Social Cognition

The Thoughtful Animal

Category archives for Social Cognition

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…

You know that old phrase, “monkey see, monkey do”? Well, there might be something to it, except that chimpanzees aren’t monkeys. (Sadly, “ape see, ape do” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) A new paper published today in PLoS ONE has found evidence that chimpanzees have contagious yawning – that is, they can…

I was reading Christie’s excellent post (and you should too) on GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons’ elephant killing incident (is it too early to be calling this #ElephantGate?) Although I don’t know quite enough about what is going on in Zimbabwe, I tend to err on the side of not intentionally killing elephants because – as…

Welcome to the second installment of Animal Territoriality Week. Today, we’ll look at a case where differences in territory size can have implications for neuroanatomy. If you missed part 1 of Animal Territoriality week, check it out here. Let’s say you have two very very closely related species. You might even call them congeneric, because…

Welcome to Territoriality Week! Every day this week, I’ll have a post about some aspect of animal or human territoriality. How do animals mark and control their territories? What determines the size or shape of an animal’s territory? What can an animal’s territory tell us about neuroanatomy? Today, I begin by asking two questions: first,…

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…

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Painstaking scientific research has identified seven dating tips that could boost your chances on Valentine’s Day … including shouting in his right ear and scaring him witless. Whether or not you have a Valentine this year, head on over to check out to my latest piece in The Guardian: Valentine’s Day dating tips from lovestruck…

In honor of Science Online, which begins on Thursday night, I will be writing about lemurs this week. Why lemurs? Because on Friday morning, as a part of Science Online, I will be taking a tour of the Duke Lemur Center. It is common among animals – especially primates – to orient their gaze preferentially…