version 2021-11-04


HPS 2365 Animal Cognition — Fall 2021 Schedule and Syllabus

Class meetings: M 3:00-5:25 in CL 1008C and on Zoom via link in Canvas

Instructor: Colin Allen <>

Office: CL 1109H
Office hours (no appointment necessary): Wed 12:30-1:30 and Fri 1:45-2:45 (Zoom or CL 1109H). (Email me for Zoom link or appointments at other times.)

Course Description

This course will examine theoretical and methodological challenges and controversies in the scientific study of nonhuman animal cognition. Current topics will be framed by the history of psychological and ethological approaches to animal behavior, with their different and sometimes opposing concerns about general laws of learning, the importance of experimental methods, the ecological validity of laboratory and field studies, and the significance of phylogeny and ontogeny for scientific understanding of animal behavior and cognition. We will sample current work in comparative animal cognition treating topics such as concepts, communication, reasoning and rationality, episodic memory, self-awareness, imitation, mind reading, consciousness and emotions, to investigate the challenges arising from the apparent subjectivity of mental states, the danger of anthropomorphic projection by researchers, the contestable relevance of neuroscientific evidence, and the so-called "logical problem" facing experimental tests of cognitive hypotheses.

Course Objectives

Beyond the objective of gaining broad knowledge about the historical and philosophical dimensions of scientific work on animal cognition, students taking the course for credit are expected to develop a research interest in a specific subtopic of the course. HPS graduate students also have the option of using the course to satisfy the Departmental distribution requirement in either History of Science or Philosophy of Science (but not both; see below for specific details). If you are enrolling in the course for S/NC credit, or just as auditor, please make an appointment with me between the first and second meetings to discuss what's expected.


There are two approaches to receiving a letter grade for this course. However, if you wish to satisfy the departmental distribution requirement you must use the second option::

  1. annotated bibliography and class presentation, plus three short papers;
  2. annotated bibliography and class presentation, plus term paper

Student presentations will be scheduled for the second half of the semester, based on the bibliographic assignment. That assignment should cover at least four thematically-related articles, one book*, or an equivalent amount of archival material, beyond the assigned readings on the syllabus. (*Yes, books are often longer than four articles, but you may choose to focus your bibliography on a 30,000-50,000-word portion. Everyone is encouraged to consult with me about the choice of materials. Recommended or optional readings from the syllabus are fair game, but distribution credit seekers should see specific instructions below). Aim to write 1 paragraph for each article-sized chunk, summarizing its significance for the issues raised in class. You will assign one article-sized chunk of the material you read to the class and lead a discussion of the issues it raises. (You should bring your other reading to bear on this presentation without assuming that those items have been read.)

Important dates


There are no required texts for this course. Required readings will be provided via links in the reading schedule below. Some items are provided to you via the Canvas site under fair use principles.

Schedule of Readings and Presentations

We are going to adjust this as we go along. Note that the suggested reading list is aiming for breadth more than depth; you should follow citations for more depth. You should find accessible copies on all the required reading links. For the suggested/further readings I've provided links where I have them, but sometimes you'll find just the publisher's page.


Topics Date
Required Readings [+ Student Presenters] Further reading suggestions
The long arc of history Aug 30
Read at least one of these:
Labor Day NO MEETING Sep 06
Extracurricular event Sep 10
Suggested readings for Tecumseh Fitch's 12:15pm Center Talk "Evolutionary functions of consciousness". First two are suggested by Fitch, the other by me.
Morgan's Canon and Anthropo****ism Sep 13

Read at least three of the following

Consciousness Sep 20

Read the first couple of chapters from either Morgan's or Washburn's textbook and at least two of the following:

Ethology & Comparative Psychology Sep 27

Read the first three of these and one of the others.

Reasoning and Rationality Oct 04
Read at least two of these three items and at least one of the other articles in Rational Animals [available online through Pitt library] .
Self and Others Oct 11
Let's see how far we get with this in one session, but try reading them all, in the order shown...
Skeptics and the null hypothesis Oct 18
First two items are unfinished business from last week:
Oct 25 Communication
Dejan's primary selection is the Cheney & Seyfarth paper, but he also would like to discuss four highlighted paragraphs in the Chomsky piece also listed. Also read either Munz's or Crist's article controversy over bee dance language.
Nov 01 Reversal Learning / Learning experiments and mechanisms
Jenny would like everyone to read the first item (Cauchoix et al.) and optionally look at the second (Rygula et al.) and third (D'Cruz et al.) items. For my part I've added two other learning-related papers. Read Zambetti et al. and look at Grau & Joynes if you have time.
Nov 08 Emotions // the Religious Context of early Comp Psych (no relation)
Nov 15
Jordan & Clara have provided the following items respectively:
Nov 22 Thanksgiving break - NO CLASS
Nov 29
Caitlin on Instinct; Joshua on Lorenz on Kant
Dec 06 [Term paper workshop]

Everything below is not specific to this course, but required/recommended for all Pitt syllabi.

Statement about Academic Misconduct

Students in this course will be expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s Policy on Academic Integrity. Any student suspected of violating this obligation for any reason during the semester will be required to participate in the procedural process as outlined in the University Guidelines on Academic Integrity. When you submit assignments with your name on them in this course, you are signifying that the work contained therein is all yours, unless otherwise cited or referenced. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged. If you are unsure about the expectations for any assignment be sure to seek clarification beforehand.

Diversity and Inclusion

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 140 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890,, 412-228-5347 for P3 ASL users, as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

The University of Pittsburgh does not tolerate any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, genetic information, marital status, familial status, sex, age, sexual orientation, veteran status or gender identity or other factors as stated in the University’s Title IX policy. The University is committed to taking prompt action to end a hostile environment that interferes with the University’s mission. For more information about policies, procedures, and practices, see Pitt's Civil Rights & Title IX Compliance pages.

I ask that everyone in the class strive to help ensure that other members of this class can learn in a supportive and respectful environment. If there are instances of the aforementioned issues, you may contact the Title IX Coordinator, by calling 412-648-7860, or e-mailing Reports can also be filed online: You may also choose to report this to a faculty/staff member; they may also be required to communicate about such issues to the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. If you wish to maintain complete confidentiality, you may also contact the University Counseling Center 412-648-7930.

Statement on Classroom Recording

To ensure the free and open discussion of ideas, students may not record classroom lectures, discussion and/or activities without the advance written permission of the instructor, and any such recording properly approved in advance can be used solely for the student’s own private use.

At certain times, lectures or portions of the lectures may be recorded by the instructor. Before starting recording, it will be announced to the class. Students who do not wish to be identifiable during such recordings may remain silent and obscure their faces either by turning off their own video feed if connected via Zoom or obscuring their faces if in the classroom.

Copyright Notice

Materials provided for the course may be protected by copyright. United States copyright law, 17 USC section 101, et seq., in addition to University policy and procedures, prohibit unauthorized duplication or retransmission of course materials. See Library of Congress Copyright Office and the University Copyright Policy.

Health and Safety Statement

During this pandemic, it is extremely important that you abide by the public health regulations, the University of Pittsburgh’s health standards and guidelines, and Pitt’s Health Rules. These rules have been developed to protect the health and safety of all of us. Universal face covering is required in all classrooms and in every building on campus, without exceptions, regardless of vaccination status. This means you must wear a face covering that properly covers your nose and mouth when you are in the classroom. If you do not comply, you will be asked to leave class. It is your responsibility have the required face covering when entering a university building or classroom. For the most up-to-date information and guidance, please visit and check your Pitt email for updates before each class.

If you are required to isolate or quarantine, become sick, or are unable to come to class, contact me as soon as possible to discuss arrangements.