Dr Alexander Harwood Taylor

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Senior Lecturer


Having studied biology at Oxford University, I won a Commonwealth scholarship for a PhD at the University of Auckland. I then moved to the University of Cambridge, where I was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at Corpus Christi College. I took up a position as Lecturer at the University of Auckland in 2012. In 2014 I was awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship and was promoted to Senior Lecturer. In 2015 I was awarded the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Award from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Research | Current

One of the great mysteries of biology is intelligence. Why does it evolve? What structure does it take? Can its evolution be predicted? I study the minds of humans, crows, kea and dogs, using theoretical and experimental approaches from both biology and psychology, in order to gain insight into this area. By comparing these groups we can identify possible drivers of the evolution of intelligence. Given that birds and humans are separated by 300 million years of evolution, we can also test if intelligence evolves convergently. That is, we can discover whether the same cognitive structures evolve time and again in response to the same selection pressures. 



Teaching | Current

I teach Psych 317 Evolution, Behaviour and Cognition

How can evolution help us understand what it is to be human? How did human intelligence evolve? Why did human behaviours such as religion and cultural practices evolve? Do other animals have language, tool use, culture and consciousness? This course addresses these questions and the methods that can be used to answer them. Specific areas that will be discussed include the evolution of language, technical intelligence, social learning, culture, cooperation, religion, and consciousness. The course will emphasize the importance of a comparative, evolutionary approach to the study of behaviour and cognition.

I also teach Psych 725. The course looks at the psychology of humans from an evolutionary perspective. We will critically assess evidence for the differences between humans and animal minds and explore how aspects of human cognition might have evolved. 

Postgraduate supervision

I take two honours students a year, generally on projects related to dog social intelligence. For more details see http://clevercaninelab.auckland.ac.nz/

I am also happy to supervise Masters and PhD students on projectes related to behaviour and cogntion in either New Caldonian crows, kea or dogs.

Areas of expertise

Animal behaviour, animal cognition, child development, comparative cognition, causal reasoning, evolution of intelligence

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Redshaw, J., Taylor, A. H., & Suddendorf, T. (2017). Flexible planning in ravens?. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21 (11), 821-822. 10.1016/j.tics.2017.09.001
  • Heaney, M., Gray, R. D., & Taylor, A. H. (2017). Keas perform similarly to chimpanzees and elephants when solving collaborative tasks. PLoS ONE, 12 (2).10.1371/journal.pone.0169799
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray
  • Huveneers, C., Holman, D., Robbins, R., Fox, A., Endler, J. A., & Taylor, A. H. (2015). White sharks exploit the sun during predatory approaches. The American Naturalist, 185 (4), 562-570. 10.1086/680010
  • Taylor, A. H., Cheke, L. G., Waismeyer, A., Meltzoff, A. N., Miller, R., Gopnik, A., ... Gray, R. D. (2014). Of babies and birds: complex tool behaviours are not sufficient for the evolution of the ability to create a novel causal intervention. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 281 (1787), 1-6. 10.1098/rspb.2014.0837
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/23031
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray
  • Taylor, A. H., Miller, R., & Gray, R. D. (2012). New Caledonian crows reason about hidden causal agents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109 (40), 16389-16391. 10.1073/pnas.1208724109
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/23033
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray
  • Taylor, A. H., Knaebe, B., & Gray, R. D. (2012). An end to insight? New Caledonian crows can spontaneously solve problems without planning their actions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279 (1749), 4977-4981. 10.1098/rspb.2012.1998
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/23032
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray
  • Taylor, A. H., Elliffe, D., Hunt, G. R., & Gray, R. D. (2010). Complex cognition and behavioural innovation in New Caledonian crows. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 277 (1694), 2637-2643. 10.1098/rspb.2010.0285
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/13166
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Douglas Elliffe, Russell Gray
  • Taylor, A. H., Hunt, G. R., Medina, F. S., & Gray, R. D. (2009). Do New Caledonian crows solve physical problems through causal reasoning?. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 276 (1655), 247-254. 10.1098/rspb.2008.1107
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/17855
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray


Contact details

Alternative contact

Extension number: 85010

Mobile: 0221912238

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
New Zealand

Web links