About me

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 a variety of different – research projects: at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, University of Lausanne and University of Zurich. In 2021 I became a Junior Research Fellow at the Collegium Helveticum, The joint Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) of the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich and Zurich University of the Arts. Excitingly this year 2022 I will start my own research team at the Animal Behaviour Group at the University of Zurich with the funding of an AMBIZIONE Grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Ongoing or about-to-start projects

At the intersection of motivation and cognition: combining multiple predictors of animal intelligence using meerkats as a model system

Funding source: AMBIZIONE, Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant Nr_ PZ00P3_202052

Within the biological sciences it has long been debated how sociality relates to cognitive evolution. In this project we study inter-individual variation across four major factors, sociality, intrinsic motivation (curiosity), cognitive abilities and fitness. We will especially concentrate on how these factors interlink with each other. At the study site of the Kalahari Research Center in Kuruma River Reserve in South Africa, we will study multiple wild groups of meerkats. To gain an insight into their cognitive abilities we will be using so called “wild psychometrics”, as the animal version of intelligence tasks adapted from human psychology.

The project will start in September 2022 and there will be openings for both MSc projects and a PhD position.

Tracing the Roots of Human-Like Curiosity: Developing a New Approach for Cross-Species Comparisons

Funded by Collegium Helveticum, Switzerland

So far, scientific work on curiosity has mainly been produced by psychologists and a large part of the data is collated using self-reporting or questionnaire-based practices. Just like humans, animals also explore their environments and the things within it for their own sake. Since animal curiosity cannot be studied through self-reporting or questionnaires, curiosity must be identified through highly specific behaviours. The methods developed for these inquiries could also be of relevance for efforts to uncover how curiosity develops in non-verbal children. A key part of my fellowship at the Collegium Helveticum will be devoted to developing behavioural tests designed to capture comparable components of curiosity – in both our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, and in toddlers.

Investigating environmental and social influences on curiosity in vervet monkeys

Funding source: Kone Foundation, Finland

As the natural world is changing due to anthropogenic activities and land use, many wild animals are increasingly exposed to humans and their artefacts. What impact habituation to humans has on cognitive abilities of otherwise wild animals remain poorly understood. In this project we systematically compare curiosity and novelty seeking across different groups of captive, urban, rural and wild vervet monkeys. The project runs in collaboration with Inkawu vervet project in Kwazulu natal, South Africa and Prof. Dr. Erica van del Waal at the University of Lausanne.