Using immersive virtual reality to reveal the dynamical structure of social interactions during collective decision-making

3 Ph.D/Postdoctoral Positions

Research objectives: A primary limitation of studying collective behaviour is that reciprocal feedbacks among interacting individuals make it extremely difficult to determine causality (i.e. who influences whom). Even determining what constitutes a social interaction can be very difficult. Consequently, we only have a rudimentary understanding of the nature and structure of communication networks in animal groups. The application of Virtual Reality (VR) environments allows us to experimentally dissociate social input and responses, opening powerful avenues of inquiry into the dynamics of social influence and the physiological and neural mechanisms of collective behaviour. The underlying issue of causality affects almost all research objectives pursued by our centre. Thus, our research will impact the development of future hypotheses and experimental technologies broadly.

The Department of Biology and Max Planck Institute for Ornithology seeks one Ph.D. candidate to explore how social and collective behaviour evolves, specifically asking which behavioural elements are required to perform social and collective tasks. The successful candidate will employ computational and virtual reality approaches using cichlid fish as a model system. Within the cichlids, many species of shell-dwelling Lamprologines live in identical ecological conditions in the same locations in Lake Tanganyika. However, they differ fundamentally in their degree of social and collective behaviour, suggesting they may have evolved novel behaviour to facilitate group and collective living. Questions of interest include whether social-group living requires the evolution of novel behaviours to resolve social conflicts; whether living in complex groups require differing modes of communication than living solitarily; and whether social animals possess increased socio-cognitive skill sets, for example the ability to recognise more individuals or remember interactions with them? Overall, the project will ask what is required for animals to become social? (Adviser: Dr. Alex Jordan).

The Department of Biology and Max Planck Institute for Ornithology seeks one Postdoctoral candidate to employ a newly-developed immersive ‘holographic’ 3D closed-loop virtual reality (VR) environment for fish to investigate visually-mediated social behaviours. Like other group-living vertebrates fish must respond rapidly to changing visual cues in order to effectively employ social information when making movement decisions. Consequently they are an excellent system for investigating the process by which complex, high-dimensional visual information is translated into low-level movement decisions. In this project we will explore how individuals make decisions in social context, and will develop and test computational models of individual and collective decision-making by employing the ‘dynamical social patch clamp’ approach in which we embed computer-controlled virtual organisms into a virtual world (which may be populated by one or more real individuals via the networking of VR systems). Candidates must hold a Ph.D.. This project is funded my the Max Planck Society in contribution to the Excellence Cluster. (Adviser: Prof. Iain Couzin).

The Department of Computer Science seeks one PhD/Post-Doctoral candidate to collaborate with the aforementioned researcher in Biology on enhanced methods for virtual realities for fish including realistic and non-realistic rendering methods with various abstraction methods. The candidate should have a background in computer graphics or a related area and should be interested in tracking and modelling methods for behaviour. This project requires highly interdisciplinary collaboration so an interest in collective behaviour is very important. On the other side the collaboration with the Max Plank Institute will allow highly visible and high impact research in one of the most important fields of science: understanding how groups work and make decisions. Successful candidates have a master in Computer Science (or related field) or a PhD in Computer Science (Advisor: Oliver Deussen)