Global PhD Scholarship in Psychology and Neuroscience2021 entry
The University of St Andrews is pleased to offer a scholarship funded by St Leonard’s Postgraduate College, to support an exceptional student undertaking doctoral research in the following project:
On the Evolution of Chimpanzee Tool-Use: Objects, Features, and Functions
Tool-use is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. No matter what zoological group one chooses, mammals, birds, fish or invertebrates, one can find at least one species in each of these taxa that uses objects to alter the position, orientation or visibility of another object or agent. Most cases involve one-tool for one-function and represent narrow adaptive specializations with little built-in flexibility, but a handful of species, most notoriously capuchin monkeys, apes and some corvids, can use multiple tools to accomplish multiple functions in the wild and the laboratory. They are known as the flexible tool-users.
Leaving humans aside, chimpanzees display the greatest tool-use flexibility in the animal kingdom. Different chimpanzee populations use different types of tools in multiple contexts including feeding aggression, courtship and allo-grooming. Within the feeding context, in particular, they use tools to extract, perforate, pound, absorb, scoop or break open food items. Such a rich variety of tool-use, combined with consistent geographical variation across populations, has led scholars to propose the idea that chimpanzees possess material culture. Moreover, numerous studies in the laboratory have documented the proclivity of chimpanzees to invent new uses for tools, even uses not observed in their natural environment.
Despite the substantial knowledge available about chimpanzee flexible tool-use, little is known about the cognitive processes supporting it. One possibility is that chimpanzees encode multiple one-feature + one-object + one-function relations (e.g., long stick to poke, hard stone to pound). Alternatively, chimpanzees may dissociate objects, features and functions, which would foster far greater combinatorial freedom, thus substantially enhancing flexibility. For instance, they may use the same feature-object for multiple functions (long stick to poke + scoop) and conversely, accomplish the same function via multiple feature + object combinations (long stick to pound, hard stone to pound).
The aim of this project is to investigate whether chimpanzee tool flexibility is supported by a fluid understanding of the relation between object features and functions. Although chimpanzees can select tools depending on their features to accomplish a particular function, it is unclear to what extent they can “see” beyond object features and focus on their function. Since a fluid understanding of feature-function relations is an essential aspect of human technology, this project not only will provide important insights about chimpanzee cognition, but also about the evolution of human cognition by informing us to what extent an understanding of function is a uniquely-human trait.
The project will be managed jointly between the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at St Andrews and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. The student will be supervised by Professor Josep Call (University of St Andrews) and Dr Catherine Crockford and Dr Roman Wittig (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology).
Informal enquiries regarding this scholarship may be addressed to Professor Josep Call – email firstname.lastname@example.org
Domicile for fee status
Level of study
Postgraduate Research (Doctoral)
Year of entry
2021-2022 academic year.
Start date subject to agreement
School of Psychology and Neuroscience
Applicants must not already (i) hold a doctoral degree; or (ii) be matriculated for a doctoral degree at the University of St Andrews or another institution.
Duration of award
Up to 3.5 years. The student will be expected to spend approximately half of the award term at the University of St Andrews and half at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (including the period spent in Ivory Coast doing fieldwork). The successful candidate will be expected to have completed the doctorate degree by the end of the award term. The award term excludes the continuation period and any extension periods.
Value of award
The award covers full tuition fees for the period of time spent at the University of St Andrews. For this period, the student will also receive a stipend payable at the standard UK Research council rate (the 2021-22 annual rate is £15,609).
For the period spent at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology the student may receive funding to help with living and maintenance costs.
Tuition or maintenance award
Tuition and maintenance.
Doctoral Research at St Andrews
As a doctoral student at the University of St Andrews you will be part of a growing, vibrant, and intellectually stimulating postgraduate community. St Andrews is one of the leading research-intensive universities in the world and offers a postgraduate experience of remarkable richness.
St Leonard’s Postgraduate College is at the heart of the postgraduate community of St Andrews. The College supports all postgraduates and aims to provide opportunities for postgraduates to come together, socially and intellectually, and make new connections.
St Leonard’s Postgraduate College works closely with the Postgraduate Society which is one of the most active societies within the Students’ Association. All doctoral students are automatically welcomed into the Postgraduate Society when they join the University.
In addition to the research training that doctoral students complete in their home School, doctoral students at St Andrews have access to GRADskills – a free, comprehensive training programme to support their academic, professional, and personal development.
Apply for admission as a doctoral student – please see the advice on applying for research degree programmes.
Please indicate in your application that you wish to be considered for this Global St Andrews scholarship (reference Call).
Please contact us should you have any questions regarding the scholarship: email@example.com
When do applications open?
Scholarship application deadline
27 May 2021
When will I hear if my application has been successful?
Within two months of the application deadline. Awards are subject to final signatures between the parties.