Dr. Isabelle Laumer

Max Planck Research Group Schuppli

Main Focus

I’m a primatologist and cognitive biologist that has intensively studied great apes and Goffin cockatoos for the past ten years at the University of Vienna, Austria, at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, at the University of California Los Angeles, U.S. and at the Max Planck Institute of Animal behavior in Konstanz.

So far, my research has focused on physical cognition (tool-use & manufacture, tool innovation, template matching from memory, flexible multi-dimensional decision-making relative to reward quality and tool functionality) and extends to social cognition (prosociality, inequity aversion, delay of gratification, theory of mind and playful teasing). In the course of my master thesis I studied the ability of Goffin cockatoos to delay gratification in an adapted version of the marshmallow test in children. Thereafter I achieved a PhD fellowship and investigated the cognitive abilities underlying tool-related problem solving and tool innovation in orangutans and Goffin cockatoos with Alice Auersperg, Thomas Bugnyar and Josep Call. Furthermore, I conducted studies on prosociality and inequity aversion in collaboration with Jorg Massen. Afterwards I worked as postdoc at Erica Cartmill’s lab at the Department of Anthropology, UCLA on a project on playful teasing and humor in the four great ape species using touchscreen, pupillometry, and thermal imaging techniques.

In my postdoc position at the Max Planck Institute in Konstanz I’m investigating the interplay between cognitive performance and the psychological motivation of curiosity in wild and captive orangutans and chimpanzees, as well as in humans from different societies. Coming from a lab focused on play, exploration and innovation, I’m genuinely passionate about investigating this trait. Understanding how curiosity and cognition interact and how they develop across species will shed light on what sparked curiosity during human evolution.

Research Areas:

Primate Cognition, Avian Cognition, Animal Behavior, Tool-Use, Tool Manufacture, Innovation, Flexible Decision-making, Template matching from Memory, Social Cognition, Delay of Gratification, Inequity Aversion, Prosociality, Playful Teasing, Theory of Mind, Interplay of Cognitive Performance and Curiosity

Curriculum Vitae

  • Postdoctoral Researcher at Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior | 2022 – present, Development & Evolution of Cognition in Great Apes, Supervisor Caroline Schuppli, Project: Great Ape Cognition and Curiosity


  • Postdoctoral Researcher at University of California Los Angeles, U.S. | 2019 – 2022, Department of Anthropology, Social Sciences, UCLA, U.S.; Supervisor Prof. Erica Cartmill, Project: Play, Joy & Humor in Great Apes; Data collection: National Center for Chimpanzee Care, MDACC, University of Texas, Austin, Texas
  • Associate Director, Diverse Intelligence Summer Institute | 2021 
  • PhD Candidate at University of Vienna, Austria | 2013 – 2018, Department of Cognitive Biology, Supervisor Prof. Dr. Thomas Bugnyar, Priv.-Doz. Dr. Alice Auersperg; PhD program funded by a uni:docs fellowship; Data collection for the PhD thesis at the Goffin cockatoo Lab, Messerli Research Institute, Austria
  • University Teaching Fellow, University of Vienna | 2017 – 2018, Department of Cognitive Biology, Lecture and practical course in designing scientific projects, Supervision of scientific projects of eight graduate students from international institutions.
  • Researcher at Max-Planck Institute, Leipzig, Germany | 2015, Department of Comparative Psychology, University of Leipzig, Data collection in great apes for the PhD Thesis, Supervisior Dr. Josep Call
  • Researcher at University of Vienna, Austria| 2014, Department of Cognitive Biology, Messerli Research Institute, Supervisor Prof. Dr. Thomas Bugnyar, Priv.-Doz. Dr. Alice Auersperg

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