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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 studies from the field of Artificial Intelligence 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 AI systems? And how can we use AI applications 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.

Course Objectives

This course will give an overview of the comparative approach towards an understanding of human and non-human cognition.

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 AI can be used in the study of human and non-human cognition

Time Table

The dates are included in the Media Technology calendar

Mode of Instruction

Lectures, self study and excursions

Assessment Method

Poster presentation (50%) and homework assignments (50%)

The homework assignments consist of 4 graded written assignments and 3 pass/fail assignments. The pass/fail assignments need to have been passed to pass the course. The remaining of the grade will be a weighted average.



Reading List

Study materials will be provided by the lecturer during the course


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

  • Please also register for the course in [Blackboard].

  • Due to limited capacity, non-Media Technology students (external and exchange) can only register after consultation with and approval of the programme coordinator/study advisor (


Barbara Visscher-van Grinsven, programme coordinator/study advisor for the Media Technology MSc programme (


Curriculum link