Animal Learning and Intelligence

In Animal Learning and Intelligencestudents will explore the reasons why we consider certain animals “intelligent” or “not intelligent”, and the theories surrounding how animals learn.  They will discover how ZSL uses the science of learning behaviours to benefit animal welfare at the zoo - including the opportunity to try out animal training techniques on each other!

Animal Learning & Intelligence Workshop, ZSL London Zoo

Age group:  Years 12-13 (AS/A2, Ages 16-18)

Duration: 45-55 minutes 

Capacity: 35 students

Availabilty: 10:30, 11:30 & 12:30 Mon-Fri during term time


Exam Board Specification links:


AQA A Level Psychology A

Unit 3 PSYA3 Topics in Psychology - Animal learning and intelligence

  • Simple learning (classical and operant conditioning) and its role in non-human animal behaviour
  • Intelligence in non-human animals, for example, self-recognition, social learning, Machiavellian intelligence


OCR A Level Biology (H421):

A2 Unit F215: Control, Genomes and Environment

Module 4: Responding to the Environment - 5.4.3 Animal Behaviour

  • (c) explain the meaning of the term learned behaviour
  • (d) describe classical and operant conditioning as examples of learned behaviours


EDEXCEL A Level Psychology (8PS01):

Unit 2 Understanding the Individual

  • 3a Describe the main features of classical conditioning, including unconditioned stimulus (UCS), unconditioned response (UCR), conditioned stimulus (CS), conditioned response (CR), extinction and spontaneous recovery
  • 3b Describe the main features of operant conditioning, including positive and negative reinforcement, punishment, primary and secondary reinforcement


AQA A Level Physical Education

3.1 Unit 1 PHED1 - Opportunities for, and the effects of, leading a healthy and active lifestyle

Learning and Performance

  • Learning theories: operant conditioning, positive & negative reinforcement


OCR AS Level Physical Education (H154):

AS Unit G451: An introduction to Physical Education

Section B Acquiring Movement Skills - 3.1 B. Learning skills in physical activity

  • theory of operant conditioning
  • discuss positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment


Intended learning outcomes:

Students will be able to:

  • Explain how animals learn through classical and operant conditioning, and social learning
  • Give examples of how this knowledge is used to benefit animals in the zoo

Please be aware that though we aim to use a live animal in this session, we do not guarantee that they will be present – animals can fall ill or be unwilling to be handled and their welfare is ZSL’s first priority. 


Additional Resources

  • Support your students' learning before, during or after their visit with our online resources.