Prof Karen McComb

Prof Karen McCombKaren is Professor of Animal Behaviour and Cognition at Sussex. She uses naturalistic experiments based around playbacks of vocalisations and presentations of visual stimuli to explore mammal communication and gain insights into animal minds. She has worked on a wide range of species including red deer, African lions and elephants, horses and domestic cats and dogs. Her most recent work has been focused on social knowledge in elephants, emotional awareness in horses and communication between domestic cats and humans.

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Dr David Leavens

Dr Dave LeavensDave is Reader in Comparative Psychology at the University of Sussex. He is interested in nonverbal communication, particularly gestures – especially pointing gestures. His work spans both animals and humans and he has studied communication in chimpanzees, human infants, human adults, dogs, and cats. Dave is interested in how organisms use communication to manipulate others (social tool use). He is also concerned with replicability and appreciating the limits of inference from experimental approaches to the study of behaviour.

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Dr Hannah Clark

Dr Hannah ClarkHannah completed her PhD in the School of Psychology, based on her studies of the influence of ecological, contextual factors on dogs and babies performance in understanding directional cues. In particular, most studies with captive non-human primates test animals in cages, whereas most studies of dogs and babies do not, so Hannah has put dogs and babies in playpens to simulate the typical testing environments of captive primates. Currently, she is teaching and continuing her research in the School of Psychology.

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Dr Lucy Bates

Dr Lucy BatesLucy completed a Daphne Jackson Research Fellowship at Sussex, conducting a survey of elephant research projects across Africa to determine if inter-population differences provide evidence for the existence of cultural variation in elephants. Currently a visiting scientist with the group, Lucy is extending this work and co-supervising new PhD research on elephant social learning and cultural knowledge. Lucy is a leading expert in mammal cognition, with research on both non-human primates and elephants. She is also actively involved in elephant conservation.

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Karen Hiestand

Dr Karen HiestandKaren's PhD is investigating interspecies empathy between humans and companion animals. She is examining both the capabilities of dogs and cats to empathize with people and whether human belief in companion animal empathy affects our relationships with them. Karen previously worked in veterinary education and animal welfare after training as a vet in New Zealand and practising as a clinical vet for 10 years. She remains heavily involved in animal welfare charities as an advisor, educator and trustee and is a resident of the European College of AnimalWelfare Science, Ethics and Law. 

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Jemma Forman

Jemma FormanJemma's PhD project is focused on domestic cat cognition and the methodology we use to measure cat cognition in scientific research. There has been increasing interest in the cognitive abilities of companion animals in recent years and with that comes the need for species-appropriate methodology when carrying out such research. As cats are notoriously independent and will only participate in research on their terms, her project aims to accommodate for these traits using modified study designs and apparatuses.


Jemima Scrase

Jemima ScraseJemima's PhD concerns matriarchal leadership in African elephants. Specifically, she is interested in decision-making and the dual roles of individual experience and inherited cultural knowledge from predecessor matriarchs. She is working in collaboration with Save the Elephants and will conduct her fieldwork in the Samburu-Laikipia region of Kenya. Understanding the value of leadership and the importance of social learning within elephant societies will advance our understanding of the vulnerability of the matriarchal system and inform elephant conservation.


Veronika Beeck

Veronika BeeckVeronika joined the lab at the University of Sussex during an Erasmus research visit. Her PhD is based at the Department of Behavioural and Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna. She is broadly interested in the functions and mechanisms of communication, especially to build and coordinate social bonds, and its cognitive underpinnings across species. In her PhD project, she is currently investigating how vocal flexibility allows for adaptive information coding in both Asian elephants and cheetahs, using sound visualisation techniques (via an acoustic camera) and detailed acoustic analysis along with behavioural observations and experiments.


  • Recent PhD Students and postdocs

    Dr Tasmin Humphreys (cats),

    Dr Hannah Clark (dogs),

    Dr Amy Smith (horses),

    Dr Geoff Gilfillan (lions), 

    Dr Leanne Proops (horses)

    Dr Lucy Bates (elephants)

    Dr Graeme Shannon (elephants)