|Pondering Possible Self-reflective Animal Minds|
|SciMed - Neuroscience|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Friday, 23 March 2012 08:00|
Buffalo, NY, USA. Do animals have reflective minds able to self-regulate perception, reasoning, and memory? There is an emerging consensus among scientists that animals share functional parallels with humans' conscious metacognition that is, our ability to reflect on our own mental processes and guide and optimize them.
In two new contributions to comparative psychology, David Smith, PhD, of the University at Buffalo and his colleagues report on continuing advances in this domain.
In an article that appears in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, David Smith, Justin Couchman and Michael Beran examine the theoretical and philosophical problems associated with the attribution of self-reflective, conscious mind to nonverbal animals. [C1] "The possibility of animal metacognition has become one of the research focal points in comparative psychology today," Smith says, "but, of course, this possibility poses difficult issues of scientific interpretation and inference."
David Smith, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo, and a member of the university's graduate program in evolution, ecology and behavior and its Center for Cognitive Science.
Justin J. Couchman, PhD, is visiting assistant professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Fredonia.
Michael J. Beran, PhD, is a senior research scientist at the Language Research Center of Georgia State University.In this article, the authors evaluate the standards that science brings to making difficult interpretations about animal minds, describing how standards have been applied historically and as they perhaps should be applied.
The article concludes that macaques do show uncertainty-monitoring capacities that are similar to those in humans.
The latter contribution, to be published by the Oxford University Press in a volume entitled Comparative Cognition: Experimental Explorations of Animal Intelligence.
The Oxford volume is highly anticipated and expected to be one of the preeminent sources for scholarship in the animal cognition field for the next decade. [C2]
In their article, Smith and his colleagues provide a comprehensive review of the current state of the animal-metacognition literature.
They describe how Smith inaugurated animal metacognition as a new field of study in 1995 with research on a bottlenosed dolphin. The dolphin assessed correctly when the experimenter's trials were too difficult for him, and adaptively declined to complete those trials.
The dolphin also showed his own distinctive set of hesitation, wavering and worrying behaviors when the trials were too difficult. In sharp contrast, when the trials were easy, he swam to the responses so fast that he would make a bow-wave around himself that would swamp Smith's delicate electronics. Smith says: "We finally had to buy condoms to protect the equipment."
Subsequently, Smith and many collaborators also explored the metacognitive capacities of joystick-trained macaques. These Old-World monkeys, native to Africa and Asia, can make specific responses to declare uncertainty about their memory. They can respond, "Uncertain," to gain hints from the experimenters of what to do on the first trial of new tasks. They can even respond, "Uncertain," when their memory has been erased by trans-cranial magnetic stimulation.
Accordingly, this second article also supports the consensus that animals share with humans a form of the self-reflective, metacognitive capacity. "In all respects," says Smith, "their capacity for uncertainty monitoring, and for responding to uncertainty adaptively, show close correspondence to the same processes in humans.
"At present," he says, "members of South-American monkey species or New World monkeys have not shown the same robust capacities for uncertainty monitoring, a possible species difference that has intriguing implications regarding the emergence of reflective mind in monkeys, apes and humans."
FundingOngoing research in this area is supported by grants from both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Citations[C1] The Highs and Lows of Theoretical Interpretation in Animal-Metacognition Research. J. David Smith, Justin J. Couchman, Michael J. Beran.Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences. In press.
[C2] Animal Metacognition. J. David Smith, Justin J. Couchman, Michael J. Beran. In Comparative Cognition: Experimental Explorations of Animal Intelligence (T. Zentall and E. Wasserman, Eds.). Oxford University Press. In press.
|Last Updated on Friday, 23 March 2012 13:20|