BSc Psychology

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Evolution of Behaviour and Cognition

Unit code PSYC21031
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Division of Psychology and Mental Health
Available as a free choice unit? No


In the course, students will first be introduced to basic principles of evolution, including an overview of its history. 


- to provide students with a background in evolutionary processes and analysis

- to provide an understanding of evolution that can be a basis for future courses

- to give a broad overview of comparative approaches to studying cognition

- to introduce different evolutionary perspectives, including behavioural ecology and evolutionary psychology

- to think about how cognitive traits – particularly in humans – can evolve





·         background on evolutionary theory and human origins

·         evolution of brain size and cognitive complexity

·         current debates in evolution, such as gene-culture evolution and multilevel selection and the relevance to human behaviour

·         different approaches to studying evolution of cognition

·         the evolution of cooperation among kin and nonkin

·         sex differences, particularly in mate choice

·         evolution of suicide, psychopathology and other maladaptive behaviours

·         cultural evolution

Teaching and learning methods

18 hours of lectures and four 2 hour laboratory classes.

Knowledge and understanding


-       the governing principles of evolution theory

-       basic genetic principles involved in natural selection

-       the mechanisms of evolutionary change

-       the governing principles of gene-environment interaction including gene-culture co-evolution

-       the origins of Homo sapiens

Critically evaluate:

-       fallacies and misconceptions in evolutionary psychology

-       comparative evolutionary approaches in non-human primates

-       evolutionary approaches to studying altruism and other social behaviours

                -       sociobiology and evolutionary psychology studies

Intellectual skills

-       critically evaluate human cognition and behaviour in the light of evolution theory

-       critically evaluate comparative evolutionary research  with reference to methodological considerations

-       synthesise a body of comparative evolutionary  research to produce a well-reasoned and supported                       argument

-       arrive at and present a clear conclusion on the basis of an evaluation of appropriate empirical evidence

                -        work as a member of a team to discuss a piece of empirical research or a case study and arrive at a shared                           understanding of its significance

Practical skills

-       use a range of sources (library, internet, electronic databases) to gather information

-       plan and construct a written argument based around appropriate empirical evidence

-       carry out a piece of evolutionary psychology research, with guidance

-       structure research results in a clear and coherent report format

                -       write research reports in APA style

Transferable skills and personal qualities

-       independently gather and select the most relevant information from a body of work through online and                   library sources

-       present concise and persuasive arguments

-       produce a written summary of research for an educated audience

-       work effectively in a team develop skills in critical thinking

Assessment methods

A 60 minute exam worth 40% and a 2500 word laboratory report worth 60%

Feedback methods

You are welcome to email the lecturers with any questions or points of clarification you may have. Feedback will be provided on the lab reports and through discussion.

Recommended reading


Primary textbook:

Workman, L. & Reader, W. (2014). Evolutionary Psychology, 3rd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recommended additional textbook:

Boyd, R., & Silk, J. B. (2012). How Humans Evolved, 6th edition. London: W. W. Norton.

Can’t hurt to read:

Laland, K. N., & Brown, G. R. (2011). Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nettle, D. (2009). Evolution and Genetics for Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 18
Practical classes & workshops 8
Independent study hours
Independent study 74

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Keith Jensen Unit coordinator

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