The Thoughtful Animal

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120 posts · 142,108 views

The main focus of this blog is animal cognition. Animals do some pretty cool things, and there are some pretty fun ways that you can figure out how an animal thinks. We’ll think about what it means for a cognitive skill or capacity to be truly innate, and how the environment can take the basic building blocks of cognition and push them around in different ways. How did they evolve? How do they develop? We’ll look at animal cognition in the sense that it can help us better understand the human mind. We’ll often discuss the animals you usually think of when it comes to animal cognition. But you may be surprised by some of the other critters that will come up, who have some pretty remarkable capabilities.

Jason Goldman
120 posts

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  • January 27, 2012
  • 09:30 AM
  • 440 views

Are Wallabies Left or Right Handed? Both! (Sometimes)

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Which limb do you prefer? If you’re like most members of our species, you prefer your right hand for most tasks. If you’re like a smaller minority of our species, you might prefer your left hand. Very, very few of us are truly ambidextrous. Most of us have at least a minor preference for one [...]









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  • January 23, 2012
  • 09:25 PM
  • 606 views

Sharks With Friends

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Many of us think of sharks as lone hunters. We imagine them spending most of their lives swimming alone, briefly seeking out the company of another shark for the purposes of reproduction, then going back to their solo ways. We also tend to think of sharks as dumb machines, capable of little more than hunting. [...]









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  • January 5, 2012
  • 04:26 PM
  • 558 views

Polar Bears Say “Stay Away!”

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

It’s winter, and while Los Angeles has been unseasonably warm, I find my mind wandering to cooler things, like polar bears. In most zoos and animal parks, polar bears (ursus maritimus) attract such a disproportionate amount of attention that they are referred to in the industry as “charismatic megafauna,” or in other words, “really cool [...]









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  • December 25, 2011
  • 11:00 AM
  • 468 views

Rudolph Would Have Run Away From Santa

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

According to holiday lore, poor Rudolph was a victim of social exclusion because he was different from the rest of the reindeer. In a move that was lucky for nice (but not naughty) children everywhere, he was then approached by Santa, who asked him to guide the sleigh. Thereafter, according to traditional sources, all the [...]









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  • December 22, 2011
  • 10:30 AM
  • 448 views

Cricket Fight Club: Winning Increases Aggression

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

It’s better than an ant farm. It’s more exciting than a flea circus. Welcome to Cricket Fight Club. The first rule of Cricket Fight Club is: you do not talk about Cricket Fight Club. The second rule of Cricket Fight Club is: you do not talk about Cricket Fight Club. In aggressive conflicts between individuals [...]









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  • December 19, 2011
  • 09:30 AM
  • 591 views

The Psychology of Dictatorship: Kim Jong-Il

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

As long as there have been political dictators, psychologists have been fascinated with them. While many psychologists try to understand what happens in normal, rational people that leads them to follow such clearly dangerous leaders, some psychologists have been more interested in characterizing the personality profiles of dictators themselves. After all, who hasn’t attempted an [...]









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Frederick L. Coolidge, Felicia L. Davis, & Daniel L. Segal. (2007) Understanding Madmen: A DSM-IV Assessment of Adolf Hitler. Individual Differences Research, 5(1), 30-43. info:/

  • December 14, 2011
  • 11:00 AM
  • 570 views

Are Sheep Better at Botany than the US Government?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Botanically, a tomato is a fruit: a seed-bearing structure that grows from the flowering part of a plant. In 1893, however, the highest court in the land ruled in the case of Nix v. Hedden that the tomato was a vegetable, subject to vegetable import tariffs. Unfortunately, the vegetal confusion did not end in 1893. [...]









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  • November 24, 2011
  • 11:00 AM
  • 633 views

Chicken Soup for the Lonely Soul: Why Comfort Food Works

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

My grandmother was born in Sobrance, in what was then called Czechoslovakia on November 5, 1930. She grew up in ten kilometers away, in a small town called Nagy-Muzsaly. Her father’s family were landowners, something that was very rare for Jewish families at the time, and they used that land to produce wine. My grandmother’s [...]









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  • November 14, 2011
  • 10:00 AM
  • 586 views

If Chickens Like Consonant Music, Will They Hate B.B. King? That’s Not Even the Right Question to Ask

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Neuroscience Can’t Explain Wagner (or B.B. King) writes Christopher Shea on the Ideas Market blog at the Wall Street Journal, arguing against the claims that are made in my post from last week about day-old chickens preferring consonant music. I find two problems with his argument: the first concerning methodology, and the second concerning what [...]









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Chiandetti C, & Vallortigara G. (2011) Chicks like consonant music. Psychological science, 22(10), 1270-3. PMID: 21934134  

  • November 9, 2011
  • 10:00 AM
  • 721 views

Day Old Chickens Prefer The Same Music That You Do

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

You might have more in common with the chicken on your plate than you realize. Sure, you’ve also got two thighs, two legs, two breasts, and two wings (sort of). But new research suggests that chickens might like to rock out to the same tunes you’ve got on your iPod. The kinds of sounds that [...]









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Chiandetti C, & Vallortigara G. (2011) Chicks like consonant music. Psychological science, 22(10), 1270-3. PMID: 21934134  

  • October 31, 2011
  • 03:02 PM
  • 537 views

Real Life Werewolves? Dog Bites and Full Moons

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Happy Halloween! I decided to revise and repost this piece from November 1, 2010, on dog bites, full moons, and confirmation bias. Click the archives icon to see the original post. Our story begins in March 2000, when Dr. Simon Chapman and colleagues from the University of Sydney published a paper in which they assessed [...]









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Chapman S, & Morrell S. (2000) Barking mad? another lunatic hypothesis bites the dust. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 321(7276), 1561-3. PMID: 11124174  

  • August 25, 2011
  • 09:30 AM
  • 781 views

Four Loko Is Just Like The Copenhagen Philharmonic

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Four Loko was a fruit-flavored, caffeinated, alcoholic drink that was invented by three Ohio State University students in 2005. Following a series of accidents, injuries, and deaths on college campuses and elsewhere, most of the discussion about the harmful effects of the drink centered on the combination of caffeine and alcohol. “Some have claimed,” writes McMaster University psychologist Shepard Siegel in the latest issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, “that the st........ Read more »

  • August 18, 2011
  • 10:00 AM
  • 753 views

Mathematics, Cities, and Brains: What Can A Highway Engineer Learn From A Neuroscientist?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Lots of networks have been compared to urban systems. Remember when the internet was referred to as the information superhighway? And high school biology teachers have been comparing the workings of cells to city operations for decades. To what extent, though, might a brain be like a city?... Read more »

  • August 8, 2011
  • 10:00 AM
  • 709 views

Memory: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means. An Interview with Dan Simons.

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Do you believe that memory works sort of like a video camera, faithfully recording your experiences so that you can go back later and revisit those memories, captured in pristine condition? Do you believe that if something unexpected walked into your field of vision you’d notice? Can forgotten memories be recalled through hypnosis?... Read more »

  • August 3, 2011
  • 11:00 AM
  • 1,198 views

Humans Aren’t The Only Ones Who Need To Avoid The Heat: How Birds Avoid Scrambled Eggs

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

July was the hottest month ever recorded in Washington, D.C., in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and in Wichita Falls, Kansas, as measured by the National Weather Service. In fact, the NWS has issued an “excessive heat warning” for a huge swath of middle America extending from northwestern Illinois and central Iowa in the north to central Texas in the south. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn each year that people can easily become ill or even die from extreme heat: from 19........ Read more »

Monif AlRashidi, András Kosztolányi, Mohammed Shobrak, Clemens Küpper, & Tamás Székely. (2011) Parental cooperation in an extreme hot environment: natural behaviour and experimental evidence. Animal Behaviour, 235-243. info:/10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.04.019

  • July 12, 2011
  • 04:00 PM
  • 732 views

Rats, Bees, and Brains: The Death of the “Cognitive Map”

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Humans, just like all other animals, face the same problem every day: how do we get around the world? I don’t mean how do we walk, swim, crawl, or fly. I mean, how do we navigate? If I leave in search of food, how do I find my way back home? ... Read more »

Tolman, E. (1948) Cognitive maps in rats and men. Psychological Review, 55(4), 189-208. DOI: 10.1037/h0061626  

O'Keefe J, & Speakman A. (1987) Single unit activity in the rat hippocampus during a spatial memory task. Experimental brain research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Experimentation cerebrale, 68(1), 1-27. PMID: 3691688  

Simons, D., & Wang, R. (1998) Perceiving Real-World Viewpoint Changes. Psychological Science, 9(4), 315-320. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.00062  

  • June 23, 2011
  • 10:30 AM
  • 1,263 views

From the Archives: What Can 3D Movies Teach Us About How Ants Smell?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

A version of this post was originally published on my Wordpress blog on March 15, 2010. Click the archives image to see the original post.

Most animals, at some point in their day-to-day lives, face the same problem. After they've gone out in search of food, they need to find their way home. But some of the places like where various critters live lack any real visual landmarks, like the open ocean or wide expanses of desert. Instead of relying on vision, some animals have developed the ability ........ Read more »

  • June 16, 2011
  • 11:00 AM
  • 921 views

Fido Might Not Know What You Do and Do Not See

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal



You've probably had a conversation that goes something like this:
Person A: "My dog is sooooo amazing!"
You: "I mean, dogs are awesome and all, but what's so amazing about this particular dog?"
Person A: "He just understands me. It's like he knows what I'm thinking and what I need."
You: "Do you think he's just maybe responding contingently do your overt displays of emotion?"
Person A: "Listen, man, I'm telling you: my dog can read my mind!"

No matter on which side of this sort of argument yo........ Read more »

  • May 12, 2011
  • 11:30 AM
  • 1,486 views

Is Pedagogy Specific to Humans? Teaching in the Animal World

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Human infants have one important job during the first years of life, and that is to learn about the world and their culture from their parents and other caregivers. But what is learning? I've previously written that Hungarian developmental psychologists Gergely and Csibra have defined learning as the acquisition of new, generalizable knowledge that can later be used within a new context. Further, they have posited that evolution has prepared humans to learn generalizable knowledge from their car........ Read more »

Csibra G, & Gergely G. (2011) Natural pedagogy as evolutionary adaptation. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 366(1567), 1149-57. PMID: 21357237  

Csibra, G., & Gergely, G. (2009) Natural pedagogy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(4), 148-153. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.01.005  

  • May 9, 2011
  • 04:34 PM
  • 1,320 views

Feeling Down? Science Says Go Shopping (But Use Credit)

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

My latest piece for LAist just went up:

Retail therapy: It's the answer for almost any problem. Girlfriend broke up with you? Didn't get that promotion? Buy yourself something pretty. People like to shop, especially for high-status items, when they're feeling down. Decades of research has indicated that when a key feature of one's identity is threatened - such as by being passed over for a promotion or being dumped by a former lover - people turn to things. Possessions can allow us to signal ou........ Read more »

Nathan C. Pettit, & Niro Sivanathan. (2011) The Plastic Trap: Self-Threat Drives Credit Usage and Status Consumption . Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(2), 146-153. info:/10.1177/1948550610385138

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