Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Animal Thinking

Animal Thinking: Contemporary Issues in Comparative Cognition

Randolf Menzel
Julia Fischer
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 368
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Animal Thinking
    Book Description:

    Do animals have cognitive maps? Do they possess knowledge? Do they plan for the future? Do they understand that others have mental lives of their own? This volume provides a state-of-the-art assessment of animal cognition, with experts from psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, ecology, and evolutionary biology addressing these questions in an integrative fashion. It summarizes the latest research, identifies areas where consensus has been reached, and takes on current controversies. Over the last thirty years, the field has shifted from the collection of anecdotes and the pursuit of the subjective experience of animals to a rigorous, hypothesis-driven experimental approach. Taking a skeptical stance, this volume stresses the notion that in many cases relatively simple rules may account for rather complex and flexible behaviors. The book critically evaluates current concepts and puts a strong focus on the psychological mechanisms that underpin animal behavior. It offers comparative analyses that reveal common principles as well as adaptations that evolved in particular species in response to specific selective pressures. It assesses experimental approaches to the study of animal navigation, decision making, social cognition, and communication and suggests directions for future research. The book promotes a research program that seeks to understand animals' cognitive abilities and behavioral routines as individuals and as members of social groups.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29898-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. The Ernst Strüngmann Forum
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Julia Lupp
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. 1 Animal Thinking: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Randolf Menzel and Julia Fischer

    The topic of this Strüngmann Forum—animal thinking—was not formulated as a question—“Do animals think?—but rather as a statement. One might question whether we have already gone too far by making such a statement, but this obviously depends on what we mean by “thinking.” If one believes that thinking refers only to mental processes accessible through human conscious recollection, then thinking must be strictly reserved for our species alone. The issue of whether animals experience conscious recollections in some similar way dominated the debate at an earlier meeting of the Dahlem Konferenzen, the forerunner to the Ernst...

  6. Navigation

    • 2 Navigation and Communication in Honeybees
      (pp. 9-22)
      Randolf Menzel

      Animals know where they are and where they want to go next. The question, however, is: What do “know,” “want,” “where,” and “what next” mean in this context?

      Ants following an outbound pheromone track are motivated to collect food at the terminal of the track. A male moth flying upwind within the female pheromone plume is seeking to find the female of the same species to copulate. The food-searching fiddler crabUcarushes back to its hole on the sandy beach when it is disturbed. If the ant crosses a pheromone trail of a different species, the moth detects the...

    • 3 Navigating in a Three-Dimensional World
      (pp. 23-38)
      Kathryn J. Jeffery

      Navigation has been one of the most intensively studied aspects of animal cognition in the past century because it is a fundamental competence, and because it requires engagement of a number of processes that are also relevant to cognition more generally, such as memory and planning. A central theme in spatial cognition research has been whether there exists an internal representation of allocentric (world-centered) space, the so-called “cognitive map” (Tolman 1948). With the advent of single neuron studies in freely behaving animals, evidence has steadily accrued that this is undoubtedly the case: there is an internal representation of space in...

    • 4 Making the Case for the Intelligence of Avian Navigation
      (pp. 39-50)
      Verner P. Bingman

      With some notable exceptions (e.g., Köhler 1925; Tolman 1948), animal behavior research for most of the twentieth century viewed the behavior of animals as being channeled by genetically determined, innate predispositions (classical ethology) or controlled by the regimented rules of associative learning theory. There was little room to even indulge the possibility of intelligence (I choose not to define intelligence formally, preferring our intuitive understanding of what it means) that would enable, for example, insight learning as applied to problem solving, let alone a consideration that animals may have mental experiences. However, the watershed publications of Griffin’s, “The Question of...

    • 5 Animal Navigation: A Synthesis
      (pp. 51-76)
      Jan Wiener, Sara Shettleworth, Verner P. Bingman, Ken Cheng, Susan Healy, Lucia F. Jacobs, Kathryn J. Jeffery, Hanspeter A. Mallot, Randolf Menzel and Nora S. Newcombe

      Navigation is one of the most fundamental problems that animals and humans confront. It is based on a complex interplay of a large number of different processes and components, and requires the integration of spatially relevant information across sensory modalities, the formation and retrieval of memories, and the selective activation of task-specific representations. Thus, navigation comprises a paradigmatic case of cognitive functions operating across several levels of complexity ranging from sensorimotor loops to higher forms of cognitive processing.

      Because navigational tasks are performed by most animal species, in a wide variety of environmental conditions, over very different spatial scales, and...

  7. Decision Making and Planning

    • 6 Goal-Directed Behavior and Future Planning in Animals
      (pp. 79-92)
      Anthony Dickinson

      The problem of intentionality has haunted biology and psychology for centuries. The exquisite adaptation of both animal morphology and behavior appeared to demand the hand of an intentional agent, which in pre-Darwinian times took the form of a divine creator. Thus in his 1691 volume, “The Wisdom of God Manifest in the Works of Creation,” John Ray claimed that animals are “acted and driven to bring about Ends which [they] themselves aim not at (so far as we can discern) but are directed to.” Of course, two centuries later Darwin vitiated a role for a creator of phylogenetic adaptations by...

    • 7 Mechanisms for Decisions about the Future
      (pp. 93-104)
      Jeffrey R. Stevens

      A hungry female chimpanzee spies a termite mound and quickly fashions a branch into a long, thin twig. She then digs to uncover a tunnel in the mound and inserts her twig. Soon, she extracts the twig, revealing a dozen wriggling termites clinging on tightly. The expert angler carefully plucks off and consumes each insect. As she repeats the process, she depletes the soldier termites arriving to defend their nest. When should she leave this hole to either excavate another tunnel or seek a new mound altogether? What decision mechanism does she use to make this choice? What cognitive capacities...

    • 8 Status of Nonhuman Memory Monitoring and Possible Roles in Planning and Decision Making
      (pp. 105-120)
      Robert R. Hampton

      Monitoring of cognitive processes may improve decision making by conditionalizing behavioral choices on the availability of needed knowledge. The dichotomy between memory that is accessible to monitoring (explicit) and that which is not (implicit) is at the theoretical core of human cognitive neuroscience. The explicit-implicit distinction has not, however, been systematically applied in nonhumans, creating a significant gap in our understanding of the relations between human and nonhuman cognition, and cognitive evolution in general. The failure to apply these concepts in nonhumans likely results from the fact that humans usually demonstrate access to cognitive processes by providing verbal commentaries on...

    • 9 Planning, Memory, and Decision Making
      (pp. 121-148)
      Amanda Seed, Nicola Clayton, Peter Carruthers, Anthony Dickinson, Paul W. Glimcher, Onur Güntürkün, Robert R. Hampton, Alex Kacelnik, Murray Shanahan, Jeffrey R. Stevens and Sabine Tebbich

      Animals make a variety of choices, and it is a fair start to assume that the psychological mechanisms underpinning their choices will be adaptive in the sense of maximizing their net gain of resources, reproductive opportunities, predator avoidance and ultimately their fitness.¹ Even choices that initially appear simple can be complicated because adaptive decisions often involve tradeoffs along multiple dimensions. All other things being equal, we would expect an animal to delay consumption of an immediately available green apple until it is ripe but not so long that it gets moldy, but all things are rarely equal, and an ideally...

  8. Communication

    • 10 Where Is the Information in Animal Communication?
      (pp. 151-162)
      Julia Fischer

      Explaining the evolution of communication is a major challenge, and despite many years of research, a number of conceptual issues remain unresolved. This has led to both confusion and sometimes unproductive friction. Some of the disputes appear to stem from diverging initial points in the analyses: some focus on signal evolution, others on responses to signals. Apparently, these different foci have profound implications for the conceptualization of communication. While each approach has its merits as well as shortcomings, the real challenge is to incorporate insights from both to develop a full understanding of the complexity of communication.

      In this chapter,...

    • 11 Communication in Social Insects: Sophisticated Problem Solving by Groups of Tiny-Brained Animals
      (pp. 163-174)
      Christoph Grüter

      Insect societies, like human societies, confront many organizational challenges. These include the collection and transport of resources (e.g., food or building material), the establishment and maintenance of transportation routes, the removal of waste materials, and the defense of colony resources. Over the last 100 years, an impressive number of communication signals have been identified that help organize these tasks in social insects. Most of these are chemical signals; however, tactile signals and, to a lesser degree, signals perceived via the other sensory modalities, can also be important. The vast majority of the studied signals regulate recruitment activities, either to food...

    • 12 Language and Episodic Sharing
      (pp. 175-186)
      Michael C. Corballis

      It has become commonplace in cognitive science to distinguish between declarative and nondeclarative memory (e.g., Squire 1992, 2004). Unlike nondeclarative memory, declarative memory is accessible to consciousness, and specifically to language—it is memory that can be “declared.” Within this category, Tulving (1983) drew the further distinction between semantic memory and episodic memory. Episodic memory differs from semantic memory in that it refers to the reexperiencing of specific events, or episodes, in an individual’s life, whereas semantic memory refers to enduring knowledge. When we call an episodic memory to mind, we think of it asrememberingthat episode, but when...

    • 13 Communication
      (pp. 187-206)
      Brandon C. Wheeler, William A. Searcy, Morten H. Christiansen, Michael C. Corballis, Julia Fischer, Christoph Grüter, Daniel Margoliash, Michael J. Owren, Tabitha Price, Robert Seyfarth and Markus Wild

      Accounts of animal communication have traditionally relied heavily on the concept of information. Bradbury and Vehrencamp (1998:2), for example, defined communication as the “provision of information from a sender to a receiver,” and Otte (1974:385) defined communication signals as “behavioral, physiological, or morphological characteristics fashioned or maintained by natural selection because they convey information to other organisms.” Running counter to these accounts of information transmission, however, has been another tradition, one that opposes interpreting animal communication in terms of information (Dawkins and Krebs 1978; Owings and Morton 1997; Owren and Rendall 2001; Rendall et al. 2009; Fischer, this volume). The...

  9. Knowledge

    • 14 How Intelligent Is Machiavellian Behavior?
      (pp. 209-222)
      Redouan Bshary, Felice Di Lascio, Ana Pinto and Erica van de Waal

      The evolution of sociality has been a key research focus in evolutionary biology for a long time. One likely reason why so many evolutionary biologists find this question so interesting is that humans are highly social animals. In social species, an individual’s main challenge for successful survival and reproduction is competition with fellow group members over access to limited resources like food and mates. At the same time, group members can be important alliance partners against predators and neighboring groups. Cooperation and conflict are thus the two opposing forces that affect virtually any decision of individuals, selecting for cognitive abilities...

    • 15 Simple Reactions to Nearby Neighbors and Complex Social Behavior in Primates
      (pp. 223-238)
      Charlotte K. Hemelrijk

      Compared to many other animal taxa, the social behavior of primates is generally regarded to be more complex in its patterns and underlying cognition. This complexity has often been overestimated, because the same patterns of social behavior are found in taxa that are supposed to be cognitively less sophisticated and recently, for these patterns, cognitively simpler explanations have been given (discussed below).

      In earlier empirical studies, coalitions of primates were considered more complex than those of other species, and this was taken as evidence of calculative behavior (Harcourt and de Waal 1992). In later studies, however, coalitions of hyenas proved...

    • 16 Cooperation in Nonhuman Primates: Function and Cognition
      (pp. 239-252)
      Dorothy L. Cheney

      It has long been hypothesized that the demands of establishing and maintaining bonds in large social groups has placed strong selective pressures on animal cognition. Research over the last thirty years has demonstrated that many animals—including, in particular, nonhuman primates—may indeed recognize other individuals’ social relationships, intentions, and perhaps even knowledge states (Cheney and Seyfarth 2007; Call and Tomasello 2008). What has been less clear, until recently, is whether these relationships, and the skills they require, confer any reproductive benefits, and whether such benefits vary across individuals. Doubts even persist about whether animals have the cognitive capacity or...

    • 17 How Folk Psychology Ruined Comparative Psychology: And How Scrub Jays Can Save It
      (pp. 253-266)
      Derek C. Penn

      Recently, a pair of papers appeared inCurrent Biologyclaiming that chimpanzees may have a human-like understanding of death (Anderson et al. 2010; Biro et al. 2010). In the first paper, boldly entitled, “Pan Thanatology,” Anderson et al. (2010) describe how a group of chimpanzees living in a Scottish safari park “grieved” over the death of an elderly female chimp named Pansy. The researchers claim that a chimp named Chippie “appeared to test for signs of life by closely inspecting [Pansy’s] mouth and manipulating her limbs” (Anderson et al. 2010:R350). They admit that Chippie also attacked the corpse three times,...

    • 18 Social Knowledge
      (pp. 267-292)
      Keith Jensen, Joan B. Silk, Kristin Andrews, Redouan Bshary, Dorothy L. Cheney, Nathan Emery, Charlotte K. Hemelrijk, Kay Holekamp, Derek C. Penn, Josef Perner and Christoph Teufel

      Simply put, social cognition comprises cognitive processes that are applied to social behavior. That may sound trivially obvious; however, there are some tricky waters to be navigated in this thimble-sized definition.

      What is social and what is cognition? One important issue concerns the question of whether social cognition is, indeed, special and distinct from, say, physical cognition. Examples of behaviors and capacities that are examined under the rubric of social cognition include individual recognition, social partner preferences, development and maintenance of relationships (e.g., reconciliation and alliances), triadic relationships (including transitive inference), morality, social preferences, theory of mind, contingent social coordination,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-336)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 337-342)