Cognitive Ethology: The Minds of Other Animals: Essays in Honor of Donald R. Griffin

By Donald R. Griffin; Carolyn A. Ristau | Go to book overview

1
PROGRESS TOWARD A COGNITIVE ETHOLOGY

Donald R. Griffin The Rockefeller University Princeton University


ABSTRACT

The investigation of animal cognition and mental experience is beginning to reveal that animals guide their behavior by surprisingly complex thinking. The versatile adaptability of some animals in the face of unpredictable challenges suggests simple conscious thinking about alternative actions and their probable results. When animals communicate with each other, their communicative signals may provide objective data about their thoughts. Although this "window" on animal thoughts may not be ideally transparent, it can help us to escape from the lingering inhibitions of behaviorism that have impeded research into animal minds. Simple conscious thinking may be an efficient and economical mode of operation by which the central nervous systems enable animals to cope with the multiple problems of finding food, avoiding predators, finding mates, and raising young. If so, it may be most advantageous for animals with small brains.

Cognition and conscious thinking by nonhuman animals present a variety of exciting and significant research challenges for scientists concerned with animal behavior. The extent to which animals think about what they are doing and about the behavioral choices they make is a highly significant attribute that must be understood before we can fully appreciate what it is like to be a certain type of animal. We don't yet know much about this subject, and until quite recently we have been reluctant even to think about it, let alone study it. This is changing, however, and the number of papers devoted to cognitive ethology at the 1987 meeting of the Animal Behavior Society reflected this rekindling of interest. Animal cognition is now a

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