Dr. Sergio Pellis’s influential research on animal behaviour and behavioural neuroscience has received international recognition. It has also earned him accolades at the University of Lethbridge, where he was named the 2014 winner of the Ingrid Speaker Medal for Distinguished Research, Scholarship, or Performance.
Pellis came to the University of Lethbridge psychology department in 1990, and eventually moved to the Department of Neuroscience in 2005. His research focuses on investigating the development of play and mastering the evaluation of movement. He and other researchers found that play can be seen in animals other than mammals. Play changes the brains of mammals and is critical for normal social development. He has amassed a rich collection of data on primates and rodents, resulting in several fascinating conclusions on the role and purpose of play in mammals. He is, arguably, the world’s foremost expert on social play behaviour.
His second major research area is behavioural analysis, and employs several notational systems to describe movement. After receiving his PhD, Pellis received a postdoctoral fellowship to study the deficits in movement seen in people with Parkinson’s disease. He collaborates with colleagues from other departments to continue this line of work at the University. Studying how movement is affected in people with neural damage benefits those with Parkinson’s and enhances our knowledge of normal behaviour. In his research, he looks for general principles of behaviour that underlie movement, and may eventually contribute to the development of robotics. He seeks to understand how individual and environmental factors influence the evolution of brain and behaviour.
Pellis’s research has attracted attention on local, national and international stages, and has received funding from such notable agencies as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. He has made more than 180 conference presentations, and his 2009 book, The Playful Brain, prompted an invitation from a Minister of Alberta Education policy advisor to a workshop on investigating educational policy. He was also part of a series of workshops in Lethbridge about fostering early learning. He has written more than 175 papers, inspiring more than 3,500 citations and 25 book chapters. Over the past decade, Pellis has been cited an average of 200 times per year, and he was appointed a Board of Governors Research Chair in 2007.