Graduate Student, Psychology

AB Degree Track
Dual-Title PhD

Faculty Advisor
David Gire

Alternate Models of Intelligence


Dominic Sivitilli


I am a graduate student in Psychology and Astrobiology at the University of Washington. I study octopus cognition with a focus on sensory-motor control within the octopus’ arms. As a soft-bodied invertebrate with a highly distributed and complex nervous system, the octopus serves as a model for control and intelligence that stands in sharp contrast to our vertebrate kin. The octopus therefore provides a unique lens through which we can study the mind. I am broadly interested in applying our understanding of cognition and its evolution on earth to possible forms of intelligence existing on other worlds.

My research, which is conducted in Seattle and at Friday Harbor Labs, includes lab- based behavioral work that analyzes octopus locomotion, foraging, and exploration in environments developed using computer-aided design. I also conduct sub-tidal research using SCUBA to investigate the effects of giant Pacific octopus predation on its local ecosystem.

I am currently working in the Comparative Systems Neuroscience Lab (https://girelab.com/) with Dr. David Gire. I am also working with Barbara Mones, director of the UW Reality Studio, and Dr. Thomas Furness III, director of the Human-Interface Technology (HIT) Lab, to connect humans with the perceptual and motor capabilities of an octopus in virtual reality. I also collaborate with the labs of Dr. Josh Smith in UW Computer Science and Engineering, Dr. David Scheel at Alaska Pacific University, and Dr. Kirt Onthank at Walla Walla University.

Prior to my graduate career, I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Sharon Doty, where I researched plant resilience to extreme conditions resulting from microbial symbiosis. I also worked in the Behavioral Enrichment Animal Research (BEAR) group studying the effects of environmental enrichment on animals at the Woodland Park Zoo.


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