Animal Minds :: Syllabus

Term: Fall 2020
Course Number: PSYC 3240
Instructor: Daniel Meliza (cdm8j)
Class times: Lecture/Discussion W 3:30-4:45 PM
Final exam: Due Monday, 12/7, 5 PM
Course site:
Collab site:
Piazza site:
Office Hours: M 9:30-10:45 and Th 12-1:15
Last revised: 11/9/2020

Teaching Assistants

Email Office Hours
Isabelle Moore ilm5fp Th 3-5
Maura Austin ma2bg M 2-3 and 4:30-5:30

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

To protect everyone’s health, all class meetings will be online only. We will use a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous instruction.

There will be one synchronous class meeting each week during the scheduled class time. With one exception (11/16), these are on Wednesdays. All synchronous meetings will be recorded by the instructor and stored in Collab.

Outside of class, you will be learning through textbook readings, asynchronous video content (about 1 hour, 20 minutes per week), quizzes, and homework assignments.

Your progress at the end of the class will be assessed through an open-book comprehensive final exam and a capstone writing project.

Weekly quizzes (20%)

Each week before class, you will complete a quiz based on assigned readings and asynchronous lecture content. These quizzes are open-book and may be taken as many times as you like.

Discussion participation and clicker questions (20%)

Our synchronous meeting will focus on hypothesis generation, experimental design, and data analysis, using material from the readings and asynchronous lectures. Clicker questions will be used to assess your participation and understanding.

If you are having technical issues connecting to Zoom sessions or are in a different time zone, please contact me to make a plan regarding participation.

Homework (20%)

You will also be assigned exercises to drill key concepts and build critical scientific thinking. Many of these are designed to prepare you to write your capstone research proposal.

Research Proposal (20%)

As a final assessment of your critical scientific thinking skills, you will write a short (5-page) research proposal, 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.

More information, including the rubric for instructor evaluation, is available at this link.

Cumulative Final (20%)

As a final assessment of your understanding of the concepts covered in lectures, you will complete an open-book comprehensive final exam. Most of the questions on this exam will be short-answer.

What materials will you need?

Where do I find stuff?

What is the class schedule?

All lecture topics, readings, assignment due dates, and test dates are shown in the table below. Due dates in Collab take precedence over this calendar, but please ask on Piazza if there is an unexpected discrepancy.

There are many unknowns this fall that could impact our course and university. We have already seen a delay of in-person classes to protect the health and safety of our community, and additional delays and disruptions may occur. It is possible that we will have to move to a fully asynchronous model. Please prepare to be flexible and take things one step at a time. I’ll use the course email to communicate any major changes.

Week Date Topic Readings Assignments Due
Theme 1 What are animals doing?
1 8/26 Intro, what is behavior (ethology)?
2 9/2 How do animals experience the world? AC1, AC2, this syllabus
3 9/9 Learning about relationships between stimuli AC5 Animal Observations
4 9/16 Learning how to respond to stimuli Classical Conditioning
5 9/23 Quantitative models of learning Rescorla-Wagner Experimental Design
Theme 2 What do animals know about the world?
6 9/30 What is a stimulus anyway? AC3 Rescorla-Wagner
7 10/7 Can animals count? AC4
8 10/14 How do animals know where they are? AC7 Behavior in the News
9 10/21 What do animals remember? AC10
Theme 3 What’s so special about humans?
10 10/28 Communicating? Intentionality? AC9, AC11 Questions and Hypotheses
11/3 ELECTION DAY - Please Vote!
11 11/4 Social cognition? AC6
12 11/11 Planning? (reading on collab) Literature Search
13 11/16 NOTE DAY CHANGE Self-awareness? Language? AC8, AC12
11/30 Research Proposal due at 5 PM
12/7 Final Exam Due at 5 PM

How to succeed

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 nature. Posts are generally only answered during normal working hours, so plan ahead. Emails may take up to 24 hours for a response during the week and up to 48 hours on the weekends.

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. To help you focus on key concepts, you will need to complete the weekly quiz before synchronous meeting each week.

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 7 hours throughout the week for meetings by zoom (links are on Collab). You do not need to make an appointment. We might already be answering your question, so you are welcome to join at any point. 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. Instructors may close the zoom session if no one is there, so send an email if you are unable to join or the room is empty.

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.

Flexibility and contingency plans

This is an exceptionally challenging semester, and I understand that everyone is under increased stress. I expect that it may be harder to complete assignments on time and to reliably attend class, and that there is an increased chance of medical emergencies. To give you more flexibility, these are the policies on late and missing work:

The baseline policy is that late quizzes and 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. Emergencies include:

If you just need a breather, you can take advantage of the following exceptions:

I encourage you have a plan for communicating with instructors in case you become too ill to contact me. Consider nominating a friend or close relative who can contact me and your other instructors as soon as possible, so that we can come up with a plan.

There is a backup plan in place if I become ill and am unable to continue instructing the course. I or the backup instructor will communicate with you by email about how the course will proceed.

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. There are no make-ups; assignments not completed before enrollment are excluded from the final grade calculation.

Lecture materials

Lecture slides are only available through the Panopto or Zoom recordings. Note that access to slides cannot substitute for note-taking. 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.

You may not distribute any course materials, including lecture recordings, without express permission from the instructor (see University Policy PROV-005).


All exams and quizzes are open-book but must be completed individually, in accordance with the UVA Honor Code.

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.


Regrade requests must be submitted in writing to a TA, and can only be accommodated if they are made within one week of when the assignment or test is returned. Your request needs to explain why your answer was correct or deserved more credit, based on the rubric and/or the course materials.

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.