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.
Vauclair has a clear agenda: progress in this field is not to be made with fuzzy concepts, interest in what it is like to be a certain kind of animal, and assumptions of continuity where none exists; the experimental path that eschews issues of animal consciousness is the one to follow. Yet, those with a broader focus than Vauclair's, who welcome richer, more qualitative methods, will still feel comfortable with his presentation of experimental research. Without a polemicist's stick, beating the drum of human uniqueness and grossly underestimating the abilities of animals, he discusses animal cognition, often concluding that the glass is half-empty rather than half-full, but with an eye to reason, not dogma...Clear and very readable, this excellent volume will serve graduate and advanced students well in courses dealing with animal cognition, cognitive studies, primate studies, or philosophy of mind. But, it is best taken as an extended review of current research and essay arguing for methodological precision. Those outside of comparative psychology and cognitive research will be enlightened by reading this careful summation of experimental approaches to questions of animal cognition, along with Vauclair's arguments both for and against continuity between humans and other animals.
Vauclair has produced a state-of-the-field review that reveals contemporary comparative psychology to be vital, interesting and heuristically rich. Eschewing the many parametric investigations of classical and instrumental conditioning (leaving their summary to the excellent volumes already in print) and focusing instead on topics comparable to those typical of human cognition, Vauclair has provided a tool that should encourage a new generation of students to consider a research career in comparative cognition.
The book can be recommended to those seeking an overview of experimental studies of animal cognition that have been conducted in the last decade or so. Within the topics that are covered, the review of the relevant literature is on the whole thorough. Moreover, the conclusions that are drawn from experimental findings are fair and, when necessary, appropriately cautious.
Vauclair emphasizes Piagetian studies and laudably presents its framework, chief findings and criticisms of these...Social cognition is considered functionally and experimentally, with appropriate attention to problems of methodology and interpretation (e.g., conditioning or concept-formation as explanatory mechanisms)...The especially illusive topics of imitation, self-recognition, and theory of mind are well treated, with due acknowledgement of controversies...In the final chapter, ambitiously titled Agenda for Comparative Studies, Vauclair attempts to criticize and reconcile different approaches, including Donald Griffin's animal thinking...The style of writing is straightforward; each chapter helpfully ends with a critical summary...This book gives a thoughtful introduction to comparative psychology.
This is an interesting and thought-provoking book that works well at several levels. It provides a good introduction to animal cognition for the reader new to the subject, and its crisp approach and fresh organisation of material means that experts, too, will have something to learn from it.
Vauclair's well-referenced volume provides an excellent introduction to the scientific study of cognition in animals. The book traces the roots of modern comparative psychology and describes the typical laboratory methods for assessing mental representations of knowledge; it then discusses diverse topics such as animal applications of Piagetian concepts, tool use in animals, spatial and temporal representations, social cognition, animal communication, and theory of mind in a straightforward, easily comprehensible manner...An excellent resource.
A concise and very useful introduction to what the author identifies as 'modern comparative psychology'. Although the text is kept simple and accessible to the non-specialized reader, the treatment is rigorous and reliable.
- 222 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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