Introduction to Behaviour and Evolution

Module titleIntroduction to Behaviour and Evolution
Module codePSY1105
Academic year2017/8
Module staff

Dr Lisa Leaver (Convenor)

Dr Paul Rose (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Through this module we will explore how and why animals behave in the way they do, as well as gain insight into human and animal behaviour and evolution, and the biological basis for behaviour. You will be introduced to key concepts and behaviours such as avoiding predators, finding a mate and foraging optimally. The lectures will use examples from a wide range of species ranging from social insects to primates, including humans. The study of animal behaviour is interdisciplinary in nature and is of considerable general interest in the context of psychology, ecology, evolution, conservation and animal welfare. A good grounding in the predictive and explanatory nature of evolutionary theory in relation to a broad range of social behaviours will be provided. You will attend lectures in which we’ll introduce you to a number of key concepts in the field, illustrated using classic and contemporary examples. You will participate in discussions in tutorial meetings, and you undertake a piece of research in the practical classes which will allow you to analyse data. You will write-up an essay on a specific evolutionary or behavioural theme. This module requires PSY1205 Introduction to Statistics, or BIO1324 Fundamental Skills for Biosciences students, or equivalent subject-specific study of statistics as co-requisites, but is suitable for students with no previous background in psychology or biology. This module is thus suitable for both specialist and non-specialist students and students following an interdisciplinary pathway. The module involves 11 two-hour lectures, 4 one-hour tutorials, and 2 practical classes (2 and 3 hours respectively).

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to introduce you to animal behaviour and the evolutionary pathways that enable behaviour to develop, including ethology, sociobiology, and behavioural ecology, practical applications of animal behaviour in conservation, welfare and research, human evolution, sexual selection, and human psychology. You will be introduced to the observation and description of behaviour, behaviour in its ecological and social context, proximate and ultimate causes, and formulating and testing simple hypotheses about the function and utility of behaviour.

You will be introduced to the principles of evolution and the wide-spread application of these principles to the scientific study of behaviour in human and non-human animals.You will be guided to explore, using evidence from empirical field and laboratory studies, the effects of natural selection on mate choice, foraging behaviour, family interactions and altruism and patterns of evolution amongst various animal groups. This module aims to provide you with subject-specific skills which are of wide applicability across the whole range of psychology and provide grounding for more advanced study at Levels 5 and 6.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Give examples of basic observational techniques in animal behaviour in the field, lab, zoo and human environment
  • 2. Give examples of basic data collection methods for behaviour and associated social and environmental factors and describe the comparative method of deducing evolutionary changes competently
  • 3. Describe the major conceptual ideas and hypotheses in each of the component fields of animal behaviour (ethology, behavioural ecology, sociobiology, and sensory ecology)
  • 4. Give examples of how existing and new ideas can be tested and some of the pitfalls of hypothesis testing
  • 5. Identify the conceptual framework of the process of evolution, which involves the processes of natural and sexual selection
  • 6. Give examples of the various techniques used by scientists to study behavioural adaptations and give examples of the role of evolution in shaping the behaviour of all animals, including humans
  • 7. Evaluate published work in this area at a basic level and ask explicit questions in these areas

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Acquire basic and essential factual and conceptual knowledge of the subject, and demonstrate understanding of this knowledge
  • 9. Review and evaluate published work and identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of this work, and at a basic level to be able to structure this literature to present logical and coherent arguments
  • 10. Address well-defined problems systematically, think critically and creatively, and begin to appreciate the complexities of the issues
  • 11. Understand and apply essential principles in designing research, evaluate and analyse empirical evidence, and assess the reliability of empirical evidence using defined techniques at a basic level
  • 12. Show some awareness of ethical issues relating to the subject and its application

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 13. Work effectively with others as a member of a group and meet obligations to others
  • 14. Work within an appropriate ethos and to access and use a range of learning resources
  • 15. Evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses within set criteria, and seek and make use of feedback
  • 16. Manage information, to collect appropriate information from a range of sources and undertake essential study tasks under supervision
  • 17. Take responsibility for your own learning with appropriate support and communicate effectively within the format of the discipline
  • 18. Apply methods accurately and carefully to a well-defined problem and begin to appreciate the complexity of the issues
  • 19. Act with limited autonomy, under direction or supervision, and within defined guidelines
  • 20. Manage time effectively to meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The academic content of the lectures may include topics such as: methods of research and Tinbergen’s ” questions”; causality, ontogeny, form and function; feeding and avoiding predation; finding a mate and rearing young; animal behaviour in conservation, welfare and research; natural selection and adaptations; mechanisms of evolution; the comparative method: sex differences in behaviour; optimal foraging; inclusive Fitness; altruism and reciprocity; sexual selection; anti-cuckoldry tactics; mating systems and parental care; parent-offspring conflict; sibling conflict.

There will also be a lecture slot reserved for exam preparation which will include a review and discussion. Tutorials will also bring out more details of some of the subjects in the lectures.

Tutorials – You will attend four tutorials which will allow you to discuss, debate, apply and critically assess ideas from lectures.

Practicals – You will attend one practical. The practical will involve planning behavioural observations of animals, covering observational methods and inter-observer reliability. The practical will give you a good grounding in the use of various behavioural observation methods used in the field.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching26Lectures (13 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Tutorials
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Practicals
Guided Independent Study119Preparatory reading and revision


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Tutorial preparation3 x tutorial classes, each requiring one hour of preparatory readingAll Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination501 hourAllGeneral feedback provided on Exeter Learning Environment Module Homepage
Essay 502000 wordsAllIndividual written feedback


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def
EssayEssayAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Two assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred in the examination you will have the opportunity to take a second examination in the August/September re-assessment period. Where you have been referred/deferred in the essay you will be required to resubmit the essay. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%; deferred marks are not capped.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Course textbooks (essential reading):

  • Manning, A. and Dawkins, M. S. (2012). Introduction to Animal Behaviour (6th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  • Alcock, J. (2013) Animal Behavior (10th Edition). Sinauer.

Reference text (supplemental reading):

  • Davies, N. B., Krebs, J. R. and West, S. A.  (2012) An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology (4rd Edition). Wiley Blackwell.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Psychology, evolution, animal behaviour

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date