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Unit information: Acquisition of Behaviour in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Acquisition of Behaviour
Unit code BIOL20103
Credit points 10
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2C (weeks 13 - 18)
Unit director Dr. Bell
Open unit status Not open


We recommend that students also study BIOL20001 Quantitative Methods in Biology or a course that the Unit Director deems to have provided comparable training in statistics. (To confirm the latter, please contact the Unit Director before choosing this unit.)



School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science



  • to complement interests in all areas of biology
  • to provide a secure grounding for more advanced courses involving acquisition of behaviour in non-human animals
  • to provide a secure grounding for practical projects relating to acquisition of behaviour in non-human animals

An important objective of this unit is to examine the scientific evidence for sophisticated mental processing in non-human animals.

This unit focuses on proximate explanations for acquisition of behaviour in animal: inheritance and learning.

The unit begins by considering genetic influences on behaviour, and also interactions between genetic predisposition and individual experience in development of behaviour.

The unit will then explore the fundamental processes used by animals in acquiring their behaviour, including conditioning, recognition learning, classification and discrimination, following lectures address cognitive processes, and cover social learning, cultural transmission, tool use, spatial memory, counting, communication and language.

Intended learning outcomes

You will learn about the diversity in the processes of behaviour acquisition in the animal kingdom, and of the different methods used to study this scientifically. You will learn to adopt a rigorous scientific approach in investigating how animals acquire new behaviour. You will understand the principles of experimental design and hypothesis testing, statistical analysis of behavioural data including using computers for data handling, and will learn how to present and discuss behavioural results in an accurate and informative way.

Teaching details

  • 3 x 1 hour weekly lectures
  • 2 x 3 hour weekly lab/practicals.
  • Self-directed learning week. Students are expected to spend this time on directed reading.
  • Use of statistical package SPSS

Assessment Details

Attendance at all practical classes is mandatory. Continuous Assessment 40% comprising 2 practical reports (20% each) End-of-session examination (60%).

Reading and References

Essential reading:

  • Shettleworth, S. (2010): Cognition, Evolution and Behavior 2nd edn. OUP.

Additional reading:

  • Pearce, J.M. (2008): Animal Learning & Cognition 3rd edn. Psychology Press. .
  • Barnard, C. (2004): Animal Behaviour. Pearson Prentice Hall.