Feature

When he’s not studying chimpanzees’ planning abilities, Josep Call, PhD, is making his own plans to revolutionize the Journal of Comparative Psychology. Call, who takes over as editor in January, seeks to put the journal at the forefront of comparative psychology literature and use it as a tool to move the field forward.

Call, a comparative and evolutionary psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has studied primates since he was a high school student in Barcelona. “One summer I had the opportunity to go and do some work at the zoo,” he recalls. “I started observing the gorillas, and I was fascinated. It was interesting to read what researchers had written and then go observe those things happening with your own eyes.”

Since those formative years, Call has gone on to extensively study animals’ theory of mind — the idea that animals possess the ability to understand that other beings also have their own beliefs, intents and desires. In recent years, he’s expanded into looking at memory and planning in chimps and other primates.

For the past four years, Call has served as the journal’s associate editor. While he aspires to uphold the journal’s current strengths, he’s looking to improve on two specific areas, as well.

First, he’d like the journal to receive more top-tier papers that look at a broader range of species and behaviors. “Ideally, all authors should be thinking along the following lines: multiple species, multiple tasks and multiple experiments — all in one paper.”

Call recognizes that it’s difficult for researchers to organize such expansive projects when their labs often only have access to a single species, but he encourages researchers from several labs to work together. “The future of the field has to be different researchers from different labs combining forces to write papers with multiple species,” he says.

Second, Call believes that today’s comparative psychology just isn’t comparative enough. Too many studies focus on a narrow set of animals — rats, pigeons and Rhesus monkeys — which limits scientists’ ability to reconstruct evolutionary paths for various cognitive traits. To be effective, he says, you need a mixture of closely and distantly related species, and species with both similar and divergent ecological problems.

If Call can improve on both of those areas, he says, “the journal can play an important role in helping move the field ahead.”