Animal Behaviour

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 13 January 2025
Friday 21 March 2025
15 November 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module will introduce the key concepts of animal behaviour from an ethological and comparative cognition viewpoint.

By taking a critical look at published work and research and identifying the frameworks that underlie animal behaviour, you will become familiar with aspects such as the evolution of behaviour and the cognitive capabilities of different species.

Module aims

The aim of this module is:

  • To introduce students at final-year level to the key concepts of animal behaviour from an ethological and comparative cognition viewpoint.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Be familiar with animal behaviour with respect to the evoluation of behaviour and the cognitive capabilites of certain species.

  2. Be able to identify the basic concepts and frameworks that underlie animal behaviour.

  3. Be able to identify major findings and fields within animal behaviour.

  4. Provide a critical outlook with respect to published work on animal behaviour.

Module information


  • Evolution

Distinctions between different approaches to the study of animal behaviour (e.g. ethology, cognition, learning theory); Wallace, Darwin, Evolution by means of natural selection; The 'Modern Synthesis'; Modern debates about evolutionary theory.

  • Ethology.

The roots of ethology; Konrad Lorenz; Nikolaas Tinbergen; Tinbergen's 'four questions'; Imprinting; Fixed Action patterns; Sign Stimuli; The Waggle dance; The Peck order & social rank; Applied ethology.

  • The Selfish Gene - How can altruism evolve? Hamilton, Williams, Trivers, Maynard Smith, Wilson and Dawkins.

What is the unit of selection - Genes, Individuals, Kin, Groups, Species? Hamilton's rule; Hymenoptra sex ratios.

  • Optimality.

A model of optimality; Optimal offspring; Costs and benefits; Optimal foraging theory; Ideal free distribution. Optimal mating strategies; Criticisms of optimality models.

  • Game theory - John von Neumann.

Maynard Smith's hawk-dove game; Evoloutionary stable strategies; the prisoners dilemma; reciprocal altruism; 1985 Horizon Documentary.

  • Sexual strategies.

Frequency dependent selection; Bateman's principle; Sexual strategies; Sexual selection; The Trivers-Willard hypothesis; Do animals commit the Concorde fallacy?

  • Kin recognition.

Early work; Context-dependent, Prior association; Phenotype matching; recognition allele; A module for recognition? General object recognition.

  • Human application of evolutionary theory.

Hunter-gatherer hypothesis; Waist-Hip ratio; Incest avoidance; Cheat detection; Landscape hypothesis; Sign stimuli in humans?: The baby schema.

  • Criticisms of evolutionary applications to behaviour.

Pan adaptationism; Genetic determinism; Reductionism; Untestable hypotheses? Native cultures; Politics of criticisms - Biology as ideology, the social construction of biological knowledge.

  • Animal Cognition.

Classical cognitive psychology in animals (e.g. Memory, attention, cognitive maps, problem-solving); Self awareness; consciousness; deception; metaknowledge; Theory of Mind; Culture.

Learning and teaching methods

No information available.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Exam  Main exam: In-Person, Open Book (Restricted), 120 minutes during Summer (Main Period) 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: In-Person, Open Book (Restricted), 120 minutes during September (Reassessment Period) 

Additional coursework information

The assessment for this module is 100% examination

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
0% 100%


Coursework Exam
0% 100%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Geoff Cole, email:
Dr Geoff Cole



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 393 hours, 20 (5.1%) hours available to students:
373 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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