On June 2-4, 1982, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Conference on Animal Cognition was held at Columbia University. About 75 scholars discussed the new cognitive perspective on animal behavior and examined the changes that this perspective is producing.
An earlier conference, held in 1976, can be, regarded as the modern birth of the cognitive approach to animal behavior. Many of the chapters in the book resulting from that meeting begin with an attempt to justify the cognitive approach. Given the many years that operationalist behaviorism had dominated the study of learned behavior, some authors felt it necessary to prove that animals use internal cognitive processes to guide their behavior. Similar attempts at justification are notably absent from the present volume, suggesting that the approach has met with wide acceptance. If that conference marked the birth of a cognitive movement, we hope that this conference will mark its coming of age.
Several factors have influenced the development of animal cognition as a unique field. First, the widespread application of cognitive approaches to human behavior has shown how abstract models can account for behavioral data. Second, the discovery that there are species-specific constraints on learning called attention to the weaknesses of universal theories of learning such as behaviorism. Third, the simultaneous development of economic analyses of animal behavior in the fields of animal psychology and in behavioral ecology emphasized a view of animals as rational decision makers.
Animal cognition represents not only a distinct subject matter, cognitive processes in animals, but also a perspective from which to view organisms in relationship to their environment. No amount of data could ever prove this, or any other perspective, correct, but the chapters in the present volume document its usefulness as a framework for the study of animal behavior.
Animal cognition is concerned with explaining animal behavior on the basis of cognitive states and processes, as well as on the basis of observable variables such as stimuli and responses. For a time it appeared, at least to some, that discussion of cognitive states was not necessary, either because they were exhaustively determined by environmental events, or because they were epiphenomenal and without any causal force. In any case, it was assumed that a sufficiently detailed description of overt events would, suffice for explanation. A great deal of the research into animal behavior has made it clear, however, that such cognitive states are real and necessary components of any adequate theory that seeks to . . .