*Fully Funded PhD studentship: Using robots to understand animal social cognition.
The University of Lincoln (UK) is offering a fully funded PhD studentship, for which we welcome applications from outstanding, enthusiastic and highly-motivated students from the UK, EU and worldwide. The successful candidates will join a thriving and dynamic research environment, and benefit from close associations with both the School of Life Sciences and the School of Computer Sciences. They will receive training in experimental design and statistical analysis, behavioural observations, computer programming and robotics.
Supervisory team: Anna Wilkinson, Tom Pike and John Murray
Animals are required to respond to frequent changes in their social environment and must constantly update the information they hold about other conspecifics, including information about foraging or mating success, position within the group and individual knowledge. Conventionally when studying the transfer of complex behavioural information between individuals we observe the interactions between two or more live conspecifics. However, the behaviour and perception of live animals is impossible to fully control, and so it is often unclear whether variation in responses stems from the cues given by the stimulus conspecifics or information observed/processed by the focal animal. One solution to this issue is to utilise robotic animals that can perform realistic and repeatable behaviours under controlled conditions.
The aim of this project is therefore to develop a robot that is able to respond dynamically to the behaviour of the focal animal and use it in a series of cognitive experiments. Bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are an ideal model species for such an endeavour. They are responsive to social cues and show sophisticated social learning abilities. In addition they have relatively simple behavioural repertoires and movement patterns which can be accurately replicated by a robotic simulant. This will give us an unparalleled opportunity to test a variety of fundamental cognitive questions which would be difficult, if not impossible, to test with only live animals. Key questions addressed would range from social attention to the transfer of complex behaviour.
For more information, please contact Anna Wilkinson ([Email Address Removed]).
Applications for this position are welcome from suitably qualified candidates worldwide. Candidates must hold a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree in Zoology, Biology, Psychology, Computer Science or a similar subject. A Masters and/or hands-on behavioural research experience will be an advantage as will experience of robotics or computer programming, but full training will be provided for all techniques used. To apply, please send a cover letter and CV to [Email Address Removed], the deadline for applications will be 31st October 2013. The position will commence in January 2014.