Sex Evolution and Human Nature - SE565

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Autumn 6 15 (7.5) DR S Johns checkmark-circle


Much of the material presented in this course forms part of the relatively new academic discipline of evolutionary psychology/anthropology. The goal of this course is to discover and understand the principles of evolutionary psychology and other complementary paradigms. The module explores human behaviour (primarily human sexual behaviours) from an evolutionary perspective. Topics covered are reproductive and mating strategies, parenting behaviour, kinship, cooperation, survival, status striving, jealously, and aggression. The course will provide an excellent understanding of the deeply biological nature of human behaviour, and develop skills in critical thinking. Students will be encouraged to bring relevant questions and observations to seminars and time will be allocated to deal with them.

Lecture and seminar topics will include:
• The origins of human nature and evolutionary anthropology
• Why does sex exist, what does it mean to be a particular sex, and why don’t men breast-feed?
• What aspects of our personalities are determined by our biological need to reproduce?
• Why are human beings so intelligent?
• Viewing humans as a species of ape. What can we learn by studying chimpanzees about ourselves and our ancestors?
• Human mating strategies. Male and female long and short term strategies. The essence of beauty.
• Do men and women differ in their natures? If so, are these differences genetic?
• Adultery. What’s love got to do with it?
• Why do humans have a concealed (not advertised) ovulation?
• Why is there a menopause?
• Sexual conflict and jealousy
• Why do we make friends, and what are they good for?


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

11 Lectures; 11 Seminars

22 hours


This Module contributes:
BSc in Biological Anthropology, BSc in Anthropology.
This module is also suitable as an optional module for students of the following degree programmes: BSc in Medical Anthropology ; BA Social Anthropology; BSc Wildlife Conservation; BSc Biodiversity Conservation and Management.

Method of assessment

100% Examination (Pre-seen questions)

Indicative reading

Main text:
Human Evolutionary Psychology, Barrett, L., Dunbar, R.I.M & Lycett, J.E. 2002. Palgrave:London.

Supplementary texts:
Why Is Sex Fun?, Diamond, J. 1997. New York: Basic.
The Red Queen, Ridley, M. 1993. New York: Penguin.
Why Sex Matters, Low, B. 1999. Princeton: Princeton U. Press.
Sperm Wars, Baker, R. 1996. New York: Basic.
Primate Sexuality, Dixson, A. Oxford: Oxford U. Press.
Evolutionary Psychology, Swami, V. 2011. West Sussex; BPS Blackwell

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

1. Knowledge and understanding of theoretical concerns, methods, and findings of current empirical research in evolutionary anthropology.
2. Knowledge and understanding of aspects of human behaviour in terms of our evolutionary past.
3. An understanding of the implications of Darwin’s theory of natural selection for human behaviour.
4. In depth knowledge of human reproductive behaviour
5. Exposure to anthropological/evolutionary psychology approaches to the study of human behaviour and ability to critically evaluate new research in the field


  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.
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