Dr Alexander Harwood Taylor

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Associate Professor


I studied biology at Oxford University before moving to the University of Auckland to take up a Commonwealth PhD scholarship. I then worked at a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge, where I was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at Corpus Christi College. In 2012 I took up a position as a Lecturer at the University of Auckland where I now lead the Animal Minds lab (https://www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-research/research-groups/animal-minds.html). In 2014 I was awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, while 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 defined by one question: how do animals really think? I study the minds of humans, dogs, kea and crows, using theoretical and experimental approaches from both biology and psychology, in order to gain insight into this area. By comparing dogs to humans we can understand how social intelligence evolves, given the social bond dogs have with us. By comparing kea to humans we can understand how play, and maybe even laughter, evolves, given how playful this species is. Finally, by comparing tool-using crows to humans we can understand how planning and problem solving evolves. By making these comparisions, this work hopes to uncover if non-human animals have evolved minds with the same types of cognitive and emotional content as that seen in humans.



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 Evolution and Human Behaviour. 

This course looks at the psychology of humans from an evolutionary perspective. We 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)

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