Department of Psychology
Yerkes National Primate Center, Division of Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience
Office: PAIS 383
Additional Contact Information
Department of Psychology
36 Eagle Row
Atlanta, GA 30322
Benjamin Wilson received his BSc in Psychology from the University of York, UK, in 2005, before completing an MSc in Evolutionary Psychology from the University of Liverpool, UK, in 2008. In 2014, he completed his PhD in Neuroscience at Newcastle University, using behavioral and neuroimaging approaches to directly compare artificial grammar learning in humans and macaque and marmoset monkeys. After a short postdoctoral position, he was awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome Research Fellowship to study the cognitive and neural systems supporting language-relevant processes in humans and monkeys. He joined Emory University in 2020, where his lab takes a comparative approach, studying humans and nonhuman primates to explore the evolution of cognition and communication, and the origins of human language.
- PSYC 325/BIO 325: Primate Social Psychology
Comparative cognition, cross-species neuroimaging, language evolution, communication, cooperation, implicit learning, statistical learning.
As a comparative cognitive scientist, my research focusses on questions about what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom, and conversely, where might we have more in common with nonhuman primates than we might expect?
I am particularly interested in the evolution of language, which is a human ability that appears remarkably different to forms of communication available to other nonhuman animals. However, my research asks whether some aspects of language may be supported by domain-general systems that might also exist in other species. My previous research has shown that some of the cognitive mechanisms and neural systems that support and underpin human linguistic abilities may be shared with closely related nonhuman animals.
Research in the Wilson lab has a number of key goals. Firstly, we aim to identify core cognitive computations that support aspects of language learning and processing (using statistical learning, sequence processing, implicit learning and memory tasks). These can then be directly related to linguistic abilities in healthy populations of human adults and children, as well as clinical and subclinical populations (e.g., aphasia, dyslexia, etc.). The lab uses a range of experimental paradigms to test humans and nonhuman primates using the same behavioral methods (e.g., habituation/dishabituation paradigms, eye tracking, testing with touchscreen computers). These studies aim to help us understand which cognitive abilities might be evolutionarily conserved across species, and which might represent unique human specializations. Finally, we use neuroscientific approaches (including neuroimaging such as fMRI, DTI and EEG, and brain stimulation like TMS or TUS) to directly compare brain responses in humans and monkeys, to identify whether similar behaviors in these species are supported by the same or different neural systems.
This work has the potential not only to provide insights about human evolution and the origins of language, but identifying evolutionarily conserved abilities is also critical to develop nonhuman primates as an animal model system in which to better understand these shared cognitive and neural systems.