Prof Kevin Laland

Prof Kevin Laland


source: symbiosis


Research Overview:

Our research encompasses a range of topics related to animal behaviour and evolution; particularly animal social learning, innovation and intelligence; niche construction, inclusive inheritance, and the extended evolutionary synthesis; and human evolution, cultural evolution, and gene-culture coevolution. We integrate rigorous laboratory experimentation with sophisticated statistical and theoretical approaches, including the development of new methods.

Animal social learning, innovation and intelligence

Animals learn from others selectively, according to functional rules called ‘social learning strategies’. We investigate such strategies through experimental studies in monkeys, birds and fishes, and through evolutionary game theory modelling. We also use experimental studies of animals, including monkeys, birds and fishes, combined with mathematical methods, to determine where animals acquire behaviour through social learning, and how novel traits spread through populations. We conduct comparative statistical analyses exploring the causes of the large primate brain and the evolution of intelligence. We have found that social learning, innovation and tool use all co-vary with primate relative brain size and may have been drivers of brain evolution.

Niche construction, inclusive inheritance and the extended evolutionary synthesis

The activities of organisms can modify selective pressures and affect subsequent evolution. We investigate the effects of this niche construction using comparative phylogenetic methods, theoretical population genetics modelling and through experimental analyses. We are also exploring the evolutionary consequences of extra-genetic forms of inheritance, including cultural inheritance and ecological inheritance, as well as phenotypic plasticity, using experimental and mathematical approaches. The recognition of niche construction as an evolutionary process that imposes biases on selection, as well as important roles for extra-genetic forms of inheritance and of phenotypes (e.g. plasticity-first) in evolution, are central concepts in the emerging extended evolutionary synthesis.

Human evolution, particularly the evolution of cognition

We study the evolution of social learning, teaching, language, cooperation and cumulative culture through a combination of mathematical modelling and experimental research. Our laboratory’s research into the evolution of cognition is summarised in Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind.



50 (of 281 /dk/atira/pure/researchoutput/status/published available) for knl1 (source: University of St Andrews PURE)
Please click title of any item for full details

Understanding Human Cognitive Uniqueness Kevin Neville Laland, Amanda Madeleine Seed
Annual Review of Psychology 2021 vol. 72 pp. 689-716
Flexible learning, rather than inveterate innovation or copying, drives cumulative knowledge gain Ned Gulley, Kevin Neville Laland, Luke Edward Rendell
Science Advances 2020 vol. 6
Niche construction affects the variability and strength of natural selection Andrew D. Clark, Dominik Deffner, Kevin Neville Laland, John Odling-Smee, John Endler
American Naturalist 2020 vol. 195 pp. 16-30
Racism in academia, and why the 'little things' matter Kevin Neville Laland
Nature 2020 vol. 584 pp. 653-654
Young birds switch but old birds lead Thomas Oudman, Kevin Neville Laland, Graeme Douglas Ruxton, Ingunn Tombre, Paul Shimmings, Jouke Prop
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 2020 vol. 7
A four-questions perspective on public information use in sticklebacks (Gasterosteidae) Michael Munro Webster, Gabor Herczeg, Jun Kitano, Riva Jyoti Riley, Sean Rogers, Michael D. Shapiro, Takahito Shikano, Kevin Neville Laland
Royal Society Open Science 2019 vol. 6
Evolutionary causation Tobias Uller, Kevin Neville Laland
Social learning strategies regulate the wisdom and madness of interactive crowds Wataru Toyokawa, Kevin Neville Laland
Nature Human Behaviour 2019 vol. 3 pp. 183-193
Social transmission favours the ‘morally good’ over the ‘merely arousing’ Joe Stubbersfield, Lewis Dean, Sana Sheikh, Kevin Neville Laland, Catharine Penelope Cross
Palgrave Communications 2019 vol. 5
Some topics in theoretical population genetics Lee Altenberg, Nicole Creanza, Laurel Fogarty, Lilach Hadany, Oren Kolodny, Kevin Neville Laland, Laurent Lehmann, Sarah P. Otto, Noah A. Rosenberg, Jeremy Van Cleve, John Wakeley
Theoretical Population Biology 2019 vol. 129 pp. 4-8
The reach of gene-culture coevolution in animals Hal Whitehead, Kevin Neville Laland, Luke Edward Rendell, Rose Thorogood, Andrew Whiten
Nature Communications 2019 vol. 10
An open resource for non-human primate imaging Michael P. Milham, Lei Ai, Bonhwang Koo, Ting Xu, Céline Amiez, Fabien Balezeau, Mark G. Baxter, Erwin L.A. Blezer, Thomas Brochier, Aihua Chen, Paula L. Croxson, Christienne G. Damatac, Stanislas Dehaene, Stefan Everling, Damian A. Fair, Lazar Fleysher, Winrich Freiwald, Sean Froudist-Walsh, Timothy D. Griffiths, Carole Guedj, Fadila Hadj-Bouziane, Suliann Ben Hamed, Noam Harel, Bassem Hiba, Bechir Jarraya, Benjamin Jung, Sabine Kastner, P. Christiaan Klink, Sze Chai Kwok, Kevin Neville Laland, David A. Leopold, Patrik Lindenfors, Rogier B. Mars, Ravi S. Menon, Adam Messinger, Martine Meunier, Kelvin Mok, John H. Morrison, Jennifer Nacef, Jamie Nagy, Michael Ortiz Rios, Christopher I. Petkov, Mark Pinsk, Colline Poirier, Emmanuel Procyk, Reza Rajimehr, Simon M. Reader, Pieter R. Roelfsema, David A. Rudko, Matthew F.S. Rushworth, Brian E. Russ, Jerome Sallet, Michael Christoph Schmid, Caspar M. Schwiedrzik, Jakob Seidlitz, Julien Sein, Amir Shmuel, Elinor L. Sullivan, Leslie Ungerleider, Alexander Thiele, Orlin S. Todorov, Doris Tsao, Zheng Wang, Charles R.E. Wilson, Essa Yacoub, Frank Q. Ye, Wilbert Zarco, Yong-di Zhou, Daniel S. Margulies, Charles E. Schroeder
Neuron 2018 vol. 100 pp. 61-74
Developmental bias and evolution Tobias Uller, Armin P. Moczek, Richard A. Watson, Paul M. Brakefield, Kevin Neville Laland
Genetics 2018 vol. 209 pp. 949-966
Evolutionary accounts of human behaviour Kevin Neville Laland, Gillian Ruth Brown
2018 pp. 568-595
Experience shapes social information use in foraging fish Michael Munro Webster, Kevin Neville Laland
Animal Behaviour 2018 vol. 146 pp. 63-70
Extended Heredity A New Understanding of Inheritance and Evolution Kevin Neville Laland
Science 2018 vol. 360 pp. 1408-1408
How we became a different kind of animal Kevin Neville Laland
Scientific American 2018 vol. 319 pp. 32-39
Human mate-choice copying is domain-general social learning Alex Thornton, Gillian Ruth Brown, Kevin Neville Laland, Catharine Penelope Cross
Scientific Reports 2018 vol. 8
Innovation and cumulative culture through tweaks and leaps in online programming contests Ned Gulley, Kevin Neville Laland, Luke Edward Rendell
Nature Communications 2018 vol. 9
Primate brain anatomy Ana Francisca Navarrete Rodriguez, Erwin L.A. Blezer, Elizabeth S.M. de Viet, Orlin S. Todorov, Patrik Lindenfors, Kevin Neville Laland, Simon M. Reader
Brain, Behavior and Evolution 2018 vol. 91 pp. 109-117
Selective copying of the majority suggests children are broadly "optimal-" rather than "over-" imitators Cara Louise Evans, Kevin Neville Laland, Malinda Carpenter, Rachel Louise Kendal
Developmental Science 2018 vol. 21
Social learning strategies Rachel Kendal, Neeltje Boogert, Luke Edward Rendell, Kevin Neville Laland, Michael Munro Webster, Patricia Jones
Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2018 vol. 22 pp. 651-665
The social construction of human nature Kevin Neville Laland, Gillian Ruth Brown
2018 pp. 127-144
Coevolution of cultural intelligence, extended life history, sociality, and brain size in primates Ana F Navarrete, Simon M Reader, Kevin Neville Laland
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2017 vol. 114 pp. 7908-7914
Extended spider cognition Hilton F. Japyassú, Kevin Neville Laland
Animal Cognition 2017 vol. 20 pp. 375-395
Fish pool their experience to solve problems collectively Michael Munro Webster, Kevin Neville Laland
Nature Ecology and Evolution 2017 vol. 1
Foreword Kevin Neville Laland
2017 pp. xvii-xxi
New trends in evolutionary biology Patrick Bateson, Nancy Cartwright, John Dupre, Kevin Neville Laland, Denis Noble
Interface Focus 2017 vol. 7
Niche construction, sources of selection and trait coevolution Kevin Neville Laland, John Odling-Smee, John Endler
Interface Focus 2017 vol. 7
Patrick Bateson (1938-2017) Obituary Kevin Neville Laland
Nature 2017 vol. 548 pp. 394
Schism and Synthesis at the Royal Society Kevin Neville Laland
Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2017 vol. 32 pp. 316-317
Sex and pairing status impact how zebra finches use social information in foraging Christopher Neal Templeton, Katharine Philp, Lauren Guillette, Kevin Neville Laland, Sarah Benson-Amram
Behavioural Processes 2017 vol. 139 pp. 38-42
Sex differences in confidence influence patterns of conformity Catharine Penelope Cross, Gillian Ruth Brown, Kevin Neville Laland
British Journal of Psychology 2017 vol. 108 pp. 655-667
Social Evolution and the collective brain Kevin Neville Laland, Luke Edward Rendell
Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2017 vol. 32 pp. 625-626
Social information use and social learning in non-grouping fishes Michael Munro Webster, Kevin Neville Laland
Behavioral Ecology 2017 vol. 28 pp. 1547-1552
The evolution of social learning mechanisms and cultural phenomena in group foragers Daniel Job Van Der Post, Mathias Franz, Kevin Neville Laland
BMC Evolutionary Biology 2017 vol. 17
The extension of biology through culture Andrew Whiten, Francisco Ayala, Marcus D. Feldman, Kevin Neville Laland
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2017 vol. 114 pp. 7775-7781
The foundations of human cooperation in teaching and imitation Kevin Neville Laland
The Spanish Journal of Psychology 2017 vol. 19 pp. 1-10
The magnitude of innovation and its evolution in social animals Michal Arbilly, Kevin Neville Laland
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2017 vol. 284
The origins of language in teaching Kevin Neville Laland
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2017 vol. 24 pp. 225-231
Why Gupta et al.’s critique of niche construction theory is off target Marcus W. Feldman, John Odling-Smee, Kevin Neville Laland
Journal of Genetics 2017 vol. 96 pp. 505-508
An introduction to niche construction theory Kevin Neville Laland, Blake Matthews, Marcus W. Feldman
Evolutionary Ecology 2016 vol. 30 pp. 191-202
Evolution evolves Kevin Neville Laland
New Scientist 2016 vol. 231 pp. 41-45
Skill learning and the evolution of social learning mechanisms Daniel Job Van Der Post, Mathias Franz, Kevin Neville Laland
BMC Evolutionary Biology 2016 vol. 16
Social Learning, Intelligence, and Brain Evolution Kevin Neville Laland
2016 pp. 495-513


The Secretary
Scottish Oceans Institute
Institiud Chuantan na h-Alba
Gatty Marine Laboratory
East Sands St Andrews
KY16 8LB

tel: +44 (0) 1334 463472
fax: +44 (0) 1334 463443