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Research Seminar: Social Technologies


Admission requirements

Bachelor degree (completed)


This seminar leads us from ape-like grunts and howls to the sophisticated signal of present-day language and from campfire settings of the palaeolithic to Netflix and Instagram. Building on insights from multiple disciplines, including cognitive science, linguistics, biology, and computer science/AI, we explore the many creative ways in which evidence can be gathered about our ancestors and develop hands-on practice with computer simulations and laboratory experiments. After ten lectures (plus a movie night!) the course will culminate in the annual Social Technologies Symposium at which we all present our research-projects-in-progress, and at which we will invite an international keynote speaker of our collective choice. Previous speakers include Dr Bronwyn Tarr (Barcelona/Oxford), Dr Kit Opie (Bristol), and Prof Robin Dunbar (Oxford).

Course objectives

After successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Approach contemporary human traits, behaviours, and technologies using an evolutionary framework;

  • Identify and list the many creative ways evidence can be gathered to study the origins of language and other human behavioural traits that do not fossilise;

  • Design and implement a computer model to study aspects of language/cultural evolution and evaluate/draw conclusions from computer modeling work;

  • Evaluate and interpret experimental results that study aspects of the evolution of human behioural traits such as language, the production of art, story-telling, dance, ritualistic behaviours, and the technologies enabling/mediating such behaviours, ultimately providing answers to questions such as: What are the origins of our language and communicative skills? Where do our large brains come from? What is our relationship to technology, from stone tools to smartphones? What kind of mechanisms underlie our cultural evolution? And how did we become highly social beings navigating complex social networks, online and offline?

  • Generate ideas for future studies and creative use of data in the field of human cognitive and technological evolution;

  • Write & submit a conference-style abstract and give a conference-style presentation.


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

Lecture, Seminar, Excursion/Exhibition

Assessment method

Assessment takes place based on a mid-term assignment based on a computer simulation (30%) and a research project presented both at the Symposium and in written form, possibly together with alternative outputs such as a documentary or exposition (70%). In order to pass the course, the weighted average grade needs to be above 5.5 and each grade needs to be a 5.0 or higher.

Students who fail to submit their mid-term or final assignment documentation (via Brightspace) will receive the grade 0. Both the mid-term and final assignment have a resit opportunity with a later deadline (t.b.d.) and a maximum grade of 8.0.

Reading list

Reading, along with videos, podcasts, and other study material, will be announced via Brightspace.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Contact the lecturer(s) for course specific questions, and the programme's coordinator for questions regarding admission and/or registration.


Elective, external and exchange students (other than Media Technology MSc students) need to be admitted to the course before registration due to limited capacity. Contact the programme's coordinator to request admission; include a short description of your course interest and state your current study programme in your correspondence.