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Approaches to animal cognition and communication


COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY K hler, Warren. SOCIOBIOLOGY WD Hamilton, EO Wilson, Trivers ... Researcher pregnant, W understood and 'doted over her [swelling] belly' ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Approaches to animal cognition and communication

Approaches to animal cognition and communication
  • MSc ACSB module 2006/07
  • AC Session 1
  • revised 03/01/07

Approaches to animal studies
  • ETHOLOGY Lorenz, Tinbergen, von Frisch
  • SOCIOBIOLOGY WD Hamilton, EO Wilson, Trivers
  • EVOLUTIONARY GAME THEORY Maynard Smith, Parker,
  • … plus
  • The A-life approach
  • Gigerenzers fast and frugal heuristics

How this course is structured
  • Two strands of ACSB, in parallel
  • AC on Tuesdays at 9, SB on Fridays at 9
  • Share SB teaching with EP module
  • SB on Fridays at 9, EP on Fridays at 10
  • Workshops (2 combined with EP)
  • Literature Review essays for assessment
  • Need to structure essay to avoid plagiarism

Similar but distinct
  • Ethology
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Socioethology
  • Sociobiology
  • Appendix illustrates the different questions each
    might ask regarding vervet monkey behaviour
    which Cheney Seyfarth have made famous for
    studies of primate communication

Animals can be seen as just S-R mechanisms
  • Tinbergen and early ethologists deplored the
    anthropomorphic approach
  • Animals seen as just S-R mechanisms, designed by
    evolution to achieve communication without
    intention or understanding
  • Gull chick pecks at any long sharp object with a
    contrasting patch at tip parents yellow beak
    with red patch, or red pencil with 3 white rings
    around sharpened tip. Parent responds by feeding.

Analyses of animal signalling
  • Releasing stimuli and response
  • Displays which reveal motivation fear,
    aggression, sexual interest, or a mixture
  • Honeybee dance language used to give
    information about environment (location of food
  • Bird-song marks territory. ? Song learning
    parallels language learning
  • Females may assess males song AND assess quality
    of his territory, in deciding which male to mate

Peacock tail and display
  • But male peacock contributes his sperm, but no
    further help towards rearing of young
  • Female peahen very fussy in choosing best male
    attends to tail (number of eyespots) and display
  • Health of male (no. of heterophil w.b.c.) related
    to rate of display and no. of eyespots poor
    health ? low display rate and small number of
  • Eyespots reveal long-term health, display rate
    reveals current status

Peacock display (2)
  • Loyau et al. (2005, Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 58,
    552-557) tested effects of experimental immune
    challenge (E. coli LPS) reduced display
    compared to placebo injection
  • Males with many eyespots showed a smaller
    display-rate drop after LPS injection
  • So, they have better genes the tail provides
    an honest signal of their quality

Creative deception in a young baboon (Byrne
  • Paul (a young baboon) finds adult, Mel, who has
    just dug up a corm good food but difficult for
    Paul to dig up himself
  • Mum is out of sight Paul looks around, then
    screams loudly as if under threat
  • Mum runs up, sees Mel and pursues her
  • When they have gone, Paul picks up and eats the
    desired food item
  • Uses tactic 3 times over few weeks, but NEVER
    when mum was in sight of 'cause' of the scream

Brain evolution, cognitive abilities and language
  • Brains reflect evolutionary processes.
  • Relatively larger (fore-) brains linked to
    smarter behaviour in primates and birds
  • Extra development of brain regions linked to
    specialised abilities, e.g. bird food-hoarding,
    large song repertoires
  • Nick Humphrey - Henry Ford and the economy of

Tactical deception increases with neocortex ratio
(r0.72, Byrne Corp, 2004, PRSB)
European warbler song - larger repertoire needs
larger brain centre
  • Székely et al., 1996, PRSB 263, 607-610
  • Correlation between size of repertoire and
    residual volume of higher vocal centre (HVC), r
  • Used phylogenetically independent contrasts

Communication by the African Honeyguide
  • Isack Reyer, 1989, Science 243, 1343-1346
  • Bird guides Honey Badger or African hunters to
    wild bees' nests the raid on nest gives the
    bird access to beeswax as food. Hunters leave
    some honeycomb on ground for it
  • Hunters make special call to summon honeyguides
    that might be in the area
  • Bird guides them towards bees nest, stopping from
    time to time for them to catch up

Honeyguide performance
  • Orientation is accurately towards the nest (mean
    error 0.5 degrees)
  • Major reduction in hunters' time to find nests
    using honeyguide down from 9 to 3 hrs approx
  • Birds choose more or less direct route from
    wherever hunter takes as starting point
    obviously knows geography and location of
    possible nests
  • Birds regularly visit bees nests and inspect them
    when not guiding keep tabs on potential food

Do honeyguides understand what they are doing?
  • They appear to have a mental map, and to
    under-stand the aim of co-operation - raid on
    beehive - and the communication with human/animal
  • But the young honeyguide is like a cuckoo, the
    mother lays egg in another birds nest, then
  • This elaborate guiding behaviour must mainly be
    based on INSTINCT

The rise of 'cognitive ethology'
  • Griffin Mental experiences are real and
    important to us and insofar as they occur in
    nonhuman animals they must be important to them
    as well
  • Chimp fetches a heavy stone to extract edible
    nut-kernels "must we reject or repress the
    suggestion that the chimp … thinks consciously
    about the tasty food it manages to obtain by
    these coordinated actions?"
  • See Griffin (1992) Animal Minds, etc.

Animal communication
  • Griffin writes "Insofar as animals experience
    conscious thoughts and feelings, these are very
    likely to accompany social behaviour and the
    interaction between predator and prey…"
  • "The implications of the general proposition that
    animal communication provides objective,
    verifiable data on animal thoughts are so far
    reaching and so significant for cognitive
    ethology that they call for thoughtful

Washoe and Babies (1)
  • Washoe chimp who learned ASL in Gardners
  • W lost own babies, very upset, and then initially
    rejected foster-baby she was given as substitute
  • Researcher pregnant, W understood and doted over
    her swelling belly
  • Human baby stillborn, mother took time off to
  • W let mother know she was upset she had been off

Washoe and babies (2)
  • Mother decided to explain (she knew W had lost
    several babies) signed "My baby died"
  • W looked into her eyes, signed "Cry", touching
    cheek where tears would be
  • W would not let her go when she was ready to
    leave, signed "Please person hug" (Fouts, p.
    280-281). W could empathise with her grief
  • But this is one anecdote so is it data? And
    what does it prove about Ws ability to
    understand signed language?

Comparisons between animal signals and human
  • Hockett, Altmann, Thorpe (Design features)
  • Hauser, Chomsky, Fitch (2002) The faculty of
    language What is it, who has it, and how did it
    evolve? Science 298 1569-1579
  • Cheney Seyfarth, Marler, work on vervet monkeys
    in the field

General References
  • Hauser The evolution of communication (Chapters
  • Bradbury Vehrencamp Principles of animal
  • Cheney Seyfarth How monkeys see the world
  • Shettleworth Cognition, evolution and behavior
    (Chapter 12)
  • Byrne The thinking ape (Chapter 11)

Appendix (Ethologists)
  • ETHOLOGISTS study species-typical behaviour,
    social interactions, communication, development,
  • Why do vervet monkeys fear-call? (i.e., what are
    the releasing stimuli)
  • What essential features differentiate the
    different calls in the vervet monkey repertoire?
    (i.e., what properties differentiate those
    vocalisations that act as different signals)
  • How does the appropriate use of the
    call-repertoire develop?
  • What do closely-related monkeys do in response to
    predators? (i.e., what was the evolutionary
    history of the vervets' 3 predator alarm calls)

Appendix (Socio-ethologists)
  • SOCIO-ETHOLOGISTS (Crook) - focus on societies
  • Why do vervets live in (big) groups on the
    ground, not in pairs, or up in the trees?
  • Why do vervets live in multi-male groups, when
    the related Diana monkey lives in one-male
  • Is the need for group living in vervets related
    to an increase in predation from ground predators
    when the monkeys took to a partially terrestrial

Appendix (Behavioural ecologists)
  • BEHAVIOURAL ECOLOGISTS study how behaviour fits
    into the animal's way of life (ecology)
  • Do vervet monkeys show optimal foraging?
  • How big should a vervet monkey troop territory be
    ? (it ranges from 11 to 100 hectares at Amboseli
    National Park)
  • What are costs and benefits of group vs. solitary
    life for vervets? (e.g., foraging)

Appendix (Sociobiologists)
  • SOCIOBIOLOGISTS focus on individual strategy,
    kinship, etc.
  • Vervet females give alarm calls to warn troop
    members of danger, but are females more ready to
    alert relatives than non-relatives?
  • Females remain for life in the group, while males
    transfer at some risk to themselves, so when
    should a male quit a group? (i.e. how does the
    balance of costs and benefits alter with age?)
  • Female vervets make alliances when should a
    female intervene in a dispute to support another
    female with whom it has an alliance?