About me

I am an evolutionary biologist specialized on primatology and animal behaviour. I primarly work on comparative cognition. I am a dedicated naturalist with a passion for fieldwork and simultaneously I love to explore the minds of animals through cognitive experiments in captivity. I am particularly curious about curiosity – why it plays a big role for humans? How is it expressed in other non-human animals and phylogenetically featured across animal taxa? My research focus on what makes animals explorative and creative and thereby increase their ability to innovate? To understand what elicit curiosity and promotes innovations, I am studying ecological and social factors both within and between species. I am especially interested in development and how variation during ontogeny influence curiosity and thereupon following cognitive processes.

I received my PhD with Prof. Dr. Carel van Schaik at the University of Zurich in 2016, where I worked on culture, cognition and novelty response in both wild and captive orangutans. Since then, I have indulged in three different postdoc projects. First, I received a Mobility Fellowship by the Swiss National Science Foundation through which I studied the influence of early rearing environments and species differences on curiosity and cognition in bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans in the comparative cognition group of Dr. Claudio Tennie at University of Tübingen. During my second postdoc, I worked with the research team of Prof. Dr. Erica van de Waal at the University of Lausanne. In this project I studied curiosity in vervet monkeys and especially the interplay between habitat risk and the use of social information. Since May 2020, I took my first step outside primatology and joined the Animal behavior group at University of Zurich, led by Prof. Dr. Marta Manser. In my ongoing project I am investigating cognitive abilities of meerkats and other mongoose species.

Research projects

  • Comparing the effects of early experience and cognitive plasticity across the great apes: In this project I am researching how early rearing conditions and individual background histories influence cognitive skills within and across the great ape species (Bonobos, Chimpanzees & Orangutans). Project (Swiss National Science Foundation, SNF – P2ZHP3_171902)
  • Environmental and social influences on curiosity in vervet monkeys. Through this project I examine which conditions elicit curiosity in vervet monkeys by studying populations in four different habitats: wild, sanctuary living, zoo housed, and urbanized groups. The project is funded by Wenner Gren Foundation, US & Waldemar von Frenckell Foundation, Finland.
  • Identifying conditions that elicit novelty-seeking across mammal species. This project started in spring 2020 and is funded by Forschungskredit, University of Zurich. Here I am studying novelty response and exploration in the mongoose family representing species with variable social lives. I will also apply a comparative approach and look at curiosity between common marmosets and meerkats to examine similarities and differences in two cooperative breeding species from two animal taxa.
Sofia Forss @work