Biological Influences on Behaviour in Humans and non-Humans


This module will introduce students to how biology can influence behaviour and cognition in human and non- human animals. Material will be delivered through a combination of lectures, seminars and practical classes that look at how brain size, structure and organisation influence behaviour in humans and animals. In addition, it will examine how hormones and other biological processes impact on cognitive performance and actions. There will be an optional field trip where students can put some of their acquired skills into practice.


The aim of this module is to provide the student with knowledge of how biological processes can influence behaviour and cognitive performance in a range of species including humans, non-human primates and other animals. An integral part of this is enabling students to gain direct experience of measuring behaviour and biological processes in humans and animals. This will allow them to investigate and evaluate current research questions in laterality and comparative psychology as well as physiological indicators of cognitive processing.

Learning Outcomes

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

1.  Apply knowledge of biological variations between species and individuals to explain or predict differences in observed behaviour.

2.  Critically evaluate published literature on humans and non-humans to identify future research directions.

3.  Evaluate methods used to measure biological differences and behaviour in humans and non-humans, recognising limitations and designing solutions.

4.  Develop practical skills in measurement of biological and behavioural processes in humans and non-humans.

5.  Demonstrate a critical awareness of how laterality and other brain asymmetries might influence behaviour.

Indicative Content

1 Why do primates have big brains?

Introducing differences in brain size and organisation in humans and non-humans with particular focus on Primates. We will look at theories put forward to explain the large brains of monkeys, apes and humans including ecological, developmental and social drives for big brains.

2 What can a big brain do for you?

Brains are exceptionally expensive to maintain in metabolic terms so why 'pay' for such a greedy organ? We will look at how differences in cortical processing power influence cognitive ability in the physical and social domains.

3 Historical and Conceptual Issues in Laterality

Introduction to asymmetry in brain and behaviour, functional localisation and comparative asymmetry.

4 Comparative Lateralisation

Evolutionary and comparative evidence. What can animal laterality studies tell us about behaviour? We will also discuss methods of measuring laterality in animals.

5 Brain Structural Lateralisation

Cerebral asymmetries, asymmetries of structure, asymmetries of function, and asymmetries of activation.

6 Handedness and Behaviour

Here we will discuss the evolution and history of handedness, genetic models, pathology and environmental influences. We will also discuss the measurement of handedness, the development of handedness and the relationship between handedness and behaviour.

7 Hormonal influences on behaviour

Effects of hormones on behaviour. For example, will cover the effects that testosterone, progesterone and estrogen may have on psychological functions.

8 Personality, lateralisation and behaviour

Approach and avoidance behaviour, reinforcement sensitivity theory, asymmetries as predictors of behaviour.


Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

This module is aimed at level 9 students and will include delivery of essential knowledge through lectures, discussion of published literature and future research, as well as developing practical skills in lab based sessions. A field trip will provide the opportunity for students to put into practice skills learned in observational sampling of animal behaviour. Students are required to read a short paper or prepare work for some sessions that will be related to the practical and tutorial classes. Four practical classes are scheduled and students are encouraged to attend these in order to maximise their understanding of material subsequently submitted for the portfolio assessment. The practicals will cover animal behaviour, self-assessment of laterality, emotional processing and personality.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 14
Tutorial/Seminar 6
Supervised Practical Activity 12
Unsupervised Practical Activity 12
Assessment 40
Independent 116

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.