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Psychology Program presents

The Intelligence of Elephants: A Case for Convergent Cognitive Evolution in a Non-Primate

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A lecture by Joshua Plotnik, candidate for the position in Psychology

To better understand the evolution of intelligence in humans, scientists have typically looked to non-human primates for answers. However, recent research on the evolution of physical cognition (e.g., tool use and causal reasoning) and social cognition (e.g., complex cooperation and perspective taking) suggests comprehensive models for understanding the evolution of intelligence should include species beyond the primate order. The demonstration of such complex cognition in animals such as dolphins, elephants and corvids most likely evolved through convergent cognitive evolution, a process by which evolutionarily distant species evolve similar intelligence as a result of similar environmental pressures. In this talk, I will discuss my recent research in Thailand on Asian elephant social cognition (specifically in the areas of mirror self-recognition, cooperative problem-solving and partner understanding), and future plans for studies on prosociality and reciprocity. In addition, I will discuss how several studies on elephant sensory perception have played a crucial role in the design of the social cognition experiments, and have influenced my plans for future comparative work in other species. The study of convergent cognitive evolution presents an interesting new perspective on the evolution of the mind, and has implications for our understanding of how intelligence is expressed across species.

Location: Preston Theater