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Animal Cognition

Buy custom Animal Cognition essay

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Since the 1630s when René Descartes, an authoritative French philosopher, defined animals as creatures with no souls, a lot of discoveries related to animal cognition and intelligence have been made. However, despite a constant increase in research on wildlife in general and cognitive abilities of animals in particular, animal cognition appears to be under-researched. Humans’ attitude to animals evokes numerous debates associated with ethical, moral, and legal aspects of animal testing and violation of animal rights. Thus, animal cognition appears to be an insufficiently explored issue of scientific perspectives, though researches conducted all over the world confirm that animals possess cognitive abilities.

Studies of animal cognition and rational activity as a form of adaptation to changes in environmental conditions should be based on relevant psychological, biological, genetic, behavioural, and neurological theoretical grounds and on the evolutionary doctrine. The complete identification of animal cognition should consider generally accepted definitions of thinking and intelligence.

Thinking is the most complicated form of mental activities and the top of evolutionary development. Therefore, different scholars provide their different definitions (Shettleworth, 2010). Thinking is a complex psychological phenomenon. It is a mediated and generalized reflection of reality based on abilities to consciously perceive objects, events, and information, evaluate them, estimate connections between them, predict possible consequences, judge, make decisions, and draw conclusions.

Intelligence is a set of all cognitive abilities and functions of an individual. It is always associated with abilities to cognize, learn, operate symbols, and master regularities of environment.

There are two basic approaches to the assessment of animal cognition. One of them involves examination and research of behaviour while another is focused on the studies of animals’ brains. These approaches are based on a linear sequence in the development and evolution from the lowest, non-intellectual animals that possess rather small brains to the highest, intellectual animals with more complicated structures. It is difficult to estimate animal intelligence comprehensively as there is no way to accurately evaluate the validity of tests. Besides, previously assessment of animal cognition was generally conducted via comparison between the indicators of human intelligence and those of animals. Today, in vitro mental abilities of animals are assessed using too-use methods.

People got used to considering themselves much cleverer than animals. Undoubtedly, animals cannot rhyme, solve integrated equations, and understand political or economic issues. Their “language” and ways of communication significantly differ from the humans’ ones. Animal intelligence is almost entirely limited by their biological regularities. Even anthropoids are unable to think critically and understand causes and consequences of phenomena. Nevertheless, based on the animals’ previous individual experience, their abilities to cognize are displayed in their behavioral perception patterns of subject components of environments, interactions, and communications, solutions to complex environmental challenges, motivated activities, expertise acquisition, etc. Furthermore, “learning is a universal trait of animals and, perhaps, even singular animal cells” (Helton, 2008, p. 99). In addition, animal cognitive activities involve preliminary preparatory actions, such as a search or preparation of tools, which are not induced by the direct biological importance. Perception and reflection of complex forms of difficult external situations and circumstances trigger diverse forms of animals’ changeable behaviour.

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It is necessary to note that animal cognition is frequently impossible to distinguish from their inherited skills and instincts. Intellectual activity of animals is usually based on their intensive and varied manipulation and sensual generalization. Manipulations, especially with biologically “neutral” subjects, are preconditions of the development of animal cognition. Performing difficult and sometimes destructive manipulations, animals train their sensory abilities, generalise experiences, and acquire new knowledge. Visual perceptions and visual generalizations are essential for the development of cognition and intelligence.

Complex multiphase skills and tool-using are other components of animal cognition. These elements belong to the impellent sphere of animals’ behaviour. They allow an animal to solve diverse multifaceted problems that demand a certain sequence of actions. “On the surface, the tool-use of some animals also appears to be a remarkable feat, requiring sophisticated high-level cognitive strategies” (Teschke & Tebbich, 2011, p. 556). Anthropoids solve such tasks easier than other mammals as they do not experience difficulties in dealing with locomotory tasks. This fact reflects different levels of animal cognition and research activities caused by different levels of their mentality as well as their brain size. Most mammals cognize spatial conditions of the environment by means of locomotory actions while apes gradually develop abilities to determine cause-and-effect relations by means of manipulating. Thus, lokomotory actions lose their dominating role.  

The research article “Physical cognition and tool-use: performance of Darwin’s %uFB01nches in the two-trap tube task” published by Teschke & Tebbich in Animal Cognition in 2011 assessed the results of comparative study of physical problem-solving abilities based on the tool-using experience. The objective of this scientific experiment was to examine “the general physical problem-solving abilities of two closely related Darwin’s %uFB01nch species: the small tree %uFB01nch and the woodpecker %uFB01nch using the two-trap tube task with a pre-inserted piston that could be operated by both species” (Teschke & Tebbich, 2011, p. 562).

The research process entailed the review of 24 peer review journals, online publications, and scholarly research from reputable national organizations that were used to gather pertinent information. Previously published studies on animals’ tool-related cognition, manipulations, domain-specific experience, casual reasoning, Darwin’s theory, behavioral flexibility, and research methodology were analysed by the researchers. All the sources were evaluated for the quality of methodology, relevance, and importance of results.  The authors provided a detailed description of their methodology and quantitative exponents of experimental procedures. Therefore, their findings can be evaluated as evidence-based and reliable sources of information on animal cognition.

The research was conducted at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Archipelago, Ecuador. This study was designed to answer the questions of cognitive development of woodpecker %uFB01nches via tool-use. It was essential to ensure that animals did not suffer from experiments while participating in the research studies. Ethicality of the research was approved by the research ethics board of the Galapagos National Park. Experiments were conducted on 18 woodpecker %uFB01nches and 9 small tree %uFB01nches in total (Teschke & Tebbich, 2011, p. 557).

 The article provides controversial concepts of cognition related to the tool-use. According to the research findings, woodpecker %uFB01nches solve “a battery of physical problems” via “smple cognitive solutions” (p. 563). They conclude that “woodpecker %uFB01nch tool-use is characterized by selectivity, modification, and high frequency in natural populations”., Comparing cognitive abilities of these birds with those of New Caledonian crows and chimpanzees, Teschke & Tebbich (2011) suggest “that large brain size might be a better predictor of the ability to form a generalized rule pertaining to the physical properties of the task than tool-use” (p. 562). The researchers summarized the findings in the final part of the study and compared them with the results of the previous research that contained some contradictory conclusions.

In accordance with generally accepted scholarly theories, different species of animals display a huge variety of types of cognitive activities (Helton, 2008; Shettleworth, 2010; Barrera et al., 2011; Teschke & Tebbich, 2011). Animal cognition is closely connected with both different forms of their instinctive behaviour and experiences that result from individual and changeable behavioural patterns. Due to their cognitive abilities, animals can quickly adapt to changes in their habitats. Behaviour of apes and other highest vertebrata is characterized by various operations implemented as a result of estimated correlations and interconnections between new and known objects. The highest representatives of fauna such as anthropoids and dolphins perform complex actions that can be identified as intellectual behaviour and cognition. It is caused by higher forms of their mental activities connected with such living conditions when congenital instincts and developed skills appear to be insufficient to survive.

Animals’ abilities to transfer to and apply developed skills in a new situation are important evidences of their cognitive skills. In addition, animal abilities to learn testify to their cognitive processes.

Learning is the emergence and development of adaptive changes in the individual behavior due to the obtained experiences. Animals learn in their habitats while searching for food and water, avoiding dangerous places, selecting safe paths, using landmarks, interacting with relatives and other species, etc. Scientists examine the development of animals’ abilities to learn during laboratory trials by observing new skills developed under the conditions set by an experimenter. Learning abilities are based on the property of flexibility inherent in the central nervous system. Flexibility provides animals with abilities to change their responses to external influences due to internal transformations caused by previous influences. Learning or training develops animal cognition and their problem-solving abilities (Marshall-Pescini, 2008; Barrera et al., 2011; Brauer et al., 2012).

However, different animals possess different abilities to learn and train due to their level of development and external conditions.

Dogs of different breeds differ in their abilities to learn. Nevertheless, “high levels of training improve dogs’ problem solving ability, with dogs appearing to be more proactive in their interaction with novel objects” (Marshall-Pescini et. al., 2008, p. 449). Having conducted comparative studies of trained and untrained dogs, Marshall-Pescini et al. (2008) identified that highly trained dogs are more successful in doing problem-solving tasks than untrained animals.

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The research involved 118 adult dogs (Canis familiaris) divided into two groups according to their levels of training. “Within each group dogs were randomly assigned to either the paw-pad or the lid condition” (Marshall-Pescini et al., 2008, p. 450). The research process included experimental procedures consisting of three phases (familiarization, manipulation, and test) and qualitative investigations. Utilising methods of qualitative research, scientists conducted interviews with the dogs’ owners. Qualitative research differs from the quantitative study in a number of ways. A qualitative research design is the most effective in bringing out and describing individual experiences and perceptions based on the research participants’ own individual perspective. Qualitative research involves unknown variables while quantitative study includes known variables (independent and dependent) (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005).

The objectives of the research study were explained to the dog owners. Each category of information was coded for interpretation and classification. Interview documents were thoroughly read and bracketed to reduce bias. Interview location was decided upon by each participant ensuring they felt comfortable. The researchers adequately described the data collection process and interview techniques. Questionnaires were designed to obtain information concerning 1) “the dogs’ characteristics, origin, living conditions, training experience and method” and 2) psychological diagnostic categories of dogs (Marshall-Pescini et al., 2008, p. 451). The dogs’ behaviour during testing was recorded utilizing the Observer XT software package (Noldus Information Technology). Findings of the research were assessed in accordance with the method of a Mann–Whitney test.

In accordance with the research findings, dogs’ problem-solving abilities are interconnected with the development of their cognitive skills. The study “showed a significant correlation between trainability and a better performance in the problem solving task” (Marshall-Pescini et. al, 2008, 453). Furthermore, results of recent dog-related studies testify to their cognitive abilities (Barrera et al., 2011; Brauer et al., 2012). Dogs are capable of coordinating their activities purposefully in the process of problem solving. Relying on knowledge about their partner’s role, “dogs coordinate their actions in a new paradigm that models a possible situation during a cooperative hunt”, though they do not constantly monitor each other (Brauer et al., 2012).

Interactions between people and dogs provide important information about animal cognition. The results of the research conducted by Barrera et al. “demonstrate the significant role played by both associative learning and experiences during ontogeny in domestic dogs’ interspecific communication mechanisms” (2011, p. 728). Environmental conditions, levels of learning experiences, social and spatial restrictions, duration of contacts with humans, mistreatment, and neglect influence patterns of relationship between dogs and humans. 32 adult dogs belonging to the Esperanza Animal Shelter situated in Entre R%u0131os, Argentina, were the subject of the research study carried out by Barrera et al. The research was focused on the dogs’ gaze behaviour associated with different ways of communication with humans. The researchers state that “associative learning could help improve communicative responses in dogs” promoting their cognition and consciousness (Barrera et al., 2011, p. 733).

However, despite dogs have accompanied humans for thousands of years, their abilities are still understudied. Therapeutic and curative properties of dogs have been known since the ancient times. Today, researchers have estimated that dog-assisted therapy or canistherapy is an efficient drug-free method of healing. Dogs are used in the animal-assisted therapy more frequently than other animals due to their high trainability and abilities to distinguish and follow verbal orders. Availability and well-developed social behaviour of dogs make this kind of treatment one of the most-sought therapies.

Supersensitive sense of smell helps dogs to define a rare combination of fibers in malignant tumours. Dogs can foresee epileptic attacks, distinguish clothes of healthy children from those with autism, and practically unmistakably reveal some forms of cancer. Analyses of the dogs’ saliva have shown that it contains antiseptics. Thus, efficacy of canistherapy is an evident fact.

Different breeds of dogs possess their specific intelligence-related characteristics. For instance, shorkies are generally known for their friendly, cheerful, and playful nature, fidelity, amiability, and sociability.  These dogs are able to perform salutary functions of psychological replacement by filling the absence of the loved one. Shorkies immediately respond to psychological and emotional changes experienced by their owners. Shorkies are always happy to communicate with people regardless their appearance, age, gender, social status, religious beliefs, or incomes. They do not assess or evaluate their owners. They do not hesitate to display their affection. Therefore, experiencing a lack of love, both adults and children enjoy communicating with these dogs. Being expressed by dogs, their sincere compassion is perceived by people as empathy and sympathy. Feelings of loneliness, psychological discomfort, depression, and nervousness are gradually disappearing. However, people frequently perceive dogs’ behaviour from their own human-based perspective imposing “thus, their own emotions and thoughts on these furred creatures” (Horowitz, 2006).

The sick easily trust friendly, affectionate, and grateful dogs. Canistherapy is widely utilized in treatment of diverse categories of patients. Dogs perform their healthcare functions in nursing homes, mental institutions, clinical settings, children hospitals, and hospices. Dog therapy makes a positive impact on patients’ feelings and emotions. Communication with dogs leads to the diminution of fear and reduction of phobias, depression, anxieties, and absent-mindedness.

A recent research conducted by a Canadian paediatric neurologist Adam Kirton has determined that epilepsy attacks occur less frequently in families with dogs. According to his findings, dogs try to warn children or their family members about possible epilepsy attacks by different means they have at their disposal. Thus, dogs significantly diminish the risks of this illness and its destructive consequences.

Shorkies “can exhibit a profound joy for life and a joy for the moment” (Niven, 2007) inducing similar emotions in their sick partners. The sick essentially mobilize and improve their motion and mental functions. The reticent usually start speaking more than before. They react to dogs with unexpected feelings of sympathy and understanding. Within the course of canistherapy, patients feel safer, more confident, self-consistent, and independent. Their behaviour is characterized by a substantial increase in self-estimation, development of self-control, improvement in psychological status, and enhancement of sociability. However, effectiveness of canistherapy is directly connected to the patients’ previous experience of keeping pets. Therefore, friendly relationships between dogs and people should start as early as possible. It is an indisputable fact that children grow sincere, kind, generous, responsive, and soft- hearted in families with shorkies.

Specific curative abilities of dogs are closely connected with their enthusiastic, curious, intelligent, devoted, and friendly characteristics. Canistherapy is an irreplaceable technique while working with autistic children. Participating in their treatment, a friendly-adjusted dog appreciably improves the autistic behaviour of children and promotes a significant decrease in such displays of autism as repetitive behaviour and infringements of social interactions. Through reducing emotional pressure and promoting psychological comfort, games with shorkies can make psychotherapy of autistic children more pleasant and productive, thus increasing chances of the treatment efficacy. Positive tactile sensations of physical contacts with shorkies develop sensory abilities of autistic children. In the presence of shorkies, children feel quieter and more confident, especially in unfamiliar environments. In addition, psychologists have estimated that communication with dogs in general and shorkies in particular promotes the development of speech abilities in children. Thus, deliberate research studies should be conducted to estimate factors contributing to the dogs’ abilities to influence humans. Canistherapy is an efficient method of stress management. Married couples who keep shorkies overcome family conflicts easily.Tthey have a wider circle of common interests and closer family relationships. Avoiding condemnation or misunderstanding, family members often tend to “discuss” and share their problems with shorkies. Thus, their pets act as a peculiar psychological buffer and positively influence the family microclimate.

While discussing controversial issues of animal cognition, scientists debate the occurrence of emotions in animals because emotions are considered to be one of the main regulators of human activity (Bendelow & Williams, 1998). Emotions are a special group of the subjective psychological conditions reflected in the form of direct experiences, pleasant or unpleasant sensations, and attitudes of the person to the world, people, and the process and results of his practical activities. 

Emotions (affects, sincere excitements) are such states as fear, anger, melancholy, pleasure, love, hope, grief, disgust, pride, etc. The psychology of the past lists an uncountable set of similar experiences. The base form of emotions acts as the emotional tone of sensations representing genetically caused experiences of the hedonist signs accompanying vital impressions, for example, flavoring, painful experiences, and temperature. Another form of emotions is the affects representing very strong emotional experiences connected with active behavior under the permission of an extreme situation.

Main feature of human emotions consists in the fact that a special emotional language that can be transferred as a standard description has been developed in social practice and communication. On this basis, there is a particular emotional response to different objects and events. Emotions are shown in certain mental experiences. Emotions have positive and negative sensual tones. They are connected with the feeling of pleasure or displeasure. Emotions arise as a result of changes in a nervous system. These changes can be caused both by internal and external events. Therefore, animal emotions should testify to their intelligence. Niven (2007) claims that dogs “can exhibit a profound joy for life and a joy for the moment”.

However, existence of animal emotions can be justified by their physiological nature. Emotions influence a level of electric activity in a brain, a degree of pressure of muscles and body, and functioning of endocrine, blood, and respiratory systems. Animal emotions as well as human ones can be subdivided into positive and negative ones on the basis of features of their experience and sensor characteristics.

In conclusion, the controversial phenomenon of animal cognition requires comprehensive research studies. Animals’ abilities to perceive, cognize, and assess new objects and information are frequently evaluated from different points of scientific views, thus resulting in false conclusions. Although humans and animals have co-existed for ages, these creatures and their unique abilities are still understudied. However, despite their scientific importance, all research studies should be conducted in conformity with ethical and moral standards.

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