The Evolution of Social Behaviour and Social Organisation

Module titleThe Evolution of Social Behaviour and Social Organisation
Module codePSY3423
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Tim Fawcett (Convenor)

Dr Safi Darden (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module gives an overview of the behavioural processes which provide the evolutionary basis for social behaviour and social organisation in natural and semi-natural environments. The seminars will cover both human and animal examples of group living, looking at the costs and benefits of such an arrangement and the mechanisms that have evolved and developed to stabilise the competing interests of the individual constituents. You will take part in discussions and presentations about the practical and theoretical problems that living in groups poses for individuals and engage with the cutting-edge literature that tackles these problems.

The module is suitable for any students interested in the origins and mechanisms underpinning social structures in real life settings.

Module aims - intentions of the module

In this module you will explore in depth the problems that individuals face when living in groups, the benefits that draw individuals to socialise, and the mechanisms that they and other group members have evolved to ensure that such societies are stable.

You will gain knowledge and understanding of

  • why individuals may live in groups
  • how the relationships between individuals serves to influence their social behaviours
  • how social structure acts to constrain or enhance individual behaviours
  • how individuals in groups can act collectively to maximise individual benefits.

This module will provide you with insights into the evolutionary basis of social behaviours across taxa, with exposure to common problems and solutions for social living. During the module you will gain a  range of subject-specific skills of value to employers: understanding how effective social structures are formed and how they may be conducive to efficient organisation of groups; exploring mechanisms maintaining cooperation in groups; determining when decisions are most effectively made by groups or individuals; and methods of leadership in groups (overt and subtle). There will also be more general skills developed in the module: teamwork and negotiation; presentation and debate skills; critical analysis of published information; as well as the generic skills of time-management and self-directed study in response to tight deadlines.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the behavioural processes which provide the foundation for social behaviour and social organisation across taxa
  • 2. Define behavioural mechanisms that facilitate social living
  • 3. Describe the influence of genetic relatedness on social behaviour
  • 4. Explain the role of network structure in determining social interactions
  • 5. Explain how social living can be mediated by communication
  • 6. Summarise most of the current areas of socio-biology

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 7. Acquire detailed, systematic and comprehensive knowledge within the discipline, with in-depth specialisation at the forefront of the discipline in certain areas
  • 8. Acquire advanced critical understanding of this knowledge and of the limits and provisional nature of this knowledge
  • 9. Review and critically evaluate published work and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of this work at an advanced level
  • 10. Structure this literature to present logical, coherent and substantiated arguments to support conclusions at an advanced level
  • 11. Address systematically complex problems which may be framed within unpredictable contexts, to think critically, creatively, and independently, and to fully appreciate the complexities of the issues at an advanced level
  • 12. Understand and apply essential principles in designing novel research, and to critically evaluate and analyse empirical evidence and to assess the reliability of empirical evidence using a range of defined techniques at an advanced level
  • 13. Demonstrate an awareness of the wider ethical issues relating to the subject and its application at an advanced level

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 14. Interact effectively and supportively within a learning group
  • 15. Manage their own learning using the full range of resources of the discipline and with minimum guidance
  • 16. Challenge received opinion and to reflect on their actions and to seek and make use of feedback and to have confidence in their own criteria of self evaluation
  • 17. Select and manage information and to undertake competently study tasks with minimum guidance
  • 18. Take responsibility for their own work and to be able to criticise it
  • 19. Engage effectively in debate in a professional manner and to produce detailed and coherent written work
  • 20. Show confidence and flexibility in identifying complex problems and in the application of appropriate knowledge and methods for their solution
  • 21. Act autonomously with minimal supervision or direction, within agreed guidelines
  • 22. Manage time effectively to meet deadlines.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Module elements cover a range of topics, for example:

  • The costs and benefits of living in groups
  • Connections
  • Contagion
  • Culture
  • Cooperation
  • Coercion
  • Coordinated Movement
  • Collective Decision Making
  • Command and Control
  • Conflict

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 (including 1 revision session)
Guided Independent Study82Web-based activities located on ELE, reading, preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided Independent Study35Essay preparation and revision


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Engagement in seminar discussion11 seminarsAllInformal feedback – oral or email

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 hours1-13Final mark
Coursework402000 words1-13Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-13August ref/def
CourseworkCoursework1-13August 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 coursework you will be required to resubmit the coursework. 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

  • J. Alcock (2013) Animal Behaviour: An evolutionary approach. 10th edition. Sinauer Associates. ISBN-978-0878939664
  • D.P. Croft, R. James and J. Krause (2008) Exploring Animal Social Networks. Princeton University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0691127521
  • E. Danchin, L. Giraldeau and F. Cézilly (2008) Behavioural Ecology. Oxford University Press. ISBN-13: 9780199206292
  • L.A. Dugatkin (1997) Cooperation Among Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195086228
  • J. Krause and G. Ruxton (2002) Living in Groups. Oxford University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0198508175

In addition to the general background reading listed above, you will be given reading lists of papers from scientific journals to prepare for each seminar meeting

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Animal behaviour, psychology, social, organisational

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date