The Jacobs Lab of Cognitive Biology




Spatial knowledge – knowing the location of resources, including your own location – is essential for survival. Because it is universal, we can make comparisons across species to identify how cognition evolves in response to the challenges of living in a specific environment – the study of cognitive biology, as we define it.

For example, humans and some squirrels practice spatial economics:  collecting, storing and managing stored wealth. Squirrels store seeds to survive the winter and distribute caches in such a way that they can remember cache locations yet keep the distribution pattern (the ‘password’) unpredictable to a cache thief. This simple winter ‘banking’ system, based on spatial memory, may be analogous to economic banking in humans, the only primate that stores wealth like squirrels [SPATIAL ECONOMICS]. In addition to these foraging decisions, squirrels face a lifelong challenge to navigate and ‘parkour’ adaptively through 3D canopies, in their search for seeds. We study all of these processes in wild adults and we also study the development of these behaviors in rescued juvenile squirrels, who are later released in the wild [SQUIRREL SCHOOL].

Spatial navigation in most animals involves multiple sensory modalities and cognitive processes. Yet one of the most powerful, as well as the most ancient and universal, sources of information for navigation is the sense of smell. The importance of odors has shaped the evolution of spatial behavior [OLFACTION AND SPACE]. The olfactory system is also a key component of the vertebrate navigation and memory system. [HIPPOCAMPAL MAPS]. Humans are again similar to other species in their use of odors to navigate and this function may have contributed to the evolution of the human external nose [HUMAN SPATIAL EVOLUTION].


The navigational nose

Published today – Lucia’s new hypothesis for the function and evolution of the human external nose.

Rocky is…pink

Truth is stranger than fiction – flying squirrels (like Rocky) glow bright pink under UV light! A valentine squirrel…

Judy shows that geckos walk on water

From the New York Times today, a great write-up of Judy's work that she started as a student project in Bob Full's amazing class on biomechanics!"Dr. Nirody, who will start research at Rockefeller University this coming year, and Judy Jinn, were graduate...