Skip to main content


Biological Basis of Behaviour

Module titleBiological Basis of Behaviour
Module codePSY2304
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Professor Ian McLaren (Convenor)

Dr Ciro Civile (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The emergence of the disciplines of learning, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy has given us increased insight into the nature of biological influences upon normal and abnormal behaviour. In this module, you will develop a detailed and critical understanding of these disciplines and explore ways in which, alongside psychological explanations, they help to increase our understanding of the biological basis of behaviour. You will also learn how research with animals can inform our understanding of human mental life – and vice-versa. By highlighting the commonalities between humans and other animals in terms of cognition and associative processes it demonstrates that a full understanding of human psychology can only be reached by appreciating just how much we share in common with other species.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to promote a sound knowledge of a range of empirical data, both historic and recent, relevant to learning, memory and cognition in a variety of vertebrate species; and an appreciation of the similarities and differences between animal and human cognition and the relevance of a knowledge of each for understanding the other. It also aims to provide you with a knowledge and critical understanding of how psychological processes of mind can be explained at the level of neural activity in the brain, including historical perspectives on the mind-brain relationship, processes of conditioning, control of single and sequential actions, spatial learning and memory, and the interplay between cognition, action and emotional systems. Tutorials will introduce current research topics to you in an interactive context. This module is a core module for achieving BPS recognition leading on to professional qualifications in e.g. educational psychology.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of behavioural, cognitive, cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary approaches to understanding and comparing animal and human cognition and learning, the empirical data that have been adduced in support of each, and the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments based upon them
  • 2. Illustrate the key questions and challenges faced by brain-based explanations of the mind, and have a good grasp of specific techniques in the field such as neurophysiology, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, as well as evaluate publications in the field

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. Illustrate detailed factual and conceptual knowledge of the subject and identify a variety of ideas, contexts and frameworks
  • 4. Review and critically evaluate published work and identify the strengths and weaknesses of this work, and at a well-developed level structure this literature to present logical and coherent arguments
  • 5. Solve complex problems systematically, think critically and creatively, and appreciate the complexities of the issues
  • 6. Apply essential principles in designing research, and critically evaluate and analyse empirical evidence, and assess the reliability of empirical evidence using a range of defined techniques at a well-developed level
  • 7. Discuss the wider ethical issues relating to the subject and its application

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 8. Interact effectively within a learning group, giving and receiving information and ideas and modifying responses where appropriate
  • 9. Evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses, challenge received opinion and develop your own criteria and judgment, and seek and make use of feedback
  • 10. Manage and select information and data from a range of sources and develop appropriate information finding strategies
  • 11. Communicate effectively in the manner appropriate to the discipline and in a variety of formats
  • 12. Identify key areas of problems and choose appropriate methods for their resolution in a considered manner
  • 13. Manage time effectively to meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Indicative topics that may be covered include:

  • Learning and conditioning, including neuroscience perspectives
  • Discrimination and categorisation
  • Conditioning and addiction
  • Memory, including neuroscience perspectives
  • Spatial representation and navigation
  • Animal intelligence and problem solving
  • Social cognition
  • Comparative psychology
  • Origins of Behavioural Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Electrophysiological correlates of behaviour
  • Brain Stimulation techniques
  • Social Neuroscience
  • Face and object recognition
  • Learning and memory
  • Neurological impairments
  • Empathy and perspective taking
  • Pain

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 Teaching22Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Tutorials
Guided independent study42Reading and preparation for seminars and practical classes
Guided independent study42Reading and writing for essay
Guided independent study41Revision for exam


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Tutorials1 hour3-8Oral

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 hourAllWritten and oral
Report501500 wordsAllWritten and oral


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust/September assessment period
ReportReportAllAugust/September assessment period

Re-assessment notes

Two assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred for the report you will be required to resubmit the report. Where you have been referred/deferred for the examination, you will have the opportunity to take a second examination in the August/September re-assessment period. 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

Basic reading:

  • Pearce, J.M. (2009). Animal Learning and Cognition: An Introduction (3rd Ed.). Psychology Press.
  • Kolb, B. and Whishaw, I.Q. (2010). An Introduction to Brain and Behaviour. New York: Worth.
  • Carlson, N. (2013) Foundations of Behavioral Neuroscience. Pearson New International Edition

Wider reading:

  • Pinel, J.P.J. (2014). Biopsychology. Allyn and Bacon: Boston.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Neurophysiology, cognition, cognitive neuroscience, neuroanatomy, biological, abnormal behaviour

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

PSY1202 Introduction to Biological Psychology

Module co-requisites

PSY2206 Methods and Statistics in Psychology II

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date