Home > Papers from 2011 > Problems with top-down approaches in animal cognition

Problems with top-down approaches in animal cognition

[This paper passed me by last year, but I think it is worth drawing attention to]

Quite rightly, much attention is given to insects and the ways in which they demonstrate “smartness” in their day-to-day behaviour. Exploring the bounds of these cognitive abilities is, of course, a key part of the field of Comparative Cognition but there are different ways to approach this endeavour. In this review, Doering and Chittka, highlight the problems of a top-down approach to comparative science. For the authors, top-down animal cognition research focuses on cognitive capabilities that have been defined and studied in a human context, then redefines them and seeks them in animals. Examples given here include teaching, culture, consciousness and personality. Problems are generated because of the terminological ambiguity and the focus on ‘clever’ animals. Of course, being able to use similar words to describe behaviours in ants and humans, says nothing about the mechanisms underpinning those behaviours. In contrast, Doering and Chittka propose a bottom-up approach to animal cognition where one’s hypotheses and experiments are inspired by basic behavioural observations. I think I agree.

TF Döring and L Chittka (2011) How human are insects, and does it matter? – Formosan Entomologist, 31: 85-99      pdf here

 

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Categories: Papers from 2011
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