Comparing utility functions between risky and riskless choice in rhesus monkeys

Abstract

Decisions can be risky or riskless, depending on the outcomes of the choice. Expected utility theory describes risky choices as a utility maximization process: we choose the option with the highest subjective value (utility), which we compute considering both the option’s value and its associated risk. According to the random utility maximization framework, riskless choices could also be based on a utility measure. Neuronal mechanisms of utility-based choice may thus be common to both risky and riskless choices. This assumption would require the existence of a utility function that accounts for both risky and riskless decisions. Here, we investigated whether the choice behavior of two macaque monkeys in risky and riskless decisions could be described by a common underlying utility function. We found that the utility functions elicited in the two choice scenarios were different from each other, even after taking into account the contribution of subjective probability weighting. Our results suggest that distinct utility representations exist for risky and riskless choices, which could reflect distinct neuronal representations of the utility quantities, or distinct brain mechanisms for risky and riskless choices. The different utility functions should be taken into account in neuronal investigations of utility-based choice.

Cognition and the human–animal relationship: a review of the sociocognitive skills of domestic mammals toward humans

Abstract

In the past 20 years, research focusing on interspecific sociocognitive abilities of animals toward humans has been growing, allowing a better understanding of the interactions between humans and animals. This review focuses on five sociocognitive abilities of domestic mammals in relation to humans as follows: discriminating and recognizing individual humans; perceiving human emotions; interpreting our attentional states and goals; using referential communication (perceiving human signals or sending signals to humans); and engaging in social learning with humans (e.g., local enhancement, demonstration and social referencing). We focused on different species of domestic mammals for which literature on the subject is available, namely, cats, cattle, dogs, ferrets, goats, horses, pigs, and sheep. The results show that some species have remarkable abilities to recognize us or to detect and interpret the emotions or signals sent by humans. For example, sheep and horses can recognize the face of their keeper in photographs, dogs can react to our smells of fear, and pigs can follow our pointing gestures. Nevertheless, the studies are unequally distributed across species: there are many studies in animals that live closely with humans, such as dogs, but little is known about livestock animals, such as cattle and pigs. However, on the basis of existing data, no obvious links have emerged between the cognitive abilities of animals toward humans and their ecological characteristics or the history and reasons for their domestication. This review encourages continuing and expanding this type of research to more abilities and species.

The “right” side of sleeping: laterality in resting behaviour of Aldabra giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea)

Abstract

Although some studies investigated lateralization in reptiles, little research has been done on chelonians, focusing only on few behaviours such as righting response and escape preference. The aim of this study was to investigate lateralization in Aldabra giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea), focusing on asymmetrical positioning of the limbs and the head during resting behaviour, called sleep-like behaviour, involving both wild tortoises and individuals under human care. Subjects of the study were 67 adult Aldabra tortoises (54 free ranging on Curieuse, 13 under human care in Mahè Botanical Garden). For each tortoise observed during sleep-like behaviour, we recorded the position of the head (on the left, on the right or in line with the body midline) and we collected which forelimb and hindlimb were kept forward. Moreover, the number of subjects in which limbs were in a symmetrical position during the sleep-like behaviour was recorded. Based on our results, the number of tortoises with asymmetrical position of head and limb was higher (head: 63%; forelimbs: 88%; hindlimbs: 70%) than the number of tortoises with symmetrical position of the head and the limb. Regarding the head, throughout the subjects found with the asymmetrical position of the head during sleep-like behaviour, tortoises positioning the head on the right (42%) were more than those sleeping with the head on the left (21%). We found a relationship between the position of the forelimbs and hindlimbs during sleep-like behaviour. We reported no differences between Mahè (under human care) and Curieuse (wild) tortoises. Findings of this preliminary study underlined traces of group-level lateralization in head positioning during the sleep-like behaviour, possibly due to a left-eye/right-hemisphere involvement in anti-predatory responses and threatening stimuli as reported in reptiles and other vertebrates. This study aims at adding data on brain lateralization, often linked to lateralized behaviours, in reptiles, especially in chelonians.

Group size, partner choice and collaborative actions in male Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus)

Abstract

Due to the diversity of the phenomenon, dolphin cooperation has attracted considerable research interest in both wild populations and those under human care. Dolphins cooperate in various contexts, including group hunting, alloparental care, social learning, social play and alliance formation for securing mates. This investigation focused on the effect of group size and partner choice in a cooperative task using systematic group testing. A cooperative enrichment device was made of a PVC tube containing fish and ice that was temporarily sealed with two PVC caps with rope handles attached. The device was designed to be operated by pairs of dolphins, opened by simultaneous pull of its two handles. The analysis focused on two behaviours, cooperative opening and cooperative play with the device. Testing focused on an adult male dolphin group including four to six individuals and using a single or two devices. Altogether five group testing arrangements and a pairwise testing phase were conducted. Out of the six dolphins, five showed active involvement. All ten possible pairs of the five active dolphins were successful in opening and playing with the device cooperatively. Cooperation increased with group size, but the social networks showed no significant differences among group arrangements. However, the cooperative pairs showed a significant difference in success rate during pairwise vs group testing, while demonstrating a strong partner preference. This study provides the first evidence for partner choice with regards to cooperation in male dolphins.

All units are equal in humpback whale songs, but some are more equal than others

Abstract

Flexible production and perception of vocalizations is linked to an impressive array of cognitive capacities including language acquisition by humans, song learning by birds, biosonar in bats, and vocal imitation by cetaceans. Here, we characterize a portion of the repertoire of one of the most impressive vocalizers in nature: the humpback whale. Qualitative and quantitative analyses of sounds (units) produced by humpback whales revealed that singers gradually morphed streams of units along multiple acoustic dimensions within songs, maintaining the continuity of spectral content across subjectively dissimilar unit “types.” Singers consistently produced some unit forms more frequently and intensely than others, suggesting that units are functionally heterogeneous. The precision with which singing humpback whales continuously adjusted the acoustic characteristics of units shows that they possess exquisite vocal control mechanisms and vocal flexibility beyond what is seen in most animals other than humans. The gradual morphing of units within songs that we observed is inconsistent with past claims that humpback whales construct songs from a fixed repertoire of discrete unit types. These findings challenge the results of past studies based on fixed-unit classification methods and argue for the development of new metrics for characterizing the graded structure of units. The specific vocal variations that singers produced suggest that humpback whale songs are unlikely to provide detailed information about a singer’s reproductive fitness, but can reveal the precise locations and movements of singers from long distances and may enhance the effectiveness of units as sonar signals.

Is this love? Sex differences in dog-owner attachment behavior suggest similarities with adult human bonds

Abstract

Sex differences in the behavioral responses of Labrador Retriever dogs in the Strange Situation Test were explored. Behaviors expressed by dogs during seven 3-min episodes were analyzed through a Principal Component Analysis (PCA). The scores of factors obtained were analyzed with a Generalized Linear Mixed Model to reveal the effects of the dog’s sex and age and the owner’s sex. In Episode 1 (dog and owner) and 5 (dog alone), the PCA identified three and two factors, respectively, which overall explained 68.7% and 59.8% of the variance, with no effect of sex. In Episodes 2 (dog, owner, and stranger), 3 and 6 (dog and stranger), and 4 and 7 (dog and owner), the PCA identified four factors, which overall explained 51.0% of the variance. Effects of sex were found on: Factor 1 (distress), with lower scores obtained by females in Episode 2 and higher in Episode 3; Factor 2 (sociability), which was overall higher in females; Factor 3 (separation-distress), with females, but not males, obtaining higher scores when left with the stranger than when with the owner. Therefore, females were overall more social but seemed more affected than males by the owner’s absence. Parallels can be traced between our results and sex differences found in adult human romantic attachment, suggesting that the dog-owner bond has characteristics that are not found in the infant-mother relationship.

Evaluating the accuracy of facial expressions as emotion indicators across contexts in dogs

Abstract

Facial expressions potentially serve as indicators of animal emotions if they are consistently present across situations that (likely) elicit the same emotional state. In a previous study, we used the Dog Facial Action Coding System (DogFACS) to identify facial expressions in dogs associated with conditions presumably eliciting positive anticipation (expectation of a food reward) and frustration (prevention of access to the food). Our first aim here was to identify facial expressions of positive anticipation and frustration in dogs that are context-independent (and thus have potential as emotion indicators) and to distinguish them from expressions that are reward-specific (and thus might relate to a motivational state associated with the expected reward). Therefore, we tested a new sample of 28 dogs with a similar set-up designed to induce positive anticipation (positive condition) and frustration (negative condition) in two reward contexts: food and toys. The previous results were replicated: Ears adductor was associated with the positive condition and Ears flattener, Blink, Lips part, Jaw drop, and Nose lick with the negative condition. Four additional facial actions were also more common in the negative condition. All actions except the Upper lip raiser were independent of reward type. Our second aim was to assess basic measures of diagnostic accuracy for the potential emotion indicators. Ears flattener and Ears downward had relatively high sensitivity but low specificity, whereas the opposite was the case for the other negative correlates. Ears adductor had excellent specificity but low sensitivity. If the identified facial expressions were to be used individually as diagnostic indicators, none would allow consistent correct classifications of the associated emotion. Diagnostic accuracy measures are an essential feature for validity assessments of potential indicators of animal emotion.

Quantity discrimination in a spontaneous task in a poison frog

Abstract

The use of quantitative information underlies a range of animal behaviors. There are thought to be two parallel systems for judging quantity: a precise representation of small numbers of objects, typically less than 4, that can be tracked visually (object tracking system) and an imprecise system for larger quantities (approximate number system) governed by Weber’s law. Using a spontaneous discrimination task with live prey, we examined the ability of the poison frog Dendrobates auratus to discriminate quantities of low (1–4) or high (4–16) numerosity over a range of ratio contrasts (0.33, 0.5, 0.67, 0.75). Similar to a previous study in treefrogs, we found that the poison frogs chose the larger quantity of flies when choosing between 1 and 3 and between 1 and 2. However, their performance was near chance when choosing between 2 and 3 and below chance when choosing between 3 and 4. When the numerosity of flies was higher, they did not discriminate between the larger and smaller quantity. Our findings are consistent with the ability of poison frogs to discriminate small quantities of objects using an object tracking system, but could also reflect a singular vs. plural discrimination. We did not find evidence of an approximate number system governed by Weber’s law, nor evidence of a speed–accuracy tradeoff. However, total set size was associated with lower accuracy and longer latencies to choose. Future studies should explore quantity discrimination in additional contexts to better understand the limits of these abilities in poison frogs.

Effects of early noise exposure on hippocampal-dependent behaviors during adolescence in male rats: influence of different housing conditions

Abstract

Central nervous system (CNS) development is a very complex process that can be altered by environmental stimuli such as noise, which can generate long-term auditory and/or extra-auditory impairments. We have previously reported that early noise exposure can induce hippocampus-related behavioral alterations in postnatal day (PND) 28 adolescent rats. Furthermore, we recently found biochemical modifications in the hippocampus (HC) of these animals that seemed to endure even in more mature animals (i.e. PND35) and that have not been studied along with behavioral correlates. Thus, the aim of this work was to reveal novel data about the effects of early noise exposure on hippocampal-dependent behaviors in more mature animals. Additionally, extended enriched environment (EE) housing was evaluated to determine its capacity to induce behavioral modifications, either by its neuroprotective ability or the greater stimulation that it generates. Male Wistar rats were exposed to different noise schemes at PND7 or PND15. Upon weaning, some animals were transferred to EE whereas others were kept in standard cages. At PND35, different hippocampal-dependent behavioral assessments were performed. Results showed noise-induced behavioral changes that differed according to the scheme and age of exposure used. In addition, housing in an EE was effective either in preventing some of these changes or in inducing the appearance of new behavioral modifications. These findings suggest that CNS development would be sensitive to the effects of different type of environmental stimuli such as noise or enriched housing, leading to maladaptive behavioral changes that last even until adolescence.

Putting the cart before the horse: claims for mirror self-recognition in horses are unfounded

Abstract

The recent article by Baragli, Scopa, Maglieri, and Palagi (Anim Cogn https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-021-01502-7, 2021) that claims to demonstrate mirror self-recognition (MSR) in horses is not based on compelling evidence. We identify problems with their experimental procedures, data, and assertion about “demonstrating MSR at group level.” Examples of these problems include incomplete experimental design, absence of important control conditions, inappropriate terminology, suboptimal mark application procedures and coding of videos, ambiguity of videos presented as supporting evidence, and inconsistencies in data presentation and interpretation. It is not the case that their study “marks a turning point in the analytical technique of MSR exploration.”