Front cover of Current Zoology

Posted on June 1, 2015 at 2:25 AM

One of our latest papers has made the front cover of Current Zoology!! (That picture of the noisy miner bird opening a feeder on the bottom left of the cover was one of my little guys - happily released back to the wild after the study was finished!).

In this paper we critique and challenge some of the basic assumptions that underpin research into human and animal cognition.

We argue that too much emphasis has been placed on allowing logistically convenient, artificial laboratory tasks to define and categorise the cognitive mechanisms we identify and study. We suggest that theory-driven considerations about the structure and nature of animal cogntion should drive the types of paradigms designed to investigate, instead of the other way around.

You can read this paper here.

Turns out I do gaming research!

Posted on May 7, 2015 at 1:55 AM

The Herald Scotland recently picked up one of our articles examining sex differences in the speed with which people can locate and recognise weapons. 

Virtual Reality Excitement and The Sunday Times got on board as well!

What we were able to demonstrate in this study is that both men and women are able to more quickly locate weapons, such as guns and knives, in a visual display, compared to locating similar non-weapon objects (such as staplers and cutlery).  This effect was even more pronounced when the weapons were depicted wielded.

Finding dangerous objects (including weapons but also spiders and snakes) relatively quickly in a visual display is nothing new. Our study was unique in demonstrating that this effect is more pronounced when the weapons are depicted wielded.

The most new and exciting aspect of this study is, however, the sex difference.  Across the board men were faster to locate the weapons than women were, but there were no sex differences for any of the non-weapon objects.  We discussed this finding in the context of other well known violence-related sex differences: cross culturally men are far more likely than women to both instigate and be victims of physical violence, including having a virtual monopoly on same-sex homicides.  We argue that the sex difference in speedy responses to weapons is related to these sex differences in propensity for violence, and that male brains and bodies evolved under stronger selection pressures to survive physical violence than did women's.

And, as the newspapers pointed out, it's not impossible that one of the side effects of these selection pressures, is that men have a small advantage in violent video games that rely on fast responses.

Featured Article in Animal Behaviour!

Posted on May 7, 2015 at 1:25 AM

Our latest paper in the journal Animal Behaviour has been chosen as a feature article this month!

Here's a link to the feature article:


And here's a UoN Blogspot about it:


In this paper we demonstrate that fore-knowledge about the exact distribution of a food type is helpful when noisy miner birds are foraging for nectar, but not when foraging for invertebrates.  We argue that this is because they use this information in the wild to plan an efficient search path through a parch of flowers to help them retrieve nectar, but such information is of no use in the wild when hunting for invertebrates.

The fact that the same information is used differently for different food types in a laboratory setting is itself interesting and tells us something about how cognitive mechanisms have evolved in response to environmental challenges. But what's also really cool, is that these data suggest that noisy miners can plan behaviour in advance - which adds noisy miners to a rather short list of critters who've been shown experimentally to plan ahead!

A UoN blogspot about us!

Posted on April 10, 2013 at 7:50 AM

Well, it's about our new paper, really. But it is a little bizarre to see photos from our wedding used to illustrate the point!

You can read it here:

Things are looking up!

Posted on December 10, 2010 at 2:57 AM

Thanks to some promotional work from the PR crew at UoN and MQ we've been all over the webnews with one of the latest pieces of research to come out of the lab.  In a collaborative effort with Dr Darren Burke, we've shown that the angle your face is viewed from changes how attractive you look.

We are postulating that the differences in viewpoint that males and females have of each other's faces as a result of males being taller has led to the evolution of sexual dimorphism of faces.  So when you look at a female face from slightly above (the typical male perspective) this exaggerates the signal of femininity that her face is giving off, making her appear more attractive.  Conversely, men appear more masculine when viewed from slightly below.

You can here me talking about this research with Bob Hughes from here.

So guys: chin-up; and ladies: take a bow!