Comparative Cognition

Module titleComparative Cognition
Module codePSY3422
Academic year2015/6
Module staff

Stephen Lea (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module aims to take a fresh look at the cognitive capacities of non-human animals. Most lecture courses and text books on this subject work topic by topic (e.g. spatial memory, physical cognition, etc). In this module, we will work according to animal groups – starting with those least like humans (invertebrates) and working towards our closest relatives (the great apes). In the course of the journey, we will take in cognition in invertebrates, fish, birds (and take a special look at the birds thought to be smartest, the corvids and parrots), carnivores (especially dogs), sea mammals, and the various groups of non-human primates.

Suitable for specialist Psychology or Animal Behaviour students, but also for interdisciplinary pathways. PSY2304 Biological Basis of Behaviour is normally a pre-requisite, but that is open to negotiation if you have alternative previous training.

Module aims - intentions of the module

To give an in-depth knowledge and integrated understanding of the cognitive processes that have been observed in a range of different taxonomic groups, so that you will acquire a comprehensive grasp of the distribution of different cognitive processes within the animal kingdom. You will be enabled to link cognitive processes to the ecological niches of different taxa, and reflect on their implications for conservation.

Through attending the weekly seminars and completing the assessments, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills: problem solving (linking theory to practice, developing your own ideas with confidence, showing entrepreneurial awareness, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems), managing structure (identifying key demands of the task, setting clearly defined goals, responding flexibly to changing priorities), time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group), collaboration (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose), and audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Analyse the ways in which cognition can be assessed from both experimental and observational studies of animal behaviour at an advanced level
  • 2. Read primary research literature critically, and discuss it in oral as well as essay form
  • 3. Outline most of the ways in which different cognitive capacities contribute to the life of a wide range of different animals

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Acquire detailed, systematic and comprehensive knowledge within the discipline, with in-depth specialisation at the forefront of the discipline in certain areas, and demonstrate advanced critical understanding of this knowledge and of the limits and provisional nature of this knowledge
  • 5. Review and critically evaluate published work at an advanced level and identify the strengths and weaknesses of this work, and at an advanced level structure this literature to present logical, coherent and sustained arguments to support conclusions at an advanced level
  • 6. Address systematically complex problems at an advanced level which may be framed within unpredictable contexts, think critically, creatively and independently, and fully appreciate the complexities of the issues

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Interact effectively and supportively within a learning group
  • 8. Manage your own learning using the full range of resources of the discipline and with minimum guidance
  • 9. Describe your own criteria of self-evaluation and challenge received opinion and reflect on your actions, and seek and make use of feedback
  • 10. Select and manage information, and to undertake competently study tasks with minimum guidance
  • 11. Take responsibility for your own work and criticise it
  • 12. Engage effectively in debate in a professional manner and produce detailed and coherent written work; identify complex problems and apply appropriate knowledge and methods for their solution with confidence and flexibility
  • 13. Act autonomously with minimal supervision or direction, within agreed guidelines
  • 14. Manage time effectively to meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The first session will introduce the topic and the method of teaching and learning. The remaining sessions will each be devoted to a particular group. Groups available for study will include invertebrates, corvids, psittacines, rodents, elephants, canids, cetaceans, several primate groups; the final selection will be made during the first session, in consultation with members of the class.

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 Teaching33Seminars (11 x 3 hours)
Guided Independent Study80ELE-based preparation for the week’s seminar. Each week you will be provided with comprehensive reading lists, almost all of it with links to electronic sources. For each seminar session, and be ready to discuss in the seminar and on ELE (a) a limited number of core texts, which everyone will have read, and (b) one or more texts that only you will read, and for which you will serve as a resource for other members of the group. You will not be required to make formal presentations, but rather to engage in informed discussion with other students and the module leader. Before each seminar this discussion will take the form of ELE Forums, and reports on reading entered on ELE Wikis; that discussion will be continued orally in the seminar, either in plenary or small group format, depending on numbers of students choosing this module.
Guided Independent Study37Preparation and writing of the assessed essay and revision for exam


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Participation in discussion on ELE Forum1 per weekAllSeminar leader’s replies to Forum contributions
Completion of summaries of individual readings for entry on ELE1 per weekAllSeminar leader’s comments added to summaries on ELE
Engagement in seminar discussion1 per weekAllGroup feedback

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
Examination603 hoursAllWritten
Essay402000 wordsAllWritten


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

Core texts

Wynne, C. D. L. (2001), Animal Cognition: The mental lives of animals. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (introductory level)


Reference text: Shettleworth, S. J. (2010). Cognition, evolution and behaviour, 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press (reference text)


Supplementary material

Wasserman, E. A., and Zentall, T. R. (2006), Comparative cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

All reading lists will be made available through ELE and recommended journal articles will be available either on the module’s ELE site or by active links in the reading lists.  Commentary on the readings from students in the current year will be available on the ELE site as it is contributed, and where possible comments from students in previous years will be made available on the ELE site after the seminar on each topic.

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Students will be encouraged to monitor key journals, available online, especially Animal Cognition and the Journal of Comparative Psychology

Key words search

Animal behaviour, psychology, comparative cognition

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

PSY2304 or PSY2215

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date