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St Andrews expert in animal cognition is honoured by the Society

14 July 2017

Professor Richard Byrne from the University of St Andrews has won our Research Board’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award confers life membership of the British Psychological Society, £1000 to be spent on furthering an area of research of the recipient’s choice and a commemorative certificate.

Professor Byrne is one of those few academics who can be said to have laid the conceptual and methodological groundwork for an entirely new approach to studying mind and behaviour. He has brought together cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology, with significant benefits to both.

When he first took up research into primate behaviour, cognitive psychology was a subject confined to humans and studied almost entirely in the laboratory. There was no need for most psychologists to give evolution a thought.

Now a productive interaction is commonplace and a whole generation of young psychology researchers has been inspired to explore the origins of the human mind, thought and language.

Professor Byrne’s current research interests cover social learning in non-human animals, gestural communication in great apes, the evolution of mental map abilities, cognition in wild elephants and the cognitive capabilities of domestic animals.

Professor Byrne said:

"I am honoured to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and I greatly appreciate the confidence of those who proposed me, gave references, and assessed the proposal.

Many people have helped me over the years, and I'd like to single out at least a few: John Morton, my PhD supervisor, who encouraged creativity so much, by rewarding risk-taking ("doesn't matter if what you say is wrong, as long as it's not dull"); Bill Mc Grew, who generously gave me the opportunity to become a primatologist and has given support ever since; Malcolm Jeeves, who set up the St Andrews department as such a great place to work, and turned a blind eye to my frequent changes of research direction; the many PhD students and post docs I've worked with, who've made it all such fun;  and my wife Jen, a constant support at home and free research assistant in the field."

Nicola Gale, President of the British Psychological Society, said:

“I congratulate Professor Byrne on his well-deserved award. As well as being fascinating in its own right, he study of cognition in animals has the potential to tell us much about the evolution of distinctively human abilities.”

You can read more about Professor Byrne’s work with apes and elephants in our monthly magazine The Psychologist.


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