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Animal Cognition

Animal Cognition

An Introduction to Modern Comparative Psychology

Jacques Vauclair

ISBN 9780674037038

Publication date: 08/15/1996

Animal Cognition presents a clear, concise, and comprehensive overview of what we know about cognitive processes in animals. Focusing mainly on what has been learned from experimental research, Vauclair presents a wide-ranging review of studies of many kinds of animals--bees and wasps, cats and dogs, dolphins and sea otters, pigeons and titmice, baboons, chimpanzees, vervet monkeys, and Japanese macaques. He also offers a novel discussion of the ways Piaget's theory of cognitive development and Piagetian concepts may be used to develop models for the study of animal cognition.

Individual chapters review the current state of our knowledge about specific kinds of cognition in animals: tool use and spatial and temporal representations; social cognition--how animals manage their relational life and the cognitive organization that sustains social behaviors; representation, communication, and language; and imitation, self-recognition, and the theory of mind--what animals know about themselves. The book closes with Vauclair's "agenda for comparative cognition." Here he examines the relationship of the experimental approach to other fields and methods of inquiry, such as cognitive ethology and the ecological approach to species comparisons. It is here, too, that Vauclair addresses the key issue of continuity, or its absence, between animal and human cognition.

Given our still limited knowledge of cognitive systems in animals, Vauclair argues, researchers should be less concerned with the "why" question--the evolutionary or ecological explanations for differences in cognition between the species--and more concerned with the "what"--the careful work that is needed to increase our understanding of similarities and differences in cognitive processes. This thoughtful and lively book will be of great value to students of animal behavior and to anyone who desires a better understanding of humankind's relations to other living creatures.


  • Animal Cognition accounts for all the main study areas as well as some key experiments [in comparative psychology]. The treatment is economical, empirical, and overtly psychological...Straightforward chapters cover the cognitive implications of tool use, spatial orientation, communication, imitation, theory of mind and self-awareness. [Vauclair] has a knack for distilling out the essence of experiments and letting the reader decide. But the book is not devoid of theoretical context. A whole chapter is devoted to Piaget's 'experimental epistemology' and its application to comparative psychology and the book concludes with a sketch of semiotics and its application. Animal cognition has been in danger of becoming something of a bandwagon, with researchers nourishing their own theoretical idiosyncrasies, speculating on the basis of their own particular experiments on their own particular species. Since ideas come rather cheaply, Animal Cognition has wisely built its foundations on empirical ground.

    —Thomas Sambrook, Times Higher Education Supplement


  • Jacques Vauclair is Director of Research at the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience of the Center for Scientific Research in Marseilles, France.

Book Details

  • 222 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press