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Part of the project: Understanding learning of mice in social interaction

Lead PIs: ​Lars Lewejohann, Christa Thöne-Reineke, Olaf Hellwich, Henning Sprekeler


In this project, we investigate the interaction between learning and social perception. If there is an interplay between emotions and cognition in the service of efficient information processing and communication, emotional behavior may represent a shortcut to bypass more costly cognitive processes in the reduction of dimensionality. The mouse serves as an animal model in the proposed project in order to gain an understanding of how social responsiveness is facilitating learning and how it is modulated by priors as well as emotions. On the analytic side, the facial expressions of emotions will be closely analyzed in mice and their effects on learning behavior as well as the emotional state of conspecifics will be investigated. Moreover, we will examine learning strategies in socially housed mice and how emotional signaling is involved in social learning. On the synthetic side, we aim to automatically monitor learning behavior in social interaction of group-housed mice and to model their behavior. Reinforcement learners that should show the same behavior as the mice are developed and we will investigate whether the reinforcement learners can exchange learned behavior at certain periods in time during the solution of the task at hand. The data derived in this project will serve as a basis for an in depth analysis of if and how our model organism exhibits intelligent behavior. By comparing mice to other animal species, human subjects, and artificial agents we will gain a better understanding on intelligence and especially on different grades of intelligent behavior.

Description of the doctoral project:

In this project, the question whether (and how) mice transfer knowledge within a group is addressed. Socially housed mice will be monitored when solving tasks (e.g., lock boxes), which are rewarded, or are trained using clicker training in the group. In addition, it will be observed how information transfer is realized between a tutor (i.e., a mouse that was previously trained in solving a specific task) and naive inexperienced mice and to what extent emotional signalling is involved.
The experimental set-up includes sophisticated automated systems but also will largely rely on experienced behavioral knowledge of the experimenter. In close cooperation with a second doctoral project focusing on emotional perception and a doctoral project in computer vision, the data will be used to generate interaction models. In an iterative process data from behavioral experiments and computer vision will be used to refine interaction models and the overall understanding of social learning.


● Conducting experimental research in laboratory animal science

● Design, execution, and analysis of behavioral tests to characterize cognitive behavior

● Automated and manual evaluation of behavior

● Interaction within the SCIoI cluster of excellence

● Compilation of the results for presentations, project reports, and publications


● University degree (master’s, diploma) or comparable degree in biology, veterinary medicine, neuroscience, cognitive science or comparable subject

● Extensive knowledge on behavioral biology and laboratory animal science

● Experience in handling small mammals (including breeding and keeping)

● Very good command of English, both written and spoken

● A keen interest in understanding intelligence and the strong communicative skills required for interdisciplinary research

● Good computer literacy as well as a conscientious work approach, flexibility, good time management, and ability to work in a team


Application deadline: 29 November 2019 23:59 CET