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Unit information: Evolution and Human Behaviour in 2021/22

Unit name Evolution and Human Behaviour
Unit code ARCH20058
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Gibson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will introduce you to the study of human behaviour from an evolutionary perspective. Starting with a solid foundation of evolutionary principles (e.g. natural and sexual selection, the development of Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theories) students will acquire an understanding of the key concepts of evolution that apply across living organisms. The unit will then take a topic-based approach so that students can describe, explain, and appraise how evolutionary approaches contribute to our understanding of human behaviour, demography, health, and culture in both traditional and post-industrial societies. Topics may include aspects of human behaviour, culture, and life history that have parallels in other species, such as cooperation, parenting, mate choice, cognition and tool-use, as well as those that are uniquely human (such as menopause, language, religion, and the demographic transition).


  • To develop an understanding of evolutionary theory, as it can be applied to the study of human behaviour.
  • To explore the extent to which variation in human behaviour can and cannot be understood in terms of maximizing reproductive success in different ecological and social circumstances.
  • To enable you to identify the common and the unique aspects of human behaviour and life history, specifically drawing comparisons with our nearest primate relatives.
  • To give students experience in critically evaluating research claims about human behaviour.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit, a successful student will be able to:

1) Describe the central tenets of evolutionary theory using examples from both humans and other species.

2) Describe the development of the evolutionary behavioural sciences and explain, with examples, the contemporary methodological approaches used to test hypotheses about human culture and behaviour.

3) Identify common and unique aspects of human life history and behaviour, drawing on case studies from a range of human populations.

4) Review and critique classic and contemporary research topics in evolutionary anthropology, such as mate choice, parental investment, language, cooperation, and cultural evolution; and "evolutionary puzzles" such as sexual orientation, religion and low fertility.

Teaching details

Weekly lectures. Five one-hour seminars to include student-led discussions and collaborative group work. This will be supported by self-directed activities.

Assessment Details

1) An open book exam (50%). Assesses ILOs 1-6

2) A 2500 word literature review (50%). Assesses ILO 1-7


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. ARCH20058).