Comparative Approaches in the Study of Brain and Behaviour

Module titleComparative Approaches in the Study of Brain and Behaviour
Module codePSY3431
Academic year2016/7
Module staff

Professor Natalie Hempel de Ibarra (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Comparative approaches are important for understanding how brains process sensory information, learn and generate behaviour. The human brain is a highly complex organ, but it has evolved from brains of varying complexity along the ancestral path. Some functions have been conserved across many animal groups or resemble each other being adaptive solutions for the same behavioural tasks. Other functions are highly specialised demonstrating how brain functions change and adapt in different environments and body plans. We will study concepts and methods of comparative research in behavioural neuroscience and neuroethology, in humans, infrahumans and other animals. Some of these model systems may be best suited to study particular questions because they have smaller brains, specialised sensory abilities, interesting cognitive abilities or adaptive behaviours. Animal models include rats, birds, toads, bees, fruit flies and molluscs, where the mechanistic foundation of behaviour can be studied more easily in order to establish the causal relationships between neural morphology, function and behaviour. In this seminar course we will focus on sensory processing and perception, brain control of behaviour, learning and memory. A good understanding of the basic neurobiological concepts (e.g. acquired in relevant modules such as Biological Psychology I and II) is required.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the neural basis of perception, learning and behaviour. Diverse examples from behavioural and neurophysiological research will elucidate the advantages and limitations of different methods, concepts and model species. Lectures will provide an overview and introduce key studies, but the major focus of the seminar will be on preparatory reading and active contributions in class through group work, presentations and discussions. Through these various teaching activities you will learn with each other and from each other.

By attending the seminar sessions and completing formatively and summatively assessed coursework in this module you will develop further your academic and professional skills, such as your ability to evaluate research evidence and scientific ideas, critical thinking, discussion and presentation skills. This will help you to grow confidence and practice how to develop and present own views and ideas in written, in presentations or discussions, practice asking and answering questions in a small group and class setting, presenting and discussing ideas and problems in different format and developing awareness for varied audiences. You will practice how to master unfamiliar topics and respond to novel problems, how to manage structure by identifying the key information and components of a study or project, follow set goals and manage your time and workload effectively working individually or in a team, accommodate changes in topic and prioritise tasks.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe critically using acquired specialised knowledge topics in neuroethology
  • 2. Demonstrate skills of evidence, methods and models in neuroethology, both with examples from humans, vertebrate and invertebrate species, and in the critical assessment of ideas and experimental approaches in this multidisciplinary field

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. 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
  • 4. 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
  • 5. 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
  • 6. Understand and apply essential principles in designing novel research, and critically evaluate and analyse empirical evidence, and assess the reliability of empirical evidence using a range of defined techniques at an advanced level

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

Ten seminar meetings plus an optional revision meeting, each seminar meeting lasts three hours; private study for seminar preparation, essay preparation and revision.

Sessions will cover diverse topics, such as for example: structure and functions of neuronal circuits underlying sensory perception and complex behaviour at different levels (receptors, sensory maps, brain areas), mechanisms of learning and memory. This knowledge will be developed through examples drawn from both vertebrate and invertebrate animal models. In addition to advanced textbook chapters, original papers and reviews will be used as learning materials.

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 Study80Seminar preparation
Guided Independent Study37Essay preparation and revision


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Engagement in seminar discussions and group work10 sessionsAllInformal comments (oral/email)
Presentation15 minutesAllInformal comments (oral/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 hoursAllFinal mark
Essay402000 wordsAllFormal comments and mark


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

Simmons and Young (2010) Nerve cells and animal behaviour. 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press

Carew (2000) Behavioral Neurobiology. Sinauer / Palgrave McMillan

Snowdon, Thompson, Troscianko (2012) Basic Vision - an introduction to visual perception. 2nd edition, Oxford University Press

Reading lists include original research articles and reviews, and recommendations for optional complementary readings (advanced or background material).

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Animal behaviour, neuroethology, neuroscience, biopsychology, biological psychology, perception, learning, action

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

PSY1202, PSY2303, or equivalent subject-specific study

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date