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Journal: Animal cognition


Domestic chickens are members of an order, Aves, which has been the focus of a revolution in our understanding of neuroanatomical, cognitive, and social complexity. At least some birds are now known to be on par with many mammals in terms of their level of intelligence, emotional sophistication, and social interaction. Yet, views of chickens have largely remained unrevised by this new evidence. In this paper, I examine the peer-reviewed scientific data on the leading edge of cognition, emotions, personality, and sociality in chickens, exploring such areas as self-awareness, cognitive bias, social learning and self-control, and comparing their abilities in these areas with other birds and other vertebrates, particularly mammals. My overall conclusion is that chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas, and that there is a need for further noninvasive comparative behavioral research with chickens as well as a re-framing of current views about their intelligence.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Sociology, Bird, Cognition, Chicken, Knowledge, Emotion


There is a tension between the conception of cognition as a central nervous system (CNS) process and a view of cognition as extending towards the body or the contiguous environment. The centralised conception requires large or complex nervous systems to cope with complex environments. Conversely, the extended conception involves the outsourcing of information processing to the body or environment, thus making fewer demands on the processing power of the CNS. The evolution of extended cognition should be particularly favoured among small, generalist predators such as spiders, and here, we review the literature to evaluate the fit of empirical data with these contrasting models of cognition. Spiders do not seem to be cognitively limited, displaying a large diversity of learning processes, from habituation to contextual learning, including a sense of numerosity. To tease apart the central from the extended cognition, we apply the mutual manipulability criterion, testing the existence of reciprocal causal links between the putative elements of the system. We conclude that the web threads and configurations are integral parts of the cognitive systems. The extension of cognition to the web helps to explain some puzzling features of spider behaviour and seems to promote evolvability within the group, enhancing innovation through cognitive connectivity to variable habitat features. Graded changes in relative brain size could also be explained by outsourcing information processing to environmental features. More generally, niche-constructed structures emerge as prime candidates for extending animal cognition, generating the selective pressures that help to shape the evolving cognitive system.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Insect, Arthropod, Cognitive psychology, Cognition


Infant-directed speech (IDS) is a special speech register thought to aid language acquisition and improve affiliation in human infants. Although IDS shares some of its properties with dog-directed speech (DDS), it is unclear whether the production of DDS is functional, or simply an overgeneralisation of IDS within Western cultures. One recent study found that, while puppies attended more to a script read with DDS compared with adult-directed speech (ADS), adult dogs displayed no preference. In contrast, using naturalistic speech and a more ecologically valid set-up, we found that adult dogs attended to and showed more affiliative behaviour towards a speaker of DDS than of ADS. To explore whether this preference for DDS was modulated by the dog-specific words typically used in DDS, the acoustic features (prosody) of DDS or a combination of the two, we conducted a second experiment. Here the stimuli from experiment 1 were produced with reversed prosody, meaning the prosody and content of ADS and DDS were mismatched. The results revealed no significant effect of speech type, or content, suggesting that it is maybe the combination of the acoustic properties and the dog-related content of DDS that modulates the preference shown for naturalistic DDS. Overall, the results of this study suggest that naturalistic DDS, comprising of both dog-directed prosody and dog-relevant content words, improves dogs' attention and may strengthen the affiliative bond between humans and their pets.

Concepts: Human, Improve, Linguistics, Language, Revealed preference, Preference, Dog, Register


Referential gestures are used by a signaller to draw a recipient’s attention to a specific object, individual or event in the environment. These gestures have received much research attention in relation to human and non-human primates with great apes being shown to possess impressive gestural repertoires. Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) meanwhile provide an ideal non-primate candidate for investigating referential signalling due to their unique relationship with humans that centres on non-verbal communication with frequent interaction. Here we observed 37 pet dogs in their own homes. Owners recorded 242 videos containing 47 potential referential gesture events. We analysed those recordings to reveal evidence of 19 referential gestures performed by domestic dogs during everyday communicative bouts with humans, showing that the gestures conform to the five features of referential signalling. Our study exposes impressive gesturing abilities in a non-primate mammal; especially when viewed in the context of the cross-species rather than intraspecific communication.


Affective forecasting is an ability that allows the prediction of the hedonic outcome of never-before experienced situations, by mentally recombining elements of prior experiences into possible scenarios, and pre-experiencing what these might feel like. It has been hypothesised that this ability is uniquely human. For example, given prior experience with the ingredients, but in the absence of direct experience with the mixture, only humans are said to be able to predict that lemonade tastes better with sugar than without it. Non-human animals, on the other hand, are claimed to be confined to predicting-exclusively and inflexibly-the outcome of previously experienced situations. Relying on gustatory stimuli, we devised a non-verbal method for assessing affective forecasting and tested comparatively one Sumatran orangutan and ten human participants. Administered as binary choices, the test required the participants to mentally construct novel juice blends from familiar ingredients and to make hedonic predictions concerning the ensuing mixes. The orangutan’s performance was within the range of that shown by the humans. Both species made consistent choices that reflected independently measured taste preferences for the stimuli. Statistical models fitted to the data confirmed the predictive accuracy of such a relationship. The orangutan, just like humans, thus seems to have been able to make hedonic predictions concerning never-before experienced events.

Concepts: Scientific method, Prediction, Futurology, Future, Prophecy, Hominidae, Forecasting, Divination


Helping behavior is a prosocial behavior whereby an individual helps another irrespective of disadvantages to him or herself. In the present study, we examined whether rats would help distressed, conspecific rats that had been soaked with water. In Experiment 1, rats quickly learned to liberate a soaked cagemate from the water area by opening the door to allow the trapped rat into a safe area. Additional tests showed that the presentation of a distressed cagemate was necessary to induce rapid door-opening behavior. In addition, it was shown that rats dislike soaking and that rats that had previously experienced a soaking were quicker to learn how to help a cagemate than those that had never been soaked. In Experiment 2, the results indicated that rats did not open the door to a cagemate that was not distressed. In Experiment 3, we tested behavior when rats were forced to choose between opening the door to help a distressed cagemate and opening a different door to obtain a food reward. Irrespective of how they learned to open the door, in most test trials, rats chose to help the cagemate before obtaining a food reward, suggesting that the relative value of helping others is greater than the value of a food reward. These results suggest that rats can behave prosocially and that helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings toward their distressed cagemate.

Concepts: Psychology, Rat, Learning, Motivation, Opening, Relative Values


Signals of dominance and submissiveness are central to conspecific communication in many species. For domestic animals, sensitivities to these signals in humans may also be beneficial. We presented domestic horses with a free choice between two unfamiliar humans, one adopting a submissive and the other a dominant body posture, with vocal and facial cues absent. Horses had previously been given food rewards by both human demonstrators, adopting neutral postures, to encourage approach behaviour. Across four counterbalanced test trials, horses showed a significant preference for approaching the submissive posture in both the first trial and across subsequent trials, and no individual subject showed an overall preference for dominant postures. There was no significant difference in latency to approach the two postures. This study provides novel evidence that domestic horses may spontaneously discriminate between, and attribute communicative significance to, human body postures of dominance; and further, that familiarity with the signaller is not a requirement for this response. These findings raise interesting questions about the plasticity of social signal perception across the species barrier.

Concepts: Psychology, Species, Statistical significance, Mammal, Horse, Human anatomy, Choice, Wild horse


Deception, the use of false signals to modify the behaviour of the receiver, occurs in low frequencies even in stable signalling systems. For example, it can be advantageous for subordinate individuals to deceive in competitive situations. We investigated in a three-way choice task whether dogs are able to mislead a human competitor, i.e. if they are capable of tactical deception. During training, dogs experienced the role of their owner, as always being cooperative, and two unfamiliar humans, one acting ‘cooperatively’ by giving food and the other being ‘competitive’ and keeping the food for themselves. During the test, the dog had the options to lead one of these partners to one of the three potential food locations: one contained a favoured food item, the other a non-preferred food item and the third remained empty. After having led one of the partners, the dog always had the possibility of leading its cooperative owner to one of the food locations. Therefore, a dog would have a direct benefit from misleading the competitive partner since it would then get another chance to receive the preferred food from the owner. On the first test day, the dogs led the cooperative partner to the preferred food box more often than expected by chance and more often than the competitive partner. On the second day, they even led the competitive partner less often to the preferred food than expected by chance and more often to the empty box than the cooperative partner. These results show that dogs distinguished between the cooperative and the competitive partner, and indicate the flexibility of dogs to adjust their behaviour and that they are able to use tactical deception.

Concepts: Predation, Dog, Canidae, Lie, Gray Wolf, Canis, Deception, Subspecies of Canis lupus


We used an expectancy violation procedure to ask whether cats could use a causal rule to infer the presence of an unseen object on hearing the noise it made inside a container and predict its appearance when the container was turned over. We presented cats with either an object dropping out of an opaque container or no object dropping out (turning-over phase) after producing either a rattling sound by shaking the container with the object inside, or no sound (shaking phase). The cats were then allowed to freely explore the experimental environment (exploration phase). The relation between the sound and the object matched with physical laws in half of the trials (congruent condition) and mismatched in the other half (incongruent condition). Inferring the presence of an unseen object from the noise was predicted to result in longer looking time in the incongruent condition. The prediction was supported by the cats' behavior during the turning-over phase. The results suggest that cats used a causal-logical understanding of auditory stimuli to predict the appearance of invisible objects. The ecology of cats' natural hunting style may favor the ability for inference on the basis of sounds.

Concepts: Scientific method, Prediction, Futurology, Future, Logic, Object, Sound, Inference


Referential communication occurs when a sender elaborates its gestures to direct the attention of a recipient to its role in pursuit of the desired goal, e.g. by pointing or showing an object, thereby informing the recipient what it wants. If the gesture is successful, the sender and the recipient focus their attention simultaneously on a third entity, the target. Here we investigated the ability of domestic horses (Equus caballus) to communicate referentially with a human observer about the location of a desired target, a bucket of food out of reach. In order to test six operational criteria of referential communication, we manipulated the recipient’s (experimenter) attentional state in four experimental conditions: frontally oriented, backward oriented, walking away from the arena and frontally oriented with other helpers present in the arena. The rate of gaze alternation was higher in the frontally oriented condition than in all the others. The horses appeared to use both indicative (pointing) and non-indicative (nods and shakes) head gestures in the relevant test conditions. Horses also elaborated their communication by switching from a visual to a tactile signal and demonstrated perseverance in their communication. The results of the tests revealed that horses used referential gestures to manipulate the attention of a human recipient so to obtain an unreachable resource. These are the first such findings in an ungulate species.

Concepts: Horse, Gesture, Wild horse, Odd-toed ungulate, Equus, Equidae, Donkey, Domestication of the horse