• University of Padova

Research Methods in Psychology: Using Animal Models to Understand Human Behaviour

Learn how animal models can help us learn about human psychology, cognitive skills, and the neurobiology of learning and memory.

1,499 enrolled on this course

Brain made of animals

Research Methods in Psychology: Using Animal Models to Understand Human Behaviour

1,499 enrolled on this course

  • 4 weeks

  • 4 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Intermediate level

Find out more about how to join this course

Discover how animal research has helped us understand how we perceive and learn.

Did you know that we can learn a lot about humans through animal research?

Animal models derived from invertebrates have helped us to understand the neurobiology of learning and memory. From cats, we have learned how visual experience informs the human visual system, and recent research has identified fish as a promising model to understand the genetic bases of learning disabilities such as dyscalculia!

On this course from the University of Padova, you’ll explore the use of animal models in psychology, neuroscience, and other biomedical research strands. This will be achieved through videos, papers, and interviews with some of the most important scientists in this field, such as Michael J Beran, Caroline Brennan, Cinzia Chiandetti, Giorgio Vallortigara and Anna Wilkinson.

Use animal models to answer age-old neurocognitive questions

By researching animal models, we are able to develop a deeper understanding of human neurocognitive systems.

The course will help you assess how animal studies are relevant in helping us understand the human mind, and see why animal research can sometimes provide more useful insights than human research.

As you investigate the role of animal research in helping us understand the age-old nature versus nurture debate, you’ll also tackle key questions around the topic of animal models, like ethical issues.

The final steps of the course will invite you to design an experiment yourself, using some of the most common animal models in the field.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Have you ever asked the question, “How do we learn?” “What happens in the brain when we learn something?” A lot of what we know about learning is thanks to the efforts of scientists and their most important collaborators. Can you guess who? Or maybe even what? They are slugs! Yes, you heard it right–slugs! These sticky and slimy creatures who adore memory games have helped us to understand how humans learn.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 seconds Another thing: have you ever wondered what makes gambling so addicting? I mean, pathological gamblers cannot seem to stop their compulsive behavior, even when they rarely win. Why? Well ask a pigeon! Those birds that you see on roofs, laundry lines, and town squares have helped us to understand understand how we change our behavior as a function of reward and punishment.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds So we have a slug for memory, and a pigeon for reward and punishment. Now, can you guess which animal is helping us unravel the genetics behind our mathematical activity? Well it’s fish! We work with fish to better comprehend mathematical disabilities. You shouldn’t be surprised to see a Professor of Psychology working in a natural park full of animals. I’m literally surrounded by some of our closest collaborators. Without them, the history of psychology would be different. In this MOOC, we will see how much animals have helped us to understand who we are. In Week 1, we will see how we study animal cognition, and we will do this without the need of any invasive procedure.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 seconds For the second week, we will see what animals can tell us about the ancient nature-nurture debate. In Week 3, we will focus on learning mechanisms, especially what happens in the brain when we learn something. Lastly, Week 4 will be devoted to showing the important contributions of some animals in the comprehension of psychopathologies. So if you want to see how “animal” psychology is, you’re enrolling in the right course.


  • Week 1

    Understanding animal minds from the outside

    • Introduction to the course

      What will you be learning throughout these four weeks and why are these lessons important?

    • Behavioural and training tests

      Understanding animals through two kinds of tests

    • Visual illusions in animals

      How do visual illusions help us in research?

    • Ethical issues in animal models

      Let's talk about the ethical issues and hear from an expert in the field

    • Putting it all together

      Wrap up the week with feedback from you and a synthesis

  • Week 2

    The nature-nurture problem and the contribution of animal studies

    • Man is also an animal

      How have animal studies helped us better understand ourselves as humans?

    • Important animal contributions

      Examples of animals and their important contributions to our understanding of human processes

    • Putting it all together

      Wrap up the week with feedback from you and a synthesis

  • Week 3

    Learning about learning through animals

    • Learning about learning

      What do you know about how we learn?

    • Learning better through animals

      How have animals and animal models helped us understand how humans learn?

    • Putting it all together

      Wrap up the week with feedback from you and a synthesis

  • Week 4

    Animal models of learning disabilities and psychopathologies

    • Something smells fishy

      Using fish as models of learning disabilities and psychopathologies

    • Animals and affective and psychotic disorders

      Animal models to better understand and treat affective and psychotic disorders

    • Putting it all together

      Wrap up the week with feedback from you and a synthesis

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Compare how cognitive scientists conduct animal studies.
  • Discuss the proper terminology in this field.
  • Assess the relevance of animal studies in the comprehension of human mind.
  • Identify when animal research can provide more useful insights in cognitive sciences rather than human research.
  • Design an experiment involving the most common animal models in this field.
  • Debate on the ethical issues associated to the use of animal models.

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at students and researchers in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, animal cognition, and animal care.

It will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the use of animal models in research related to humans.

Who will you learn with?

President of the Italian Society of Ethology (SIE) and associate editor of the journal Animal Cognition. He published a hundred of papers on cognitive skills of animals, ranging from apes to fish.

Ph.D. student in Psychological sciences.
During her Bachelor's and Master's degree, she has worked in the field of animal cognition, in particular in visual perception in non-human animals.

Who developed the course?

University of Padova

The University of Padova is one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious seats of learning; it aims to provide its students with both professional training and a solid cultural background.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save


Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$134/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 14 May 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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