BSc Psychology / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Evolution of Behaviour and Cognition

Course unit fact file
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. The course will present basic evolutionary principles, including genetics, gene-environment interaction, and mechanisms of evolutionary change. There will be an emphasis on fallacies and mistaken applications of the principles of evolution. Further background will be given about the evolution of our species to make it relevant for psychology students. These evolutionary principles will be applied to key topics in human traits such as altruism, aggression and mate choice and the cognitive mechanisms that underlie these. Comparison with other species, notably nonhuman primates, will be made to highlight evolutionary processes in general and the phylogeny of traits in humans. Topical issues will be discussed to highlight that the study of the evolution of behaviour is a timely, and often controversial, subject.


This unit aims to:

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


Teaching and learning methods

This unit will be taught via lectures and seminars.

Knowledge and understanding

Describe: 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

Practical skills

Apply evolutionary theory and research evidence to questions about human cognition and behaviour; Appraise research findings and discuss them with others in a small group context

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Communicate complex ideas both orally and in writing; think critically about the validity of competing theoretical perspectives

Assessment methods

Exam worth 90% and Blackboard Quizzes worth 10%

Feedback methods

Students will recieve a grade as well as written feedback for the exam and cohort level feedback for the quizzes.

Recommended reading

Primary textbook:

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


Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 88

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Keith Jensen Unit coordinator

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