Animal Minds :: Syllabus

Term: Fall 2019
Course Number: PSYC 3240
Instructor: Daniel Meliza (cdm8j)
Class times: Lecture MWF 10:00-10:50, Gilmer 190
Final exam: Monday, 12/16, 9:00-12:00, Gilmer 190
Course site:
Collab site:
Piazza site:
Office Hours: Gilmer 481, Tu 1-2 and W 11-12, or by appointment
Last revised: 10/2/2019

Teaching Assistants

Email Office Office Hours
Samantha Moseley smm3rc Gilmer 464B F 11-1
Isabelle Moore ilm5fp Gilmer 117 Th 1-3

What is this course about?

Animals come in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes, and their behaviors are even more diverse. Are there common patterns or relationships that can help us make sense of how animals interact with their environments and with each other? What can we know about the conscious awareness of other species when we can’t communicate with them? And how much of human behavior reflects our common ancestry with other animals?

Most people find animals intrinsically interesting to watch and enjoy speculating on why animals engage in various behaviors. In this course, you will learn how to develop your intuitive narratives into a more rigorous understanding based on the scientific practice of observation, hypothesis, and experiment. In the process, you will acquire a deeper awareness of what animals are doing in your environment, a greater appreciation for the complexity of animal minds, and a better understanding of the behaviors of our own species.

Course objectives

In contrast to many other branches of the natural sciences, understanding animal behavior requires you to master relatively few facts and theories, but you must learn to use these concepts to analyze a variety of behaviors across the animal kingdom. Understanding complex systems in terms of simple rules is a big part of what scientists do, and this course will stretch your ability to think about problems scientifically. By completing this course, you will be able to:

Meeting the objectives

We will use a range of techniques to assess your progress toward these goals. Feedback will be derived from variety of sources, including the instructor, your peers, and yourself.

Warm-up activities (15%)

To guide your readings and use of outside sources, you will complete short pre-class quizzes and exercises that assess your comprehension of the material and ability to apply your understanding to new questions. These are due before class.

Homework assignments (20%)

Most weeks you will be assigned a homework exercise to develop your understanding of important concepts in the course. There will be a variety of formats and activities. Some assignments will be submitted on paper and some will be submitted through Collab. Activities include:

Most homework assignments may be completed in groups.

Examinations (45%)

To help you solidify and retain your understanding of course content and themes I will give you three exams, two during the term and a comprehensive final at the end of the term. These will test your knowledge of the readings, terms and concepts central to the course, and your ability to reason about experiments, models, and hypotheses. The exams will emphasize short written answers. You will generate many of the exam questions yourselves, each week submitting a possible exam question based on your readings or discussions as part of your warm-up quiz.

Research Proposal (20%)

As an exercise in experimental design, you will write a short (5-page) research proposal, which can either be based on a novel question of your own choosing. Your task will be to explain the conceptual background, specific aims, hypotheses, methods, and potential interpretations behind the research. This assignment is broken out into several steps that provide you with feedback along the way. Your score on this assessment will be based on the preliminary activities and the comments the instructors on the final draft. More information, including the rubrics for instructor evaluation, is available at this link.

Extra credit (10%)

You can accumulate extra credit up to 10% of the final grade by answering clicker questions in class and by completing extra assignments (on Collab).

What materials will you need?

What is the class schedule?

All lecture topics, readings, assignment due dates, and test dates are shown in the table below. In assigned readings, warm-up quizzes are due on the day listed. Assignment details are linked below or can be found on Collab under Assignments.

This schedule may change to reflect our progress through the course. You will be notified through Piazza if it does. Collab due dates take precedence over the ones shown here.

Week Date Topic Readings Assignments
Theme 1 What are animals responding to?
1 8/28 What’s a behavior? (ethology)
8/30 What do animals perceive? AC1, this syllabus Sign up for Piazza
2 9/2 AC2
9/6 Remembering and learning about stimuli AC5
3 9/9 Add/drop deadline is 9/10
9/11 Classical Conditioning due
9/13 Learning how to respond to stimuli Animal Observations due
4 9/16
9/18 Quantitative models of learning (reading on Collab) Animal Obvs peer review due
5 9/23 No class (instructor travel) Rescorla-Wagner due
9/25 No class (instructor travel)
Theme 2 What do animals know about the world?
9/27 What is a stimulus anyway? AC3
6 9/30 Midterm 1 (Theme 1)
7 10/7 No class (fall recess) Complete CATME survey
10/9 Can animals count? AC4 Literature Search exercise due
8 10/14 How do animals know where they are? AC7
10/18 No class (instructor travel)
9 10/21 Memory: How is knowledge stored, retained, and retrieved? AC10 Research proposal question due
Last day to withdraw is 10/22
10 10/28 Midterm 2 (Theme 2)
Theme 3 What’s so special about humans?
10/30 Communicating? AC11
11 11/4 Using tools? AC6
11/5 ELECTION DAY - Please Vote!
12 11/11 Intentionality and planning? (reading on collab) Research proposal peer reports due
13 11/18 Social intelligence and theory of mind? AC9 Time Travel due
11/21 Self-awareness? AC8
14 11/25
11/27 No class (Thanksgiving recess)
11/29 No class (Thanksgiving recess)
15 12/2 Language? AC12
12/6 Putting it together: comparative cognition AC13 Research proposal (final draft) due
Final 12/16 Final Exam (all themes): 9:00-12:00

How to succeed

Complete the pre-class assignments. Class time will be used to consider concepts and processes at levels that go beyond simply “define and describe.” To participate fully in class time discussions and activities, you will need to come prepared. By 9 AM on each class day with an assigned reading, complete the warm-up exercise on Collab that is based on the reading material; this will help you gauge your comprehension of the reading, and it will help me identify particularly difficult material that needs to be clarified during class.

Relate what you’re learning to how you learn. Ever wonder why you forget a lot of what you crammed for an exam after a few weeks? Although the kinds of things you’re learning may differ from what the rabbits and rats and pigeons we talk about have to learn, many of the same mechanisms are at work. You can hone your study habits and become a more effective learner using your new-found knowledge about what conditions promote long-lasting, robust memories. For example, did you know that taking verbatim notes requires over 30 distinct cognitive operations, none of which really help you retain information? Strategies based on outlining or concept mapping are more effective because they require you to use the material as you’re hearing it.

Use College resources for writing and library research. Did you know there’s a reference librarian whose job it is to help students with research projects? You can also get help from the UVA Writing Center at any stage of a writing assignment, from structuring to drafting to revision. Some of the tutors are specially trained to help when English is a second language.

Come to office hours The TAs and I are collectively available for 6 hours throughout the week for meetings in our offices. Please, no standing in line – if we’re talking with someone else, we might already be answering your question, so come right in. You are encouraged to come to these office hours even if you have no specific question or problem you want to ask about. Office hours are a time when you can come to ask for assistance in understanding course material or assignments, or they can simply be an opportunity to chat with us about the course or college more generally.

Post questions and check Piazza Emails to professors often include questions regarding course material or questions on course policies and assignments. The answers to both kinds of questions are of interest to the entire class and are therefore not best addressed over email. Please bring these questions to class or post them online using Piazza, reserving email for questions of a personal or private nature. Posts are generally only answered during normal working hours, so plan ahead.

Finally, your Association Dean is an important point of contact for any larger-scale concerns about your academic progress. He or she can refer you to the agencies or offices best suited to deal with any problem you may be facing, academic or otherwise.

What are the course policies?

This section is where you will find my policies on any topics not covered above. The purpose is to tell you ahead of time how I will handle situations where questions or disputes tend to arise. In applying these policies or in dealing with situations outside their scope, my guiding principle is equity: every student should have the same opportunity to succeed and have her course grade accurately reflect her understanding of the material.

If you are unclear about any situation, ask. Unless the matter requires confidentiality, I prefer that you ask on Piazza so that the entire class can benefit.

Waitlist and late enrollment

The Psychology Department does not use course action forms, so if there’s a waitlist, you need to show up to class for the first week or so to see if enough people drop to allow you to enroll. Similarly, if you are thinking of adding the course after the start of the term, you need to attend class meetings. Regardless of when you officially enroll in the class, you are responsible for all material covered in lecture.

You can access the Collab site even if you are on the waitlist, which will allow you to complete reading quizzes and other assignments in case you are able to enroll. You can only receive credit for assignments completed by the due date. Assignments that are not completed by students who add the course after the start of the term are excluded from the final grade calculation.

Attendance and missed work

My goal as an instructor for class sessions is for students to be deeply engaged and discovering new aspects of material from readings and homework. You are adults, and I do not take attendance in class, but be aware that you are responsible for the material covered in lecture, and there is extra credit for answering clicker questions. I also expect you to be considerate of your classmates and to not create distractions.

Pre-class quizzes are due at 9 AM before class, and late submissions will not be accepted. If you added the course after the start of the term, I will exclude any missed quizzes from calculations of your final grade.

Late homework assignments will receive a penalty of one letter grade per day, unless an extension is arranged before the due date or an emergency prevents submission. Technological failure is not an emergency, so plan ahead.

Election Year Special: I will grant extensions on assignments for campaign and get-out-the-vote activities if the requests are prior to the due date and documentation can be provided (at my discretion). Our nation is facing deep decisions about its identity that will affect you personally for the rest of your lives, and it is essential that your voices be heard.

No laptops, tablets, or phones

Recent research suggests that note-taking by writing, rather than by typing, improves conceptual learning (see Mueller & Oppenheimer 2014, available on Collab). Additionally, with laptops and tablets, some students distract others (and themselves) by viewing non-course material during class (see Ravizza et al., 2016, on Collab). Therefore, use of laptops, tablets and phones is prohibited during lecture. Put your phone away and have it either off or set to airplane mode (even vibrating is a distraction to you). Having your phone out during lecture will result in losing 10% of your extra credit points accumulated for the semester.

If you feel that your note-taking will suffer without laptop or tablet, it’s easy to get my permission to use one. A permission form is available on the Collab Resources page.

Lecture materials

Lecture slides are not available outside of class. As noted above, good note-taking is one of the most effective learning strategies, because it requires you to prioritize concepts presented in the lecture and think about how they relate to each other. Unfortunately, this is not something you can develop if you have the expectation of being able to see the material after the class.

I recognize that many students are not used to attending lectures that require active note-taking, and may respond in panic by trying to get everything down verbatim. If this sounds like you, remember that I will always provide you an opportunity to engage with important concepts more than once – in homework, reading quizzes, and review sheets.

You may not photograph slides or record lectures without express permission. You may be asked to leave the classroom or surrender your device if you are caught doing this.


Exams are administered through Collab, so bring a fully-charged device to midterms and the final.

Alternate test times for midterms may be requested for religious holidays, UVA-required extracurricular activities (e.g., competitions or performances), or legitimate academic reasons; requests must be made and approved at least 5 days in advance. Otherwise, students who miss a midterm and have an excusable justification (e.g. death in the family or incapacitating illness with hospital/physician verification) may take a single, comprehensive make-up test in place of the final. Except in case of emergency, approval to take the make-up test must be requested before the test that will be missed.

Per College policy, final exams are generally only given during a designated time determined by the time our class meets. You may postpone your exam time under some circumstances with the permission of your Association Dean.

You are required to take the exam in the classroom unless you make prior arrangements.


Regrade requests should be submitted first to a TA, and can only be accommodated if they are made within one week of when the assignment or test is returned.

Professional and academic integrity

As practicing professionals, scientists trust each other to maintain the highest standards of ethics, integrity, and personal responsibility. Since you have joined this community of trust to prepare for your future career, I expect you to fully comply with all of the provisions of the UVa Honor System whether or not you sign a pledge. Unless otherwise instructed, you must not receive nor give aid on an assignment.

Your submission of any assignment also affirms you have not knowingly represented as your own any opinions or ideas that are attributable to another author in published or unpublished notes, study outlines, abstracts, articles, textbooks, or web pages. In other words, I expect that all assignments, reports, and exam answers are your original work and that references are cited appropriately. If you are unclear on whether your work meets this requirement, you need to discuss any issues with the instructor before submitting the assignment.

Your participation in this course affirms that you will not share online or in person any information about an exam, any course materials, or the product of any assignment, without express instruction or permission of the professor. Breaking this trust agreement not only will result in zero credit for the assignment in question and referral to the Honor Committee but also will jeopardize your future as a professional scientist or in any field. Don’t let yourself down.


Grade assignments follow the following fixed scale:

A 93 - 100
A- 90 - 93
B+ 87 - 90
B 83 - 87
B- 80- 83
C+ 77 - 80
C 73 - 77
C- 70 - 73
D+ 67 - 70
D 63 - 67
D- 60 - 63
F 0 - 60

Your grades will reflect your proficiency and excellence on course objectives, not your performance relative to anyone else, so grades will not be curved. If you’re concerned about your grade, keep track of your progress early on and get help if you aren’t achieving at the level you want to.


My goal is for everyone in the class to have an equal opportunity to learn and to demonstrate their knowledge. Students with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. Contact the Student Disability Access Center (434-243-5180) for more information or to arrange accommodations.