Animal Cognition: Proceedings of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Conference, June 2-4, 1982

By H. L. Roitblat; T. G. Bever et al. | Go to book overview

patch late in each session. For example, during the last 10 sessions of the experiment, the Joys chose the depleting patch 89% of the time during the first 12 trials of each session, but chose the depleting patch only 13% of the time during the lost 12 trials. There were no apparent differences between the two joys exposed to the binomial distribution of prey and the two jays exposed to the Poisson distribution.

However, there was an unexpected result which indicates that the jays use different rules when deciding to switch between patches with differing prey distributions. Different events preceded switches out of the two patches. Switches from the depleting to the nondepleting patch usually were preceded by a "run of bad luck," two or more trials in a row without prey. Switches from the nondepleting to the depleting patch, in contrast, were usually preceded by a trial in which a prey item was found.

This difference in the events preceding switches out of each of the two patches, together with the marked tendency to choose the depleting patch only in the first third of the session, demonstrates that the jays were quite sensitive to the patch differences in prey distribution. One question that remains is whether the relatively inefficient switching behavior is due to some particular feature of the experimental design. For example. if depletion occurred more rapidly, would switching behavior more closely approximate maximal efficiency? Other questions concern the difference in switch rules. For example, if we assume that jay switches when its subjective estimates of the probability of finding a prey item in each patch favor the other patch, then careful manipulation of conditional probabilities in the two patches would be most revealing. In fact, in this experiment, the conditional probability of finding prey on the trial immediately following prey was equal to the conditional probability of finding prey immediately after no prey within each patch.


IV. CONCLUSIONS

Psychologists interested in animal learning and cognition need to reconsider and re-evaluate their research and its potential long-range significance. In and of itself, the psychological study of animal learning is of little interest. Research in this area acquires importance only as it relates to broader issues. Historically, the most important reason for animal learning research in psychology has been the hope that the results would be capable of generalization to our own species. Animals have been used as convenient subjects in research intended to discover general principles of learning which could then be applied to humans. While this approach has had its successes, it largely has failed. The attempt to carry out research which is related directly to human cognitive research can be regarded, at least in part, as a response to this failure. Whether or not the increased cognitive emphasis will enable animal learning research to be more relevant to human cognition remains to be seen.

But there is another context in which research or animal learning and cognition could prove very significant. Instead of thinking of animals as proto-humans, it is possible, and worthwhile, to study animals as animals. Behavioral ecology is an important area to which animal cognition is

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