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 executive functions and episodic cognition. We have been employing an individual differences approach to exploring the relationship between some of these different cognitive skills and how they combine to affect performance on problem-solving tasks. The motivation for this research is to shed light on the evolutionary changes in representational, mnemonic and executive processes that marked the origins of uniquely human thinking. I am also 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
Correlation is not causation: do primates know the difference?
“Executive functions” (EFs) are “a set of general-purpose control processes that regulate thoughts and behaviours”. Cross-sectional studies of adults show that although there is an overall correlation in the performance of individuals across several different ‘executive’ tasks, there is not complete overlap, and 3 factors can be dissociated: inhibitory control, working memory, and attentional flexibility. Could human evolution have involved changes in these control mechanisms? Together with Carolina Mayer and Josep Call we are using individual differences to explore how these process are related to one another over primate evolution and human development.
Are young children and non-human animals cognitively stuck in the present, unable to remember past events or plan for future ones? At what point in development do we gain the ability to mentally travel in time? In collaboration with Jamie Ainge and our two shared PhD students, Emmie and Katie, we are trying to understand the nature of episodic cognition in children and non-human primates.