Communication

The Thoughtful Animal

Category archives for Communication

Human infants have one important job during the first years of life, and that is to learn about the world and their culture from their parents and other caregivers. But what is learning? I’ve previously written that Hungarian developmental psychologists Gergely and Csibra have defined learning as the acquisition of new, generalizable knowledge that can…

What is learning? Most psychologists (indeed, most people in general) would agree that learning is the acquisition of new knowledge, or new behaviors, or new skills. Hungarian psychologists Gergely and Csibra offer a deceptively simple description: “Learning involves acquiring new information and using it later when necessary.” What this means is that learning requires the…

There’s a very well-known experiment in developmental psychology called the “A-not-B task.” The experiment goes something like this: you, the experimenter, are seated opposite a human infant. Within the reach of both you and the child are two boxes: box “A,” and box “B.” You hide a toy in “A,” in full view of the…

Given the recent elephant hunting scandal, I thought I’d repost this award-winning piece from the archives, on a very clever way to deter elephants from raiding human settlements. Much cleverer than shooting them. (Click on the archives icon for the original.) What information is contained in the call of a mammal? Some calls might reflect…

Dogs Can Hear How Big You Are

Lots of animals are well aware that bigger means scarier. In stressful or aggressive situations, for example, the hair or fur of chimpanzees, rats, cats, and even humans stands up on end (in humans, given our lack of fur, this results in goose bumps) in an effort to dissuade a potential attack. Elephant seals use…

In one of a series of stories on animal intelligence, Anderson Cooper went to see Kanzi, probably the most famous bonobo in the world, and primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who has worked with Kanzi almost his entire life. Using his board of symbolic “lexigrams,” Kanzi apparently indicated that Cooper should don a bunny suit. One wonders…

Have you ever been at a party with lots of people chatting away, when for some unexplainable reason you felt compelled to turn and look at the front door of your friend’s house…and just as you were looking, someone was just coming in from outside and closing the door? You couldn’t have heard the door…

Robot Lizard Push-ups

Have you ever been walking through the forest and thought to yourself, “Damn, its loud here…it’s really, really hard to hear anything anybody else is saying”? Well, maybe that’s what prompted Terry J. Ord and Judy A. Stamps, respectively from Harvard and UC Davis to investigate lizard exercise routines. You ask: What do lizard calisthenics…

In 1975, Edward Tronick and colleagues first presented the “still face experiment” to colleagues at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. He described a phenomenon in which an infant, after three minutes of “interaction” with a non-responsive expressionless mother, “rapidly sobers and grows wary. He makes repeated attempts to get…

Learn to Speak Primate

Non-human primate, that is. Ape actor Peter Elliott shares his knowledge of chimpanzee and gorilla vocabulary and facial expressions. via IMDb: Peter Elliott is the film industry’s primary primate. He both as a performer, in films like Missing Link and The Island of Doctor Moreau, and as a choreographer of other performers, as in Gorillas…