Alexander ViningDoctoral Student
I am a behavioral ecologist and data analyst with a focus on the evolution of cognitive maps - mental representations of space that humans use to navigate. I am especially interested in how elements of primate ecology, like a fruit-based diet and arboreal habitat, facilitate the evolution of cognitive maps. To answer this, I study the movement of kinkajous, an arboreal, nocturnal mammal that shares an ecological niche with humans’ primate ancestors. I aim to identify whether kinkajous supplement piloting behavior - a type of route learning that is akin to navigating on ‘autopilot’ - with place learning, i.e. contextualized memories of spatial relationships that form the foundation of cognitive maps.
In the interdisciplinary collaboration ‘Food For Thought’, we investigate differences of frugivorous competitors exploiting the same shared habitat. In my previous research, I studied biological psychology, with a focus on primate cognition and evolution.
I am fortunate that my job includes my favorite activities: travelling, tree climbing, and exploring the rainforest. Outside of work, I rarely stick to any one hobby; I'd much rather let an exciting adventure happen to me than plan something familiar. I also like exploring different scientific fields and enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of my work. As an activist and community organizer, I work to transform relationships through dialogue and create space in science for transgender and genderqueer people.