PSYCH 486:  ANIMAL MIND  Winter 2014                                                                                                   20 March 2014


Prof. Michael Beecher (Guthrie 327, 543-6545,

MGH 271   Tues Thurs 12:30-2:20

Class website:

 (Note: always refresh your browser on opening website to get updated version)


How similar are animal minds to ours? Can we ever really know animal minds? Do animals have conscious experience and feelings like we do? How smart are animals? These kinds of questions have fascinated and bedeviled scientists back at least to Aristotle. Throughout the history of psychology and biology, the questions have resurfaced repeatedly, and we are now in the midst of the latest revival of hopes that we may actually be able to answer them.

The course will encourage a critical, skeptical examination of research and theory in the study of animal thinking. For background, a prior course in animal behavior (e.g., 200 or 300) is recommended but not required.



Reading:  We will use a ‘primer’ (it’s only 124 pages) by Sara Shettleworth, “Fundamentals of Comparative Cognition,” to give us a common base. Most of the reading in the course, however, will be of original research papers. These will be posted on this website.

Format:  The course will be mostly in a discussion or ‘seminar’ format, with lecture minimized. Classes (a ‘class’ generally refers a 50-min segment of our 1:50-hour class period) will follow one of the following three general formats. (1) Instructor-led: Instructor-led classes will often be used to provide an overview of a particular area. (e.g., history of the field, ‘self-awareness’, ‘emotional expression’).  (2) “Jigsaw” format: The readings (either a longer paper or more often a group of papers) will be parted out to students (usually in groups of 2 or 3) so that each group will be the ‘experts’ on some part of the readings. We orient the discussion around mini-presentations by the group. I will usually leave time at the outset for the groups to confer and make sure they understand their piece of the jigsaw. (3) Seminar format: A research paper is presented seminar-style by a student, or a pair of students; the seminar format is described further in the next section. Most (but not all) of the papers we read will be of original research, rather than a review or a theoretical paper. I will suggest papers but am also happy to take suggestions from students, so let me know (pretty soon) if there’s a particular paper that interests you. Note: papers from the last time the course was given (Spring 2012) are off limits for seminar presentations this time.

Student-led seminars:  These should be given in PowerPoint (ppt) format. Each student will participate in one of these seminars. The seminars will typically focus on one particular research paper. The presenter should assume that the audience has read the paper and should therefore concentrate on boiling down and summarizing the main points of the research. The presenter should leave room for discussion, both during and after the presentation. A seminar’s effectiveness can be judged (in part) by the amount of discussion it generates (though the paper itself of course must get a lot of the credit/blame). These research papers are the main content of the course, and will be the major items covered on the exams, so I will post the ppt presentation after the class (presenters give their ppt to me before, during, or right after the class). Hints for students in the audience on how to make the most of these seminars: First, read the paper before the class. If you are pressed for time, at least skim it for its essence. Ask questions about the paper in the seminar. Try and relate it to what you’ve learned to that point in the class, and to your knowledge of psychology or biology generally.


·         Guidelines for seminar ppt presentations               

·         SEMINAR TOPICS         

Lecture notes:  Lecture will be minimized and provided only where I feel the need to supply background. In those cases, I will post lecture notes on the website (follow the links in the Topics column) after the class.

Exams:  There will be 2 take-home exams, each one covering its part of the course but because the class is cumulative to some degree, Exam 2 will be somewhat longer (and be worth more). The exams will be open-book, but you will be expected not to consult with anyone else (honor system). I will ask you to make a statement to this effect. You will have approximately 72 hours for each exam; for both exams there will be no class during the take-home interval. You get your exam to me by dropping in the class Catalyst dropbox (link will be provided), and I return it to you the same way.

Grading:  Grade weights are given below. Attendance scale: figuring 18 class periods, 36 points (2 per class) if you make every class, 35 if you miss just one, -2 for every miss beyond one. Seminar grades: 30 points for perfection (requires a really novel presentation that makes the paper much clearer than it was when we read it); 28 points for near-perfection, 26 points for really good but containing a flaw. Unless something really bad happens (e.g., you fail to show up), I expect everyone to get 25 points or more on their seminar. (If you read all of this carefully, you will see it is hard to get a bad grade in this course so long as you come to class and do the work!)





Points to Grade Point





max poss
















Exam 2
















Access our Dropbox (Catalyst)

Tentative Schedule.  This is incomplete (especially the second half) and will be filled out as we go along. (But exam dates are fixed.)




Readings / Videos


Tu 07 Jan

Course organization        

Th 09 Jan

The cultural intelligence hypothesis       

Herrmann et al 2007               Jigsaw

critique & reply                        Link to videos

                                                 Video folder


Tu 14 Jan

Intro & History 

Shettleworth Chapt 1      

Th 16 Jan

Different perspectives on the field and its history

Gould  primer article on animal cognition 2004a

Gould on Griffin’s revolution 2004b       

Shettleworth on killjoy explanations 2010             Jigsaw

Wynne on anthropormorphism 2007


Tu 21 Jan

Basic processes

Shettleworth Chapt 2

Mirror self recognition – two  classic studies and a more recent one

Gallup 1970       Epstein et al 1981         de Waal et al 2005

Th 23 Jan

Spatial cognition

Shettleworth Chapt 3

“Are Animals Intelligent?”

video notes


Tu 28 Jan

An associative analysis of spatial learning

Pearce 2009       jigsaw

Th 30 Jan

Corvid mind: tool use & insight learning

Bird & Emery 2009         supp info         jigsaw           Lind et al 2009

Theory of mind

Shettleworth Chapt 4


Tu 04 Feb

Theory of mind (cont.)

Yamamoto etal (2012) – chimps have theory of mind

Melis & Tomasello (2013) – chimps collaborate

Th 06 Feb


(posted Weds 8 am, due Sat 8 am)

Kaminski et al (2008)

                                                                                                                                  optional readings are red-starred (*)


Tu 11 Feb

Foxes, wolves & dogs: The self-domestication hypothesis

*Morey 1994                 *Trut 1999 on Russian foxes  

*Wang et al 2013 on parallel positive selection in dogs & humans

Th 13 Feb

Social learning in wolves & dogs

Range & Viranyi 2013 (Alexis)   

Wolves & dogs respond to pointing

Viranyi et al 2008: dogs read pointing better than wolves (Anne-Lise)    

*Udell et al (2008): wolves read pointing better than dogs (mdb)


Tu 18 Feb

Wolves better imitators than dogs?

Range & Viranyi 2014 (Alisia)   

*Lakatos et al (2014) on dogs & robots (mdb)

Chimps – Bonobos – Humans – Canids:

Similarities & Differences

Hare et al (2012) – self-domestication in bonobos (Josh)

Th 20 Feb

Elephants cooperate

Plotnik et al (2011) – elephants cooperate (Emily)

Elephants use pointing

Smet & Byrne (2013) – elephants use pointing (Stefan)


Tu 25 Feb


Bruck (2013) – decades-long social memory in dolphins (Robert)


Fiorito & Scotto (1992) – Octopus observational learning (Dominic)      

Th 27 Feb

Fairness & inequity aversion

Range et al (2009) – inequity aversion in dogs (Christy)

Chimps vengeful not spiteful

Jensen et al 2006b (Becca)

Chimps altruistic

Warneken et al 2008 (Jen)


Tu 04 Mar

Intentionality & planning

Osvath & Karvonen (2013) – Chimp makes evil plans (Zoe)


Washburn et al (2010) – monkey knows he’s uncertain (Hani)

Th 06 Mar

Emotion (Frazer)

Harding et al (2004) – cognitive bias and affective state

Matheson et al (2008) – optimistic starlings

Emotion (mdb)         Empathy (mdb)

Nesse & Ellsworth (2009)        Bekoff (2000)         de Waal (2008)

*Glocker et al (2009) on baby face schema


Tu 11 Mar

Wrap-up with pizza

Shettleworth Chapt 5

Th 13 Mar

EXAM 2 posted Weds, due Mon 8:00am    KEY

Brosnan & de Waal 2003