Testing the effect of a major transition in cognitive evolution
TWCF Number
Project Duration
December 15 / 2022
- December 14 / 2025
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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Brian Hare
Institution Duke University

PhilosoPhy is a new networking tool for comparative psychology to share experiments, data, and conclusions across institutions and species, developed by Brian Hare and his team at Duke University. It aims to provide a virtual community where cognition researchers, animal managers, and phylogeneticists can interact to make discoveries together that might not be possible alone. With previous TWCF support, PhyloPsy has been through beta testing and is now ready for broad deployment. This new TWCF funding will be used to launch the tool to the research community, and also aims to use the platform to test key hypotheses in the evolution of cognition. .

One hypothesized major transition in the evolution of cognition is from  "recurrent" to "laminated" brain structures. Recurrent networks allow the output of a process to feed back to the input stage. Laminated networks complexify this process with a series of nested or layered recurrences. This allows the brain to compute across multiple time scales and, thus provides the potential for more elaborate sensori-motor abilities. This project will probe the effect of domestication of animals on emotional reactivity. 

Five to ten labs will be recruited to use PhyloPsy to present data on behavioral and phylogenetic differences in examples of recurrent and laminated networks in various species.

In addition, the team will conduct direct experiments intended to jumpstart collaborations and serve as examples of how to use PhyloPsy as a common platform. The experiments will first compare mice and lemurs. Both animals have laminated brain structures but display very different mental capacities. They will also compare dogs and wolves, animals with similar brains but different levels of domestication.

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