Dr Alexander Harwood Taylor

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Associate Professor


I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford University before moving to the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland to take up a Commonwealth PhD scholarship. I then worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge, where I was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship. In 2012 I took up a position as a Lecturer at the University of Auckland. In 2014 I was awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, and in 2015 I was awarded the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Award from the Royal Society of New Zealand. 

Research | Current

My research is focused on understanding the similarities and differences between human, animal and machine minds. At the heart of my research program is an experimental framework I term the signature testing approach. This uses the information processing errors, biases and other patterns agents exhibit to make inferences about the content of different minds. This approach generates powerful intelligence tests that strongly constrain the possible cognition an agent is using and allows for the comparison of both biological and artificial intelligences. I also have a keen interest in understanding the role information processing errors and biases play in human decision-making, and particularly whether it is possible to debias the judgements human make. 


Teaching | Current

In 2022 I will teach a special topic in Behavioural Insights. This course outlines how cognitive biases and errors cause us to behave in irrational ways, explores how nudging and debiasing can mitigate these effects and introduces students to methods to run behavioural insight analyses in real-world settings

I also run, with Professor Quentin Atkinson, the University of Auckland Behavioural Insights Exchange (UoABiX). This allows Masters thesis students to work with external organisations across the private and public sector to develop a real-world behavioural science project. Students will gain industry-relevant skills by applying knowledge of our cognitive biases and errors in decision-making to help address the challenges faced by our external partners. UoABIX creates the opportunity for knowledge exchange between business and academia, bringing state-of-the-art scientific knowledge, methodology and data analysis tools to industry-relevant questions and databases. UoABIX will pilot in 2022 with industry partners including PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Auckland Council and Behavioural Science Aotearoa at the Ministry of Justice.

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 Evolution and Human Behaviour.  This course looks at the psychology of humans from an evolutionary perspective. Specific topics include the evolution of religion, mental time travel, and cognitive nudges, biases and heuristics.



Postgraduate supervision

I take two honours students a year, with one student working on a behavioural insight project examining the effective of debiasing techniques on human cognitive biases and the second working on a project related to dog social intelligence (for more details of the latter see http://clevercaninelab.auckland.ac.nz/)

I am also happy to supervise Masters and PhD students on projectes related to signature-testing, animal cognition and human cognitive biases.

Areas of expertise

Signature-testing, comparative cognition, cognitive biases and heuristics

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Pinkusfeld Medeiros Bastos, A., & Taylor, A. H. (2020). Kea show three signatures of domain-general statistical inference. Nature Communications, 11 (1)10.1038/s41467-020-14695-1
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Amalia Bastos
  • Gruber, R., Schiestl, M., Boeckle, M., Frohnwieser, A., Miller, R., Gray, R. D., ... Taylor, A. H. (2019). New Caledonian Crows Use Mental Representations to Solve Metatool Problems. Current biology : CB, 29 (4), 686-692.e3. 10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.008
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray, Romana Gruber
  • Jelbert, S. A., Miller, R., Schiestl, M., Boeckle, M., Cheke, L. G., Gray, R. D., ... Clayton, N. S. (2019). New Caledonian crows infer the weight of objects from observing their movements in a breeze. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 286 (1894)10.1098/rspb.2018.2332
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray
  • Jelbert, S. A., Hosking, R. J., Taylor, A. H., & Gray, R. D. (2018). Mental template matching is a potential cultural transmission mechanism for New Caledonian crow tool manufacturing traditions. Scientific reports, 8 (1)10.1038/s41598-018-27405-1
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Russell Gray
  • 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
  • Taylor, A. H. (2016). Brainy birds [Book review]. Current Biology, 26 (14), R650-R652. 10.1016/j.cub.2016.05.060
  • 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


Contact details

Alternative contact

Extension number: 85010

Mobile: 0221912238

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
Level 3, Room 357
New Zealand

Web links