Professor Sir Patrick Bateson

Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, University of Cambridge

Tuesday, 28 October 2014 at 15:00 in the Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS, University of Cambridge

Play and Creativity


Many of the most creative scientists have been playful. This talk will examine the links between play and creativity. Many animals are playful and some of them are remarkable in solving difficult problems that they have never encountered before. Do these examples give insight to the way that humans, particularly scientists, solve novel problems? In answering that question, it is important to understand how creativity has been measured. Many different techniques have been used, but important for scientists has been how we establish links between seemingly unrelated bodies of knowledge. 

Background reading

Bateson, P. & Martin P. (2013) Play, playfulness, creativity and innovation. Cambridge University Press


Sir Patrick Bateson FRS was Professor of Ethology at the University of Cambridge (1984-2005). He was Director of the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour (1976-1988). He was then Head of King’s College Cambridge (1988-2003) and Vice-President of the Royal Society (1998-2003). He was knighted by the Queen of England in 2003. He is currently President of the Zoological Society of London.

Much of his scientific career has been concerned with bridging the gap between the studies of behaviour and those of underlying mechanisms, focusing on the process of behavioural imprinting in birds. He collaborated for 30 years with Gabriel Horn and, with others, demonstrated that a particular region of the brain on the left side was directly involved in storing a representation of the imprinting object. The right side provided a way station to other processes involved in the transfer of training. He showed that imprinting provided the mechanistic basis for optimal outbreeding whereby animals choose mates that are a bit different but not too different from close kin.

Another aspect of his work was on the development of play and the induction of alternative pathways in cats depending on their early experience. Subsequently he has published extensively on development and evolution, including the modern study of epigenetics. He has been a longstanding critic of the unitary notion of innateness and the misleading nature/nurture dichotomy.

He is co-author (with Paul Martin) of “Measuring Behaviour”: Cambridge University Press (3rd edition pub 2007), “Design for a Life: How Behaviour Develops” Cape (1999) and Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation” Cambridge University Press (2013).  He is also co-author (with Peter Gluckman) of “Plasticity, Robustness, Development and Evolution” Cambridge University Press (2011). He has edited many books including (with Dennis Turner) “The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour” Cambridge University Press. 3rd edition. 2013. He has taken a deep interest in animal welfare and written three influential reports: The Behavioural and Physiological  Effects of culling Red Deer. London: The National Trust. (1997), Independent Inquiry into Dog Breeding. London: Dogs Trust. (2010) and Review of Research using Non-Human Primates. London: Wellcome Trust. (2011).