BL4281 Animal Communication and Cognition Organiser: Dr. V. Janik

Animal Communication and Cognition
Organiser: Dr. V. Janik
The main aim of this course is for you to learn about and discuss a topic that has been a particularly
active – and quite controversial – one: animal communication and cognition. One reason for this is that
it has special relevance to ourselves because communication and cognition are things we are
particularly good at. For clues as to their evolution, we must look about among various groups of birds
and mammals.
The course starts out by looking at definitions of all relevant terms. We then focus on forms of
complexity in communication such as vocal learning, syntax and referentiality. Many case studies will
be considered and we will investigate what explanation models can be harnessed to understand the
To take this module you must have taken the junior honours Animal Behaviour module.
The course will include topics such as:
Definitions of Terminology
Information Theory and Animal Communication
Comprehension, Usage and Production Learning in Vocal Communication
Reference in Animal Signals
The Evolution of Complexity in Animal Communication
The Role of a Theory of Mind in Communication
Human Language
A model system in the study of vocal learning: the zebra finch
Format: There will be an introductory lecture but
the course is mainly based on student
discussions. Each student will summarize one of
the topics for the whole class and then lead the
discussion about this topic. This module involves
a lot of reading of the original literature on this
Teaching: The module is run once a week
throughout the first semester. There will be a 2
hour session each week.
Flow diagram showing steps in the
production of synthetic stimuli
Assessment: CA =50%, 2 hour exam = 50 %.
CA will be based on the talk and a hand-out.
Learning objectives:
To achieve the skill of critically reading and
constructively criticising the primary literature in
animal behaviour
To achieve knowledge and understanding of
the current literature on animal communication
and cognition.
Background reading
Janik, V. M. & Slater, P. J. B. 2000. The
different roles of social learning in vocal
communication. Anim. Behav. 60, 1-11