Personal profile

Research overview

I am interested in the evolution of flexible behaviour and abstract thought.  In particular I study the extent to which non-human primates and human children solve problems using object concepts and causal reasoning.  I am also interested in how other cognitive processes (such as inhibition, working memory and attention) affect individual differences in performance on problem-solving tasks.  The underlying question motivating my research is to uncover the evolutionary changes in representational and executive processes that marked the origins of uniquely human thinking.  To answer this I think we also need to find out what selective pressures caused those changes to occur.  To this end I am interested in convergent evolution of intelligence in other large-brained animals such as corvids and parrots, and comparing species to uncover common principles for the evolution of intelligence.

Current Research Projects 

Physical reasoning in primates and children 

Can primates use physical principles such as solidity or connectedness to solve problems, or are they limited to perceptual features such as spatial relationships between objects?  How does physical reasoning develop in ontogeny?  
Correlation is not causation: do primates know the difference? 

Children have been described as little scientists because of their ability to infer patterns of causation from observed events, and plan interventions to investigate and test causal relationships.  Do primates infer an underlying causal structure when they observe events (such as X caused Y which caused Z or Y was the common cause of X and Z) or are they limited to learning patterns of association without encoding causal directionality? Can they use action to explore the physical properties of objects and explain the cause of events? How do their abilities compare with those of children?


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