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Module

MMB8003 : The Biological Study of Behaviour

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Daniel Nettle
  • Demonstrator: Professor Melissa Bateson
  • Lecturer: Dr Tom Smulders
  • Owning School: FMS Graduate School
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semesters
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0

Aims

This module aims to provide a thorough training in the skills and concepts required for the study of behaviour from a biological perspective. The concepts taught are equally applicable to students whose main interests are in human behaviour, and those whose main interests are in the behaviour of non-human animals. The module will also be of benefit to students who are likely to conduct behavioural assays with laboratory animals in the course of medical research. Students will gain an understanding of current research practices in behavioural science. They will also acquire skills in the use of mathematical models to predict behaviour, the recording and quantification of spontaneously occurring behaviour, the analysis of behavioural data and the design and conduct of behavioural experiments, and working with laboratory animals.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module consists of three main blocks of material. Each of these is taught through discursive, problem-based session with an emphasis on students and staff developing solutions to how they would approach given research problems.

Block 1. Measuring behaviour

This block deals with how we can measure and quantify behaviour. Students will be introduced to the major types of behavioural sampling and coding, including the use of technology to capture and record behaviour. Students will put some of the principles to use in report 1.

Block 2. Experimental design for behaviour

In this block, we will explore different ways to address questions of animal behaviour under controlled conditions. This includes studies of animals in the laboratory, but also experimental manipulations of animals under more natural conditions. The teaching sessions will be interactive discussions between the students and the lecturer, exploring the issues involved in conducting experiments aimed at better understanding the mechanisms underlying a range of categories of behaviour. Report 2 will apply these skills in coming up with an experimental design (and explanation of its rationale) for a given research question.

Block 3. Analysing behavioural data

This block will look at how we analyse the data arising from behavioural studies, and how we relate empirical findings to theoretical predictions and interpret them. Practical examples will be drawn from the exercises completed in the other blocks. Students will be introduced to the R language for dealing with and plotting data. Report 2 will use skills from this block as well as block 1.

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion140:0040:00Following 'analysis of behavioural data' online study skills materials
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion140:0040:00Preparation and submission of report 1
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion140:0040:00Preparation and submission of report 2
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching52:0010:00Synchronous online: seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching52:0010:00Present in person: seminars
Guided Independent StudyReflective learning activity120:0020:00Additional reading and reflective learning
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study140:0040:00Independent study as directed in seminars
Total200:00
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The emphasis on practical exercises and discussions reflects the desirability at MRes level of imparting research skills rather than just knowledge of the literature. By intertwining the knowledge and skills components, we hope to engage students more deeply with a critical understanding of how the data in influential published studies are actually generated, and how the research question influences the choice of method.

For the small group teaching seminars students will attend 10 hours present in person and 10 hours remotely via a roster.

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Report1M50Pilot report on an observational behaviour study
Report1M50Protocol for an experimental design for a given research problem
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The reports focus on the practical, skills-based philosophy of the module. In report 1, students will demonstrate that they understand how to measure behaviour and how to present the analyses. Video will be provided if it is not practical for students to collect any pilot empirical data themselves. In report 2, we will assess the key skills of generating an experimental design, with rationale for the decisions involved. These two assessments both cover the key objectives of the module, and prepare MRes students for their project.

Reading Lists

Timetable