University of Exeter


PSY2001 Biological Psychology

Lecture course on Animal Learning and Cognition

Dr Bob Brown, Professor Stephen Lea, Ms Britta Osthaus

quick jumps to topics on the web:
Introduction (Other Species' Minds) | Discrimination and concepts | Memory | Communication and Metacognition | Language
The formal description of this course of 12 lectures can be found in its entry in your School handbook.   This web page gives some additional information.  It is provisional at this stage: the course is new in the 1998/99 session, so some details will have to be sorted out as we go along.  In particular, all the dates should be regarded as tentative.

Course Description:

The aim of this course is to examine apparently intelligent behaviour in non-human animals and to consider it is necessary to invoke 'cognitive processes' for their explanation, and if so what the nature of those processes might be. It is assumed that the study of "animal minds" is of interest (a) in its own right and (b) because it may clarify our thinking about mind in general and the human mind in particular.


Basic Reading:

Before beginning this course, you should have read:

  • Gould, S. J., & Gould, C. (1996). The animal mind. San Francisco: Scientific American Books.
  • The best texts for the course (though none of them covers the whole course) are the following.  You will need to buy one of these, or to be one of a group that has bought one:
  • Vauclair, J. (1996). Animal cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Pearce, J.M. (1997). Animal Learning and Cognition, 2nd edition. Hove: Psychology Press (Erlbaum UK). The first edition, entitled An Introduction to Animal Cognition, is a reasonable alternative, but note that the chapter numbers will differ from those given here..
  • Roberts, W. (1998).  Principles of animal cognition. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill
  • Other useful texts include: The world wide web is a valuable source of materials.  We have provided links to some useful pages in the web lecture summaries described below; you can probably find others yourselves.  Please let us know of any good ones.  Among those cited are:

    Lecture summaries:

    The study of animal learning and cognition has a long history (it was arguably the central area in experimental psychology in the 1930-50 period, for example) but has recently seen a substantial renaissance, with a number of new approaches as well as the rediscovery of old one. This course will attempt to give a balanced account of both traditional and modern treatments. The course has been completely restructured for the 1998/99 session, so the following details may need to be modified; for the same reason, the amount of reading suggested for different topics is a little uneven. Lectures marked RB will be given by Bob Brown, those marked SEGL by Stephen Lea, and those marked BEO by Britta  Osthaus.  Dates for lectures refer to the 1998/99 session.

    As an experiment, we are making extended lecture notes available on the web.  These will not, in most cases, be complete lectures, but they will correspond to the visual aids used in the lectures themselves.  As these are prepared, links to them will be made from this page.  Printouts of these notes will not be issued, but students (and visitors) are welcome to print them out, or download them for private study, from the web.

    (1) Other species' minds (SEGL, 1 lecture, 1st February). Approaches to the study of animal cognition: long routes and short routes to the animal mind. Beginnings: Romanes, Lloyd Morgan, and Watson. Thorndike, Pavlov and Köhler. Methodological behaviourists: Hull and Tolman. The rise of radical behaviourism. Application of human cognitive psychology to animal learning. Modern conditioning theory. The impact of primatology. Piagetian stages. Evolutionary approaches to cognition. The hominid mind.

    Useful reading

    (2) Associative learning (RB, 3 lectures, 8th, 15th & 22nd February): Pavlovian conditioning; conditioned reflexes or learned anticipation?; the role of contingency and correlation; blocking and overshadowing; the Rescorla-Wagner model and its predictive power.

    Useful reading:

    (3) Discrimination and concepts (SEGL, 2 lectures, 1st & 8th March): Continuity and non-continuity theories of simple discrimination. Concept discrimination and pattern recognition. Representations and connectionist theories.

    Useful reading:

    (4) Aversive control of behaviour (RB, 3 lectures, 15th March, 26th April, 3rd May): Escape, punishment and avoidance; the effectiveness of punishment; theories of avoidance behaviour.

    Useful reading:

    (5) Memory (SEGL, 1 lecture, 10th May): Short-term memory in pigeons and primates. Spatial memory, especially in hoarding animals. Other aspects of long-term memory.

    Useful reading:

    (6) Communication and metacognition (1 lecture, SEGL, 17th May). The ethology and sociobiology of animal communication. Referential communication by vervets. Is dishonest signalling possible? Tactical deception. Theory of mind in primates. Self-concepts.

    Useful reading:

    (7) Language (1 lecture, BEO, 24th May).  As an experiment, this topic will be taught by an experimental self-instructional method. Receptive vocabularies of dogs and horse. The speech-production experiments of the Kelloggs and the Hayes. The Washoe, Sarah and Lana projects. Kanzi. Non-primate models: woodpeckers, parrots and dolphins. Theories of the evolution of human language.

    Useful reading:

    Stephen Lea

    University of Exeter
    School of Psychology
    Washington Singer Laboratories
    Exeter EX4 4QG
    United Kingdom
    Tel +44 1392 264626
    Fax +44 1392 264623

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