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MMB8003 : The Biological Study of Behaviour

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Melissa Bateson
  • Lecturer: Dr Tom Smulders
  • 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


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 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. the value of adopting transparent and repeatable Open Science practices is stressed throughout.

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

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion160:0060:00Preparation and submission of Report 1
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion160:0060:00Preparation and submission of Report 2
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:00Present in Person (PIP) seminars
Guided Independent StudyReflective learning activity120:0020:00Additional reading and reflective learning
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study140:0040:00Independent study as directed in seminars
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.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Report1M50Report on a pilot study involving collection of behavioural data (1500 words maximum)
Report1M50Protocol for an experimental design for a given research problem (2000 words maximum)
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. 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