Human Evolutionary Psychology


This module takes an evolutionary approach to the study of human behaviour, focusing more on questions relating to why we behave in certain ways rather than investigations about how we behave. We will explore the extent to which characteristics such as faces, voices, behaviour and odour can influence human attraction, and evolutionary perspectives on cooperation and social interaction and cognition and mental health, drawing on cutting-edge research within the field of evolutionary psychology. Teaching sessions will be partly student-led.


The aim of this module is to introduce students to an evolutionary approach to the study of human behaviour, critically evaluating the role of Darwinism in explanations of the behavioural and psychological repertoire of modern humans.

Learning Outcomes

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

1.  Display an understanding of the fundamental mechanisms underpinning evolutionary theories of human behaviour.

2.  Critically assess the role of Darwinism in explaining human behaviour and develop a structured argument to illustrate potential benefits or shortcomings of evolutionary theories related to psychology.

3.  Carry out self-directed study to acquire knowledge of human behaviour and use this information to validate, or counter, theories proposing evolutionary explanations for human actions.

4.  Participate in discussions relating to controversies within the discipline, using informed reasoning gained through lecture material, external reading and peer-directed learning.

5.  Understand the main theories that have been proposed to underpin the evolution of human mate choice and attraction.

Indicative Content

1 Evolutionary approaches to human behaviour

Introduction to the evolutionary mechanisms that underpin human behaviour such as individual and kin selection, reciprocal altruism and inter- and intra- sexual selection.

2 Why do humans cooperate?

Helping related individuals to survive and reproduce; helping un-related individuals and the benefits of altruism and reciprocity; evolutionary explanations for non-cooperative acts such as homicide and suicide.

3 Cultural evolution

Evolution of religion, music, literature and art; role of sexual selection in evolution of art and language; gene-culture co-evolution.

4 Applied Evolutionary Psychology

Looking at applications for evolutionary analyses of behaviour in health and mental wellbeing, trade, commercialism and consumerism.

5 Human mate choice and sexual signalling

Signalling of dimensions of individual 'quality' through traits such as facial appearance, body size and shape, voice and odour in human and non-human animals; evaluation of research methods in assessing and interpreting these.

6 The physiology of attraction

Hormones and behaviour; the chemicals that underpin attraction; the brain and reward: effects on our brains of experiencing attraction.

7 Individual differences in mate preferences

Identification of individual differences (e.g. in mate quality, hormonal status, environment) that predict variation in sexual behaviour.

8 Reading personality in the face

Is there a kernel of truth in the folk belief that you can tell something about someone's personality from the way they look? Historical context and current findings.



Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Course will be lecture and seminar based allowing discussion of material presented and student participation. Lecturers will present an overview of current theories and ostensible evidence relating to human evolutionary psychology that can be both dichotomous and controversial, in traditional lecture-based delivery. Students will be expected to engage in self-directed learning, guided by lecture content, so that they can participate in seminar discussions and evaluate the material presented. They will be encouraged to develop their own opinions based on informed arguments and sound reasoning through the critical evaluation of opposing literature that will occur in the accompanying seminars where students will be encouraged to present information learned to peers. There will be two assessments for the module. Unit 1 (50%) is a coursework based on critical evaluation of two articles on a given subject that present conflicting and sometimes controversial results. Students will be required to demonstrate understanding of the literature and methodology as well identifying how the research aligns with the `bigger picture' of understanding human behaviour in the context of evolutionary theory. Unit 2 (50%) is an exam, where students will need to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of theory and evidence as well as critical thinking. 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 of research. Students will be expected to undertake self-directed learning and peer -dissemination to encourage professional and personal development. The module will also situate psychology research in applied settings to address real-world problems fostering good citizenship among our students.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 24
Tutorial/Seminar 6
Supervised Practical Activity 0
Unsupervised Practical Activity 0
Assessment 30
Independent 140

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.