CCST9025 Science, Technology and Big Data
Genetics and Human Nature

This course is under the thematic cluster(s) of:

  • Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth (SCCE)
  • The Human Life Span (HL)

[This is a certified Communication-intensive (CI) Course which meets all of the requirements endorsed by HKU’s Senate, including (i) the teaching assessment of oral and digital communication ‘literacies’; and (ii) at least 40% of the course grade assigned to communication-rich assessment tasks.]

Course Description

The overall theme of this course is that genetics and evolution provide a useful perspective for understanding many important aspects of our lives, including our psychological makeup and how we relate to others. The course will draw on multiple intellectual disciplines – genetics, evolution, mathematics, statistics and psychology – to address the following fundamental issues:

  • How life is maintained from one generation to the next through genes, and how living organisms can adapt to the environment through changes in the genes.
  • How human individual and group differences in important domains such as personality, abilities and talents, behaviour and health are influenced by genetic and environmental differences.
  • How the nature of humankind may have been shaped by our evolutionary past, and the implications this has on current and future problems facing our species

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe and explain the basic principles of genetics and evolution, and give an account of the principal historical figures and their major ideas and contributions.
  2. Evaluate the evidence concerning the relative roles of nature and nurture (or genes and environment) in the determination of human individual and group differences, and to discuss the implications of the findings of such studies.
  3. Analyze how humankind’s evolutionary past may have shaped our emotional makeup and thereby impact on how we behave to each other and the material world.
  4. Develop critical thinking abilities in facing different genetics and environmental related topics in different roles.
  5. Build up competencies in communication skills, specifically oral, written and visual literacies.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Course will be offered twice:
Section 1 – First semester (Wed); Section 2 – Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 60
Assessment: Poster presentation (incl preparation) 40
Total: 134

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial discussion 30
Poster presentation 30
In-class quizzes 30
Individual mini-project 10

Required Reading

  • Dawkins, R. (2006). The selfish gene (30th anniversary ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. [Chaps. 1-10, 12]
  • Pinker, S. (2003). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York: Penguin Books. [Chaps. 1, 2, 6-10, 14-19]

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor P.C. Sham
Department of Psychiatry, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9557
Email: pcsham@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor P.C. Sham
Department of Psychiatry, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9557
Email: pcsham@hku.hk
Dr L.W. Baum
Department of Psychiatry, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5106
Email: lwbaum@hku.hk
Dr W.L. Yang
Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5077
Email: yangwl@hku.hk