Psychology 4991G 001 FW23

Special Topics in Psychology: Neuroethology of Social Behaviour

If there is a discrepancy between the outline posted below and the outline posted on the OWL course website, the latter shall prevail.



LONDON               CANADA 

Department of Psychology 

Winter 2024 



Psychology 4991G   Section 001 

Special Topics in Psychology: 

Neuroethology of Social Behaviour 





This course will operate as a collaborative seminar in which we explore social behaviours of animals, including humans, from different biological perspectives. Together, we will develop an integrative understanding of how and why individuals interact with one another. This is a rapidly growing and multidisciplinary field, and as such, readings will emphasize current research from the primary literature. We will read articles that focus both on human and non-human study systems to address three main questions: (1) How do neurobiological mechanisms regulate social behaviour? (2) How does social behaviour develop in an individual across the lifespan? (3) Why did complex forms of social behaviour evolve in some species over others? By the end of the class, students will able to read, understand, and critique research papers on behaviour. 


Antirequisite: Not applicable 


Prerequisite: Both Psychology 2801F/G and Psychology 2811A/B, or the former Psychology 2820E, or both of the former Psychology 2800E and the former Psychology 2810, PLUS registration in fourth year Main Campus Honours Specialization in Psychology or fourth year Honours Specialization in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Fourth year Main Campus Psychology students and Main Campus Psychology Special Students who receive 75% in the prerequisite courses may enrol in this course. 


Extra Information: 3 seminar hours 

Course Weight: 0.5 


Unless you have either the prerequisites for this course or written special permission from your Dean to enrol in it, you may be removed from this course and it will be deleted from your record. This decision may not be appealed. You will receive no adjustment to your fees in the event that you are dropped from a course for failing to have the necessary prerequisites. 





Instructor: Dr. Morgan Gustison (Pronouns: she/her)  

Office and Phone Number:  SSC 9232  

Office Hours: By Appointment 



Time and Location of Classes: Mondays 1:30-4:30pm, TC-204   

Delivery Method: In-Person 


Students who are in emotional/mental distress should refer to Health and Wellness @Western for a complete list of options about how to obtain help. 


Please contact the course instructor if you require material in an alternate format or if you require any other arrangements to make this course more accessible to you. You may also contact Accessible Education at  or 519-661-2147. 


2.1 Online Learning Notice: 
Please note: For courses delivered in an online format, include an online component, or are required to pivot online, students must have a reliable internet connection and computer that are compatible with online learning system requirements. Some courses may also require the use of a remote proctoring platform to ensure assessments are taken fairly in accordance with Western’s policy on Scholastic Discipline for Undergraduate Students and Scholastic Discipline for Graduate Students. Please refer to the course syllabus for further information. 




Readings on specific topics will be provided through the course web site. 




This course surveys current empirical work and theoretical advances in the study of animal social behaviour and cognition, with an emphasis on neural mechanisms. There are several forms of complex social interaction that occur between individuals. This course will address a broad range of questions about social interaction, including how scientists quantify social behaviours, how these behaviours develop in an individual, and why they evolved in humans and other organisms. Students will build core skills in reading and critiquing scientific studies, as well as advanced expertise in a chosen topic area related to the course material. 



Learning Outcome  

Learning Activity  


Depth and Breadth of Knowledge.  

Understand key concepts and research findings on social behaviour from evolutionary, developmental, and neurological perspectives 

Readings, discussion, preparation class presentation, written assignments 


Class participation 


Reflection papers 


Class presentation 


Final essay 

Knowledge of Methodologies.  

Understand data collection approaches used to study social behaviour from different biological perspectives 

Readings, discussion, preparation class presentation, written assignments 


Class participation 


Reflection papers 


Class presentation 


Final essay 

Application of Knowledge.  

Use online databases (e.g., Web of Science) to locate current research findings, synthesize and evaluate results, and formulate testable hypotheses 


Leading class discussions, preparation of presentation, written assignments 


Reflection papers 


Class presentation 


Final essay 

Communication Skills.  

Clearly communicate complex ideas in written and spoken formats 



Leading class discussions, giving class presentation, written assignments 



Reflection papers 


Class presentation 


Final essay 

Awareness of Limits of Knowledge. 

Learn to assess the strengths and limitations of current research on the biological basis of social behaviour 

Class discussions, class presentation, written assignments 

Reflection papers 


Class presentation 


Final essay 

Autonomy and Professional Capacity. 

Learn how to formulate complex ideas and communicate these ideas to others 

Leading class discussions, giving class presentation, written assignments 

Class presentation 


Final essay 







The evaluation and testing formats for this course were created to assess the learning objectives as listed in section 4.0 and are considered necessary for meeting these learning objectives. 


Students are expected to attend all classes and to read all assigned material. Each student will select weekly topics for which they will prepare and lead class discussion of assigned materials and additional background material. Students will usually lead class discussion in groups of two or more. Each student will also select four topics on which they will prepare short reflection papers. Students will choose a unique topic for a final class presentation and essay. Evaluation will be based on leading and participating in class discussion (30%), reflection papers (20%), class presentation (20%), and the final essay (30%). Student’s will be provided with feedback on at least 15% of their final grade on or before March 4th. 


Leading Class Discussion. Students are expected to introduce and discuss the assigned material, raise questions about ideas and research findings, and describe any additional research results or topics they have examined. Each class discussion will be led by a group of students, and each student will participate in leading at least one class discussion. Students may wish to use PowerPoint to show figures, illustrations, graphs and tables. Leading class discussion is counted as part of the participation grade. 


Discussion Participation is marked on the basis of participation through discussion. Participation in class can consist of asking or answering questions about the assigned readings and class topic, contributing additional information from other courses or your own reading, or similar involvement in classroom discussion. Students will receive a grade for half of their participation mark up to February 12 and a grade for the remaining half of the participation up to the end of the course. 


Reflection Papers are short (500 word maximum) reports on an assigned reading or readings for class, selected by the student. Each student will submit four reflection papers for four different class dates. Reflection papers on an assigned reading are due the day that reading is discussed in class. Reflection papers are intended to be brief discussions of assigned articles and can include critiques, commentary, questions, comparisons to other research results, proposals for further research, relevant ideas discussed in other courses, or similar material. Reflection papers should not be summaries of the assigned readings. Students must submit at least two reflection papers by February 12. 


Class Presentation and Final Essay is an oral presentation and written description of a topic chosen by the student. Students will choose a social behaviour that interests them and review literature from multiple biological perspectives. The presentation and essay can have a broader coverage than the material discussed in class. Maximum length is 10 double spaced pages, about 2500 words. Style should follow the American Psychological Association (APA) Publication Manual. Class presentations occur in the last two weeks of class. Final essays are due on April 8. 


As with all E, F and G courses, you must pass the essay component of the course to pass the course. That is, your average mark on the Essay and Reflection Papers combined must be at least 50%. 





Late essays will incur a 2% per day deduction in the grade for the essay. 

PLEASE NOTE: Because this is an essay course, as per Senate Regulations, you must pass the essay component to pass the course. That is, the average mark for your written assignments must be at least 50%. 


This course is exempt from the Senate requirement that students receive assessment of their work accounting for at least 15% of their final grade at least three full days before the date of the deadline for withdrawal from a course without academic penalty. 


The expectation for course grades within the Psychology Department is that they will be distributed around the following averages: 


70% 1000-level to 2099-level courses 

72% 2100-2999-level courses 

75% 3000-level courses 

80% 4000-level courses 


The Psychology Department follows Western’s grading guidelines, which are as follows (see: 


A+ 90-100 One could scarcely expect better from a student at this level 

A 80-89 Superior work that is clearly above average 

B 70-79 Good work, meeting all requirements, and eminently satisfactory 

C 60-69 Competent work, meeting requirements 

D 50-59 Fair work, minimally acceptable 

F below 50           Fail 


Note that in the event that course grades are significantly higher or lower than these averages, instructors may be required to make adjustments to course grades. Such adjustment might include the normalization of one or more course components and/or the re-weighting of various course components. 


Policy on Grade Rounding: Please note that although course grades within the Psychology Department are rounded to the nearest whole number, no further grade rounding will be done. No additional assignments will be offered to enhance a final grade; nor will requests to change a grade because it is needed for a future program be considered. To maximize your grade, do your best on each and every assessment within the course. 




There are no tests or examinations in this course. 

Discussion Participation 40%; 20% up to February 12; 20% from February 26 to April 8 

Reflection Papers 20%; 4 papers at 5% each; at least 2 must be completed by February 12 and the other 2 must be completed by March 25 


Class Presentation 20%; given on April 1 or 8 


Final Essay 20%; due April 8 


*all deadlines will be on or before April 8th  





January 8 

What is Social Behaviour? 


Levels of Analysis 


Attachment Theory 


Parental Care 

February 5 



Group Living 


Reading Week 



March 4 

Social Reward 




Social Cognition 



April 1 

Class presentations 

April 8 

Class presentations 



8.0 Land Acknowledgement 


We acknowledge that Western University is located on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, on lands connected with the London Township and Sombra Treaties of 1796 and the Dish with One Spoon Covenant Wampum. 


With this, we respect the longstanding relationships that Indigenous Nations have to this land, as they are the original caretakers. We acknowledge historical and ongoing injustices that Indigenous Peoples (e.g. First Nations, Métis and Inuit) endure in Canada, and we accept responsibility as a public institution to contribute toward revealing and correcting miseducation, as well as renewing respectful relationships with Indigenous communities through our teaching, research and community service. 





Students are responsible for understanding the nature and avoiding the occurrence of plagiarism and other scholastic offences. Plagiarism and cheating are considered very serious offences because they undermine the integrity of research and education. Actions constituting a scholastic offence are described at the following link: 


As of Sept. 1, 2009, the Department of Psychology will take the following steps to detect scholastic offences. All multiple-choice tests and exams will be checked for similarities in the pattern of responses using reliable software, and records will be made of student seating locations in all tests and exams. All written assignments will be submitted to TurnItIn, a service designed to detect and deter plagiarism by comparing written material to over 5 billion pages of content located on the Internet or in TurnItIn’s databases. All papers submitted for such checking will be included as source documents in the reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to the system. Use of the service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between Western and ( 


Computer-marked multiple-choice tests and/or exams will be subject to submission for similarity review by software that will check for unusual coincidences in answer patterns that may indicate cheating. 


In classes that involve the use of a personal response system (PRS), data collected using the PRS will only be used in a manner consistent to that described in this outline. It is the instructor’s responsibility to make every effort to ensure that data remain confidential. However, students should be aware that as with all forms of electronic communication, privacy is not guaranteed. Your PRS login credentials are for your sole use only. Students attempting to use another student’s credentials to submit data through the PRS may be subject to academic misconduct proceedings.  


Possible penalties for a scholastic offence include failure of the assignment/exam, failure of the course, suspension from the University, and expulsion from the University. 




Tests and examinations for online courses will be conducted using a remote proctoring service. By taking this course, you are consenting to the use of this software and acknowledge that you will be required to provide personal information (including some biometric data) and the session will be recorded.  Completion of this course will require you to have a reliable internet connection and a device that meets the technical requirements for this service. More information about this remote proctoring service, including technical requirements, is available on Western’s Remote Proctoring website at: 

In the event that in-person exams are unexpectedly canceled, you may only be given notice of the use of a proctoring service a short time in advance. 




Western’s policy on Accommodation for Medical Illness can be found at: 


If you experience an extenuating circumstance (e.g., illness, injury) sufficiently significant to temporarily make you unable to meet academic requirements, you may request accommodation through the following routes:  

  1. For medical absences, submitting a Student Medical Certificate (SMC) signed by a licensed medical or mental health practitioner in order to be eligible for Academic Consideration;  
  1. For non-medical absences, submitting appropriate documentation (e.g., obituary, police report, accident report, court order, etc.) to Academic Counselling in their Faculty of registration in order to be eligible for academic consideration. Students are encouraged to contact their Academic Counselling unit to clarify what documentation is appropriate. 


Students must see the Academic Counsellor and submit all required documentation in order to be approved for certain accommodation. 


Students seeking academic consideration: 

  • are advised to consider carefully the implications of postponing tests or midterm exams or delaying handing in work;   
  • must communicate with their instructors no later than 24 hours after the end of the period covered SMC, or immediately upon their return following a documented absence 


Students seeking accommodation for religious purposes are advised to contact Academic Counselling at least three weeks prior to the religious event and as soon as possible after the start of the term. 


12.0 Contingency Plan for Return to Lockdown: IN-Person & Blended classes 


In the event of a COVID-19 resurgence or any other event that necessitates the course delivery moving away from face-to-face interaction, all remaining course content will be delivered entirely online, either synchronously (i.e., at the times indicated in the timetable) or asynchronously (e.g., posted on OWL for students to view at their convenience). The grading scheme will not change. Any remaining assessments will also be conducted online, as determined by the course instructor. 




In courses involving online interactions, the Psychology Department expects students to honour the following rules of etiquette: 

  • please “arrive” to class on time 
  • please use your computer and/or laptop if possible (as opposed to a cell phone or tablet) 
  • please ensure that you are in a private location to protect the confidentiality of discussions in the event that a class discussion deals with sensitive or personal material 
  • to minimize background noise, kindly mute your microphone for the entire class until you are invited to speak, unless directed otherwise 
  • In classes larger than 30 participants please turn off your video camera for the entire class unless you are invited to speak 
  • In classes of 30 students or fewer, where video chat procedures are being used, please be prepared to turn your video camera off at the instructor’s request if the internet connection becomes unstable 
  • Unless invited by your instructor, do not share your screen in the meeting 


The course instructor will act as moderator for the class and will deal with any questions from participants. To participate please consider the following: 

  • If you wish to speak, use the “raise hand” function and wait for the instructor to acknowledge you before beginning your comment or question. 
  • Please remember to unmute your microphone and turn on your video camera before speaking. 
  • Self-identify when speaking. 
  • Please remember to mute your mic and turn off your video camera after speaking (unless directed otherwise). 


General considerations of “netiquette”: 

  • Keep in mind the different cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the students in the course. 
  • Be courteous toward the instructor, your colleagues, and authors whose work you are discussing. 
  • Be respectful of the diversity of viewpoints that you will encounter in the class and in your readings. The exchange of diverse ideas and opinions is part of the scholarly environment. “Flaming” is never appropriate. 
  • Be professional and scholarly in all online postings. Use proper grammar and spelling. Cite the ideas of others appropriately. 


Note that disruptive behaviour of any type during online classes, including inappropriate use of the chat function, is unacceptable. Students found guilty of Zoom-bombing a class or of other serious online offenses may be subject to disciplinary measures under the Code of Student Conduct. 




Office of the Registrar:   


Student Development Services:  


Psychology Undergraduate Program: 


If you wish to appeal a grade, please read the policy documentation at: 


Please first contact the course instructor. If your issue is not resolved, you may make your appeal to the Undergraduate Chair in Psychology ( 

Copyright Statement: Lectures and course materials, including power point presentations, outlines, videos and similar materials, are protected by copyright. You may take notes and make copies of course materials for your own educational use. You may not record lectures, reproduce (or allow others to reproduce), post or distribute any course materials publicly and/or for commercial purposes without the instructor’s written consent. 


Policy on the Recording of Synchronous Sessions: Some or all of the remote learning sessions for this course (if scheduled) may be recorded. The data captured during these recordings may include your image, voice recordings, chat logs and personal identifiers (name displayed on the screen). The recordings will be used for educational purposes related to this course, including evaluations. The recordings may be disclosed to other individuals participating in the course for their private or group study purposes. Please contact the instructor if you have any concerns related to session recordings. Participants in this course are not permitted to privately record the sessions, except where recording is an approved accommodation, or the student has the prior written permission of the instructor.