Wild Behaviour

Module titleWild Behaviour
Module codePSY2217
Academic year2014/5
Module staff

Dr Joah Madden (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

What methods can we deploy to explore why humans and other animals behave as they do in natural settings? In this module you learn about different observational, experimental and analytical approaches in a completely ‘hands-on’ and applied manner. First, you will learn how to address questions scientifically, through a series of problem-based learning exercises in small groups. You’ll then employ your skills on a week-long residential field course where we will conduct a series of group practicals, culminating in you devising your own research question (e.g. Do social networks arise from sexual harassment? Why follow a leader?), that you will tackle with novel data and analyses.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Following an introduction to problems showcasing appropriate methods of scientific study through a series of small-group problem-based learning exercises, you will go through the full process of designing, running, analysing and reporting the results of laboratory and field investigations on a UK-based field course. This will introduce you to a range of study systems, research methods and questions. You will complete a series of taught practicals with each focusing on a different type of analytical method, followed by a small scale research project. At the end of this module you should be capable of designing, conducting, and discussing the results of original research projects in the third year.

This module teaches you how to be a scientist: You will learn how to design and conduct observational and experimental studies of real behaviours in the wild; how to analyse your own results and so strengthen your statistical abilities; how to ask clear questions and interpret your results so as to answer them; and how to execute and structure writing up your own research project in a scientific manner, on a topic that interests you.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Illustrate detailed critical appreciation and practical experience of how to frame questions for further investigation
  • 2. Develop questions and hypotheses from preliminary observations
  • 3. Design and conduct experiments to test specific hypotheses
  • 4. Conduct research safely and with moral integrity
  • 5. Analyse and classify behavioural data

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 6. Describe how scientists advance understanding of animal behaviour
  • 7. Illustrate detailed factual and conceptual knowledge of the subject and identify a variety of ideas, contexts and frameworks, at a well-developed level
  • 8. Address defined problems systematically, think critically and creatively and begin to appreciate the complexities of the issues
  • 9. Apply essential principles in designing research, to critically evaluate and analyse empirical evidence and to assess the reliability of empirical evidence using a range of defined techniques at a well-developed level
  • 10. Discuss the wider ethical issues relating to the subject and its application at a well-developed level

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 11. Interact effectively within a learning group, giving and receiving information and ideas and modifying responses where appropriate
  • 12. Manage learning using resources for the discipline
  • 13. Evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses, challenge received opinion and develop and justify your own criteria and judgement, to seek and make use of feedback
  • 14. Manage and select information and data from a range of sources and develop appropriate information finding strategies
  • 15. Take responsibility for your own learning with minimum direction within defined guidelines
  • 16. Communicate effectively in formats appropriate to the discipline
  • 17. Identify key problems and choose appropriate methods for their resolution in a considered manner
  • 18. Manage time effectively to do successful research and meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Problem based learning exercises

Lecture 1: An introduction to the field course and PBL, essential information, including health and safety.

Lecture 2: PBL 1. Sexual selection in humans (observations)

Lecture 3: PBL 2. Sexual selection in humans (experiments)

Lecture 4: PBL 3. Diet choices in humans (observations)

Lecture 5: PBL 4. Diet choices in humans (experiments)

Lecture 6: Further information about the field course, essential information, including health and safety.

UK Field Course

Days 1-3: Practical exercises in comparing means between two groups, comparing means between multiple groups, testing for associations, comparing relationships between two variables using correlations and regressions, searching for patterns of preferences.

Day 4: Students form groups of size 2-4 and choose research topics for original research project. Groups meet with project supervisors to discuss project hypotheses, methods, logistics, and safety. Groups practice using field methods and field equipment such as binoculars, telescopes, surveying and mapping equipment, GPS, and test field observational methods.

Days 5-6: Field research on various species of humans, birds, mammals, fish or invertebrates.

Day 7: Group discussion and writing-up of the research results. Group oral presentations of their results.

This module is likely to incur an additional student contribution. We expect this to be around £100. There may be funds available to assist students if this contribution would prohibit their attending the course. Please contact the module convenor for further information about this.

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 Teaching6Lecture
Scheduled Learning and Teaching80Field course (1 week)
Guided Independent Study30Group preparation for problem based learning exercises
Guided Independent Study34Writing final draft of field course project report


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Weekly presentation10 minutes eachAllOral
Presentations on field course10 minutes eachAllOral

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
Project report673,000 wordsAllIndividual feedback in 3-5 areas
Practical write-up 111500 wordsAllIndividual feedback in 3-5 areas
Practical write-up 211500 wordsAllIndividual feedback in 3-5 areas
Practical write-up 311500 wordsAllIndividual feedback in 3-5 areas


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Project reportProject reportAllAugust Ref/Def
Practical write-up 1Practical write-up 1AllAugust Ref/Def
Practical write-up 2Practical write-up 2AllAugust Ref/Def
Practical write-up 3Practical write-up 3AllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Four assessments are required for this module. For the project report and the practical write-ups, the reassessment will be the same as the original assessment. Where you have been referred/deferred in the project report you will be required to resubmit the report. Where you have been referred/deferred in the practical write-ups you will be required to resubmit them. Deferred marks are not capped; referred marks are capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Course Textbook (essential reading):

Ploger, B. J. and Yauskawa, K. 2003. Exploring Animal Behavior in Laboratory and Field: An Hypothesis-testing Approach to the Development, Causation, Function, and Evolution of Animal Behavior. Academic Press.

Dawkins, M.S. 2007 Observing Animal Behaviour. Oxford University Press, Oxford

Students will also be given a reading list of papers from scientific journals which complement and expand the material in the textbook; the subject is evolving faster than textbooks can be written.

Reference Texts on animal behaviour methods:

Alcock, J. 1998. Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach (any edition). Sinauer.

Altman, J. 1974. Observational study of behaviour: sampling methods. Behaviour, 49, 227-267.

Bolhuis, J. J. and L-A Giraldeau (ed.s). (2005). The Behaviour of Animals; mechanisms, function and evolution. Blackwell.

Dawkins, M. S. 1995. Unravelling Animal Behaviour. Longmans.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Psychology, animal behaviour, problems, projects

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

PSY1105 and PSY1205A OR BIO1324 or equivalent subject-specific study

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date