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The signature-testing approach to the evolution of intelligence

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Taylor
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Applications are invited for two fully-funded 3-year PhD studentships, based in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland, to begin in 2016. The students will be supervised by Dr Alex Taylor.

Project: The evolution of intelligence is one of nature’s greatest mysteries. We have little idea how we came to be so clever, or even how our minds actually differ from those of other species. For over 100 years, researchers have compared human and animal intelligence in order to gain insight into this area. However, these comparisons have been based on a “success-testing” approach, where researchers simply examine whether an animal can solve a problem or not. This method has generated a great deal of debate, but little progress, because success-testing is flawed. Just because an animal solves a problem, it does not follow that the animal has used the same cognitive mechanisms as humans to do so.

Inspired by Alan Turing’s work on machine intelligence, I have recently adopted a novel “signature-testing” approach, to avoid this problem. By searching for the signatures of cognitive mechanisms (their limits, errors and biases) it is possible to demonstrate whether a human and an animal truly think in the same way or not. This project will use signature-testing to study various areas of comparative cognition, including causal reasoning, theory of mind and metacognition, in a number of study species, including New Caledonian crows, keas, children and adults.

Studentship Entitlement: Each studentship covers international student fees, a monthly stipend, and research and travel expenses associated with the projects. There are also opportunities for paid teaching assistantships within the School of Psychology.

Your qualifications: Selection is made on a competitive basis using the following criteria:

• a strong academic background in one of: anthropology, biology, or psychology
• demonstrated experience with experimental research methods and statistical analysis involving either human or animal participants, and motivation to design and implement comparative cognition experiments
• preference will be given to applicants who have advanced experience in designing and conducting well-controlled experiments on cognitive processes, as well as students with an expressed interest in conducting international fieldwork (e.g. in New Caledonia)

Host institution: The School of Psychology at the University of Auckland is ranked 28nd in the world. Auckland is ranked third out of 221 world cities for quality of living in the 2014 Mercer Quality of Living Survey (see www.mercer.com/qualityofliving).

Your application: Please submit a letter of interest detailing how you meet each of the qualifications, curriculum vitae (indicating GPA/previous academic performance indicators, publication history, and prior experience), and contact information for three references to Dr. Alex Taylor ([email protected]).

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