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MMB8047 : Evolution and Human Behaviour

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Daniel Nettle
  • Lecturer: Dr Christine Cuskley, Dr Vivek Nityananda
  • Owning School: FMS Graduate School
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module will provide students with a core understanding of evolutionary theory and biology, designed specifically for students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds in behavioural sciences. The module will give students an understanding of the historical context of evolutionary theory through a brief history of evolutionary biology, and progress into a detailed understanding of the modern synthesis and associated concepts. Finally, the course will engage the students in applying these concepts to human behaviour in particular, covering current research in behavioural ecology, evolutionary medicine and cultural evolution. As well as providing a primer for the core concepts of modern evolutionary theory and practice, the course situates evolutionary biology in a wider context, covering the historical development of evolutionary theory, its philosophical ramifications, and its impacts and applications in the human social, behavioral and health sciences. The module is primarily designed as a unifying thread for the MRes strand in Evolution and Human Behaviour, but students from other strands are welcome and will not be at a disadvantage.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will start with an introductory session and then include material on the following topics:
o       Principles of evolutionary biology
o       History of life and the hominid line
o       Variation and Heredity
o       Competition and Selection
o       Population genetics
o       Genetics and behaviour
o       Cooperation, competition and game theory
o       Plasticity and learning
o       Language and communication
o       Gene-culture co-evolution
o       Cultural evolution
o       Complex systems and collective behaviour

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture102:0020:00Present in person (PIP): Interactive lectures
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion160:0060:00Assessment preparation and submission
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading140:0040:00Preparing notes from lectures and reading
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study180:0080:00Reading, independent study and assignment preparation
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This course is mainly focussed on students learning a new theoretical framework that is likely to be outside their previous area(s) of expertise. While many students may have encountered evolutionary theory in passing, they do not have an in-depth understanding of its underlying history, concepts, and applications to human behaviour in particular. The primary focus on lectures by experts who use evolutionary theory in their research will provide students with a solid foundation in evolutionary theory while also demonstrating the broad and diverse applications of the approach.

Should public health circumstances dictate that it is necessary, in person sessions will be moved to online alternatives.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M50A 2000 word critical review of a relevant piece of research in light of relevant evolutionary theory
Essay1M50A set of 6 short answers (up to 250 words) covering key topics of the course
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Computer assessment1MShort online quizzes to assess the understanding of reading and course material
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Essay 1 will be a short review of a piece of research in human behavioural science which critiques the work specifically from an evolutionary point of view. This is especially intended to evaluate skill outcome 2: “Critically and constructively evaluate research in the behavioural sciences in an evolutionary context”.

Essay 2 will specifically assess students’ ability to clearly explain complex technical concepts that often have different (but related) lay definitions (e.g., heritiability, adaptation). The short answer format is chosen over a longer form essay to emphasise concise communication of complex concepts over longer form argumentation. Questions will be made available on a Monday for submission by the Friday.

The formative online quizzes will test the students' understanding of reading and course material.

Reading Lists