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'Who does not want to understand
how and why cognitive abilities vary and evolve?’

- Rowe and Healy 2014

Research: Research

Cognition and decision-making in animals

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Cognition: Suite of mechanisms by which animals acquire, process, store and act on information (Shettleworth 2001)

Individual variation in cognition


Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)

Why do some individuals do better than others when making decisions?

Hypothetically, experience is the key to making better decisions. But experience with what exactly? 

My research quantified experience by using reliable cues that predicted food throughout an individual's development in order to see if experience really does cause individuals to make better choices. 


Animal personalities and information gathering

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Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus)

Animals have personality and it's measured in terms of individual differences in behavior that are maintained across time and context (Dall et al 2004). Examples of these personality traits (as they are called) include fear responses, sociability, and how animals explore new environments. 

Exploratory personality is used to measure how animals gather information as they move through a new environment. However, it has rarely been measured in terms of information gathering. 

Is exploratory personality really an information-gathering strategy?


Game theory and Producer-Scrounger games

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Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata

Bumblebees (Bombus impatiens)

Game theory is the idea that the choices of others affect the outcome of our own choices. Think about rock, paper, scissors; you win or you lose depending on what your opponent chose. 

Many decisions animals make depend on what others are doing. This is particularly true when animals search for food (i.e. foraging) where animals can look for food alone (producer) or follow others to food (scrounger).

How are bees and birds deciding between looking for food alone (producer) or with others (scrounger)?

[Coming soon]

Memory Weighting

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Bumblebees (Bombus impatiens)

Memory is the ability to store information, but some memories are newer than others. Essentially, memory can be divided into old memories (i.e. long-term memory) and new memories (i.e. short-term memory). 

The question is: How do we weigh memory when making decisions? Do we give more weight to new or old memories? 

More specifically, do bees rely more on old memories when looking for food? 

[Coming soon]

Rhythm in bird songs 


Venezuelan troupial (Icterus icterus)

Rhythm is the space between beats. Like a heart ❤️ beat. BOO BOOM...BOO BOOM...BOO BOOM. Human songs have known rhythmic patterns: 5/4 = Take 5 by Dave Brubeck, 4/4 = We will rock you by queen, 3/4 = Waltz.

Do birds have similar rhythmic patterns? 

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