Dr Alexander Harwood Taylor

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Senior Lecturer

Biography

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)

  • 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
  • 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

Identifiers

Contact details

Alternative contact

Extension number: 85010

Mobile: 0221912238

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
23 SYMONDS ST
AUCKLAND CENTRAL
AUCKLAND 1010
New Zealand

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