Campus Directory: Jennifer Mather

University of Lethbridge

Jennifer Mather
Psychology Department
Office: SA8386
Phone: (403) 329-2423
Room: SA8312 (Science Commons)
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, eye movements, especially of individual with schizophrenia

About Me

When I came to the University of Lethbridge in 1985, I taught Child Development and Perception, and subsequently half of a course on the Psychology of Aging. After 14 years we hired a professor whose expertise was Child Development and I ceded that course to her. After 25 years similarly I left teaching Perception, which still colors my approach to learning. When my colleague retired in 1999, I took over all of the Aging course. With the study of people with Schizophrenia behind me, I decided to teach a senior course in that area. This became a seminar course, with student each teaching one 75-minute class, writing a major essay on another area and keeping a reflective Journal. As I taught more, I began to see the necessity of giving students practice at skills such as critical thinking, oral and written presentation and working with others, and began to abandon lecturing and examinations. In the Psychology of Aging course students now approach the area by Inquiry Learning in groups. However, I am a member of a city group, the Seniors' Forum, and the class has kept a town-gown link by presenting different areas of the things they have learned to the Forum. Combining my interest in women's issues with that of aging, I began in 2003 to teach a course on Lifespan Development of Women in alternate years with the Psychology of Aging. Students listen to visiting women presenters discuss their lifespan and write an essay about the issues that one of them has faced, give two oral presentation in groups on important issues that women face across the lifespan, and write about their own Self-concept and how it will change as they age. In 2012 I combined my interest in animal welfare with knowledge of the lives of non-human animals and began to present a course called Human-Animal Interactions. This one is also focused on practical issues, but first asks students to think about their philosophical attitudes to animals. Some class time is devoted not to lecturing but discussion of ideas in this area, ones to which there are no simple or easy answers. As well the students, in groups, interview someone who works with animals and give an oral presentation to the class, think about ethical issues and present a poster on one ethical problem in the University Atrium, and do an observational research study of some aspect of human-animal interactions. Finally, I have sponsored many student in an individualized course called Applied Studies, where they have both practical experience, usually with a helping agency, as well as academic assignment, usually written essays, from the professor. Two year ago I gather ten of these student together to add a classroom component to the practical work, in a course called Community Psychology. I am presently working with a small grant from the Teaching Centre to look for a way to generate better student evaluations for these non-traditional teaching methods.

In 2017 I received the Distinguished Teacher award from the university.


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. Since then I have been 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.

Darmaillacq, A-S, Dickel, L. & Mather, J. A., Eds. (2014). Cephalopod Cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mather, J. A. & Alupay, J. (2016). An ethogram for octopuses of the family Octopodidae. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 130, 109-127.

Mather, J. A. (2016). Mating games squid play: reproductive behavior and sexual skin display in Caribbean reef squid Sepioteuthis sepioidea. Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology, 49, 359-373.

Mather, J. A. & Dickel, L. (2017). Cephalopod complex cognition. Current Opinion in Behavioral Science, 16, 131-137.

Carere, C. & Mather, J. A., Eds. The welfare of invertebrates. Springer Publishers, estimated publication date December 2018.

Research Interests

My enduring research interest has been the behavior of cephalopod molluscs—the octopus, squid and cuttlefish. As an ethologist I was first fascinated by the behavior of these animals in their natural setting and I have studied them in the shallow waters of Bermuda in the 1980s, in a large outdoor pond in Hawaii in the 1990s, at the Caribbean island of Bonaire at the turn of the century, when the main focus was the Caribbean reef squid. Recognition of individual animals led us to evaluation of squid reproductive strategies and use of the skin display system, as well as their antipredator responses. Since then I have had shorter expeditions to the island of Moorea in the Pacific and to the reefs of Okinawa to study octopuses.

Field work has been supplemented by laboratory studies, predominantly with Dr Roland Anderson in the Seattle Aquarium. We have particularly focused on the cognitive abilities of the intelligent octopuses, ranging from assessment of personalities, evaluation of play, to studies of abilities to penetrate mollusk shells, learning to open a glass jar for a food reward inside, and recognition of individual octopus keepers. There were theoretical papers as well, describing what octopuses were able to do with their arms and how they might have consciousness, and practical issues on attitudes to and care of these intelligent animals. Recently I have worked with Dr Khalil Iskarous from the University of Southern California, attempting to understand the control of the muscular hydrostat movement systems of the octopus arms, and also further investigation of individual behaviour, both of octopuses and cuttlefish, with Dr Claudio Carere of University of Tuscia.

My concerns about the welfare of octopuses led from articles in scholarly journals to association with the COST actions of the European Union to increase the welfare of cephalopod molluscs. I published a paper in Consciousness and Cognition which led to some attention, and Springer Publishers asked Dr Carere and I to edit a volume in their Animal Welfare series on Invertebrate Welfare, scheduled to be published in December of 2018.

My location as a woman in science led to an enduring interest in women's issues. I co-established the Faculty Association's Gender Issues Committee (renamed the Gender Issues and Diversity one), served a terms on the CAUT Status of Women Committee and continued my interest in women in science, including several presentation on this issue in 2018. Although my major interest is cephalopod molluscs, my doctoral work was in human sensory-motor coordination, specifically the human oculomotor system. After my PhD, I studied the eye movement system of people with schizophrenia, particularly the perceptual aspects leading to the problems, for several years as a University Research Fellow. I have a fascination with non-traditional teaching, which has led to many conference presentations particularly at STLHE, work in our local Teaching Centre including a terms as Teaching Fellow, and several small research grants and publications.

In 2011 I received the university's Ingrid Speaker medal for research or scholarship.

Current Research and Creative Activity

TitleLocationGrant InformationPrincipal InvestigatorCo Researchers
Attitudes Lethbridge, AB Jennifer Mather, University of Lethbridge Don Johnson, University of Lethbridge
Cephalopod Individuals Tuscia, Italy Claudio Carere Jennifer Mather
Muscular hydrostats Los Angeles Khalil Iskarous Jennifer Mather
Non-traditional teaching Lethbridge Jennifer Mather
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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