Human Variability: Psychobiology and Behaviour (BPS Core)


This module covers core BPS curriculum and examines the links between biology and psychology. It will introduce students to the physiology that underpins observable behaviour (genetics, CNS and the endocrine system), looking at processes that exert direct control over behavioural responses and those that play a modulatory role in human psychology. The module will also provide a framework of major topics examining current research in personality and individual differences based on its historical roots and questions in prevailing applied settings.


The aim of this module is to provide knowledge of how biology affects behaviour and to introduce the evolutionary mechanisms that shape our minds. It will also investigate how biology, experience and personality produce individuality in humans.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Provide explanations of how biological and evolutionary processes influence specific cognitive and behavioural responses.

2.  Critically evaluate theories and evidence that propose biological and psychological mechanisms seen in modern humans are a product of their evolutionary history.

3.  Critically discuss how personality differences can be conceptualised, studied, and integrated in real life based on the main concepts and theoretical positions in current personality psychology.

4.  Critically reflect upon differences between individuals during interactions and how they could be managed to achieve successful political, societal, work and environmental interventions.

5.  Incorporate information gained through self-study into own knowledge- base to scaffold learning, both within biological psychology and individual differences and across psychological disciplines.

Indicative Content

1 Biological control of behaviour

How the central nervous and endocrine systems interact to produce observable behaviours such as movement, ingestion, and reproduction.

2 Psychopharmacology

Looking at the physiological consequences of taking recreational and therapeutic drugs, and biological and psychological underpinnings of drug addiction.

3 Hormones, reproduction and emotion

Examining how hormones influence mate choice, mating behaviour and sexual orientation; the biological underpinnings of emotion, emotional valence and components of the emotional response.

4 Behavioural genetics, evolutionary and sociobiology

Influences of genetics and environment on human behaviour; an introduction to the evolutionary processes that impact human and non-human animal cognition and social interactions.

5 Methodologies

Neuropsychology and neuroimaging: Looking at the physiological and behavioural effects of brain degeneration and implications for everyday life; introducing methods used in investigation of neural correlates of cognition. Psychological testing and application: Psychometric testing, specific aspects in personality tests, reliability, validity, BPS guidance.

6 Introduction to personality and individual differences

Introduction into main theories in personality and individual differences; Trait vs. State; Personality vs. Situation.

7 Intelligence

Definitions of intelligence; psychometric approaches to intelligence and their implications for educational and social policy; cognitive basis of intelligence. Debates about generational, racial, and gender differences in IQ.

8 Biological Influences

Heritability in intelligence and personality, neurobiological theories of personality, evolutionary influences & comparative personality, mental illness and personality disorders.

9 Personality and culture

Further ideas and debates in personality and culture including national character, social attitudes, evolutionary approaches, cognitive and learning styles, individual differences in health and illness, social anxiety and shyness.

10 Individual differences in cognitive styles

Individual differences in how we think, perceive and remember information. Exploration of different learning style and theories of learning.

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

This module builds upon the biological and individual differences material delivered in the first year introductory modules (PSY101) and is core for students working towards BPS accreditation. Module delivery is through lectures where core material will be presented and online tutorials and practical activities that will support the delivery of core concepts and introduce debates and controversies in both areas. Students will develop a critical approach to this material through enquiry-based learning that aims to stimulate student interest and engagement with the science that underpins psychology. Learning outcomes will be assessed in two ways. The first is a coursework submission worth 40% of module grade designed to build confidence through the assessment of a relatively small amount of material (up to week 6). You will be required to write an article that would be suitable for a publication like The Conversation or The Psychologist. The second assessment is an exam worth 60% that will comprise of short answer questions and a seen essay (choice of one from three) based on all the material delivered across the module. Delivery and assessments are designed to align student development with the Abertay Attributes. Their intellectual development will be fostered through expanding their knowledge base and critical evaluation skills.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 24
Tutorial/Seminar 7
Supervised Practical Activity 0
Unsupervised Practical Activity 0
Assessment 40
Independent 129

Guidance notes

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2019/10 , and may be subject to change for future years.