Skip to main content

Unit information: Human Behavioural Ecology in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Human Behavioural Ecology
Unit code ARCH20018
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Gibson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Human behavioural ecology - one subdiscipline within the field of evolutionary anthropology - is concerned with the evolution of behaviour in humans. The aim of this course is to identify how much of the variation in human behaviour can be understood in terms of maximising reproductive success in different ecological and social circumstances. There is an increasing recognition that Darwinian approaches can contribute to our understanding of human demography, health, psychology and culture in both traditional and post-industrial socities. This course will introduce students to those aspects of human behaviour and life history that have parallels in other species, including primates, and also those that are uniquely human (such as menopause, and the demographic transition).


  • To develop an understanding of evolutionary theory, as it can be applied to the study of human behaviour.
  • To explore the extent to which variation in human behaviour can be understood in terms of maximizing reproductive success in different ecological and social circumstances.
  • To enable you to identify the common and the unique aspects of human behaviour and life history, specifically drawing comparisons with our nearest primate relatives.

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of this unit, a successful student will be able to:

1) Describe the historical development of human behavioural ecology

2)Describe each of the 3 schools of thought for those studying the evolution of human behaviour

3) Discuss the models used to explain the evolution of co-operation among humans

4) Identify common and unique aspects of human life history

5) Demonstrate how kin selection and parental investment theories can help to explain

  • a. Childcare and child abuse
  • b. Fertility
  • c. Marriage and inheritance
  • d. Violence and aggression

6) Discuss explanations for evolutionary puzzles, including menopause, homosexuality and religion

7) Describe, with examples, the evolutionary origins of human vulnerability to disease

8) Review current research issues through case studies in BOTH traditional and post-industrial settings

Teaching Information

One two-hour lecture each week (over seven weeks) and 3 hours per week over three weeks. Three one-hour seminars over the course of the teaching block

Assessment Information

1) a 2-hour exam (50%). Assesses ILOs 1-4, 7-8

2) A 2500 word essay (50%). Assesses ILO 5

3) Participation in three year-group seminars. Assesses ILO 6

Reading and References

Barrett, L, Dunbar, R. and Lycett, J. 2002. Human Evolutionary Psychology , Palgrave- McMillan.