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School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Comparative Psychology

Comparative Psychology Header


The study of animals can provide unique insight into the mechanisms of brain and behaviour and how they have evolved. The School of Biological and Chemical Sciences has a rich endowment of researchers studying animal models such as bees and flies (Prof Lars Chittka, Dr Elisabetta Versace), corvids and primates (Dr Nathan Emery), songbirds (Prof David Clayton, Dr Rob Lachlan), zebrafish (Dr Caroline Brennan), and chicks (Dr Elisabetta Versace). Research foci include mechanisms of cognition (Prof Lars Chittka, Dr Nathan Emery, Dr Caroline Brennan, Dr Elisabetta Versace), communication (Prof David Clayton, Dr Rob Lachlan, Dr Elisabetta Versace) and well-being. Comparative research on brain and behaviour is also represented in the Neurobiology group.

Professor Lars Chittka's research on bees has shown that some small insects can be trained to perform tasks, revealing unprecedented learning abilities.


Researcher Title Department

Research Interests

Brennan, Dr Caroline Reader in Molecular Genetics Psychology

Genetics and psychiatric disease, Biology and motivated behaviours, Cognition, Attention

Chittka, Prof Lars Professor of Sensory and Behavioural and Ecology Psychology

Sensory systems, Comparative cognition, Insect learning and memory, Animal navigation

Emery, Dr Nathan

Senior Lecturer


Animal cognition, Creativity, Innovative problem-solving, Gaze following

Versace, Dr Elisabetta

Lecturer in Psychology


Animal cognition, Comparative psychology, Artificial grammar learning, Lateralisation



Daggett J, Brown V, Brennan C (2018). Food or friends? What motivates zebrafish (Danio Rerio) performing a visual discrimination task. Behavioral Brain Research PI (in press)

van Horik J, Emery N (2018). Serial reversal learning and cognitive flexibility in two species of Neotropical parrots (Diopsittaca nobilis and Pionites melanocephala). Behavioural Processes (in press)

Lachlan R, Ratmann O, Nowicki S (2018). Cultural conformity generates extremely stable traditions in bird song. Nature Communications

Versace E, Martinho-Truswell A, Kacelnik A, Vallortigara G (2018). Priors in Animal and Artificial Intelligence: Where Does Learning Begin? Trends in Cognitive Sciences

Loukola O, Perry C, Coscos L, Chittka L (2017) Bumblebees show cognitive flexibility by improving on an observed complex behavior. Science

Peng F, Chittka L (2017) A Simple Computational Model of the Bee Mushroom Body Can Explain Seemingly Complex Forms of Olfactory Learning and Memory. Current Biology

Versace E, Spierings M, Caffini M, Ten Cate C, Vallortigara G (2017). Spontaneous generalization of abstract multimodal patterns in young domestic chicks. Animal Cognition

Rogers L, Frasnelli E, Versace E (2016). Lateralized antennal control of aggression and sex differences in red mason bees, Osmia bicornis. Scientific Reports

Perry C, Baciadonna L, Chittka L (2016). Unexpected rewards induce dopamine-dependent positive emotion–like state changes in bumblebees. Science

van Horik J, Emery N (2016). Transfer of physical understanding in a non-toll-using parrot. Animal Cognition

Mello C, Clayton D (2015). The opportunities and challenges of large–scale molecular approaches to songbird neurobiology. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews

Clayton N, Emery N (2015). Avian models for human cognitive neuroscience: A proposal. Neuron

Lachlan R, Nowicki S (2015) Context-dependent categorical perception in a songbird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

Clayton D, London S (2014). Advancing avian behavioural neuroendocrinology through genomics. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology

Lin YC, Balakrishnan C, Clayton D (2014). Functional genomic analysis and neuroanatomical localization of miR-2954, a song-responsive sex-linked microRNA in the zebra finch. Frontiers in Neuroscience

Lachlan R, Anderson A, Peters S, Searcy W, Nowicki S (2014) Typical versions of learned swamp sparrow song types are more effective signals than are less typical versions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences