearest relatives the Great Apes, and consider similarities and differences in their sexual behaviour and that of man. To finish, we go underground, and explore the extraordinary sex life of the naked mole rat.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Written exam 95%

2 hour examination (95%) - answer 2 essay format questions. Each selected from a choice of 3 questions.

Other - MCQ eLearning exam (5%).

Feedback methods

Online questionnaires, and in the form of question/answer sessions throughout the course. MCQ eLearning exam will provide feedback on students’ progress and key areas for improvement.

Recommended reading

  • Becker, Breedlove, Crews and McCarthy (2002) Behavioural endocrinology: 2nd edition.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andrew Loudon Unit coordinator

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