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Unit information: Evolutionary Psychology in 2015/16

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Unit name Evolutionary Psychology
Unit code PSYC30001
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1A (weeks 1 - 6)
Unit director Professor. Penton-Voak
Open unit status Not open

Level 5 Psychology



School/department School of Psychological Science
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

The unit will introduce evolutionary approaches to psychology, and provide a framework for independent in-depth study of current research literature in the area. Evolution is a powerful but problematic theory in science, as evolutionary theory is considered by some to be untestable, and by others to have undesirable but unavoidable political and moral consequences, especially when applied to human social behaviour. After an introduction to some basic theories in evolutionary biology of social behaviour (natural selection, sexual selection, kin selection, reciprocity and parental investment), the unit content will cover a broad range of issues in human behaviour. As differential reproduction is the 'engine' that drives evolution, we will consider the evolution of sex, sexual selection (competition for mates and mate choice), and mating systems in detail. We will also look at human life history, parental investment, cooperation/altruism and modular cognition. The unit aims to develop students' intellectual skills and knowledge base. Students will be furnished with a thorough understanding of contemporary issues in the subject area and will learn about the role of empirical evidence in the formation of theory. The acquisition of both generic and specific skills is furthered, and students are expected to be able to systematically analyse the relationships between multiple perspectives in the light of theory and evidence, and show an impressive grasp of theory and creative insight. Students are expected to further develop written and information synthesis skills, as well as critical evaluation skills by producing a piece of assessed written work and exams. Students will gain an understanding of the contributions made by different methodological approaches within evolutionary psychology (an interdisciplinary area influenced by biology, anthropology, primatology and psychology). Students will develop an awareness of the position of evolutionary psychology with respect to other branches of the social sciences, and an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach to psychology.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of the unit, the students will:

  • Have developed a thorough understanding of contemporary issues and methodological approaches to the study of evolutionary psychology
  • Have a comprehensive understanding of the application of these approaches in the literature.
  • Have further improved their transferable skills.

Teaching Information

18 lectures/critical issue discussion sessions and 1 tutorial (up to 15 students in each tutorial)

Assessment Information

Coursework: 1 x 1600 word essay

Examination: 1 x 2 hour exam

Final Grade: Based on 30% coursework and 70% exam.

Reading and References

  • Ridley, M. (1993). The Red Queen. London, Viking.
  • Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Barrett, L., Dunbar, R. & Lycett, J. Human Evolutionary Psychology
  • Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1983). Sex, Evolution & Behavior. (2nd ed.). Boston: PWS.