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Introduction to Primate Behaviour, Cognition and Culture

  • Teacher(s):  
  • Course given in: English
  • ECTS Credits:
  • Schedule: Spring Semester 2021-2022, 1.0h. course (weekly average)
      WARNING :   this is an old version of the syllabus, old versions contain   OBSOLETE   data.
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The first goal of this course is to give a general introduction into primate behaviour, with a special focus on primate cognition and culture. The topic will be developed in a comparative framework, with references to behaviours found in other animals as well as well highlighting behaviours shared between human and non-human primates and the ones unique to humans. This first part will give the general background to understand the articles that will be discussed in the seminar sessions. During the seminar, students will select articles to read and discuss together. This part aims at developing the critical thinking of students and the exchange between the students using concrete examples of research with conflicting findings. The course will train students to summarize, explain and discuss a paper during the final presentation in front of the class, as well as to develop ideas about potential future directions of the research on a specific topic.


This course will be composed of three main parts followed by seminar sessions.

1) Primate Behaviour. Here we will study briefly the bases of animal behaviour followed by a presentation of the diversity in the taxa Primates. Then we will study the specificities of Primate behaviour. We will investigates the topics of social structure, reproduction and life history. Later we will focus more on social relationships with lectures on competition and conflict management, communication and cooperation. All these topics will be discussed with a comparative approach to other animals and humans.

2) Primate Cognition. Here we will study the cognitive abilities of primates. We will investigate briefly the specificities of primate physical cognition and we will develop more on their social cognition. On this topic, we will study the abilities of primates to understand others’ minds (theory of mind) and to exhibit strategic social behaviours like deception.

3) Primate Culture: Here we will study social learning mechanisms and strategies. We will investigate cases of conformity, traditions and culture in primates. This subject will highlight the specificities of human cultural behaviour as well as the shared roots with primates and other animals.

During the seminar, students will choose a scientific article to read (alone or in groups depending on the number of students following the course). The papers will be discuss in the class. At the end of the seminar, all the students will present the main finding of their paper and potential future directions of research on the topic.


van Schaik, C. P. (2016). The primate origins of human nature (Vol. 2). John Wiley & Sons.

Clutton-Brock, T. (2016). Mammal societies. John Wiley & Sons.

Boyd, R., & Silk, J. B. (2014). How humans evolved. WW Norton & Company.


Schedule detail :'%c3%a9tudes/Horaires/MSc%20BEC-BEE%20P19.pdf Course not open to Modibilty Students


First attempt

Without exam (cf. terms)  


Mark on the oral presentation


Without exam (cf. terms)  


Mark on the oral presentation

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