My first degree was in Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham, where I initially developed an interest in animal behaviour and cognition. I subsequently went on to complete an MSc in Animal Behaviour at Manchester Metropolitan University, where my research focussed on competitive grazing interactions between zebra, buffalo and domestic cattle in a Kenyan game reserve.
In 2009 I returned to Birmingham to begin a NERC-funded PhD under the co-supervision of Dr. Jackie Chappell and Dr. Susannah Thorpe working on primate cognition, with a particular focus on differences in cognitive ability between great apes and other primates. Specifically, using orangutans as a model for the last common ancestor of the great apes, I am interested in cognitive capacities that might have evolved in response to the physical selection pressure of locomotion in a complex arboreal habitat for a large-bodied animal. Such a habitat poses the unique challenges of crossing gaps in the canopy and moving on highly compliant branches that deform under an animal's weight. In such a situation, the ability to 'mentally simulate', or 'plan' different possible courses of action and their outcomes prior to implementing behaviour would be extremely useful for a large-bodied animal, which is the focus of my current work. I have designed physical problem-solving tasks that require subjects to consider multiple obstacles or carry out a specific sequence of actions in order to obtain a food reward. Trial-unique task presentations and detailed post-hoc analyses aim to elucidate how such tasks are approached, with regards to the underlying cognitive mechanisms. Further work will aim to compare the performance of several primate species including lesser apes and new- and old-world monkeys on such tasks.
See Emma's ResearchGate profile for a list of her publications.