Cognitive Ethology

Type of instruction




Part of degree program


Recommended in

Semesters 1-4

Typically offered in

Autumn/Spring semester

Course description

1. Introduction: The history of studies on animal thinking. From anecdotal cognitivism to modern cognitive ethology.

2. Methods of behaviour observation. Traditional comparative psychology and ethology as different approaches. Data collection in nature, modern lab. studies, ways of studying human cognition.l

3. Understanding physical world: skills and evolutionary compulsions. Object representation abilities, numerical abilities.

4. Skills of understanding social worlds. The Machiavellian intelligence. Primate studies and observations on human infants: the emergence of human cognition.

5. Levels if intentionality: mentalistic interpretations of others' behaviour. The effect of experimenter on the observations: Clever-Hans effects.

6. What is intelligence? A biological approach. Measuring intelligence, methodological issues. The evolutionary role of play behaviour in the emergence of social cognition.

7. The emergence of human and animal communication: evolutionary mechanisms. Mentalistic approaches to social learning. Mechanisms and experimental observations.

8. Special forms of social learning. Imitation in animal kingdom, human imitative behaviour.

9. The ontogenesis of human theory of mind . Self recognition: evolutionary roots and current experiments.

10. Understanding knowledge and ignorance in others. Experimental paradigms and methodoplogical issues. The nonverbal studies of complex cognitive skills in humans and animals.

11. On modelling human cognition: evolutionary homologies and analogies. Human specific aspects of social cognition: the dog as a model species.

12. The evolution of human social cognition: the chimpanzee model. Cognitive requirements of human linguistic abilities.

13. The importance of endophenotype in the study of cognition: Hormonal studies, measuring heart rate frequency, candidate gene analyses.

14. Ethical issues in the study of animal mind. Welfare problems.

  • Shettleworth, SD.J. Cognition, Evolution and Behaviour Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.