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Module

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

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr John Skelhorn
  • Lecturer: Professor Christopher Petkov, Dr Vivek Nityananda, Professor Candy Rowe
  • Owning School: FMS Graduate School
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semesters
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0

Aims

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
Mental time travel
Numerosity
Spatial cognition
Language and communication
Consciousness

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 completion150:0050:00Preparation for the in-course essay
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00Preparation for the in-course poster and oral presentation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching92:0018:00Synchronous online: seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching22:004:00Synchronous online: oral presentation of posters
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study178:0078:00Reading around the topic
Total200:00
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 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

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
Oral Examination1M25Design of a study in a novel species, presented as an oral conference poster presentation. Length 10 minutes.
Essay1M75Essay addressing big picture questions relating to comparative cognition and its implications. Word limit 2000
Formative Assessments
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 oral presentation.

The in-course essay 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 formatively-assessed oral presentation.

Reading Lists

Timetable