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Non-human Cognition


Admission requirements

Bachelor degree (completed)


Understanding cognitive processes involves breaking them down into more fundamental computational subparts. In this course we will take an interdisciplinary look at studies investigating the behavior of non-human animals as well as computational cognitive modelling, that can teach us about cognition. To what extent can we find parallels for complex human behavior in non-human species? What can we learn about human cognition and behavior from the comparative approach? To what extent can complex human behaviors be operationalized and implemented in machines? And how can we use technology to study animal behavior? Issues such as the emergence of culture, social imitation, language, art, song, domestication and consciousness will be addressed using data on various species including birds, primates and dolphins.

We will read and discuss literature on animal and computational cognition and gain hands-on practice with the design and presentation of a scientific poster, which will be displayed at a poster festival in the last weeks of the course. We will also discover how animal cognition research is conducted in practice during two class field trips.Brief introductory description of the course. Please include course subject and teaching materials used.

Course objectives

Concise description of the course objectives formulated in terms of knowledge, insight and skills students will have acquired at the end of the course. The relationship between these objectives and achievement levels for the programme should be evident.After successful completion of this course, the learner will be able to:

  • Explain why the comparative approach is important for learning about human and non-human cognition and evolution

  • Recall various methods for studying cognitive skills in non-human animals

  • Interpret findings from experiments and field work in animal cognition

  • Compare cognitive skills of various different species and in different cognitive domains

  • Judge interpretations of animal behavior in the light of the tension between human-centeredness and anthropomorphism

  • Recognize and explain how technology and computational modelling can be used in the study of human and non-human cognition


Date, time and location of this course is included in the Media Technology calendar.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Research

  • Excursion

Assessment method

  • essay, assignments (50%)

  • poster presentation (50%)

Reading list

The reading consists of papers which need to be read before each class. Links to the reading are provided through Blackboard.


  • You have to sign up for courses and exams (including retakes) in uSis.

  • Due to limited capacity, non-Media Technology students (elective, external and exchange) can only register after approval of the programme coordinator/study advisor Barbara Visscher-van Grinsven MA.

  • Students who have not yet completed their bachelor degree cannot be admitted to Media Technology courses.


Media Technology MSc programme coordinator/study advisor: Barbara Visscher-van Grinsven MA