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

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


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:

Learning and memory
Emotions and cognition
Spatial cognition
Tool use and physical cognition
Language and communication
Social learning and culture

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00Preparation for the exam
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00Preparation for the in-course assessment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture122:0024:00
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study176:0076:00Reading around the topic
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The main teaching method is the interactive lecture, in which the students need to engage with the questions and come up with their own solutions to the problems posed, interspersed with more traditional lecturing on what has already 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 Examination601A60Choice of 1 from 3 questions, addressing big-picture questions relating to comparative cognition and its implications.
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Research proposal1M40Design of a study in a novel species, presented as a research proposal/mock-report. Word limit 2000.
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Research proposal1MFirst draft of the Research proposal. This will be given formative feedback for improvement, before submitting final draft.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The in-course assessment is aimed at practising and getting feedback on the skill of designing experiments in comparative cognition; as well as the skill of scientific written 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 write up their design either as a research proposal or as a mock paper, written as if the study had really been conducted and submitted for publication. Having a first draft formative assessment allows the students to learn from detailed feedback and hence really improve their skills to the final draft.

The examination 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. This will be a traditional, essay-based examination.

Reading Lists