Psychology 351  Comparative Animal Behavior

Fall, 2007

Instructor: Michael E. Mills, Ph.D.
Office: University Hall,  Room 4757
Office hours: Tuesday: 12:00 - 1:00,  Wednesday: 1:00 – 4:15
 Phone: (310) 338-3017

Email:     Note: Please put “LMU” in your subject heading if you email me, otherwise I may think it is junk mail and delete it.

Class website:
Class wiki:

This course presents an exploration of animal behavior from an evolutionary perspective.  Our focus in this course will be on animal nature – the set of psychological emotional, behavioral, cognitive and sexual adaptations that characterize different species.

Some class assignments, lectures, and tests may be online.  You will need access to a computer with an internet connection to perform some of the assignments in this class.

Course Objectives / Student Learning Outcomes


Students will be able to describe the processes of both natural and sexual selection,  differentiate between ultimate and proximate levels of analysis, differentiate between psychological adaptations, exaptations, adaptive byproducts, and traits that are "random noise,"  be able to identify research methods to help to empirically differentiate adaptations from non-adaptations, explain how Hamilton's and Trivers' theories of altruism operate, explain animal behavior in terms of evolved psychological adaptations at the levels of the individual, mating dyad, family, and group.


Course Content and Informed Consent


Before you take this course, you should be aware that some of the content will cover controversial and personal topics, including evolutionary theory, sex differences, sexuality, and issues of ethics and morality.  For example, if the theory of evolution conflicts with your religious beliefs you may feel uncomfortable with some of the lectures that will be presented. (However, most Catholic and non-fundamentalist Christian theologians find no incompatibility with evolutionary theory and their religious faith.)  In addition,  we will be covering aspects of animal behavior, including sexuality, that are not often discussed openly and honestly in polite, or mixed, company.   As such, there will be material discussed --  explicitly --  that could be, in principle, offensive to individuals with particular beliefs or attitudes. If this is a potential problem for you, then please contact me as soon as possible for clarification of  the issues, terms, and materials that will be part of the class.




There will be two midterms and a final exam. The midterms and final exams may be either given in class, or online.  

Quizzes.  Starting with the 3rd week of class, you will be given a brief quiz at the beginning of class every week (however, no quiz will be given on those weeks in which a midterm is scheduled).  The material covered on the quizzes will be from the previous week’s readings and lectures.     If the class meets twice a week, the quiz will be given on the Thursday class.  The quiz will be given immediately at the start of the class.  There will be no make-up quizzes.   At the end of the semester, your lowest quiz score will be dropped.   (Hint:  Keep up with the weekly class readings!)

Examinations will include objective (T/F, multiple choice), and perhaps a few short answer and/or brief essay questions. Tests are not cumulative, except that on the final exam about 25% of the questions will cover the most important material from the first 2/3rds of the course.  No study guides will be provided – you are responsible for all of the material presented in class and in the readings.  

IMPORTANT: There will be no make up exams for missed tests without a note from your doctor.


Individual Term project (worth up to 20 points):


This will involve contributing to the course wiki.  More information about this project will be presented in class, as well as on the class web site.



Group term project:  Seminar panels (worth up to 20 points).


A handout will be given to you describing how to complete this project, and will be available on the class web site.



You will be given homework assignments. The point value of each will be specified.


Important class announcements will be provided via email.  By default, I will use your LMU email address. However, if you prefer email to go to a different email provider (e.g., GMail, YahooMail, etc.), email me with that email address and I will add it to the class email list. If you do not receive my emails, or should you change your email address, please contact me.


Please turn off beepers and cell phones before coming to class.   Regular attendance is and class participation is expected.  

If you bring a laptop to class please use it only to take class notes.  Please do not surf the web, IM, or email during class -- it is distracting both to you and your classmates.   (If this becomes a problem, I may prohibit laptop use during class.)


In this class, quizzes, homework assignments, projects and tests will be awarded points.

Your grade on tests, and in the class overall, will be determined by one of two methods of grading: both a "content mastery grade" and a "peer comparison grade" will be calculated (per the tables below).  Your grade in the class is whichever of these two grades is higher.


The "content mastery grade" is based on your percentage correct score on the test; the "peer comparison grade" is based on your percentile score (the percentage of your classmates who had a score lower than yours).

A. Content Mastery Grade. This grade will be determined by your percentage correct score. The "maximum possible score" will actually be set to halfway between the total points possible and

the highest score actually obtained in the class (this is to your advantage).   For example, if on a test the total points possible was 110, and the person in the class with the top score got a 90, then 100 will be set

as the top comparison score in the table below.  


A >= 93%

 A- = 90 - 92


B+ = 87 - 89

B = 83 - 86

B- = 80 - 82

C+ = 77 - 79

C = 73 - 76

C- = 70 - 72

D+ = 67 - 69

D = 63 - 66

D- = 60 - 62

F+ = 57 - 59

F < 57



B. Peer Comparison Grade. This grade will be determined by how well you performed in relation to your peers, as indicated by your percentile score (the percentage of students in the class with a score lower than yours).  Again, the numbers in the table below are percentile scores.



A >= 86%ile

A- = 80 – 85


B+ = 75 - 79

B = 65 - 74

B- = 55 - 64

C+ = 45 - 54

C = 30 - 44

C- = 20 – 29

D+ = 12  - 19

D = 8 - 11

D- = 5 - 7

F+ = 2 - 6

F = 1


You will be able to access your class points online, and using the methodology above, you will be able to calculate your grade any time during the class.


The week before the final exam, your lowest quiz score will be dropped, and the all points for tests, quizzes, homework, etc., will be summed.  Grades going into the final exam will be calculated and reported according to the grading system noted above.

At that time, if you have any questions regarding your grade, or if you would like to review your accumulated points (from homework, tests, panel presentations, etc.), please stop by my office during office hours to review the class roster (you must do so before the end of the class – point changes cannot be made after the course has ended).





Note: If the bookstore doesn’t have a book in stock you might consider purchasing it new (or used) via (click the link for each book), or via another online bookseller.

Alcock, J. (2007).  Animal Behavior(8th Ed.).  Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene. (2nd Ed.) New York: Oxford University Press. (Paperback)





WEEK 1. Monday date: 8/27

Class readings: Alcock, Chapter 1.
 In class video: The Human Quest  

Relevant websites:

·         Nesse’s Four Areas of Biology:



WEEK 2.   Monday date: 9/3

Class readings: Dawkins, Chaps 1 – 5;

In class video: The Blind Watchmaker 

Relevant websites: 

·         Replicators: Evolutionary Powerhouses  (  a website specifically designed to explore Dawkins' concept of replicators in an interesting and interactive format.

·         Morph Lab: ( ) Artificial selection in action.  Select biomorphs.  Requires a Java-capable web browser.

WEEK 3.  Monday date: 9/10

Class readings: Alock, Chapter 2.



WEEK 4.  Monday date: 9/17

             Class readings: Alcock, Chapter 3

MIDTERM next week. 

Relevant websites: 

·         Human Genetics for the Social Sciences Interactive Learning Exercises (  Several interesting behavioral genetics tutorials and simulations.

·         Becoming Human (includes video clips):

·         The Antiquity of Man:

In class video: The Yanomamo.


TOPIC 4. THE INDIVIDUAL: Perception, Emotion, Behavior, Cognition, Language, Consciousness

WEEK 5: Monday Date: 9/24


Topics: Behavioral Adaptations for Survival.
    Subtopics: Animal Consciousness / Perception
Class readings:   Alcock, Chapter 6

Web Resources:

·         Change Blindness demo:


WEEK 6: Monday date: 10/1

Topic:   The Evolution of Feeding Behavior
     Sub topic: Emotion in animals
Class readings:   Alcock, Chapter 7

Web Resources:

·         Test your disgust sensitivity:


WEEK 7: Monday date: 10/8

Topic:  Choosing Where to Live
        Sub topics: Learning and cognition in animals
Class readings:  Alcock, Chapter 8

Web Resources:

·         Evolution of Optimism:



WEEK 8: Monday date: 10/15

Topic:  Animal communication / animal language  
Class readings:  Alcock, Chapter 9

Web resources:





WEEK 9: Monday date 10/22

Midterm next week.

Class Readings:  Alcock, chapter 10.  Dawkins: chapter on the “Battle of the Sexes”.

Relevant websites: 

·         Do you have a male or female brain?,12983,937443,00.html

·         PBS website on the evolution of sex:



WEEK 10: Monday date 10/29


Class Readings: Alcock, Chapter 11
Topic: The Evolution of Mating Systems.




WEEK 11: Monday date 11/5

Class Readings:  Alcock, Chapter 12;    Dawkins, Chaps 6 & 7

Relevant websites:

·         Facial resemblance enhances trust:

·         Future genetic engineering of our children (article):,13992,1067850,00.html



WEEK 12: Monday date 11/12

Class readings:    Dawkins, Chaps 10

Relevant websites:

·         Interactive Prisoner’s Dilemma Game:

·         Another interactive Prisoner’s Dilemma Game:

·         Another:

·         Computer simulation of biological evolution in structured populations

·         Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and the Life Sciences:

Evolutionary Psychology of Gossip (Slate magazine article):



WEEK 13: Monday date 11/19

Class readings: Alcock, Chap 13;  Dawkins, Chaps 12.



WEEK 14: Monday date: 11/26

Class readings: Dawkins, Chap 11. 

Relevant websites:

·         Robot Independence (PBS video clip – click “Watch Online” at top)

·         Article on conscious robots:,3604,1028776,00.html

·         Morals: Are you a model citizen, or do you look after number one?

·         UK Memes Central:

·         Memetics:

·         Memes (info / links):

·         Alt.memetics (info / links)

·         Journal of Memetics:

·         The Hedonistic Imperative (genetic engineering and nanotech):

·  (computer learning to walk):

·         The Law of Accelerating Returns, buy Ray Kurzweil:

·         Why the future doesn’t need us., by Bill Joy



TOPIC 9. The Evolution of Human Behavior / Evolutionary Psychology

WEEK 15: Monday date   12/3

Class readings:  Alcock, Chapter 14.

Web Resources:  The future doesn’t need us.