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Dr Justine Aw

Dr Justine Aw
Tel: +44 1865 271245

I joined the Behavioral Ecology Research Group in 2005 as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at St. John's College. After completing my DPhil in late 2008, I am continuing my research on mechanisms of decision making as a postdoctoral researcher in the group. I am broadly interested in comparative cognition and decision making, although my interests may seem ironic given my infamous indecisiveness. Perhaps fittingly, I am most interested in the processes involved in my long deliberations and my research focuses primarily on the cognitive mechanisms starlings and humans use to evaluate options. More specifically, I explore the ways in which these mechanisms handle environmental variability and the way our responses to risky choices are influenced by the emotional and environmental context of decisions.

I am especially attracted to decision making because it serves as a theoretical crossroads between economics, experimental psychology, and evolutionary biology. I hope to draw from all of these fields in understanding choice behavior. And my own background is comparably multidisciplinary. Though currently a member of the Zoology department, I studied Cognitive Science at Yale and found myself juggling interests in psychology and neuroscience with my fascination with animal behavior and evolutionary biology. Likewise, my previous research includes studies of developmental social cognition, arachnid biodiversity and island ecology.

It was at Yale's Comparative Cognition Lab that I found the ideal marriage of evolutionary biology and psychology. Under Dr. Laurie Santos, I compared the mechanisms capuchin monkeys and lemurs use to represent objects and number with those used by human infants. And after graduating from Yale, I continued to study number representation in non-human primates with Dr. Elizabeth Brannon at Duke Lemur Center. I then began to focus on the mechanisms of decision making and realized importance of studying comparative, but non-primate cognition, bringing me here to Oxford!

Whilst my primary passion is, of course, my research, outside of the lab, I also enjoy fencing, reading, sketching, cooking and generally relaxing. As one might expect of an aspiring zoologist, I also love animals of all sorts, including all of the critters down at Darwin's!

Selected Posters and Publications

Aw, J.M., Vasconcelos, M.V., Kacelnik, A. 2011. How costs affect preferences: experiments on state dependence, hedonic state and within-trial contrast in starlings. Animal Behaviour.

Kacelnik, A., Vasconcelos, M., Monteiro, T., & Aw, J. (2010). Darwin’s ‘Tug-of-War’ vs. Starlings’ ‘Horse-Racing’: how adaptations for sequential encounters drive simultaneous choice. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology,65, 547-558. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-010-1101-2

Vasconcelos, M., Monteiro, T., Aw, J., & Kacelnik, A. (2010). Choice in multi-alternative environments: A trial-by-trial implementation of the Sequential Choice Model. Behavioural Processes,84, 435-439.DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2009.11.010

Aw, J. M., Holbrook, R. I., Burt de Pererea, T., & Kacelnik, A. (2009). State-dependent Valuation Learning in Fish: Banded Tetras prefer stimuli associated with greater past deprivation. Behavioural Processes, 81, 2 333-336. DOI 10.1016/j.beproc.2009.09.002

Freidin, E., Aw, J. & Kacelnik, A. (2009). Sequential and simultaneous choices: Testing the diet selection and sequential choice models. Behavioural Processes, 80, 3, 218-223. DOI 10.1016/j.beproc.2008.12.001

Aw, J., Holbrook, R., Burt de Perera, T, & Kacelnik, A. (2008). Apparent irrationality and state-dependent learning in fish. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Quantitative Analysis of Behavior. May 22.

Aw, J., & Kacelnik, A. (2008). No-choice latencies predict choices: Testing the Sequential Choice Model. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Quantitative Analysis of Behavior. May 23.

Aw, J., & Kacelnik, A. (2007). Hyperbolic Discounting: Stochasticity or Rate Computation? Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Quantitative Analysis of Behavior. May 25.

VanMarle, K., Aw, J., McCrink, K. & Santos, L. (2006). How Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus apella) Quantify Objects and Substances. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 120: 416-426. DOI: 10.1037/0735-7036.120.4.416

Aw, J., & Santos, L. R. S. (2005). Representation and Enumeration of Non-Cohesive Objects by Brown Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus apella). Poster presented at the Economic and Social Research Council Symposium: Comparative Issues in Object Representation. April 22.

Lockhart, K. & Aw, J. (2005). A Natural Bias? Children's Beliefs About Natural and Acquired Traits. Poster presented at the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Biennial Meeting. April 7.

Lockhart, K., Aw, J. & Essig, G. (2004). Children's beliefs about the origins of positive and negative traits. Poster presented at the 18th Biennial Conference on Human Development. April 24.

Links to past research groups and study sites:

  • National Science Foundation
  • Yale Comparative Cognition Lab
  • Lemur Conservation Foundation
  • Brannon Lab
  • Duke Lemur Center