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MMB8043 : Comparative Cognition: Information Processing in Humans and Other Animals

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr John Skelhorn
  • Lecturer: Dr Theo Robert, Dr Vivek Nityananda, Dr Francesca De Petrillo, Dr Bess Price, Professor Candy Rowe
  • Owning School: Biomedical, Nutritional and Sports Scien
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


Humans are often believed to be unique among animals in their cognitive abilities. However, these abilities did not arise de novo, but evolved in our lineage under specific selective pressures. This means that other animals which are either closely related to us or have undergone similar selective pressures will have evolved similar cognitive abilities. In this module, the students will explore how different humans really are from other animals in our cognitive abilities, and how cognition can be studied in non-human animals.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will cover a number of topics in comparative cognition, taught by experts in the respective fields. These will include:

Measuring cognition
Learning and memory
Mental time travel
Social cognition

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00Preparation for the online exam
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00Preparation for the in-course poster and oral presentation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching22:004:00Present in person (PIP): oral presentation of posters
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching92:0018:00Present in person (PIP): Seminars
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study178:0078:00Reading around the topic
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The main teaching method is the interactive seminar, in which the students need to engage with the questions and come up with their own solutions to the problems posed, interspersed with lecturing that covers what has been done in the past. This mix of approaches will allow the students to develop the skills to design their own comparative cognition studies and to start thinking about cognition in its comparative and evolutionary context.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination601A60Online 24 hour take home exam: Choice of 1 from 3 questions (2000 words)
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Prof skill assessmnt1M40Design of a study in a novel species, presented as an oral conference presentation (Present in person). Length 10 minutes.
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Poster1MDesign a study in a novel species, presented as a conference poster.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The in-course research proposal assessment is aimed at practising and getting feedback on the skill of designing experiments in comparative cognition; as well as the skill of scientific communication. The students will pick one from a list of topics, all aimed at testing a particular cognitive skill in a new species. They will present their design as a conference poster and oral presentation. These will be presented as if the study had really been conducted. Having formative assessment of the poster allows the students to learn from the feedback on their experimental design and hence really improve their skills and the content of the summatively assessed oral presentation.

The online exam will test the ability to think about cognition in a comparative and evolutionary context, and will ask broad questions about the implications of findings in comparative cognition for our understanding of concepts like evolution, consciousness, human uniqueness, etc.

The student will be given formative feedback on the conference poster to allow improvement of the experimental design, before presenting the experiment in the summatively-assessed oral presentation.


Reading Lists