Personal profile

Research overview

Recent and current research interests focus on social learning, traditions and culture. To elucidate the evolution of these phenomena I study and compare human and non-human primates, especially our closest living relatives, chimpanzees. Studies include both large scale surveys of behaviour in the wild and behavioural experiments with children and non-human primates. The latter studies include the first ones that track the diffusion of behavioural techniques experimentally introduced into existing groups. Development of social learning capacities is studied in children and juvenile non-human primates.

Research interests

Research interests span: Evolutionary Psychology; Ethology; Developmental Psychology; Evolution and development of mind, particularly social cognition; Recent and current focus is on Social learning, cultural transmission studied in wild and captive primates (monkeys and apes, particularly chimpanzees and vervet monkeys) and humans, particularly normal children and individuals with autistic spectrum disorders.

For more information, please also see the Scottish Primate Research Group, Centre for Social Learning  and Cognitive Evolution (, Living Links ( and Culture Evolves (  sites.

Future research

Research projects funded for the next few years include: Experimental studies of social learning in young Bushman, Aboriginal and urban Australian children (collaboration with Mark Nielsen, Univ Queensland) ; Examining the 'evolutionary and ontogenetic foundations of intelligence and cultural complexity through the lens of behavioural complexity' in children and chimpanzees (collaboration with C Legare and S Davis, Univ Texas Austin).

Industrial relevance

The 'Living Links to Human Evolution' Research Centre in Edinburgh Zoo has become a major attraction to the public, with visitors estimated at over 300,000 per year. Extensive public engagement with science activities for this substantial population are integral to the research programme at Living Links and have been funded by grants from the Scottish Government and Wellcome Trust.

Academic/Professional Qualification

Ph.D., University of Bristol; B.Sc., 1st Class Hons., University of Sheffield

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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