Cultural evolution of behaviour | Abertay University

Cultural evolution of behaviour


This module will develop student’s understanding of the psychological processes that underlie cultural evolution and critically assess the research methods used. The module will explore different elements of core psychology sub-disciplines including evolutionary, cognitive, comparative, developmental and social. The module provides an in-depth understanding of how humans have evolved specific psychological mechanisms that facilitate cultural evolution and how they compare with other species. There will be a number of innovative learning contexts including demonstrations and field trips.


The aim of this Module is to provide the student with an in-depth and critical understanding of issues related to the cultural evolution of behaviour, including key theoretical approaches, research methods and research findings. This will be achieved through demonstrations, lectorials and field trips.

Learning Outcomes

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

1.  Demonstrate an understanding of the theoretical perspective of cultural evolution.

2.  Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of cultural evolution including their evolution and development.

3.  Demonstrate detailed knowledge of how human cultural evolution of behaviour may differ from other species.

4.  Demonstrate a deep understanding of cultural evolution research and research methods.

5.  Engage in effective, knowledgeable communication regarding cultural evolution research and potential future research directions.

Indicative Content

1 Conceptual Issues

Introduction to the cultural evolution of behaviour. What is the philosophy of cultural evolution? How does it relate to the study of psychology? What are the criticisms of such an approach?

2 Approaches to the study of Cultural Evolution

Exploring how psychologists investigate cultural evolution. How can we investigate evolutionary change in culture? An overview of research methods including observation, labs, comparative and developmental research.

3 Comparative perspectives of Cultural Evolution

Focusing on the identification of social traditions and evidence for culture across species. Investigating the psychological mechanisms and strategies that effect cultural evolution and how these may differ across species. Discussing the psychological limitations of non-human culture.

4 Ontogeny of Cultural Evolution

Explore how children come to be cultural beings and acquire the cognitive skills necessary to acquire cultural behaviours.

5 Language evolution and language change

Study the main experimental paradigms that can help us understand the constraints that shape emergence of linguistic structure during vertical and horizontal transmission, and what this means for theoretical approaches to language evolution

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The module will be delivered by demonstrations, lectorials and field trips. Demonstrations will give students hand-on experience of the research methods used with the study of cultural evolution. Lectorials will reinforce these demonstrations with key module information, presenting relevant theories and research that are closely aligned to the research expertise of the teaching staff. Field trips will give students an immersive experience of the topic and the research. This module structure gives students the opportunity to develop the Abertay Attributes, with professional and personal skills, intellectual understanding and active citizenship developed by discussions, group work and learning about issues relating to culture and cultural change.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 12
Tutorial/Seminar 12
Supervised Practical Activity 10
Unsupervised Practical Activity 0
Assessment 80
Independent 86

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 2018/19 , and may be subject to change for future years.