Skip to main content

Unit information: Acquisition of Behaviour 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 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. Sumner
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 Life Sciences

Description including Unit Aims


  • 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 Information

  • 3 x 1 hour weekly lectures, (Weeks 13-17)
  • 2 x 3 hour weekly lab/practicals. (weeks 13-17)
  • Self-directed learning week (week 18). Students are expected to spend this time on directed reading.
  • Use of statistical package SPSS

Assessment Information

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.