Navigational roots of spatial and temporal memory structure

Abstract

Our minds are constantly in transit, from the present to the past to the future, across places we have and have not directly experienced. Nevertheless, memories of our mental time travel are not organized continuously and are adaptively chunked into contexts and episodes. In this paper, I will review evidence that suggests that spatial boundary representations play a critical role in providing structure to both our spatial and temporal memories. I will illustrate the intimate connection between hippocampal spatial mapping and temporal sequencing of episodic memory to propose that high-level cognitive processes like mental time travel and conceptual mapping are rooted in basic navigational mechanisms that we humans and nonhuman animals share. Our neuroscientific understanding of hippocampal function across species may provide new insight into the origins of even the most uniquely human cognitive abilities.

Visual categories and concepts in the avian brain

Abstract

Birds are excellent model organisms to study perceptual categorization and concept formation. The renewed focus on avian neuroscience has sparked an explosion of new data in the field. At the same time, our understanding of sensory and particularly visual structures in the avian brain has shifted fundamentally. These recent discoveries have revealed how categorization is mediated in the avian brain and has generated a theoretical framework that goes beyond the realm of birds. We review the contribution of avian categorization research—at the methodical, behavioral, and neurobiological levels. To this end, we first introduce avian categorization from a behavioral perspective and the common elements model of categorization. Second, we describe the functional and structural organization of the avian visual system, followed by an overview of recent anatomical discoveries and the new perspective on the avian ‘visual cortex’. Third, we focus on the neurocomputational basis of perceptual categorization in the bird’s visual system. Fourth, an overview of the avian prefrontal cortex and the prefrontal contribution to perceptual categorization is provided. The fifth section outlines how asymmetries of the visual system contribute to categorization. Finally, we present a mechanistic view of the neural principles of avian visual categorization and its putative extension to concept learning.

Domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) engage in non-random post-conflict affiliation with third parties: cognitive and functional implications

Abstract

In social mammals, conflict resolution involves the reunion of former opponents (aggressor and victim) after an aggressive event (reconciliation) or post-conflict triadic contacts with a third party, started by either opponent (solicited-TSC) or spontaneously offered by the third party (unsolicited-TUC). These post-conflict strategies can serve different functions, including consolation (specifically when TUCs reduce the victim’s anxiety). We investigated the possible presence and modulating factors of such strategies on semi-free ranging pigs (Sus scrofa; N = 104), housed at the ethical farm Parva Domus (Cavagnolo, Italy). Kinship was known. Reconciliation was present and mainly occurred between weakly related pigs to possibly improve tolerant cohabitation. Triadic contacts (all present except aggressor TSCs) mostly occurred between close kin. TSCs enacted by victims reduced neither their post-conflict anxiety behaviors nor further attacks by the previous aggressor, possibly because TSCs remained largely unreciprocated. TUCs towards aggressors did not reduce aggressor post-conflict anxiety but limited aggression redirection towards third parties. TUCs towards the victim reduced the victim but not the third-party’s anxiety. However, TUCs may also provide inclusive fitness benefits to third parties by benefiting close kin. In sum, pigs engaged in non-random solicited/unsolicited triadic contacts, which suggests that pigs might possess socio-emotional regulation abilities to change their own or others’ experience and elements of social appraisal, necessary to detect the emotional arousal of relevant others and (in case of TUCs) take the agency to restore homeostasis.

The current state of carnivore cognition

Abstract

The field of animal cognition has advanced rapidly in the last 25 years. Through careful and creative studies of animals in captivity and in the wild, we have gained critical insights into the evolution of intelligence, the cognitive capacities of a diverse array of taxa, and the importance of ecological and social environments, as well as individual variation, in the expression of cognitive abilities. The field of animal cognition, however, is still being influenced by some historical tendencies. For example, primates and birds are still the majority of study species in the field of animal cognition. Studies of diverse taxa improve the generalizability of our results, are critical for testing evolutionary hypotheses, and open new paths for understanding cognition in species with vastly different morphologies. In this paper, we review the current state of knowledge of cognition in mammalian carnivores. We discuss the advantages of studying cognition in Carnivorans and the immense progress that has been made across many cognitive domains in both lab and field studies of carnivores. We also discuss the current constraints that are associated with studying carnivores. Finally, we explore new directions for future research in studies of carnivore cognition.

Cetacean responses to violation of expectation paradigm in a free-swim context

Abstract

The investigation of individual responses to unexpected stimuli or outcomes provides insights into basic cognitive processes, such as mental representations, emotional states of surprise, and detections of anomalies. Three experiments using a violation of expectation paradigm were conducted with 12 belugas and 17 bottlenose dolphins in managed care to test two classes of stimuli (humans and objects) in manipulated sequences of familiar and unfamiliar humans (Study 1, trainers and strangers), familiar and unfamiliar objects (Study 2, typical enrichment devices and new objects), and finally objects and humans (Study 3). Gaze durations were assessed for each condition in a given study during free-swim contexts. The results supported previous findings that visual stimuli, regardless of class, were stimulating and intriguing for both belugas and bottlenose dolphins. Belugas were more likely to gaze longer at human and object stimuli and tended to gaze longer at unexpected experiences than control or expected experiences. Bottlenose dolphins showed similar trends except when objects were involved. Individual variability was present for both species with some individuals showing stronger patterns of responses for expected experiences than others. After 2 years of intermittent experiments, belugas and bottlenose dolphins in managed care maintained their curiosity about visual stimuli, for which they received no primary reinforcement. Investigating responses to unexpected stimuli with animals in managed care may provide insight into how these animals respond to biologically relevant conditions, such as boat presence, predators, and unfamiliar conspecifics.

A small step for rats alters spatial behavior: rats on a bi-level arena explore each level separately

Abstract

We tested rats on a ‘bi-level open-field’ whose two halves were separated vertically by an 8-cm step that the rats could easily ascend/descend. We sought to determine what might be the factors that shape traveling in three-dimensional environments; what makes an environment perceived as multileveled; and how are multileveled environments explored compared to two-dimensional environments? We found that rats on the bi-level open-field traveled a greater distance on the lower level compared to the upper one. They also spent a long time at the foot of the step before ascending to the upper level. They established a home-base on one level and a local base on the other one, and explored each level separately. We could not find a particular factor that accounted for the preference for the lower level. We suggest that the momentary egocentric sensation of moving vertically, together with an overall area large enough for exploration, result in perceiving an environment as multilevel. Exploration of such environments is fragmented, and each level is explored relatively independently, as has also been shown in other studies. Regarding the unanswered question of earlier studies concerning what integrates fragmented representations, this is the first study that suggests that in rats, and perhaps also in other rodent species, such integration is achieved by means of home-base behavior, resulting in the establishment of a single comprehensive representation of the multilevel environment.

Paradoxical choice and the reinforcing value of information

Abstract

Signals that reduce uncertainty can be valuable because well-informed decision-makers can better align their preferences to opportunities. However, some birds and mammals display an appetite for informative signals that cannot be used to increase returns. We explore the role that reward-predictive stimuli have in fostering such preferences, aiming at distinguishing between two putative underlying mechanisms. The ‘information hypothesis’ proposes that reducing uncertainty is reinforcing per se, somewhat consistently with the concept of curiosity: a motivation to know in the absence of tractable extrinsic benefits. In contrast, the ‘conditioned reinforcement hypothesis’, an associative account, proposes asymmetries in secondarily acquired reinforcement: post-choice stimuli announcing forthcoming rewards (S+) reinforce responses more than stimuli signalling no rewards (S) inhibit responses. In three treatments, rats faced two equally profitable options delivering food probabilistically after a fixed delay. In the informative option (Info), food or no food was signalled immediately after choice, whereas in the non-informative option (NoInfo) outcomes were uncertain until the delay lapsed. Subjects preferred Info when (1) both outcomes were explicitly signalled by salient auditory cues, (2) only forthcoming food delivery was explicitly signalled, and (3) only the absence of forthcoming reward was explicitly signalled. Acquisition was slower in (3), when food was not explicitly signalled, showing that signals for positive outcomes have a greater influence on the development of preference than signals for negative ones. Our results are consistent with an elaborated conditioned reinforcement account, and with the conjecture that both uncertainty reduction and conditioned reinforcement jointly act to generate preference.

A tool to act blind? Object-assisted eye-covering as a self-handicapping behavior and social play signal in Balinese long-tailed macaques

Abstract

Self-handicapping behaviors evolved as honest signals that reliably reflect the quality of their performers. In playful activities, self-handicapping is described as intentionally and unnecessarily putting oneself into disadvantageous positions and situations. Self-handicapping during play may allow individuals to learn to cope with unexpected events by improving sensori-motor coordination, as well as function as a play solicitation signal. One such self-handicapping behavior involves moving about while deliberately covering one’s eyes. We conducted a quantitative study of object-assisted eye-covering (OAEC) in a population of free-ranging Balinese macaques. After evaluating the frequency, form, distribution, and context of OAEC, we measured the responses this behavior elicited (1) in the performers with a focus on sensori-motor self-handicapping, and (2) in their conspecifics, with an emphasis on whether, and if so how, OAEC may facilitate social play. Our data provided some support for several hypotheses: OAEC is a sensori-motor self-handicapping behavior, an attention-getting cue, a social play signal, and a socially self-handicapping tactic during social play. We discuss our results from the perspective of tool-assisted self-handicapping behavior, propose a scenario to account for the emergence of this behavioral innovation, and speculate on the cultural nature of OAEC.

Discrimination of cat-directed speech from human-directed speech in a population of indoor companion cats (Felis catus)

Abstract

In contemporary western cultures, most humans talk to their pet companions. Speech register addressed to companion animals shares common features with speech addressed to young children, which are distinct from the typical adult-directed speech (ADS). The way dogs respond to dog-directed speech (DDS) has raised scientists’ interest. In contrast, much less is known about how cats perceive and respond to cat-directed speech (CDS). The primary aim of this study was to evaluate whether cats are more responsive to CDS than ADS. Secondarily, we seek to examine if the cats’ responses to human vocal stimuli would differ when it was elicited by their owner or by a stranger. We performed playback experiments and tested a cohort of 16 companion cats in a habituation–dishabituation paradigm, which allows for the measurement of subjects’ reactions without extensive training. Here, we report new findings that cats can discriminate speech specifically addressed to them from speech addressed to adult humans, when sentences are uttered by their owners. When hearing sentences uttered by strangers, cats did not appear to discriminate between ADS and CDS. These findings bring a new dimension to the consideration of human–cat relationship, as they imply the development of a particular communication into human–cat dyads, that relies upon experience. We discuss these new findings in the light of recent literature investigating cats’ sociocognitive abilities and human–cat attachment. Our results highlight the importance of one-to-one relationships for cats, reinforcing recent literature regarding the ability for cats and humans to form strong bonds.

Congratulations to Animal Cognition on its 50th birthday! Some thoughts on the last 50 years of animal cognition research

Abstract

In this article, the author reflects on some of the key issues that have arisen in comparative cognition and the role and impact of the journal Animal Cognition through its first 25 years by pretending to look back at this period from the year 2047. Successes within comparative cognition are described and the role that Animal Cognition has played in the growth of comparative cognition are discussed. Concerns are presented about issues that affect the opportunities that researchers have to work with nonhuman species and to produce good comparative cognitive science. Prescriptions for what the author hopes will happen next also are offered all in the lens of a prospectively imagined retrospective on this field.