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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


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, 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.


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 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.