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Evolution and Primate Origins of Human Behaviour

University of Warwick

Department of Psychology 2020/21

Module Code:


Module Name:

Evolution and Primate Origins of Human Behaviour

Module Credits (CATS):


Module Convener

Adriano Lameira

Module Teachers

Module Aims

This module aims to raise students' expertise from beginners level to a level of mastery in their versatility with the theory of evolution. Students will be given a snapshot of, and gain insight into, the most recent and relevant evidence into what may (or may not) have made human ancestors unique in comparison to other primates, namely great apes --our closest living relatives. Students will gain insight into the depth of the ape mind and be introduced to some of the reasons why we alone might have become the only verbal ape in 3.5 billions years of life on the planet. The origins of language and the human mind remain one of the longest-standing and most challenging puzzles in science. Learning the theoretical and empirical pitfalls in this field will, thus, beyond a thorough understanding of the human origins within the hominid lineage, equip students to critically evaluate, and possibly challenge, any major theories in psychology and collect the adequate evidence to back-up new working hypotheses.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Understand the theory of evolution, as applied both to biological and cultural traits.

  • Understand how theory creates predictions about the natural world and how observation and experimentation may in turn confirm or falsity prevailing (but possibly flawed) hypotheses.

  • Understand the prehistoric and prelinguistic conditions at the roots of the human lineage.

  • To be able to detect and infer how phenomena that, having operated in our evolutionary past, continue to shape us today.

Assessed by:

Literature review, presentation & exam

Module Work Load

Module Length

12 Weeks


One 2 hour lecture per week


One seminar per week


Attendance at lectures and seminars is compulsory

Module Assessment

Assessed work:

Literature Review






Module Programme

Principles of natural selection and evolution

Great ape cultures and cultural evolution

Primate vocal behaviour I: articulatory parallels with spoken language

Primate vocal behaviour II: shared cognitive features with language

Inner-workings of ape mind: physical and social cognition

Jeopardy and pitfalls in ape-human comparisons

Social learning, innovation and cumulative culture

Tectonic plaques and evolutionary pressure pots

Language and thought feedback loop

Human prehistory and archaic humans

Revision lecture

Revision lecture

Module Reading List

Lewis Dartnell (2020). Origins: How The Earth Made Us. Vintage. van Schaik (2015). The Primate Origins of Human Nature. Wiley Blackwell.