In the Cognitive Psychology Laboratory at Aix-Marseille University, our Team ”Comparative Cognition“ compares abilities such as perception, memory, reasoning, between humans and other primates, notably Guinea baboons.
Located on the countryside 1h away from Marseille, the lab is equipped with a worldwide unique, fully automatized behavioral platform to study the baboons’ performances. A group of 25 animals is trained to perform cognitive tasks on touchscreens on a 24/7 basis, generating vast amounts of behavioral data – typically 500.000 trials per experiment. This Big Data approach has revealed in baboons cognitive capacities previously thought to be unique to humans, such as analogical reasoning, orthographic processing or metacognitive control.
Now that Deep Learning models, typically CNNs for the visual system of primates, were shown to adequately capture perceptual mechanisms, one can look into conceptual mechanisms, higher levels of cognition which require not only representations of data, but also relationships between representations. Our EU-funded “SymBa” project examines a crucial relational learning ability called symmetry inference: the propensity to infer bidirectionality (A↔B) for stimulus associations that are learned unidirectionally (A→B). Humans are particularly prone to inferring symmetry when they learn to associate words and the objects referred to. It is highly debated whether this ability is unique to humans and could constitute a prerequisite for language. The “SymBa” project aims at modelling symmetry inference and determining whether it is present in primates such as baboons.
In the proposed 6-months internship, the student will conduct with the group of 25 baboons a cognitive experiment, using fine behavioral methods and implicit measurements to probe the existence of symmetry inference. This will include design, programming, running, analysis. In parallel, theoretical contributions are expected in the form of litterature synthesis on targeted aspects of symmetry inference. Depending on his/her interest, the student can also be introduced to the use of connexionist versus symbolic models (SRNs, CNNs, PARSER, etc.) in the field of Cognitive Psychology. The student will be exposed to a multidisciplinary scientific environment and well as to semi-free living primates.
The internship will be primarily supervised by Thomas Chartier, post-doctoral researcher with maths and neurobiology background. Expected are R & Python skills, a sense of initiative and theoretical interest for language and comparative studies.