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Social relationships and the evolution of complex cognition

   School of Life Sciences

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  Dr C Wascher  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Research Group

Behavioural Ecology Research Group (BEEC)

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Claudia Wascher


Cognitive abilities, Social relationships

Summary of the research project

The requirements of living in social groups, as well as forming and maintaining social relationships are hypothesized to be major drivers behind the evolution of cognitive abilities, such as attention, learning, and inhibitory control. Traditionally, the evolution of cognitive abilities in non-human animals is investigated via a comparative approach, testing cognitive performance in different species, varying in their ecology or social organisation. From these results, researchers can infer when in evolutionary history particular cognitive processes have evolved and under which ecological and social circumstances. In most cases, specific model organisms, e.g. primates, corvids, parrots, rats, pigeons are very much in focus, whereas other species are often ignored.

This project aims to investigate how social relationships shape cognitive abilities, e.g. delay of gratification, learning, in group living animals, with a specific focus on previously understudied species, e.g. birds of prey, chicken. Further, comparative studies regarding the evolution of socio-cognitive skills have also generated conflicting results. The proposed project aims at incorporating an intraspecific approach, investigating how individual variation in cognitive performance correlates with an individual’s ability to form and maintain social relationships.

The proposed project will use standardized cognitive tests, e.g. delay maintenance, reversal learning, to assess cognitive performance in different species and multiple individuals, with a special focus on repeatability in cognitive performance. The candidate will make significant advances in the field of comparative cognition.

Where you'll study



This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Biology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Funding Notes

This project is self-funded.
Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website ( as they become available.
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