Monday 7 December 2015

Episode 12 - Brett Gibson

Brett Gibson is an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

Brett imagining a better year for Thomas Vanek
While he may live in Bruin territory he is a Minnesota Wild fan, and he received his BA in psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1991, followed by his MS from Bucknell 1995 and his PhD at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in 1999.  (Brett also did a postdoc with my PhD supervisor, Sara Shettleworth and one with Ed Wasserman).

Brett is broadly interested in the evolution of behaviour and cognition in non-human animals and the neurobiological underpinnings of these systems. He has two primary lines of research. In the first line of work Brett and his students are investigating the behaviour and cognitive abilities of non-human animals. In particular, they are interested how a variety of animals represent and plan movements in space. Their work in animal cognition also has included research on a wider variety of cognitive abilities, such as numerical ability, inference, and memory in birds, including the Clark’s nutcracker (Nucifraga Columbiana). In the second line of research he has been collaborating with other researchers in the neurosciences to use electrophysiology to record from individual/populations of neurons as animals perform cognitive tasks. This line of work has included investigating the neural systems involved in representations of space, as well as how different part of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex and thalamus are involved in planning actions and movements.

We talked about what got Brett into the field in the first place, about working with people like Sara, Al and Ed, and about his lab's recent work on head direction cells in rats and on numerical cognition in Clark's nutcrackers.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Thursday 3 December 2015

Episode 11 - Michael Brown

Mike, the pole box, and a rat
Michael Brown is a professor of psychology at Villanova University in Villanova, PA, which is just outside of the home of the evil Philadelphia Flyers.....

Mike got his BA in psychology and philosophy at the University of Michigan and then went on to UC Berkley where he got his PhD in psychology.

Mike's interests are in the general areas of comparative cognition and animal learning. He uses the results of behavioral experiments to make inferences about the systems controlling simple behavior and behavioral change. During the past decade, his efforts have been focused on spatial memory in rats and bees. Mike and his students  have studied rats in several laboratory procedures, including the radial-arm maze. They are interested in determining the nature of the representations and decision processes used in spatial tasks. Their bee research centers on working memory for spatial locations in honeybees and bumblebees. This work has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation.

We talked about a bunch of stuff including what got Mike into the field, working with Al Riley, and Mike's work on same different learning in bees and social learning in rats.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Monday 23 November 2015

Episode 10 - Jennifer Vonk

Jennifer gets 2 pics because BATS
Jennifer Vonk is a comparative/cognitive psychologist with primary research interests in two overlapping areas: (1) animal cognition, and (2) cognitive development. 

Dr. Vonk only likes animals that rhyme
She completed her undergraduate degree at McMaster University in Hamilton ON, conducting an honors thesis in behavioral endocrinology, a Masters degree in human memory at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON and a doctoral degree on the topic of concept formation in great apes at York University in Toronto.  

Her current work centers on social cognition, such as theory of mind, prosociality, and reasoning about emotions, as well as physical cognition, such as causal reasoning, analogical reasoning, numerosity, and natural concept formation. More recent work is focused on examining the effects of religiosity, attachment, and perspective-taking on human decision-making processes.

We talked about some of her recent work including stuff on concept formation in bears, quantity estimation in gorillas, social and non social category discrimination, human emotion detection in domestic cats and kin discrimination in domestic dogs.

(There were some feedback issues in this episode, I have cleaned up the audio best I could)

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Thursday 19 November 2015

Episode 9 - Jon Crystal

Jon thinking about thinking
Jonathon Crystal is a professor of psychology and director of the program in neuroscience at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.

Jon received his BSc in psychology at the University of Toronto in 1992 where he worked in Sara Shettleworth's lab. He also spent a lot of time working with Ken Cheng as an undergrad. He then went on to grad school at Brown where he worked with Russ Church, receiving an Sc.M. in 1994 and a Ph.D. in 1997.

Jon's lab focuses on the development of animal models of memory. His laboratory documented that rats may be used to model what-where-when memory and source memory.  He has also developed a number of innovative techniques for evaluating cognition in rats, including prospective memory, retrieval practice, and metacognition. The objective of the work in Jon's lab is to develop models of the types of memory that are impaired in human diseases.  

Jon and I go way back, and we talked about all kinds of stuff including a bunch of his recent work on topics like source memory, practice effects on memory, prospective memory, episodic memory in rats, and just science in general.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Thursday 12 November 2015

Episode 8 - Leslie Phillmore

Leslie, thinking about gene expression
Leslie Phillmore (follow her on twitter) is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Leslie received her BA (Hons) from Huron College at UWO working with Mark Cole.  (She also worked the summer between undergrad and grad school on some great stuff, and some not so great stuff when she ran birds for some postdoc in Bill Roberts' lab...)  She then went on to work with Ron Weisman at Queens University in Kingston for her MA and PhD.

Leslie's lab works on song production and perception in zebra finches and black capped chickadees. They are particularly interested in immediate early gene response in perceptual regions of the brain as well as the effects of stress on neural development and neurogenesis.

We talked about a couple of recent papers out of her lab and some stuff she just presented at SFN.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Thursday 22 October 2015

Episode 7 - Valerie Kuhlmeier

Valerie Kuhlmeier is an Associate Professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, Canada.  She is the director of The Infant Cognition Group, a laboratory studying cognitive development in the first few years of life.

Val is happy about her book
Valerie grew up outside of Los Angeles, CA, but moved south to the University of California, San Diego, to pursue a BA and a BS in Anthropology and Biology, respectively.  There, she worked with Christine Johnson, a comparative cognitive psychologist who was studying gaze-following behaviour in bonobos at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. 

Exhibiting great dedication to the scientific endeavor, Valerie then left the sunny beaches of San Diego for the snowy winters of Columbus, Ohio.  There, she worked under the supervision of Sally Boysen at the Ohio State University Chimp Center, studying theory of mind and the use of physical representations of space such as maps and scale models.  She was a regular attendee of the Tri-State Animal Learning Conference and became a founding member (founding student member, that is…she’s not THAT old) of the Comparative Cognition Society. 

She then spent four years working as a postdoctoral fellow and instructor at Yale University in New Haven, CT.  Her previous research examining social-cognition in nonhuman primates formed a good foundation for her work with mentors Karen Wynn and Paul Bloom on cognitive development in young human primates, specifically infants.   She also developed an undergraduate course on Comparative Cognition and has been updating and improving it ever since.

In 2004, she accepted a position at Queen’s University.  Her research program focuses on cognition from a developmental and evolutionary perspective.  Specifically, she studies the development of social cognition, including the recognition of others’ goals and needs (e.g., intention reading, theory of mind), the imitative and empathetic responses to those goals and needs, and the subsequent generation of prosocial behaviour.  She also continues to teach courses on Comparative Cognition, using a recently published textbook she coauthored with Mary (Cella) Olmsted. 

This one was a great deal of fun partly because we talked about big issues like theory of mind and where comparative cognition fits in the broader field of psychology.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Thursday 10 September 2015

Episode 6 - Laurie Bloomfield

Laurie Bloomfield is an associate professor of psychology at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada.

Laurie grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, and did her BA at Algoma University College (1996-2000). Based on some fascinating research she had learned about during several classes with one particular professor (Laurie claims this was me), she was the only student to conduct her Honours thesis study on animal behaviour (a trend that hasn’t seemed to have changed in years at AU). Also while at Algoma University College she was a teaching assistant in Psychology and the Assistant Manager and bartender for the T-Bird Lounge, which at the time was open all day on Thursdays, and students and professors alike met and enjoyed a beverage or two.

Laurie Bloomfield, she's my boss....
In 2000 she began work on her Master’s degree at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario with Ron Weisman. There she investigated vocal production and perception in chickadees, as well as learned techniques to explore the neural correlates of auditory perception. She received the Canadian Psychological Association Award for Academic Excellence for her Master’s thesis which examined in detail the morphology and phonology of the “chick-a-dee” call of the eastern Carolina chickadee, and the perception of this species’ call by the closely related black-capped chickadee.

She then (2002) went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton to work with Chris Sturdy. There she continued her investigation of auditory perception in chickadees by examining the morphology and phonology of the chick-a-dee call of the western Mountain chickadee. Several lab studies that followed attempted to determine which acoustic features were most important to the birds in making species-specific discriminations.

Immediately following the completion of her PhD (2007) she turned down an NSERC post-doc to start as Assistant Professor at Algoma University….  where it all began.

Why continue to work with the chickadees? Well, they produce that chick-a-dee call that is a perfect model for understanding perception. It can be broken down into several components to determine what the birds are paying attention to, and perhaps then we can figure out why they modify this call. In other words, what are they trying to say? It’s sort of like attempting to learn another language.  

Laurie and I talked about a lot of different things, her present research, her inspirations, and other stuff.  This one was fun for me as it was the first non Skype interview I have done.  Laurie is also the first woman I have had on the show, which is a long overdue thing.  Oh yeah, and she is like four doors down the hall from me at work....

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Thursday 3 September 2015

Episode 5 - Aaron Blaisdell

Aaron Blaisdell is a Professor in Learning & Behavior and Behavioral Neuroscience in the UCLA Psychology Department. He presides over the Comparative Cognition Lab, studying cognitive processes in rats, pigeons, hermit crabs, and humans.

Aaron knows the best way to carry a rat is on your shoulder
After receiving his BA and MA in Biological Anthropology (at SUNY Stony Brook and Kent State University, respectively), Aaron realized that animal cognition was even more interesting than dead humans. So he trekked on over to SUNY Binghamton for his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology with  Ralph Miller, where he studied learning, memory, and temporal cognition in the rat. 

This was followed by a brief stint as an NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow with Bob Cook, an expert on Avian Visual Cognition at Tufts University, where he learned how pigeons perceive and think about the world. In 2001, he emigrated to the climatological and cultural paradise of sunny LA where he has remained ever since. 

A second interest of Aaron’s is in how human ancestry and evolution can inform us about health and well being in the modern world. He is currently studying the interaction between diet and cognition. He is a founding member and Past President of the Ancestral Health Society, Past President of the International Society for Comparative Psychology, an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Evolution and Health, and a member of the Brain Research Institute, the Integrative Center for Learning & Memory, and the Evolutionary Medicine program all at UCLA.

We talked about a lot of different things, including reasoning in rats, sensory preconditioning, how diet affects cognitionrepresentation in rat memory and Aaron's crowdfunded research proposal.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Wednesday 29 July 2015

Episode 4 - Noam Miller

Noam Miller is an assistant professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada where he runs the collective cognition lab.

He's probably modelling something right now
Noam has a B.Sc. in Biology from Tel-Aviv University and – for some reason – also a degree in music (I suspect that reason is because he is a pretty good musician) . He did his PhD in Psychology at the University of Toronto, working with Sara Shettleworth on geometry learning and with Robert Gerlai on schooling in zebrafish. For those of you scoring at home, I did my PhD with Sara and Robbie helped me load the moving truck when I left Sara's lab to move to UWO to do a postdoc. It is interesting how I can pretty much spin anything into something about me isn't it?

He then did a post-doc with Iain Couzin in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at Princeton University. He is interested in how being in a group shapes cognition, especially learning, and in zebrafish cognition generally.

Noam and I talked about a lot of different things, including the mathematical model of spatial reorientation that he published along with Sara, his recent theoretical paper about collective learning and a pretty cool empirical one on the same topic. In all of this work you can definitely see the influence of the Rescorla Wagner model.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme. Buy their music now.

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Tuesday 21 July 2015

Episode 3 - Matthew Murphy

Happy Matt
Matthew Murphy is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Salem State University in Massachusetts, and will be a Visiting Assistant Professor at UMass Lowell this upcoming fall, teaching statistics and research methods.

He earned his B.S. in Interdisciplinary Psychology/Biology in 2005 from Southampton College of Long Island University, mentored by Dr. Paul Forestell.  Research experience there included work at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, and work at Brookhaven National Laboratories on a NASA-funded project on radiation's effects on auditory cognition.

Matt moved on to Tufts University in Boston where he earned his M.S. in 2009 and Ph.D. in 2014, both in Psychology, under the mentorship of Bob Cook in the Avian Visual Cognition lab.  His work with pigeons included absolute and relational control of auditory sequences, auditory entropy, rule-learning, spatial frequency perception, and intraocular visual memory.

Matt's research interests include intraocular visual memory and self-recognition in animals.

We talked about what got him into the field, why Bob Cook's lab is full of people who give great talks, about a life in science and his dissertation work as well as some of his recent stuff that he just published in JEP with Dan Brooks and Bob Cook.

Thanks again to Red Arms for letting me mash up their music in the closing theme.  Buy their music now.  

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Friday 10 July 2015

Episode 2 - Neil McMillan

Neil, telling us things at CO3
Neil McMillan is a postdoctoral researcher in the psychology department at the University of Alberta.  Neil completed his undergraduate degree (a BSc(Hons)) in 2007 with Angelo Santi at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON and then moved on to graduate school at the University of Western Ontario.  He completed his MSc and later his PhD (in 2013) under the supervision of Bill Roberts.  We have something in common there as I did a postdoc with Bill Roberts back in the mid 90s.

We talked about a few things in this episode, including my bizarre inability to remember Neil's name for like the past 3 years.

Of course we talked science too.  Neil is interested in spatial memory and so am I.  That said, no matter what, timing keeps pulling him back in.  He also is first author of a pretty cool review paper that you should check out.  We talked about hierarchical representations and cue conflict experiments as well, which I am quite fond of....

His recent JEP paper with his two postdoc supervisors was another topic that we got in to, they have found an effect in reversal learning that you should read about.

Finally, we also talked about the future of the discipline.

Thanks again to Red Arms for the background closing music.  Buy their music now.

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Thursday 2 July 2015

Episode 1 - Chris Sturdy

Chris Sturdy is a professor of psychology and member of the neuroscience and mental health institute at the University of Alberta.

Chris (far right) and the members of the Songbird Neuroethology Lab

Chris has a BA in psychology from the University of Windsor as well as an MA and a PhD from Queens University in Kingston Ontario.

He studies the neuroethology of song learning and more generally songbird communication. I was really happy he wanted to be my first guest on the podcast.

We talked about a lot of different things including the influence that other researchers have had on Chris, the future of comparative cognition and the ever complicated world of gene expression in learning.

Thanks to Red Arms for allowing me to mash up their music with quotes from a bunch of people in the closing theme. Buy their music. NOW.

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Monday 22 June 2015


Welcome to the home of Spit and Twitches: The Animal Cognition Podcast.

My name is Dave Brodbeck and I am an associate professor of psychology at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, Canada.  I have been studying cognition in animals for the past 27 years.  I have done work with rats, pigeons, juncos, black capped chickadees, squirrel monkeys and even humans.  My primary focus has been on the adaptive significance of spatial cognition and adaptive specializations of learning in different species.

I got interested in podcasting back in 2005 and have been involved as a host/producer or whatever of number of different podcasts, including Thunderbird Six, Why? The Science Podcast for KidsBroken Area, The Jonathan Files, Best Episode Ever and The Marshall Mcluhan Variety Hour.  I also have been podcasting my class lectures since 2006.  This podcast will allow me to combine two of the things I love, animal cognition research and podcasting. The stuff may get a little technical now and then, and that's ok.  That said, I hope the material will be accessible to the casual listener.  I hope for the podcast to be not unlike Marc Pelletier's 'Futures in Biotech' show that ran for a few years on the TWiT network.  Except there will be way fewer things about gene splicing.

If you have any ideas for guests, or, if you want to be on the podcast, you can email me, send me a message on twitter, leave a comment here, find me on Facebook, or whatever you would like.  OK, don't come by the house....

Oh, the title.  Someone just asked me what the title refers to.  Well, go read this article.

So, watch this space, and follow me on twitter for updates.