Professor Cecilia Heyes FBA

Experimental and theoretical psychology: evolutionary, developmental and cultural origins of cognitive processes; animal cognition; social cognition; social learning; imitation

Elected 2010

Fellow type
UK Fellow
Year elected

Cecilia Heyes was trained as an experimental psychologist at University College London (UCL, 1978-84). As a Harkness Fellow in the United States (1984-6), she studied evolutionary epistemology with Donald T Campbell and philosophy of mind with Daniel Dennett. She spent a second postdoctoral period studying associative learning as a Research Fellow of Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge (1986-9), and then returned to UCL as a member of faculty in 1988. The next 20 years were focussed on experimental work, initially in animal cognition and later in cognitive neuroscience. In the later years her research group developed and tested an associative account of the origins of imitation and the mirror neuron system. In 2008 she left UCL to become a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford. Now her work examines the evolution of human cognition. It explores the ways in which natural selection, learning, developmental and cultural processes combine to produce the mature cognitive abilities found in adult humans. Most of her current projects suggest that the neurocognitive mechanisms enabling cultural inheritance - social learning, imitation, mirror neurons, mind reading etc - are themselves the products of cultural evolution.

Current post

Senior Research Fellow in Theoretical Life Sciences and Professor of Psychology, University of Oxford

Past appointments

University of Oxford Senior Research Fellow in Theoretical Life Sciences and Professor of Psychology

2008 -

University College London Professor of Psychology

1989 - 2008


The cultural evolution of mind reading Science, 344, 1243091 2014

Sensorimotor learning configures the human mirror system Current Biology, vol 17, pp 1527-1531 2007

Four routes of cognitive evolution Psychological Review, vol 110, pp 713-727 2003

Where do mirror neurons come from? Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, vol 34, pp 575-583 2010

Theory of mind in nonhuman primates Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 21, pp. 101-114 1998

Social learning in animals: categories and mechanisms Biological Reviews, Vol 69, pp 207-231 1994

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