The Jacobs Lab of Cognitive Biology


How to build a brain: start with smells, space and squirrels




Our work synthesizes concepts from ecology, animal behavior, cognitive science and neuroscience in order to understand the evolution of universal cognitive traits, such as spatial memory and navigation.

How did brains evolve? I proposed that brains evolved in response to the problem of mapping space using smells, using a parallel map architecture (Jacobs, 2012), an idea which built on my prior theory of navigation and hippocampal function (Jacobs & Schenk, 2003). Currently I am developing the PROUST (perceiving and recalling odor utility in space and time) hypothesis: a thesis to explain how the two major olfactory systems radiated in response to the conflict between olfaction and respiration in terrestrial vertebrates (Jacobs, in prep). [OLFACTION AND SPACE].[HIPPOCAMPAL MAPS].[HUMAN SPATIAL EVOLUTION].

We also study behavior in the flesh – specifically, the wild squirrels on the Berkeley campus. Our behavioral economic analyses of squirrel foraging – their eat or cache decisions, the creation of annual cache maps – serves as a paradigm to understand memory and decision processes in semi-natural habitats, e.g., an introduced squirrel species living in an urban park. We are currently funded by the Army Research Office in a 5-year MURI grant with engineers, neuroscientists and mathematicians to model the development and expression of cognition and decision processes in squirrels, to inform the blue sky goal of creating the world’s first robotic squirrel.[SPATIAL ECONOMICS] [SQUIRREL SCHOOL].  


SICB 2017

SICB 2017

Nate Hunt presents our work on learning to leap in squirrels

ASAB 2016

ASAB 2016

Lucia gives plenary talk on squirrels at the London Zoo

RSS 2016

Lucia gives keynote address at Robotics: Science and Systems in Ann Arbor.


KQED films Mikel, with Amanda helping