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Co-evolution of social relationships and cognition: a theoretical investigation - PhD (funded) studentship in Biological Sciences


College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Dr S Dall , Dr A Thornton Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Project Description:

Relationships can be hard work. Indeed, the challenges of maintaining social relationships are widely thought to drive the evolution of large brains and intelligence in humans and other animals such as primates, cetaceans and corvids. This idea, known as the Social Intelligence Hypothesis, has been hugely influential in biology, psychology and anthropology for over 50 years. However, it remains highly controversial and lacks predictive power, largely because it is based on verbal arguments rather than formal models with explicit assumptions. In this PhD, part of the Leverhulme-funded project “The role of social relationships in cognitive evolution” you will develop a novel theoretical framework to analyse whether and under what circumstances social relationships generate cognitive demands and how those demands in turn influence social evolution.

By integrating game theoretical approaches with recent advances in the ecology of information use, you will develop mathematical and/or computational models to analyse the implications of evolutionary costs and benefits of tracking information from social partners to make decisions across differing social and ecological conditions. These models will generate explicit predictions of whether and under what circumstances social relationships generate cognitive demands for monitoring and responding to partner behaviour, and how those demands in turn influence social evolution. Predictions from the models will be tested using data from co-supervisor Alex Thornton’s long-term field studies of wild corvids and meta-analyses of published data.

The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Sasha Dall and Dr Alex Thornton at the lively research environment of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. Prof, John McNamara FRS (Mathematics: University of Bristol) will be involved with the project as an external partner. You will be an active member of both Thornton’s Wild Cognition Research Group, and the wider Behaviour Discussion Group, one of the largest concentration of behavioural biologists in the world

Funding Notes

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a PhD studentship fully funded by the Leverhulme Trust to commence in April 2021. For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,285 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student would be based in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
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