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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Comparative Cognition

Supervisor: Dr Elisabetta Versace

The Versace labe studies the behaviour of different species to understand how evolution shapes cognition in response to different ecological needs and how animal intelligence can inspire artificial intelligence. Our methods span between observation, automated tracking, virtual reality and robotics.

Availailable projects focus on:

  1. Cognition at the onset of life: identifying which ideas are available at the beginning of life, before experience takes place, and how these ideas shape early learning. Newly-hatched chicks and other precocial species are our favourite models to address these issues. 
  2. Rule learning: clarifying the mechanism used by different species to extract regular patterns from the environment and use this information to make predictions of future events. Bees, flies and chicks are our favourite models.
  3. Functional asymmetries: understanding the different functions of the right and left side of the brain and the impact of asymmetries on cognition.

Please get in touch with Dr Elisabetta Versace ( to discuss potential PhD projects and for any further information about the lab.


  • Versace, E., Martinho-Truswell, A., Kacelnik, A. & Vallortigara, G. Priors in Animal and Artificial Intelligence: Where Does Learning Begin? Trends Cogn. Sci. 22, 963–925 (2018).
  • Versace, E., Spierings, M.J., Caffini, M., ten Cate, C., Vallortigara, G., 2017. Spontaneous generalization of abstract multimodal patterns in young domestic chicks. Animal Cognition. 20, 521–529.
  • Versace, E., Fracasso, I., Baldan, G., Dalle Zotte, A. & Vallortigara, G. Newborn chicks show inherited variability in early social predispositions for hen-like stimuli. Sci. Rep. 7, 40296 (2017).
  • Versace, E., Damini, S., Caffini, M. & Stancher, G. Born to be asocial: newly hatched tortoises avoid unfamiliar individuals. Anim. Behav. 138, (2018).
  • Versace, E. & Vallortigara, G. Forelimb preferences in human beings and other species: multiple models for testing hypotheses on lateralization. Front. Psychol. 6, 1–9 (2015).
  • Versace, E. & Vallortigara, G. Origins of knowledge: Insights from precocial species. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 9, 338 (2015).

See also

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