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Animal Cognition

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Animal Cognition

Have you thought about why dogs tilt their heads? How do parrots imitate what you just said? These are just some behaviors that fascinate us humans, in which animal cognition plays a big part.

  • What is animal cognition in psychology?
  • What are the different theories of animal cognition?
  • What are some examples of animal cognition?

Animal Cognition, Border collie tilting its head, pexels.com, StudySmarterBorder collie tilting its head, pexels.com

Definition of Animal Cognition

Charles Darwin introduced the idea of research into animal cognition when he raised questions about how animals process information. Animal cognition is a field of study that focuses on animals' thinking processes and behavior.

The goal of animal cognition is to better understand animal minds by employing a variety of methodologies across a wide range of species. Researchers examine certain areas in animal cognition, such as learning, remembering, or perceiving, to recognize similarities in cognition between humans and nonhumans, and the development and uses of cognition.

Examples of Animal Cognition

Just as humans think and act to survive, animals also exhibit mental capacities to search for food or shelter and avoid predators. Research on animal cognition reveals evidence of the mental abilities of animals, that allow them to thrive in their environment. Examples of this cognition include navigation, episodic memory, and number sense.

Animal Cognition, Flock of birds, pexels.com, StudySmarterFlock of birds, pexels.com

Navigation

Migratory birds such as Arctic terns navigate about 80,000 km a year, searching for food and mates (Egevang et al., 2010). These creatures discern direction based on the location of the sun in the sky (Alerstam et al. 2001) or geomagnetic fields in a similar way to global positioning systems.

Other animals, like digger wasps, use landmarks to be able to return to their nests. Landmarks include rocks and trees, enabling animals to determine their position relative to their homes. Another navigation technique is using cognitive maps, first discovered by Edward Tolman, wherein animals such as rats find their way using mental images of their environment.

Episodic Memory

Episodic memory is the mental capacity to remember and retrieve personal memories of everyday experiences. In research by Clayton and Dickinson (1998) on Western scrub-jays in the USA, they tested if these birds demonstrated episodic memory. Their experiment involved birds hiding fresh wax worms and peanuts, then locating them after some time. Results revealed that these birds remembered the location of the food items, and when they had stored them.

When Western scrub-jays were allowed to retrieve the food items shortly after storage, they favored the fresh wax worms over the peanuts. When given longer intervals in which the food items had already decayed, the birds didn't retrieve the worms. The selectivity and recollection shown in this experiment demonstrate that animals can store episodic-like memories.

Animal Cognition, Lioness on a tree branch, pexels.com, StudySmarterLioness on a tree branch, pexels.com

Number Sense

Scientists also recognize the ability of animals to discriminate quantities. Nonhuman species use number sense, particularly in choosing a mate, protecting from injury, and lowering predation risk. Before deciding whether to attack or flee, lionesses count the number of roars they hear from an intruding pride. Fish use quantities to decrease predation risk by being in large shoals.

Topping all animals in terms of intelligence are the primates, particularly the chimpanzees and orangutans. Chimpanzees can use tools and employ manipulation techniques within their families. They can recognize their reflections in the mirror. Orangutans can also use tools but to a higher order than chimpanzees, as they can be trained to use hammers, nails, and even a hose. They also have the cognitive ability to comprehend why a particular action is carried out.

Theories of Animal Cognition

Theories of animal cognition date back as early as the 16th century. Philosophers, naturalists, psychologists, and other researchers have all tried to understand animal behavior.

René Descartes

During the Scientific Revolution between the 16th and 17th centuries, researchers on animal behavior focused on studying the structure and anatomy of an animal. English physician William Harvey practiced vivisection on animals. Another notable figure, René Descartes, theorized both human and animal bodies to be like machines.

Descartes established a clear line between humans and animals, due to the Christian influence in his discipline at the time. According to him, what set humans apart from animals was that humans had a God-given soul or mind, allowing for more complex learning such as language, mathematics, and reasoning. Animals were thought to be like robots, reflexive and without emotions.

Charles Darwin

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin proposed that all species, including humans, evolve as they compete for survival in response to environmental changes. He also introduced the concept of humans being part of the animal kingdom, closely related to apes.

Darwin established the idea of continuity of both humans and animals regarding anatomical structures and physiological processes, and thinking and feeling. He stated that similarities exist between humans and animals in that both experience fear, discomfort, and pleasure. He piqued people's curiosity to learn more about animals concerning their thoughts, feelings, and intellect.

Margaret Floy Washburn

Margaret Floy Washburn theorized that awareness is not exclusive to humans, and cognition is also present in animals. Her book, The Animal Mind, included research on sensing, thoughts, emotions, and usage of tools in animals.

Experimentation included testing animals such as rats, dogs, cows, and insects. Her contributions helped advance animal cognition research.

Animal Cognition in Psychology

Animal Cognition, Girl standing near aquarium, pexels.com, StudySmarterGirl standing near aquarium, pexels.com

Comparative psychology explores cognitive capacities across species, including animal cognition and behavior. Though human cognition has diverse processes, comparative psychology gives insights into how these mental capacities have evolved, revealing parallels between human and nonhuman behavior.

Parallels with animal cognition involve numerical competence, memory, language, and formation of concepts, supporting continuity over discontinuity. Jean Piaget's cognitive theory also made contributions to comparative psychology and further research on animal cognition. Many Piagetian studies on animals such as cats, dogs, and primates provided insights into object permanence and sensory-motor skills.

Studying animal cognition is essential, as comparative analyses of human and animal cognitive processes give better knowledge in managing nonhuman species populations in the wild and in captivity. Animal cognition findings help improve wildlife preservation and captive animal welfare practices. This science also encourages programs to be geared toward evaluations of animals' cognitive and emotional health.

Animal Cognition - Key takeaways

  • Animal cognition is the study of the cognitive abilities and behavior of animals.
  • Examples of animal cognitive behaviors include navigation, episodic memory, and number sense.
  • René Descartes thought of humans and animals as possessing bodies similar to machines. Charles Darwin introduced the idea of continuity of both humans and animals. Margaret Floy Washburn theorized that awareness is not exclusive to humans, and cognition is also present in animals.
  • Comparative psychology explores cognitive capacities across species, including animal cognition and behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions about Animal Cognition

Animals have cognitive abilities. Just as humans think and act to survive, animals also exhibit mental capacities to search for food or shelter and avoid predators. 

Examples of this cognition include navigation, episodic memory, and number sense

Topping all animals in terms of intelligence are the primates, particularly chimpanzees and orangutans.

Comparative analyses of human and animal cognitive processes give better knowledge in managing nonhuman species populations in the wild and in captivity. Animal cognition findings help improve wildlife preservation and captive animal welfare practices. This science also encourages programs to be geared toward evaluations of animals' cognitive and emotional health.

Final Animal Cognition Quiz

Question

_________  is a field of study that focuses on animals' thinking processes and behavior.

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Answer

Animal cognition

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Question

What is the goal of animal cognition?

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Answer

To better understand animal minds by employing a variety of methodologies across a wide range of species.

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Question

Which is not an example of the cognitive behavior of animals?


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Answer

Eating

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Question

Animals use rocks and trees to determine their position relative to their homes.


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Landmarks

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Question

A technique that relies on mental images of the environment.


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Answer

Cognitive maps

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_________ is the mental capacity to remember and retrieve personal memories of everyday experiences.


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Answer

Episodic memory

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Question

_________ theorized both human and animal bodies are like machines.


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Answer

René Descartes

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Question

__________ proposed that all species, including humans, evolved as they compete for survival in response to environmental changes.

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Answer

Charles Darwin

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Question

__________ theorized that awareness is not exclusive to humans


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Answer

Margaret Floy Washburn

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_________ explores cognitive capacities across species, including animal cognition and behavior.


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Answer

Comparative psychology

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__________ is the number of article citations a journal receives in a year.


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Impact factor

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Which is not true?


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Animal cognition is not essential as more fields of research come up.

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Based on this theory, animal studies such as cats, dogs, and primates provided insights into object permanence and sensory-motor skills.


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Answer

Cognitive theory

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Which is true about the impact factor?


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Answer

An IF of 3 is considered good.

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Which animal has the highest intelligence?


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Primates

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