Campus Directory: Jennifer Mather

University of Lethbridge

Jennifer Mather
Psychology Department
Office: C888 (University Hall)
Phone: (403) 329-2423


B.A. (Biology); M.Sc. (Biology); Ph.D. (Psychology)


Behaviour of cephalopod molluscs (octopuses and squid), Schizophrenia, Women in science, Excellence in University teaching

Research Areas

Squid skin patterns and displays, Octopus cognition, Attitudes to invertebrates

Previous Research Areas

Behaviour and cognitive abililties of cephalopod molluscs


I was born and raised in Victoria, B.C., which partly fueled my interest in sea animals. I received a B.A. in Biology from University of British Columbia in 1964, a M.Sc. in Biology from Florida State University in 1972 and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Brandeis University in Boston in 1978. I held a Research Assistant Professor position as a University Research Fellow from 1980 to 1985 at University of Western Ontario, and came to the University of Lethbridge in my second five year term as a Fellow, as an Assistant Professor in 1985. I am now a Professor in the Department of Psychology.

Selected Publications

Mather, J. A. 2008) Cephalopod consciousness: Behavioral evidence. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 37-48.

Mather, J. A. & Anderson, R. C. (2007). Ethics and invertebrates: a cephalopod perspective. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, Special Issue, 75, 119-129.

Mather, J. A. (2006). Behaviour development: A cephalopod perspective. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 19, 98-115.

Mather, J. A. & Anderson, R. A. (1999). Exploration, play and habituation in Octopus dofleini. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 113, 333-338.

Research Interests

My enduring research interest has been in the behaviour of cephalopod molluscs (octopuses and squid). As an ethologist, I was first fascinated by the behaviour of these animals in their natural setting, the ocean. To pursue this line of investigation I studied octopuses in the shallow waters of Bermuda in the mid-1980s, acquiring baseline information about their daily lives which resulted in papers on their activity, foraging and feeding, home occupancy, life history strategies and spatial memory. In the 1990s I observed octopuses on the reef and in a large outdoor pond in Hawaii to study foraging strategies and the effect of predation on them. At the turn of the century I observed Caribbean reef squid on the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean, particularly
interested in whether they make a visual language on their colourful skin.

Field work has been supplemented with laboratory studies with Dr Roland Anderson at the Seattle Aquarium. We have been partiularly focused on the cognitive abilities of the intelligent octopus. Our studies have ranged from assessment of octopus personalities to evaluation of exploration and play, as well as problem solving in tasks such as learning to open a glass jar to get at a crab inside and problem solving to penetrate clam shells and gain access to the food inside. These studies have also led me to evaluate the cognitive abilites of these animals, including assessing a developmental approach, describing what octopuses do with their arms, presenting the case for ethical behaviour towards them and discussing whether they have a simple form of consciousness. My latest project in this area is to assess the attitudes of students to invertebrates (which make up 99% of the animals on the planet) and to see whether their negative view of them can be changed.

Besides this focus, I have been concerned about the place of women in the profession, active in the Gender Issues Caucus and serving a term on the Canadian Association of University Teachers' Status of Women Committee. In this my particular interest has been in the difficulties of women in science. I have also a fascination with good teaching in the University setting, attending many conferences of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and carrying out several small research projects. My laterst effort in this area is to look at the extent to which our Faculty carries out the practical goals of a Liberal Education (such as critical thinking, oral and writing skills) in our courses. For my doctoral and postdoctoral studies, I evaluated human eye movements and particularly those of people with schizophrenia--and this focus led directly to my teaching specializations.

Teaching Interests

The course which is most central to my work is Psychology 3360, Sensation and Perception. The area of how we receive and process incoming information is an absorbing one, touching on reality and how we construct our world, and I bring a comparative viewpoint to it as well. Recently I have moved the class format to one of Inquiry Learning, where small groups of students read the text chapter, construct and answer key questions about the information in them, and learn throughout the semester instead of memorizing for exams.

As a result of studing the individuals with this disorder, I began to offer a Psychology 4550, fourth-year course on Schizophrenia. This small class also offers a non-traditional format, as each student teaches on of the topics for the full duration of a 75-minute class. In addition they do a major essay on another topic and keep a reflective Journal, eventually ending up gathering all that they have learned in the course within a Portfolio at the semester's end.

When I first came to the Psychology Department, I was asked to co-teach Psychology 3120, Psychology of Aging. I have since taken over all the course, which has developed a thoroughly practical focus. The whole class becomes an investigative group to find out whether Lethbridge is Senior-Friendly City, with a short presentation by each member to the whole class. Groups of students investigate and present five practical projects, including advice on how to have a long and happy marriage and a proposal for a retirement planning seminar. I now alternate this course with Psychology 3835, Lifespan Dvelopment of Women. This course gives us the ppportunity to look more deeply into issues such as motherhood, menopause and work-family balance, which are so important today.


Current Research and Creative Activity

TitleLocationGrant InformationPrincipal InvestigatorCo Researchers
Attitudes Lethbridge, AB Jennifer Mather, University of Lethbridge Don Johnson, University of Lethbridge
Octopus cognition Seattle, WA Jennifer Mather, University of Lethbridge Roland Anderson, Seattle Aquarium
Squid displays Bonaire, NA RGLS, $500 per year, 7 years.

Jennifer Mather, University of Lethbridge

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