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Unit information: Animal Behaviour in 2022/23

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, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Animal Behaviour
Unit code BIOL20023
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Cuthill
Open unit status Not open
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School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Unit Information

Behaviour can be understood in terms of both how animals do things and why. A complete understanding of behaviour involves both, and the primary aim of the unit is to explain how to do this, within the framework first laid out by Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen. The unit begins by considering genetic influences on behaviour, and also interactions between genetic predisposition and individual experience in the development of behaviour. We then explore the fundamental processes used by animals in acquiring their behaviour, including conditioning, recognition learning, classification and discrimination; subsequent lectures address cognitive processes, and cover social learning, cultural transmission, intelligence, tool use, spatial memory, communication and language. We then consider the evolutionary forces acting on behaviour, and how ecology affects foraging, anti-predator defences, competition, mating systems, parental care, communication, territoriality, social organisation, co-operation and altruism. The practical component of the unit does not merely serve to illustrate material in the lectures, it helps develop an ability to develop hypotheses to explain behaviour and devise ways of testing those hypotheses.

Attendance at the practical sessions for this unit is required.

Your learning on this unit

By the end of this unit, students should be able to:

  • explain the distinction between the different levels of analysing behaviour ("Tinbergen's four questions");
  • explain the principles behind the main theoretical models used to understand behaviour;
  • apply these models to various types of behaviour and evaluate their utility;
  • devise simple hypotheses to explain animal behaviour and ways of testing them, and evaluate the limitations of different approaches.

How you will learn

Lectures, directed reading, research and/or problem-solving activities, practical exercises and independent study. There will be three formative practical classes and one summative.

How you will be assessed

Coursework from the practical classes (40%) plus summative written assessment (60%) with one essay question to be selected from a choice of three. The ILOs are assessed in both the CA and summative written assessment.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. BIOL20023).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.