Cognition and curiosity in wild orangutans

Supervisor: Dr. Caroline Schuppli


This doctoral project is based at the Development and Evolution of Cognition Research Group at the Max Planck institute of Animal Behavior. The advertised doctoral project is part of a comparative project which is funded by the Volkswagenstiftung and aims at testing cognitive performance and curiosity in orangutans, chimpanzees, and humans. 

Humans deliberately innovate, even in the absence of any problem to solve. This desire to learn and know, i.e. curiosity, seems to set humans apart from other species. Being curious has powerful consequences on the individual level. Through increased innovation rates, curious individuals transform their cognitive capacity into skills and knowledge faster than uncurious individuals. As such, curiosity may be a key psychological trait that makes cognitive potential visible for natural selection. Therefore, to fully understand cognitive evolution, aside from external factors, it is crucial to take key psychological motivations and their development within individuals into account. The advertised PhD position is part of a larger project that investigates the interplay between cognitive performance and the psychological motivation of curiosity in wild, sanctuary- and zoo-housed orangutans and chimpanzees, as well as in humans from different societies.

Your tasks and profile:

The doctoral candidate will spend around 20 months (divided into 2-4 periods), at field sites in Sumatra and Borneo, Indonesia. The candidate will conduct cognitive tests as well as collect detailed behavioral data following our established data collection protocols.

We seek a highly motivated and enthusiastic candidate with field work experience in similar conditions. Experience with collecting and analyzing great ape experimental and/ or behavioral data is required. We can only consider applicants with a MSc degree in Biology, Psychology, or a related field. Our research is highly collaborative, and we seek a team player who values the importance of long-term research projects.

The doctoral candidate should be ready to live with limited personal space and be highly respectful about cultural differences. The days in the forest are long and exhausting and it takes a high level of physical fitness as well as a lot of perseverance to collect accurate data and conduct field experiments under these conditions. Good observation skills, an eye for detail, patience and creative problem-solving skills are a must for this project.

Our offer:

The position will start in February or March 2023, is limited for 3 years with a possible extension of 1 more year. The payment is made in accordance with your experience and qualification and the collective agreement for the public service (TVöD-Bund).


The Development and Evolution of Cognition Research group is a growing, international research lab  lead by Dr. Caroline Schuppli and embedded within the stimulating research environment of the Max Planck Institute of Animal behavior. The lab currently includes 2 postdocs, 2 technicians, 2 doctoral students as well as, Master and Bachelor students. Our team is highly collaborative and aims at creating a friendly and jointly productive research environment.

How to apply:

Then we are looking forward to receiving your application until December 16th, 2022, with your CV containing your academic track record, the contact information of two references, and a short motivation letter.

Please submit your application documents to the IMPRS, via their application portal.

Questions about this position will be answered by Dr. Caroline Schuppli (


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