Evan MacLean


My research is driven by the broad questions of what makes animal minds the way they are, how they got that way, and why. I approach these questions through three complementary lines of research:

The fist investigates similarities and differences between the minds of animals and humans with the aim of uncovering which aspects of cognition are shared with other species, and which are unique to humans. For example, can animals think about the thoughts of others, plan for the future, or solve problems through insight?

The second approach blends methods from comparative psychology and evolutionary biology, and investigates cognition within a phylogenetic comparative framework.  The aim of these studies is to understand the evolutionary processes and selective pressures underlying cognitive evolution.   For example how have social living, feeding ecology, or domestication shaped animal minds?

Third I investigate the nature of individual differences in animal cognition.  Modern cognitive science embraces the view that intelligence is a multidimensional construct. The cognitive skills that make somebody a brilliant engineer are not the same as those that make for a socially-savvy politician.  What are the different domains of animal intelligence, do they mirror those of humans, and how do they vary between individuals?  Can we use this information to improve human-animal interactions or to identify animals well-suited for various roles in society (e.g. assistance dogs)?

Lastly, I am interested in the relationships between humans and dogs, both across evolutionary time, and in modern populations.  Why are dogs ubiquitous across human cultures,  what does each species gain from the other, and  how can we use this information to improve health and welfare in both species?

In August 2016 I will be joining the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona - if you are interested in working with me as a graduate student or post-doc, please get in touch!


“Everything is the way it is because it got that way”

    -D'arcy Thompson