Abstract # 97:

Scheduled for Saturday, September 17, 2011 07:00 PM-09:00 PM: Session 14 (Salon G (Sixth Floor)) Poster Presentation


A BIG BRAIN IS NOT ENOUGH: THE IMPORTANCE OF ECOLOGY WHEN CONSIDERING QUESTIONS OF COGNITION

J. Essler1,2, S. Bergamo3, D. Proctor1, R. Bshary3 and S. Brosnan1
1Georgia State University, Language Research Center, Atlanta, GA, USA, 2Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, USA, 3University of Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
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Animals with larger brain-to-body size ratios are assumed to have higher cognitive capacities than animals with smaller brain-to-body size ratios. As with most adaptations, cognitive skills were selected for because they provided some adaptive benefit to the species in question within their ecological niche. Unfortunately, there tends to be an implicit assumption that cognition is the more important of the two. We explicitly test this assumption by comparing two cooperative species which differ in cognitive capacity using a protocol designed to mimic a natural behavior limited to the less cognitively advanced. In the first study, we found that individual capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) were unable to learn a task that required them to eat against their preferences as well as did a cleaner fish species (Labroides dimidiatus)(?2=5.87, df=1, p<0.012). This was unsurprising given that this is an ecologically advantageous behavior for the cleaner fish, while there is no such advantage for capuchin monkeys. In a second study, we expanded this to see how individuals’ performance changed when the task was done in a paired situation. While the cleaner fish actually increased their eating against preferences when paired, the capuchin monkeys thus far perform better in the solitary condition (T+=3, N=30, p=0.002). These studies shed light on the relationship between cooperation, ecology and cognition and emphasize the importance of considering ecology when investigating cooperative tendencies.