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Department of Psychology


Nicola Clayton is Professor of Comparative Cognition in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Clare College and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Her expertise lies in the contemporary study of comparative cognition, integrating a knowledge of both biology and psychology to introduce new ways of thinking about the evolution and development of intelligence in non-verbal animals and pre-verbal children. She is currently President of the British Science Association Psychology Section.

Nicky is also the first Scientist in Residence at Rambert (formerly Rambert Dance Company), a position she has held for 11 years. She collaborates with Mark Baldwin, the former Artistic Director, on new choreographic works inspired by science including the Laurence Oliver award winning The Comedy of Change (2009, 2013), Seven For A Secret Never To Be Told (2011), What Wild Ecstasy (2012), The Strange Charm of Mother Nature (2014), and The Creation (2016), and Grave (2018). In addition, she has written the words and collaborated on Perpetual Movement (2016, 2017), an exhibition of paintings inspired by Rambert at the Lowry and Embodied Cognition, a series of art works drawn and painted by Mark Baldwin (2019).

Nicky is also the first Scientist in Residence at Rambert (formerly Rambert Dance Company). She collaborates with Mark Baldwin, the Artistic Director, on new choreographic works inspired by science including the Laurence Oliver award winning Comedy of Change, and Seven For A Secret Never To Be Told. Their latest piece, What Wild Ecstasy, saw its London première in May 2012.

Nicky's most recent collaboration is with artist and writer, Clive Wilkins, who is Artist in Residence in the Psychology Department. Together they founded The Captured Thought. This started about three years ago and arose out of their mutual interest in mental time travel, and its consequences for consciousness, identity, memory and creativity. They also regularly dance tango together. You can watch their TEDx talk Conversations Without Words here.

She has been appointed Visiting Professors at Nanjing Institute of Technology and Beijing University of Language and Culture.  She has also been appointed Honorary Professors at Hangzhou Diangi University.


Key publications: 


Garcia-Pelegrin E, Schnell AK, Wilkins C & Clayton NS (2021) Exploring the perceptual inabilities of Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius) using magic effects. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences 118 (24) e2026106118 


Schnell AK, Boeckle M, Rivera M, Clayton NS & Hanlon RT (2021). Cuttlefish exhibit self-control in a delay of gratification task. Proceedings of the Royal Society 288, 20203161 


Garcia-Pelegrin E, Schnell AK, Wilkins CAP & Clayton NS (2020). An unexpected audience: Experiments with magic effects might be informative about cognition in animals, Science 369 (6510), 1424-1426 


Boeckle M, Schiestl M, Frohnwieser A, Gruber R, Miller R, Suddendorf T, Gray RD, Taylor AH, Clayton NS (2020). New Caledonian crows flexibly plan for specific future tool use. Proceedings of the Royal Society 287, 20201490 


Birch J, Schnell AK & Clayton NS (2020). Dimensions of Animal Consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24, 789-801 


Amodio P, Boeckle M, Schnell AK, Ostojić L, Fiorito G, & Clayton NS (2019). Grow Smart and Die Young: Why Did Cephalopods Evolve Intelligence? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 34(1), 45-56 


Wilkins CAP & Clayton NS (2019) Reflections on the Spoon Test. An essay in honor of Endel Tulving. NeuroPsychologia 134, 107221 In


Clayton NS & Wilkins CAP (2017). Memory, Mental Time Travel and the Moustachio Quartet. Royal Society Interface Focus 30, 22-26 


Boeckle M & Clayton NS (2017). Past memories for the future self. Perspective. Science 357, (6347), 126-127 


Ostojić L, Legg EW, Brecht KF, Lange F, Deininger C, Mendl M & Clayton NS (2017). Current desires of conspecific observers affect cache-protection strategies in California scrub-jays and Eurasian jays. Current Biology 27, R43-56 


Laland K, Wilkins CAP & Clayton NS (2015). The Evolution of Dance. Current Biology 26, R5-9 


Clayton NS & Emery NJ (2015). Avian models of human cognitive neuroscience: A proposal. Neuron 86, 1330-1342 


Ostojić L, Shaw RC, Cheke LG & Clayton NS (2013). Evidence suggesting that desire-state attribution may govern food sharing in Eurasian jays. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences 1101, 4123-4128 


Jozet-Alves C, Bertin M & Clayton NS (2013). Episodic-like memory in cuttlefish. Current Biology 23, R1033-R1035 


Raby CR, Alexis DM, Dickinson A & Clayton NS (2007). Planning for the future by Western Scrub-Jays. Nature 445, 919-921 


Dally JM, Emery NJ & Clayton NS (2006). Food-caching western scrub-jays keep track of who was watching when. Science 312, 1662-1665 


Emery NJ & Clayton NS (2004). The mentality of crows. Convergent evolution of intelligence in corvids and apes. Science 306, 1903-1907 


Clayton NS, Bussey T, Emery NJ & Dickinson A (2003). Prometheus to Proust: The case for behavioural criteria for ‘mental time travel’. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7, 436-437 


Emery NJ & Clayton NS (2001). Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies in scrub jays. Nature 414, 443–446 


Clayton NS & Dickinson A (1998). Episodic-like memory during cache recovery by scrub jays. Nature 395, 272-278 


Clayton NS & Krebs, JR (1994). Hippocampal growth and attrition in birds affected by experience. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 91, 7410-7414 


Clayton NS (1987). Song tutor choice in zebra finches. Animal Behaviour 35, 714-722. See also Weary D & Krebs JR News and Views. Nature 329, 485

Professor of Comparative Cognition
Scientist in Residence at Rambert
Co-founder of The Captured Thought
Person keywords: 
cognitive development
comparative cognition in animals
Takes PhD students
Not available for consultancy