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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: Anthropology

ANTH47815: Advanced Studies in Comparative Cognition and Culture

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2021/22


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to a comparative approach to considering the evolution of cognitive capacities and culture.
  • To explore theoretical concepts in depth through the consideration of strengths and weaknesses of research in evolutionary anthropology and psychology in explaining the evolution of cognition and culture.
  • To provide students with a set of critical tools to understand the importance of good communication of science to the public and how to do it.


  • The module will involve comparing a variety of species (mainly nonhuman primates) to humans and within humans, taking a cross-cultural approach.
  • An examination of strengths and weaknesses of different study approaches, including wild vs. captive animal studies and ethnographic vs. experimental studies.
  • Topics that may be covered include: defining culture, social learning processes, cultural transmission biases, teaching, cumulative culture, enculturation and cognition, culture and the extended mind, cultural influences on intelligence, cooperation, prosocial behaviour, theory of mind, innovation, tool use, technical intelligence and language.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • At the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate advanced levels of current knowledge and intensive understanding in evolutionary anthropology theories.
  • Deploy analytical skills specific to evolutionary studies of comparative cognition and culture.
  • Be competent in accessing and assimilating specialised research literature of an advanced nature in a manner suitable for public communication
  • In depth knowledge of the evolutionary anthropology of comparative cognition and culture, with emphasis on interpretation and comprehensive understanding of primary or secondary data.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Deploy analytical skills for interpreting and critiquing the literature on comparative cognition and culture.
  • Present in written form theoretical concepts and empirical research on comparative cognition and culture in a clear and accessible manner
Key Skills:
  • Preparation and effective communication of research methods, data, interpretation and arguments in written form.
  • Distilling complex information into a form suitable for public communication (science journalism).

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lecture elements will provide students with an outline of key knowledge and debates in the topic area, discuss the literature that students should explore, and provide relevant examples and cases studies.
  • Tutorial elements will develop topics introduced in lectures and required reading to analyse aspects or case studies in greater depth and to prepare students for their summative assignment.
  • Practical components will provide students with hands-on experience of public communication.
  • Advanced discussion classes will allow students to develop their skills of critical thinking and evaluation, as well as how to synthesise and interrogate material at a level commensurate with postgraduate attainment.
  • Student preparation and reading time will allow engagement with specific references in advance of tutorials/workshops and general and particular reading related to the assessment, which will be a written assignment.
  • Summative assessment will consist of two 1000 word science articles in which students will apply concepts and perspectives covered in the course in a way suitable for public communication and a critical reading log. The critical reading log is an annotated bibliography in which the evidence and arguments presented in readings selected by the student and relevant to the development of their summative assessment are evaluated and critiqued. This along with the other summative component should show evidence of a higher level of engagement expected at postgraduate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 Weekly 1 hour 10
Seminars 5 Fornightly 1 hour 5
Advanced discussion class 1 1 hour 1
Preparation and Reading 134
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment 1000 words 40%
Assignment 1000 words 40%
Critical reading log 1000 words 20%

Formative Assessment:

500 word precis of first Science Article. Verbal feedback in tutorials/workshops. Reading log sample.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University