Victoria West

Centre for Behaviour & Evolution Institute of Neuroscience Henry Wellcome Building The Medical School Framlington Place Newcastle University Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE2 4HH


Dr E Price and Dr T Smulders

I graduated from the University of York with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and went on to complete the MSc in Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology: Origins of Mind at the University of St Andrews.

My research at St Andrews focused on how social dynamics affect the way in which alternative foraging traditions spread in captive chimpanzees.

I am broadly interested in how social factors have affected the evolution of certain cognitive abilities and in turn, how these abilities combine to enable the complex culture seen in humans.

Project title: Exploring links between social learning and mental time travel

My project will be focused on the currently little understood links between social learning and mental time travel (remembering past events and planning for the future). In particular, I am interested in how these skills may interact to enable cumulative culture (i.e. the ability for new generations to build and improve on previous generations’ innovations).

Whilst culture, or behavioural variations between populations, is relatively common amongst non-human animals, cumulative culture is rare and the exact reasons for this are not yet known.

Recently, mental time travel has been proposed as a potential factor enabling cumulative cultural evolution but it has not yet been examined how this ability might interact with social learning.

My project will initially look at how mental time travel might lead to more targeted social learning in children, before going on to examine the interaction between these abilities in other social species known for their cognitive and cultural abilities, namely corvids and chimpanzees.


Where did I get my PIPs

PIPS Internship Organisation Name 

Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust


Copperbelt, Zambia

When deciding on your internship, what did you want to experience and what did you hope to gain from that experience? 

I wanted to use my scientific knowledge in a practical setting and also to gain experience in a sanctuary- valuable for career progression in my field.

Did you get the experience you were expecting and did you achieve the personal development you had hoped to make? 

A large part of my PIPs was living in Zambia.  To be completely immersed in local life there, whilst definitely with its challenges, was hugely influential on my personal development.  I had to rely on different skills, be able to talk to and work with many different people and develop solutions to the daily challenges of living in Africa in order to be successful at my job there.  It was very rewarding.

Did you discover anything about yourself or make any achievements that you were not expecting? 

I think my time away made me more confident.

Has the internship made you feel differently about potential career options and has it helped to put the skills from research into a broader context? 

It was invaluable to be able to use the 'pure science' knowledge I have to make a direct impact on animal welfare.  I think the broader context is hugely important and is something I would like to pursue further in the future.

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