Observations and Experiments in Animal Behaviour

Module titleObservations and Experiments in Animal Behaviour
Module codePSY2214
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Safi Darden (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In this module we will explore the ways in which to pose and answer scientific questions by making observations and carrying out experiments, focusing on animal behavior. This module will enable you to run a series of observational investigations and experiments in both the laboratory and field (largely on the University campus) to test key hypotheses in animal behaviour. We will take you through the scientific method of designing, running, analysing and reporting scientific results.

Given the wide applicability of the scientific method, this module would be suitable for both specialist and non-specialist students and those following an interdisciplinary pathway.

You should have completed PSY1105 Introduction to Behaviour and Evolution or equivalent subject-specific study.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will provide you with a critical understanding of, and practical training in, the detailed objectives, strengths and weaknesses of good research techniques in animal behaviour research, both in the laboratory and field. You will be introduced to the cyclical and additive nature of scientific research and exposed to a range of study systems, research methods and questions. The practical sessions will cover key areas of current research in animal behaviour such as mate choice, foraging behaviour and social behaviour. At the end of this module you should be capable of designing, conducting, and discussing the results of your original research projects in the third year.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Show a detailed critical appreciation and practical experience of appropriate methods for preliminary observation and the collection of pilot data
  • 2. Identify relevant behavioural components
  • 3. Develop questions and hypotheses from preliminary observations
  • 4. Design experiments to test specific hypotheses
  • 5. Conduct research safely and with moral integrity
  • 6. Collect behavioural data in ‘real time’ or from video recordings; know how to avoid or minimize observer bias on the collection and recording of data
  • 7. Analyse and classify behavioural data
  • 8. Use the comparative method to deduce evolutionary patterns of behaviour and/or behavioural mechanisms and test evolutionary or optimisation hypotheses

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 9. Describe how scientists advance understanding of animal behaviour
  • 10. Illustrate detailed factual and conceptual knowledge of the subject and identify a variety of ideas, contexts and frameworks
  • 11. Solve complex problems systematically, think critically and creatively and appreciate the complexities of the issues at a well-developed level
  • 12. Apply essential principles in designing research and critically evaluate and analyse empirical evidence and assess the reliability of empirical evidence using a range of defined techniques
  • 13. Discuss the wider ethical issues relating to the subject and its application at a well-developed level

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 14. Interact effectively within a learning group, giving and receiving information and ideas and modifying responses where appropriate
  • 15. Manage learning using resources for the discipline
  • 16. Evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses, challenge received opinion and develop your own criteria and judgment, and seek and make use of feedback
  • 17. Manage and select information and data from a range of sources and develop appropriate information finding strategies
  • 18. Take responsibility for their own learning with minimum direction within defined guidelines
  • 19. Communicate effectively in formats appropriate to the discipline
  • 20. Identify key problems and choose appropriate methods for their resolution in a considered manner
  • 21. Manage time effectively to do successful research and meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Constructing ethograms
Testing hypotheses based on one individual
Testing hypotheses based on more than one individual
Observing multiple animals
Testing hypotheses using comparative studies (zoo primates)
Preliminary observations in the lab, and developing hypotheses
Testing hypotheses regarding social behaviour
Data analysis and interpretation of session 7
Testing hypotheses regarding mate choice
Data analysis and interpretation of session 9

There will be 11 three-hour laboratory sessions for each of two projects (one each term) during which you will design, analyse, write-up and present the empirical studies associated with each of the two projects.

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 Teaching33Practicals (11 x 3 hours)
Guided Independent Study117Background reading, writing up and analysing data from the practical sessions


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Engagement in discussion in practicals11 practicalsAllInformal comments

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
Practical report 1251000 wordsAllIndividual feedback on performance in 3-5 areas
Practical report 2251000 wordsAllIndividual feedback on performance in 3-5 areas
Practical report 3251000 wordsAllIndividual feedback on performance in 3-5 areas
Practical report 4251000 wordsAllIndividual feedback on performance in 3-5 areas


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Practical report 1Practical report 1AllAugust Ref/Def
Practical report 2Practical report 2AllAugust Ref/Def
Practical report 3Practical report 3AllAugust Ref/Def
Practical report 4Practical report 4AllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Four assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred in the practical reports you will be required to resubmit them. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%; deferred marks are not capped.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core textbooks (essential reading):

  • Ploger, B. J. & Yauskawa, K. 2003. Exploring Animal Behavior in Laboratory and Field: An Hypothesis-testing Approach to the Development, Causation, Function, and Evolution of Animal Behavior. Academic Press.
  • Dawkins, M.S. 2007 Observing Animal Behaviour. Oxford University Press, Oxford

You will also be given a reading list of papers from scientific journals which complement and expand the material in the textbooks; the subject is evolving faster than textbooks can be written.

Suggested readings:

  • Alcock, J. 1998. Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach (any edition). Sinauer.
  • Altman, J. 1974. Observational study of behaviour: sampling methods. Behaviour, 49, 227-267.
  • Bolhuis, J. J. & L-A Giraldeau (ed.s). (2005). The Behaviour of Animals; mechanisms, function and evolution. Blackwell.
    • Dawkins, M. S. 1995. Unravelling Animal Behaviour. Longmans.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Psychology, observation, experiment, animal behaviour

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

PSY1105 Introduction to Behaviour and Evolution and PSY1205 Introduction to Statistics or BIO1333 Fundamental Principles for Bioscientists, or equivalent

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date