Postgraduate Profiles

Lizzie Speechley

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Thesis: Investigating the relationship between sociality, cognition and communication in the Western Australian magpie

Despite over a century of investigation and widespread interest, the evolution of cognition is still an intensely debated field of research. The social intelligence hypothesis suggests that cognitive evolution is driven by the demands of living in complex social groups. Previous research on the Western Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen dorsalis) has revealed strong support for the social intelligence hypothesis, finding a robust association between group size and cognition, with individuals living in larger groups exhibiting increased cognitive performance compared to those in smaller groups. However, as a proxy for social complexity, group size does not capture the number, frequency and directionality of intragroup interactions. Therefore, the mechanisms underpinning this group size-cognition relationship remain unclear.

My research uses cognitive testing and social network analysis to investigate whether the group size-cognition relationship found in the Western Australian magpie is driven by the complexity of intragroup interactions. I will also conduct vocal analysis and playbacks to investigate whether the group size-cognition relationship is underpinned by the need to communicate effectively in large groups.

Why my research is important

Cognition represents a fundamental component of an individual’s ability to successfully navigate their physical and social environment. However, we still lack a thorough understanding of the mechanisms underpinning cognitive development. My research will provide unique insight into the relationship between sociality and cognition in a wild population, whilst also investigating how cognitive performance extends to an individual’s ability to communicate effectively within their social group.


Feb 2019

Feb 2022