Planet Earth podcast

Emma Tecwyn and I (with sterling assistance from our colleague Kaat Brulez, acting as our 'test primate') talked to Sue Nelson recently for a NERC Planet Earth Online podcast. We explained the ideas behind our latest experiments on planning in primates (both human and non-human), in which we use a bit of apparatus we call the 'Paddle Box' to find out whether various species of primate are capable of planning ahead. Listen to the podcast here to find out more!

ESRC grant

Exciting research news! This autumn Sarah Beck, Ian Apperly, Nicola Cutting and I started our new 3 year project funded by ESRC on tool innovation in human children, called "(Re)Inventing the wheel: the development of tool innovation". I'm excited to be starting a new project with a new study species, and will post news about publications or particularly exciting findings as they happen.

Cognitive strategies in orangutans

Amos using the puzzle tube

We have just published a paper in Animal Cognition on cognitive strategies in orangutans solving a 'puzzle-tube' task. The task that the orangutans faced was to try to remove a walnut from the tube. To do so, they had to guide the walnut from its central position towards one end of the tube, past obstacles. The tube was set up in such a way that each of the 64 trials presented a unique configuration of obstacles: for example, the walnut might roll over a gap in the floor of the tube or it might fall through it, where it might roll down another tube towards the orangutan, or away from it and out of its reach.

We were particularly interested in how orangutans solved the task, and simulated possible outcomes for various procedural rules and combinations of rules in order to try to understand these processes. We found that two out of three orangutans were able to solve the task, suggesting that they were able to take into account some of the obstacles in advance of acting in order to retrieve the reward.

Ideas Lab Podcast

Last year, I did an interview with Lucy Vernall of Ideas Lab here at University of Birmingham for their Predictor Podcast series. The idea behind the series is that academics in different disciplines talk about their research and try to predict what the key issues in their field will be in the near future.

It was great fun recording the podcast, and while (like many people) I find it a bit odd and slightly cringe-inducing to listen to my own recorded voice, I'm quite pleased with the result. You can here my podcast here. It's also definitely worth taking a look at the Predictor Podcast page, as there are a lot of very interesting discussions with people around the University — there's some fascinating research going on!

Parrot visual fields

Image of Senegal parrot with skull overlaid

Our new paper on parrots' visual fields (Vision, touch and object manipulation in Senegal parrots Poicephalus senegalus) has just been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. In it, we show that Senegal parrots' visual fields are unlike those of any other bird species. Their frontal binocular field is relatively broad, extending above the head, and they have a nearly comprehensive field of view around the head. However, they cannot see below their bill tip, which raises questions about how they perceive objects when they are manipulating them — something these exploratory, playful birds do frequently. We know that parrots have a bill tip organ which allows them to collect tactile information about objects in their bill. We speculate that the presence of this bill tip organ has allowed the parrots to shift their visual field coverage up and back, potentially improving their ability to detect predators.

You can read the press release here.

Physical Cognition and Problem-solving Workshop

Zoe Demery and Emma Tecwyn (along with Nicola Cutting from School of Psychology) are organising a workshop to be held at University of Birmingham on 28th-29th June 2011. Take a look at the workshop page for more details. Please pass around the information to anyone you think might be interested in attending!