Module details for Comparative Psychology


This module will explore the rapidly expanding field of comparative psychology; the scientific study of the behaviour and mental processes of non-human animals. The module will cover a breadth of comparative psychology including topics on physical and social cognition, communication, and learning, as well as applied aspects including human-animal interactions, ethics and welfare. The module will use theoretical and empirical underpinnings while exploring translational and science-advisory contexts. There will be a number of innovative learning contexts.


The aim of this Module is to provide the student with : an introduction to the minds of non-human animals and challenge students to translate research into applied contexts. We will look at what animals understand about their physical and social worlds, how they learn, and how welfare can be enhanced through our understanding of animal cognition.

Learning Outcomes

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

1.  Demonstrate an understanding of current a historical perspectives in Comparative Psychology.

2.  Demonstrate an understanding of the strengths and limitations of the research and research methods utilised in Comparative Psychology.

3.  Evidence knowledge of the cognitive capacities of non−human animals.

4.  Interpret relevant literature on animal cognition.

5.  Translate Comparative Psychology research into a science-advisory capacity demonstrating effective science communication.

Indicative Content

1 Conceptual Issues

Introduction to Comparative Psychology. Discuss the philosophy and historical context of comparative psychology and its relationship to understanding human cognition. Investigate the strengths and limitations of historical research methods and the evolution of the topic.

2 Mastering the environment (physical cognition)

Considering the cognitive capacities that allow individuals to successfully exploit their physical surroundings covering tool−use, causal understanding and innovation.

3 Social Cognition

Investigating the cognitive processes that underpin the ability to live successfully in a social group covering social relations, intentionality and deception, and understanding other minds.

4 Animal Culture

Assessing the evidence that suggests non−human animals are capable of culture covering social learning and imitation, teaching, behavioural traditions and cultural evolution.

5 Communication

Assessing animal communication systems as well as evidence of human−like language systems in any non−human animal communication system.

6 Welfare

Investigating how comparative psychology can inform our understanding of animal welfare and related ethical issues involved in certain human-animal interactions.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

For session 2020/21 the expectation is that the teaching and learning hours stated in this descriptor will form a mix of synchronous and asynchronous student/staff activity, with the majority of this being online. The exact pattern of this activity is likely to vary from the standard face-to-face hours listed below but the overall student effort remains the same. Up-to-date information on the delivery of the module can be found on the relevant module MLS site and on your student timetable.

Teaching and Learning Method Hours
Lecture 12
Tutorial/Seminar 12
Practical Activity 6
Assessment 50
Independent 120
Total 200

Guidance notes

SCQF Level - The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework provides an indication of the complexity of award qualifications and associated learning and operates on an ascending numeric scale from Levels 1-12 with SCQF Level 10 equating to a Scottish undergraduate Honours degree.

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 2020/21 , and may be subject to change for future years.