Comparative, Evolutionary and Developmental Psychology: Origins of Mind (MSc) 2023 entry

This MSc provides advanced research training in a range of intellectual and practical skills associated with evolutionary, comparative and developmental approaches to the study of the mind.

Start date
September 2023
End date
September 2024
One year full time
School of Psychology and Neuroscience

Application deadline

Thursday 10 August 2023

Applicants should apply as early as possible to be eligible for certain scholarships and for international visa purposes.

Entry requirements

The qualifications listed are indicative minimum requirements for entry. Some academic Schools will ask applicants to achieve significantly higher marks than the minimum. Obtaining the listed entry requirements will not guarantee you a place, as the University considers all aspects of every application including, where applicable, the writing sample, personal statement, and supporting documents.

Application requirements

  • CV or résumé 
  • personal statement (500 words) 
  • sample of your own, single-authored academic written work (2,000 words) 
  • two original signed academic references 
  • academic transcripts and degree certificates.

For more guidance, see supporting documents and references for postgraduate taught programmes.

English language proficiency

If English is not your first language, you may need to provide an English language test score to evidence your English language ability.  See approved English language tests and scores for this course.

Course details

The MSc in Comparative, Evolutionary and Developmental Psychology is a one-year taught postgraduate programme run by the School of Psychology and Neuroscience. 

This MSc programme explores the evolution and development of behaviour and cognition in human beings and non-human animals. It provides students with the academic knowledge and practical skills required to study the origins of mind, using a broad range of theoretical perspectives and experimental approaches. 

The modules are taught by renowned researchers, and students normally have the opportunity to conduct an independent research project. 


  • The core curriculum provides a broad understanding of the evolution and development of behaviour and cognition, supplemented with options that allow students to explore specialist topics at an advanced level. 
  • Students gain a range of valuable transferable skills that are highly relevant for pursuing a postgraduate research degree or other research-related careers. 
  • Students have the opportunity, subject to availability, to conduct an independent research project, supervised by our academic staff, and that sometimes include fieldwork and zoo-based animal studies, and experimental studies on children and adult humans. 
  • The course is mainly taught by members of the origins of mind research group, with additional contributions from other members of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience and the wider Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution


The modules in this programme have varying methods of delivery and assessment. For more details about each module, including weekly contact hours, teaching methods and assessment, please see the latest module catalogue, which is for the 2022-2023 academic year; some elements may be subject to change for 2023 entry. 

  • Empirical Approaches to the Evolution of Communication: explores the evolution of human language and animal communication through the comparative study of communication and cognition in humans and a variety of non-human species. 
  • Methods of Data Analysis in Psychology: advanced training in research design, statistics, qualitative methods and modelling. 
  • Origins of Human Cognition: focuses on the origins of human cognition from evolutionary and developmental perspectives. 
  • Principal Approaches to the Origins of Mind: introduces distinct ways of studying the origins of mind within a comparative Tinbergian framework, emphasising both functional and mechanistic accounts. 

Students choose two optional modules ('Generic Research and Professional Skills' count as two choices). 

Here is a sample of optional modules that may be offered. 

  • Animal Models in Psychology & Neuroscience: focuses on the animals frequently used in psychology and neuroscience research; discussing key physiological and behavioural characteristics of the animals, why these characteristics make them good or bad models for given areas of research, and how these behavioural and physiological characteristics must be accounted for when designing experiments. 
  • Evolution and Development of Social and Technical Intelligence: traces the evolution and development of aspects of social intelligence such as imitation and theory of mind, and technical intelligence such as tool use and understanding of causality. 
  • Evolution of Human Behaviour and Culture:  focuses on four modern evolutionary approaches to the study of human behaviour: human behavioural ecology, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, and gene-culture co-evolution. 
  • Generic Research and Professional Skills in Psychology: introduces students to the various skills and issues that are important to academic psychologists irrespective of their particular area of research. 
  • Mechanisms of Behaviour: Integrating Psychological and Neuroscience Perspectives: explores many physiological and neural systems that modulate patterns of behaviour in a range of species, including humans.
  • Methodologies for Psychology and Neuroscience: practical experience in a number of laboratory techniques and research methodologies as employed by the principal investigators in the School. 
  • Origins and Evolution of Mind Reading (Theory of Mind): offers a comparative approach to the emergence of the ability to understand mental states in children and non-human primates, and its alteration in autism. 
  • The Impact of Science: focuses on a writing review of a research finding in psychology and neuroscience selected by the student and approved by the module controller, with one aspect of the review based on the impact of the research finding on science and society. 

Optional modules are subject to change each year and require a minimum number of participants to be offered; some may only allow limited numbers of students (see the University's position on curriculum development). 


Students will undertake a significant piece of independent research as part of their final assessment. In the past, students have had the opportunity to conduct research on humans and other animals at: 

In past years, research projects have included topics such as: 

  • Conceptual thought and causal knowledge in primates and children 
  • Development of social cognition, for example, imitation, joint attention, pre-verbal communication, prosocial behaviour and group membership in children 
  • Evolution of communication, for example, gesture and multimodal communication in primates 
  • Evolutionary and psychological origins of cooperation in primates, rats and children 
  • Intentionality in primates and human infants 
  • Moral reasoning and inequity aversion, for example, cross-cultural studies in children 
  • Sex differences in behavioural development in rodents and primates 
  • Sex differences in human social behaviour, for example, aggression, impulsivity, confidence and conformity 
  • Social and physical problem solving in children, primates and birds 
  • Theory of mind in primates and children.

The research projects will be supervised by members of the teaching staff, who will advise on the choice of study subject and dissertation topic. In addition, they will provide guidance throughout the research process. The completed dissertation of not more than 15,000 words must be submitted by a specific date in mid-August. 

The modules listed here are indicative, and there is no guarantee they will run for 2023 entry. Take a look at the most up-to-date modules in the module catalogue.


The programme consists of two taught semesters followed by an independent research project, which is examined via a 15,000-word dissertation. The research project takes place during the entire year with a particular focus during the last three months (May to August). 

The modules are taught through lectures, seminars, practical classes, and personal supervision, which are designed to support learning, enhance confidence, and promote employability. 


The types of assessment might include coursework essays, research proposals, lab reports, statistical analyses,  and exams, in addition to the research project dissertation. 

The MSc normally admits only a small number of students each year and focuses on research-led teaching and individualised support.


The School of Psychology and Neuroscience hosts a weekly seminar programme typically held in the Old Library of the Psychology Building.

These seminars include public lectures, open School discussions and papers presented by a variety of guest lecturers from the UK and abroad. Following the seminars, a reception is typically held in the departmental common room. 

The School also hosts an annual Jeeves Lecture as part of its seminar programme. The lectures are given by eminent psychologists and neuroscientists. Staff, students and members of the public are welcome at this lecture. 




More information on tuition fees can be found on the postgraduate fees and funding page.

Funding and scholarships

The University of St Andrews is committed to attracting the very best students, regardless of financial circumstances.

Taught postgraduate scholarships    Postgraduate loans

After your degree


Many postgraduates from this course have gained academic positions in universities across the world while others have pursued careers in academic publishing, management services, and wildlife conservation.

The Careers Centre offers one-to-one advice to all students as well as a programme of events to assist students in building their employability skills.

Further study

Many Psychology graduates continue their education by enrolling in PhD programmes at St Andrews or elsewhere. 

Postgraduate research

What to do next

Online information events

Join us for one of our information events where you can find out about different levels of study and specific courses we run. There are also sessions available for parents and college counsellors.

Postgraduate virtual days

We encourage all students who are thinking of applying to the University to attend one of our online visiting days.

Contact us

+44 (0)1334 46 2157
School of Psychology and Neuroscience
St Mary's Quad
South Street
St Andrews
KY16 9JP

School of Psychology and Neuroscience website