St Andrews professor granted top award

Professor Kevin Laland
Professor Kevin Laland

ST Andrews University biologist Professor Kevin Laland is among 25 researchers from the UK to be honoured by the leading national academy of science.

Professor of behavioural and evolutionary biology, he has been granted the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award by the Royal Society, which is designed to attract scientific talent from overseas, as well as retain respected UK scientists of outstanding achievement and potential.

An expert in animal social learning and the evolution of culture, he said: ”Animals can learn from each other, but humans alone possess a culture that ratchets up in complexity to generate ever more efficient technologies.

“Our success as a species, in colonising the terrestrial globe and exhibiting unprecedented population growth, is widely attributed to this capability for cumulative culture, underpinned by key capabilities, such as imitation, teaching and language.

“Impressive though the cognition of other animals often appears, there remains a vast gulf between our achievements and theirs, which demands an explanation.

“My research is dedicated to comprehending this gulf by reconstructing the evolutionary history of human cognition, a topic that I study through a combination of experiments on humans and other animals, statistical analyses and mathematical modelling.

“It is extremely pleasing that the importance of our research has been recognised by Britain’s leading scientific academy.”