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Plymouth University CogNovo PhD Studentship: Social cognition, communication complexity and creativity in birdsong communication systems

Dear All,



Plymouth University PhD Studentship (CogNovo) available


DEADLINE APPROACHING: 30th November 2013


Be part of a 26-person strong team of PhD students to study the link between creativity and cognition. CogNovo is an Innovative Doctoral Programme, funded by the EU Marie Curie initiative and Plymouth University, to foster research training in the emerging field of Cognitive Innovation.



Project 22: Social cognition, communication complexity and creativity in birdsong communication systems



The relationship between social complexity and communicative complexity is currently a ‘hot’ research topic in both animals and humans. However, the way in which communicative complexity is affected by the combination of constraints introduced by the social learning environment and cognitive abilities is not well understood. Song birds participate in complex communication networks using mainly acoustic signals, and must learn to recognise and understand the meaning of the communication signals of conspecifics and how to use them to mediate their social interactions. Acquiring these abilities is essential for an adept social networker, but the mechanism by which this is achieved is not fully understood. In addition, during the acquisition of these abilities birds must both improvise and copy other songs. The optimal level of improvisational innovation (creativity) versus imitation will vary depending upon both social and biological constraints; this process has parallels with the development of traditional songs in humans.

In this project you will investigate the way in which songbirds actively explore and regulate their social environment using communication signals, how the early improvisational and imitative ’babbling’ of young birds develops into adult song, and how they can learn effective signalling strategies. This will be achieved by developing computational models, and designing a sound installation based on different song development strategies where the song properties are an emergent property of the system. You will explore how differences in cognitive ability, opportunity to learn, and complexity of the social system combine to produce a particular signalling system and level of improvisation. The predictions and solutions that arise from these computational models will be compared against the literature available on the wide variety signalling systems found in song birds in nature, against results from field studies being conducted in a related study during the project and, time permitting, to the cultural evolution of songs in human communities.



Sarah Collins, John Matthias, Michaela Gummerum, Sue Denham, Judy Edworthy, Lucy Davies (Plymouth University)


For more information about the project contact Dr Sarah Collins (sarah.collins@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx) or Prof Sue Denham (S.Denham@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx).

For an application form and details of eligibility,  please visit:



Application forms and references can be emailed directly to Catherine Johnson: catherine.johnson@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx


All the best



Dr Lucy Davies

Cognition Institute

Plymouth University

Room A222, Portland Square





Tel: 44+ (0)1752 584920




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