Nicola Clayton

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Nicola Clayton
Born (1962-11-22)22 November 1962
Residence United Kingdom, United States
Citizenship United Kingdom
Fields Comparative cognition
Institutions University of Cambridge, Rambert Dance Company
Alma mater University of Oxford, University of St Andrews
Thesis  (1987)

Nicola Susan Clayton PhD, FRS, FSB, FAPS, C (born 22 November 1962[2]) is a British psychologist. She is Professor of Comparative Cognition at the University of Cambridge, Scientist in Residence at Rambert Dance Company,[3] a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, where she is Director of Studies in Psychology,[4] and a Fellow of the Royal Society since 2010.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Clayton graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in zoology from the University of Oxford in 1984, before gaining a PhD from the University of St Andrews in 1987.


University of Cambridge[edit]

Clayton has made major contributions in the study of animal cognition as well as cognitive development in human children, with significant impact in the neurobiology of memory and overall cognitive development.[5] Her expertise in the study of comparative cognition integrates a knowledge of both biology and psychology in providing new methods of thinking about the evolution and development of intelligence in non-verbal animals and pre-verbal children. Clayton studies cognition not only in humans but also in members of the crow family (including jackdaws, rooks and jays). This work has challenged many assumptions that only humans can reminisce about the past and plan for the future, and that only humans can understand other times as well as other minds.[6] Her work has also led to a re-evaluation of the cognitive capacities of animals, specifically birds, and resulted in a theory that intelligence evolved independently in at least two groups, the apes and the crows.[7]

Rambert Dance Company[edit]

Since 2009, Clayton has worked with the Rambert Dance Company as science collaborator, then scientific adviser, and now scientist-in-residence.[8] As a dancer, specializing in tango and salsa, she draws evidence from both the arts and science in her collaborations. In 2009, Clayton experienced her first collaboration by becoming involved in a dance piece called The Comedy of Change, which was inspired by Charles Darwin's ideas of natural and sexual selection. She met the choreographer and Artistic Director of Rambert Dance Company, Mark Baldwin, and gave input about science that could inform the piece.[8] Other choreographic works inspired by science Clayton has collaborated with Baldwin on include Seven For a Secret, Never To Be Told and What Wild Ecstasy.[7]

The piece Seven For a Secret, Never To Be Told was based on the psychology of children, an area of Clayton's research. Clayton singled out themes related to the behavioural development of children, such as the importance of play, which helped to inspire the choreography. This piece was another collaboration between Clayton and Baldwin; the title inspired by a line from the nursery rhyme One for Sorrow, which was based on a superstition associating the number of magpies one sees to prediction of one's future.[9]

Other work[edit]

One of Clayton's most recent collaborations is with artist and writer, Clive Wilkins, who is Artist in Resident in the Psychology department at the University of Cambridge. This collaboration in 2012 rose out of their mutual interest in mental time travel and resulted in a unique series of lectures entitled, "The Captured Thought."[6] These lectures set out to explore the subjective experience of thinking, by drawing evidence from both science and the arts to examine the nature of mental time travel and mechanisms we use to think about the future and reminisce about the past. The goal of this project was to illuminate ideas concerning memories and question the power of analysis.[10]

Published works[edit]

  • 1998: Episodic-like memory during cache recovery by scrub jays
  • 2001: Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies in scrub jays
  • 2004: The mentality of crows. Convergent evolution of intelligence in corvids and apes
  • 2006: Food-caching western scrubjays keep track of who was watching when
  • 2007: Planning for the future by Western Scrub-Jays
  • 2009: Western scrub-jays conceal auditory information when competitors can hear but cannot see
  • 2009: Episodic future thinking in 3- to 5- year-old-children: The ability to think of what will be needed from a different point of view
  • 2009: Chimpanzees solve the trap problem when the confound of tool-use is removed
  • 2012: Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) overcome their current desires to anticipate two distinct future needs and plan for them appropriately
  • 2013: Careful cachers and prying pilferers: Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) limit auditory information available to competitors
  • 2013: Evidence suggesting that desire-state attribution may govern food sharing in Eurasian jays
  • 2014: EPS Mid Career Award Lecture. Ways of Thinking: From Crows to Children and Back Again
  • 2014: Of babies and birds: complex tool behaviours are not sufficient for the evolution of the ability to create a novel causal intervention
  • 2014: Pilfering Eurasian jays use visual and acoustic information to locate caches
  • 2014: The Evolution of Self Control
  • 2015: Thinking ahead about where something is needed: New insights about episodic foresight in preschoolers[5]



  1. ^ "Nicky Clayton". The Life Scientific. 22 November 2011. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  2. ^ CLAYTON, Prof. Nicola Susan, Who's Who 2015, A & C Black, 2015; online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014
  3. ^ "Professor Nicola S. Clayton FRS FSB FAPS C Psychol". Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  4. ^ Clare College Cambridge website accessed 26 May 2014
  5. ^ a b "Professor Nicola S. Clayton FRS FSB FAPS C Psychol". University of Cambridge. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 7 April 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Professor Nicky Clayton, FRS". Cambridge Neuroscience. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Professor Nicola Clayton". Battle of Ideas 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Reisz, Matthew (15 March 2012). "Third-culture club". Times Higher Education. Times Higher Education. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  9. ^ Gross, Michael (22 November 2011). "Dances with magpies". Current Biology. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.11.008. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "The Captured Thought is off to Florida University". The Captured Thought. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "Nicola Clayton". Royal Society. Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  12. ^ "Nicola S. Clayton, PhD, FRS, FSB, FAPS, C Psychol". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 

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