The semi-domestication of cats

21 06 2017

Nice article based on a new paper, with thanks to Jamie for this find.

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Bottom-watching: a sign of intelligence?

19 04 2017

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A couple of weeks ago the GTA Animal Cognition Reading Group met to discuss new work on mirror self-recognition, led by Noam Miller. Despite my love of this group I could not go due to piles of undone marking (going to Toronto can be a 3 hour round trip, sometimes more).

I did read the articles though: a nice compromise. A box by Sara Shettleworth, featuring her usual crisp logic, argued that mirror self-recognition is no more a sign of self-awareness than brachiation (or any task where an animal displays a fine appreciation of where all its bodyparts are).  And this was somewhat echoed by the main paper of focus: research in PNAS by Chang and colleagues, in which rhesus monkeys were trained to use mirrors.  This paper convincingly showed that monkeys can learn to understand that reflections are salient, and even that the image in it is somehow themselves. But since this only emerged through extensive training, it’s hard to know what (if anything) this really says about the abilities of other species: is some kind of intelligent self-awareness really revealed by using a mirror to inspect your bottom?





The cerebellum: not just about playing the piano

10 04 2017

The textbook view of the cerebellum used to be that it coordinates the production of skilled, rapid motor sequences. But in recent years its cognitive function have started to be elucidated (and living with a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia, I can definitively say it’s not just his coordination is off: Luke is the most strong-willed being I have ever met …); and now (Ok a few weeks ago) its role in reward learning and expectancy has finally been demonstrated in a study in Nature (see here for a write up).

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Memories form in parallel in the brain

9 04 2017

Short-term and long-term memories are apparently created at the same time, not the former before the latter, reveals exciting new research in Science written up here and here.





Mice seek out amygdala activation

9 04 2017

OK only read the media coverage, but it seems as though mouse-controlled optogenetics have helped show that the amygdala is involved in reward, not just fear.





Cats like people

9 04 2017

Screenshot 2017-04-09 12.01.35As if we didn’t know that! A new study suggesting this in Behavioural Processes last week got a lot of media attention.

I need to read the paper though: from the abstract, it seems as though they might have used timebudgets across widely different behavioural categories as measures of relative preference (like this rather bad new cat study did) — something with absolutely no validity.  This’d be like arguing that because you spend much less time drinking or eating than you do sleeping, drinking and eating are much less important to your well-being than sleeping. (Dumb eh?)





New book on emotion

2 04 2017

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Lisa Feldman Barrett, a leading analyst of the dimensional view of affective states (and a powerhouse of fascinating research and publications), has a new book out, and it looks like a must read.

Ok so it got mixed reviews in the Globe & Mail, but she is as close as it comes to god in the world of emotions,  and it was very nicely covered in an interview in Radio Boston on the BBC World Service this morning.

In searching for the latter just now, I also stumbled across this great piece on lexical gaps and alien emotions: I just love these, not least as reminders of how little we may ever understand animals.

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