Evolutionary Biology of Animal Cognition Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • ▪ Abstract  This review focuses on five key evolutionary issues pertaining to animal cognition, defined as the neuronal processes concerned with the acquisition, retention, and use of information. Whereas the use of information, or decision making, has been relatively well examined by students of behavior, evolutionary aspects of other cognitive traits that affect behavior, including perception, learning, memory, and attention, are less well understood. First, there is ample evidence for genetically based individual variation in cognitive traits, although much of the information for some traits comes from humans. Second, several studies documented positive association between cognitive abilities and performance measures linked to fitness. Third, information on the evolution of cognitive traits is available primarily for color vision and decision making. Fourth, much of the data on plasticity of cognitive traits appears to reflect nonadaptive phenotypic plasticity, perhaps because few evolutionary analyses of cognitive plasticity have been carried out. Nonetheless, several studies suggest that cognitive traits show adaptive plasticity, and at least one study documented genetically based individual variation in plasticity. Fifth, whereas assertions that cognition has played a central role in animal evolution are not supported by currently available data, theoretical considerations indicate that cognition may either increase or decrease the rate of evolutionary change.

publication date

  • December 15, 2004