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MSc. Alina Schaffer

Position: PhD student

E-mail: alina.schaffer@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]uni-leipzig.de

Research Group Primate Behavioural Ecology
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Primate Behavior and Evolution
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig


University of Leipzig Faculty of Life Science
Institute of Biology
Behavioral Ecology Research Group
Talstrasse 33
D-04103 Leipzig

Current research
Curriculum vitae

Research interests

In the last century, a large number of studies have experimentally investigated cognitive skills across animals, providing us with a vast dataset on the distribution of specific cognitive skills across taxa. By comparing cognitive skills across species, researchers may evidence variation in problem-solving abilities and better understand the proximate processes leading to the emergence of complex cognition. Moreover, a comparative approach allows researchers to understand the evolutionary challenges linked to the emergence of specific skills, shedding light into the evolutionary origins of human cognition. This approach uniquely allows addressing questions about the uniqueness of human cognition and its evolutionary endowment, and it is therefore crucial for researchers spanning from comparative and developmental psychology to evolutionary biology and psychology.

In my project, I will work on ungulates, which are an ideal model to test, as they show an impressive variety of socio-ecological characteristics like dietary breadth, predation level, group size, fission-fusion sociality or domestication level. By testing different species, I will assess which socio-ecological characteristics are linked to enhanced performance in different cognitive tasks, while controlling for intra-specific variation (in terms of sex, age, rank, sociality, personality). By directly comparing their performance with the same battery of ecologically valid cognitive tasks, I will be able to understand which evolutionary forces likely led to the emergence of these skills.

Curriculum vitae


Since 10/2020PhD student at the University of Leipzig and Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (MPI EVA)
Dissertation title: “Can socio-ecological factors and personality explain inter- and intra-specific variation in ungulate cognition?
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Anja Widdig (University of Leipzig)
Funded by the Cusanuswerk
10/2015-02/2018Master of Science in Molecular Ecology
Thesis title: „Predator-induced morphological defenses in male Daphnia
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch (University of Bayreuth), Dr. Max Rabus (University of Bayreuth)
10/2011-01/2016Bachelor of Science in Biology
Thesis title: “Is the archerfish predictive start fed with information from all spectral channels?
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Stefan Schuster (University of Bayreuth), Dr. Wolfram Schulze (University of Bayreuth)

Work experience

03/2019-03/2020Research assistant (as Pre-doc award)
Project “Gaze following in ungulates: domesticated and non-domesticated species follow the gaze of both humans and conspecifics in an experimental context” under the supervision of Dr. Federica Amici (MPI EVA, University of Leipzig)
04/2018-08/2018Research assistant
Project “Innovation and social facilitation tests in ungulates” under the supervision of Dr. Federica Amici (MPI EVA, University of Leipzig) 
10/2017-01/2018Research assistant
Project “Neophobia in ungulates – a comparative approach“ under the supervision of Dr. Federica Amici (MPI EVA, University of Leipzig) 
11/2015 + 02/2016Student assistant
University of Bayreuth, Department of plant ecology

Grants awarded

03/2019-03/2020Pre-Doc Award (Funding for preparing a PhD project) by the Research Academy of the University of Leipzig



Schaffer, A., Widdig, A., Holland, R., & Amici, F. (2024). Evidence of object permanence, short-term spatial memory, causality, understanding of object properties and gravity across five different ungulate species. Scientific Reports, 14(1): 13718.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Berardo, C., Holland, R., Schaffer, A., Lopez Caicoya, A., Liebal, K., Valsecchi, P., & Amici, F. (2024). Perception of optical illusions in ungulates: Insights from goats, sheep, guanacos and llamas. Animal Cognition, 27: 40.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Caicoya, A. L., Schaffer, A., Holland, R., Fersen, L. v., Colell, M., & Amici, F. (2023). Innovation across 13 ungulate species: problem solvers are less integrated in the social group and less neophobic. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 290(1996): 20222384.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Schaffer, A., Caicoya, A. L., Colell, M., Holland, R., von Fersen, L., Widdig, A., & Amici, F. (2021). Neophobia in 10 ungulate specie - a comparative approach. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 75: 102.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Schaffer, A., Caicoya, A. L., Colell, M., Holland, R., Ensenyat, C., & Amici, F. (2020). Gaze following in ungulates: Domesticated and non-domesticated species follow the gaze of both human and conspecifics in an experimental context. Frontiers in Psychology, 11: 604904.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Alina Schaffer, Alvaro L. Caicoya, Montserrat Colell, Ruben Holland, Lorenzo von Fersen, Anja Widdig, Federica Amici. “Neophobia in ungulates – a comparative approach”.