- Evolution of the Human Mind (PSY327)
My research focuses on animal intelligence and the evolution of cognition, particularly in corvids, parrots, monkeys and apes.
Perhaps surprisingly, we have found striking similarities in the behaviour, ecology, neurobiology and cognitive mechanisms of corvids (crows, rooks, jackdaws and jays) and apes. We suggest that these similarities are adaptations for solving similar social and ecological problems, such as finding, protecting and extracting food and living in a complex social world. My research covers two main areas, social and physical cognition, such as what these birds may know about other minds and what they may know about the properties of objects.
We use both a comparative approach, comparing different species of corvids, and corvids with apes, and an ecological/ethological approach, using information about the natural lives of these birds to design ecologically valid experiments. We currently have large colonies of rooks, jackdaws, Eurasian jays and western scrub-jays housed at the Sub-department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge in large, modern aviaries with state-of-the-art facilities for behavioural observations and cognitive testing.
Much of my corvid research is in collaboration with Professor Nicky Clayton, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, whilst work on the great apes is in collaboration with Dr Josep Call at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.
Developing tests of mirror self-recognition in corvids
A Templeton World Charity Foundation grant currently funds a project in which we have developed a Reflective Test Battery consisting of 9 novel tasks using mirrors and video to examine what ravens, rooks and Eurasian jays do in front of mirrors, whether they can use mirrors to investigate their external worlds and whether changes in the environment reflected in mirrors can help us understand what these birds might understand about themselves.
Physical cognition, social cognition and personality in the Tower of London ravens
We are examining the cognition, behaviour and personality of the iconic ravens at the Tower of London, such as what they understand about objects and each other, how they play, how they interact with humans and how their personality may influence their cognitive abilities.
Games, welfare and well-being in animals and humans
What is the nature of fun? What role does choice play in experiencing fun? Is having fun important to animal welfare and human well-being? We are investigating these questions in corvids and humans using games that present players with a variety of choices and determine whether increasing the number of meaningful choices is related to how much fun the game is. We’ll then look at whether games can be used as a tool for enhancing welfare and well-being in animals and humans.
The psychology of tabletop games
What cognitive abilities are used to play modern tabletop games? Can we identify the brain regions involved in making decisions during game play? Are there different gamer personalities? We have recently started a new project using sophisticated analyses of behaviour, eye movements and neural activity during game play to understand what strategies and tactics gamers use to win, how they make decisions, how they feel during a game and how they engage with other players.
Find out more on Nathan Emery's personal website