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Module PSP-3002:
Evolution & Human Soc Beh

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Prof Rob Ward

Overall aims and purpose

Human evolution has certainly been shaped by Darwin's "hostile forces of nature". But it is equally true that humans must prosper and reproduce in the complicated social environment created by their fellow humans. The adaptive pressures created by members of our own species are sometimes referred to as forces of “social selection”. In this module, we will look at ways that social selection and other pressures may have influenced human nature and human society in the past and potentially still be changing us today.

Course content

Evolutionary biology is rich in important and sometimes controversial (and misunderstood) theories. The modules covers two themes developed from evolutionary biology, relating to forces of social selection. One key theme is human sexual selection and mate choice, in which we consider how humans may have adapted to sexual selection pressures. The second theme concerns problems of altruism, morality, and the structure of human societies. How could a trait like altruism evolve, when it means you sacrifice your own genetic interests for someone else's? In addition to these main themes, we’ll also look at early humans and our evolutionary origins, and the evolution of nonverbal communication systems, especially in the human face. Many of the key readings come from excellent popular accounts, mainly The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and The Mating Mind, by Geoffrey Miller. We’ll also review in class some classic papers, as well as recent findings. The module covers a lot of different topic areas, and it is the underlying ideas of selection and adaptation that tie them together.

Assessment Criteria


Reasonably comprehensive coverage. Well organised and structured. Good understanding of the material. Will often bring in material from outside the lectures to illustrate understanding.


Comprehensive and accurate coverage of the area. Clarity of argument and expression. Uses material from outside of lectures to illustrate and clarify the arguments made. Depth of insight into theoretical issues.


Adequate answer to the question, largely based on lecture material. No real development of arguments.

Learning outcomes

  1. Generate, evaluate and apply evolutionary models to human social behaviours and cognition.

  2. Compare and contrast psychological implications of natural, sexual and social selection

  3. Assess how evolutionary considerations can be used to create testable hypotheses in psychology.

  4. Critically evaluate theories and data relating to the evolutionary basis of mate choice; cooperation; moral emotions; deception; consciousness, and nonverbal communication.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM Final Exam 60
EXAM Mid term Exam 35

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Seminar 16
Lecture 22
Private study 162

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Understand the scientific underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
  • Apply multiple perspectives to psychological issues and integrate ideas and findings across the multiple perspectives in psychology.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in written form.
  • Retrieve and organise information effectively.
  • Handle primary source material critically.
  • Be sensitive and react appropriately to contextual and interpersonal psychological factors.
  • Problem-solve by clarifying questions, considering alternative solutions, making critical judgements, and evaluating outcomes.
  • Reason scientifically and demonstrate the relationship between theory and evidence.
  • Comprehend and use psychological data effectively, demonstrating a systematic knowledge of the application and limitations of various research paradigms and techniques.
  • Employ evidence-based reasoning and examine practical, theoretical and ethical issues associated with the use of different methodologies, paradigms and methods of analysis in psychology.
  • Use a variety of psychological tools, including specialist software, laboratory equipment and psychometric instruments.


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: