Animal Minds :: Syllabus

Term: Fall 2022
Course Number: PSYC 3240
Class times: Lecture MWF 3-3:50 PM, Gilmer Hall 390
Final exam: due Friday, 12/16, by 5 PM
Course site:
Collab site:
Piazza site:
Last revised: 10/7/2022

Instructor and Teaching Assistant

Email Office Office Hours
Daniel Meliza cdm8j Gilmer 481 Tu 3:30-5:00 by zoom, W 1:30-3 in Gilmer 481, or by appointment
Sophie Clayton (TA) slc6ep Gilmer Academic Commons (tent.) W 4-5:30 and Th 12:30-1:30

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

We will use a range of techniques to assess your progress toward these goals. Feedback will be derived from variety of sources, including quizzes, homework assignments, and midterms. Your progress at the end of the class will be assessed through a comprehensive final exam.

Weekly quizzes (25%)

Each week before class on Monday, you will complete a quiz based on assigned readings. These quizzes are open-book and may be taken as many times as you like. The two lowest quiz scores (after any penalities) are dropped from final grade calculation.

Homework (25%)

You will also be assigned exercises to drill key concepts and build critical scientific thinking. Assignments are generally due on Fridays by the beginning of class. The lowest homework score (after penalities) is dropped from final grade calculation.

Midterms (30%)

To help you solidify and retain your understanding of course content and themes I will give two in-class midterms during 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.

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.

What materials will you need?

The required textbook for this course is Animal Cognition: Evolution, Behavior, & Cognition, Wynne and Udell (2013). Palgrave MacMillan, 3rd Edition (ISBN-13: 978-1137611260). We are participating in a new inclusive access program that provides this text through the course Collab site at a reduced price. Access during the first two weeks is free. After September 6, your student account will be charged $42.95. Important: if you purchase the text elsewhere, you must actively opt out by the deadline to not be charged. Due to the special pricing, no refunds can be processed. If you have any questions regarding the program, please contact

There will be several other required readings posted to Collab Resources. These will be linked from the syllabus or in an email through the Collab system. A clicker is not required.

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, but please ask on Piazza if there is an unexpected discrepancy.

Date Topic Readings Assignments Due
Theme 1 What are animals doing?
W 8/24 Intro, what is behavior (ethology)?
F 8/26 AC1, this syllabus
M 8/29 How do animals experience the world? AC2,
W 8/31
F 9/2
M 9/5 Learning about relationships between stimuli AC5
W 9/7
F 9/9 Animal Observations
M 9/12 Learning how to respond to stimuli
W 9/14
F 9/16 Classical Conditioning
M 9/19 Quantitative models of learning Rescorla-Wagner handout
W 9/21
F 9/23 Rescorla-Wagner
Theme 2 What do animals know about the world?
M 9/26 What is a stimulus anyway? AC3
W 9/28
F 9/30 Experimental Design
M 10/3 No class (fall break)
W 10/5 No class or office hours (Yom Kippur)
F 10/7 Midterm 1 (covers Theme 1)
M 10/10 Can animals count? AC4
W 10/12
F 10/14 Behavior in the News
M 10/17 How do animals know where they are? AC7
W 10/19
F 10/21
M 10/24 What do animals remember? AC10
W 10/26 No class or office hours (departmental retreat)
F 10/28 Literature Search
Theme 3 What’s so special about humans?
M 10/31 Communicating? AC11
W 11/2
F 11/4 Midterm 2 (covers Theme 2)
M 11/7 Causal reasoning? AC6
W 11/9
F 11/11 Questions and Hypotheses
M 11/14 Intentionality and planning? AC9
W 11/16
F 11/18 Social cognition and theory of mind?
M 11/21
W 11/23 No class or office hours (Thanksgiving)
F 11/25 No class (Thanksgiving)
M 11/28 Self-Awareness? AC8, AC12
W 11/30 Language?
F 12/2 Time Travel
M 12/5 Putting it all together AC13
12/16 Final Exam Due at 5 PM

Other important dates

9/7 last day to drop
10/18 last day to withdraw

Expectations for attendance and timely completion of work

Regular attendance and participation in lectures are required for success in this course. If you miss class for any reason, you do not need to notify the instructor or TA, but it is your responsibility to catch up with what you missed (e.g., by getting lecture notes from classmates or by coming to office hours). Recorded lectures and slides will be made available for review one week prior to exams.

Homework and weekly quizzes are designed to complement lectures and build on each other, so it is essential to complete them on time. You can expect to receive feedback within a week if the work is submitted on time. Late work receives a penalty of 5% per day, unless an extension is arranged before the due date or an emergency prevents submission. Emergencies include illness that significantly impacts your ability to complete work, serious illness of a close relative, isolation/quarantine requirements or travel delays.

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 and emails are typically only answered during office hours, so plan ahead.

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.

Come to office hours. The TAs and I are collectively available for 6 hours throughout the week. 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.

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

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 credit on your quiz score for that week.

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.

COVID Safety

We will follow University policy throughout the term. At the time of this writing, masking is optional, but our classroom is not well ventilated, so I will be wearing a mask and strongly encourage you to do so as well. I expect everyone to treat each other with kindness and respect. Do not come to class if you are sick.

Course materials

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


The midterms, which are taken in class, are closed-note and closed-book. The weekly quizzes and the final exam, which are taken at home, are open-book but must be completed individually, in accordance with the UVA Honor Code.

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.

Per College policy, final exams can only be given on a specific date associated with the days and times 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. For some types of accommodations, you need to contact me to determine how they will be implemented; this is your responsibility. Please note that accommodations for flexible deadlines are generally not compatibile with the structure of the course.