Primate Communication - ANTB5570

Looking for a different module?

Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Spring Term 6 15 (7.5) Brandon Wheeler checkmark-circle


The diversity and complexity of primate sociality is reflected in the diversity and complexity of their communication strategies. This module complements the module ANTB5800 (SE580) 'Primate Behaviour & Ecology' by examining the ways in which primates communicate with one another through olfactory, tactile, visual, and acoustic signals. We will address fundamental questions in animal communication including: Is it appropriate to characterize such communication in terms of information transfer? How does communication evolve? What maintains signal honesty, and under what conditions can deceptive communication can evolve? The module will cover the physical and biological bases of signal production and perception. We will explore the extent to which studies of primate communication can provide a window into their minds. Finally, we will delve into the question of the relevance of primate communication for understanding the evolution of human language.


Contact hours

Total contact hours 26
Private study hours 124
Total study hours 150


Optional to :
BSc Human Biology and Behaviour
BSc Biological Anthropology
BSc Anthropology
BSc Wildlife Conservation
(and cognate programs of all of the above)

Available as an elective module.

Method of assessment

Essay 2,000 words 40%
Seminar Reading Write-Ups 1,000 words 20%
Examination 2 hours 40%

Reassessment methods
100% Coursework : 4,000 word essay

*Exams will be online*

Indicative reading

Bradbury, J. W. & Vehrencamp, S. L. 2011. Principles of Animal Communication.
Fitch, W. T. 2010. The Evolution of Language, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ Press.
Hauser, M. D. 1996. The Evolution of Communication, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
Liebal, K., Waller, B. M., Slocombe, K. E. & Burrows, A. M. 2013. Primate Communication: a
Multimodal Approach, Cambridge University Press.
Maynard Smith, J. & Harper, D. 2003. Animal Signals, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Morton, E.S. 2017. Animal Vocal Communication: Assessment and Management Roles, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press.
Searcy, W. A. & Nowicki, S. 2005. The Evolution of Animal Communication: Reliability and
Deception in Signaling Systems, Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Stegmann, U. (ed.) 2013. Animal Communication Theory: Information and Influence, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
8.1 understand what constitutes communication, and be able to critically evaluate arguments for and against the characterisation of communication as the transfer of information versus the manipulation of receivers;
8.2 provide an in-depth explanation of how communication evolves, what maintains the honesty of animal signals, and when deceptive communication can evolve;
8.3 describe the different sensory modalities in which primates communicate, explain the factors that favour signals to be produced in one modality as opposed to another, and understand how primatologists study the production and perception of signals in each modality;
8.4 provide a comprehensive explanation of the cognitive basis of primate communication in each modality;
8.5 critically evaluate different viewpoints regarding the evolutionary relationship between human language and non-human primate communication.


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
Back to top

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.