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Animal Cognition & Communication - PSY00031M

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  • Department: Psychology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Katie Slocombe
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

What makes us human? How did the human mind evolve? What makes us different from other animals? Is it our language? Culture? Consciousness? Mind reading? In order to tackle these questions we need to investigate and understand how other animals behave, communicate and think. This course aims to give you an appreciation of the key similarities and differences between communication and social cognition in humans and other animals. This may challenge your preconceptions about what animals are capable of and further your understanding of what it means to be human.

Students enrolling on this module should demonstrate a good understanding of core knowledge in cognitive psychology, as well as intermediate skills in quantitative statistical analyses.

Module learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of how studying animals can help us investigate how the human mind evolved
  • Critically evaluate methods for studying animal behaviour
  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of how studies of natural communication and ape language projects can further our understanding of language evolution
  • Critically evaluate our current understanding of animal communication, including the source and consequences of major weaknesses
  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of how animals can learn from observing each other and critically evaluate the claim for animal culture
  • Critically evaluate the evidence for Theory of Mind in great apes
  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of how we can test self-recognition in animals and critically evaluate the evidence for this ability in non-humans
  • Critically evaluate evidence for empathy or cooperation in non-human animals
  • Assimilate knowledge from across the course to evaluate where the most convincing similarities and differences lie between humans and other animals in terms of communication and social cognition

Module content

  • How can we study the animal mind and how can this help us understand human evolution?
  • Vocal Communication
  • Visual Communication
  • Ape Language studies and a multimodal approach to communication
  • Social learning and culture
  • Theory of mind
  • Self-recognition


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 40
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Animal Cognition & Communicati
5 hours 60

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 40
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Animal Cognition & Communicati
5 hours 60

Module feedback

The marks on all assessed work will be provided on e-vision.

These marks will be accompanied by module feedback forms which will be circulated by e-mail.

Students will meet supervisors in wk 6 in AuT, SpT and wk 9 in SuT to discuss their marks.

Indicative reading

Introductory Reading:

A brief overview of most of these topics can be found in:
Pearce, J. (2008) Animal Learning and Cognition, New York; Psychology Press (should be plenty in the library)
Byrne, R. (1995). The Thinking Ape: Evolutionary Origins of Intelligence. Oxford University Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.