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


Categories: Papers from 2011
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s