I completed my DPhil at the University of Oxford, where I subsequently spent several years studying various aspects of animal cognition. My work at Oxford focused on the cognition of tool manufacturing behaviour in New Caledonian crows. These birds manufacture and use at least three distinct types of tool: hook tools made out of twigs, stepped and tapered tools made from Pandanus leaves, and straight sticks. This behaviour is unusual among free-living non-humans because of the use of hooks, the degree of standardisation of the tools, and the use of different tool types.
Since moving to the University of Birmingham in 2004, my interests have broadened to encompass the ways in which animals (including humans) use their intelligence to adapt to their environment. This includes investigating the cognitive architectures involved in the perception of affordances (the ways in which objects can be manipulated and used) and causality, and the way in which this develops ontogenetically and phylogenetically. For example, how do animals integrate information about affordances and relationships discovered during exploration with their pre-existing knowledge?
I lead the Cognitive Adaptations Research Group (CARG), and have several PhD students who study the variety of ways in which various animals use their brains to solve physical problems. We study a wide range of animals, including various species of parrots, New Caledonian crows and primates.
This area of research is inherently inter-disciplinary, and I really enjoy learning from and collaborating with researchers in other fields. Though I am a member of the School of Biosciences, and an active member of the Centre for Ornithology, I have also been collaborating closely with several people in the School of Computer Science, particularly Aaron Sloman (with whom I have written several papers - see Publications), Jeremy Wyatt, Nick Hawes and other members of the CogX team who work on the design of behaviourally flexible, interactive robots, able to explore and learn about their environment.
I am also interested in human cognition, and especially in the development of various kinds of physical cognition in children. Together with Sarah Beck, Ian Apperly and Nicola Cutting in the School of Psychology, we investigated the innovation of tool manufacture in human children, funded by a 3 year grant from ESRC: “(Re)Inventing the wheel: the development of tool innovation”.