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Human Behavioural Ecology

Module titleHuman Behavioural Ecology
Module codeBIO3135
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Dr Simon Evans (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In this module we will use evolutionary theory to try and understand why humans behave the way they do. We will examine both the differences and similarities in the behaviour of human populations across the world to understand how natural selection has shaped our mating and marriage systems, patterns of reproduction, lifespans, social systems and culture, and health and medical practices. We will build on the theoretical material covered during the lectures with practical exercises.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The study of human behaviour has traditionally been the domain of the social sciences. The first aim of this module is to introduce you to an evolutionary approach to studying and understanding why humans behave the way they do. The second aim is to enable you to generate arguments and design studies to test evolutionary hypotheses about the origin and function of behaviour in humans.

Through the weekly lectures, seminars, practicals and completing the assessments, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills that will be transferable to future employment:

  • problem solving (linking theory to practice, developing your own ideas with confidence, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems)
  • critical thinking (critically evaluating arguments and the evidence used to support those arguments)
  • independent research (locating and evaluating evidence to support arguments made in lectures, seminars, essays and reports)
  • time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group)
  • collaboration (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose), and
  • audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions).

The module is taught by a leading authority on human behavioural ecology and human cultural evolution, Alex Mesoudi, who has authored over 50 articles and written a key textbook in the field (Cultural Evolution, U. Chicago Press), as well as guest lectures by other subject specialists in the department. During the module you will read original research articles and recreate key pieces of research to get hands-on experience of research practice in the field of human behavioural ecology.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Understand and explain the fundamental theoretical ideas underpinning an evolutionary approach to studying human behaviour
  • 2. Describe the diversity of behaviour exhibited by humans and understand key evolutionary ideas/hypotheses that explain this diversity
  • 3. Generate evolutionary hypotheses about the origin and function of behaviour in humans

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences or human sciences
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 8. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 9. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 10. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures will cover topics such as:

  • mating, marriage and wealth inheritance systems;
  • reproduction and life-history theory;
  • cooperation and conflict;
  • cultural variation and cultural evolution;
  • evolutionary medicine and human health.

Seminars and practicals will reinforce the material covered during the lectures and allow you to experience first-hand the nature of the scientific method.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching8Lectures (8 x 1 hour)
Scheduled learning and teaching5Practicals (1 x 2 hours, 1 x 3 hours)
Scheduled learning and teaching42Seminars (2 x 2 hours)
Guided independent study133Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and seminars and one practicalOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Essay planOne page1-9Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Extended essay 702000 words1-9Written
Laboratory report – data handling exercise following practical session301000 words1-9Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Extended essayExtended essay1-9August assessment period
Laboratory report – data handling exercise following practical sessionNot applicableNot applicableNot applicable

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further essay. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

The following texts will give you an idea of the sort of material that will be covered during the module. A more detailed reading list will be provided with the lectures.

  • Laland, K. N., and Brown, G. R. (2011). Sense and nonsense: Evolutionary perspectives on human behaviour. Oxford University Press.
  • Barrett, L., Dunbar, R., and Lycett, J. (2002). Human evolutionary psychology. Princeton University Press.
  • Mesoudi, A. (2011). Cultural evolution: how Darwinian theory can explain human culture and synthesize the social sciences. University of Chicago Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Human behaviour, evolution, cooperation, cultural evolution, anthropology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date