Ernst Strüngmann Forum


Animal Thinking

Contemporary Issues in Comparative Cognition

Randolf Menzel and Julia Fischer, Chairpersons

September 26 – October 1, 2010

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Program Advisory Committee

Nicola Clayton, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EB, U.K.
Julia Fischer, Cognitive Ethology, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
Randolf Menzel, Institute for Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, Königin-Luise-Str. 28–30, 14195 Berlin, Germany
Sara Shettleworth, Dept. of Psychology and Ecology, University of Toronto, 100 St George St., Toronto, ON M5S 3G3, Canada


  • To assess the state of the art in comparative cognition by bringing together experts from comparative animal behavior, neuroscience, experimental psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science focusing on four specific areas:
    • navigation;
    • planning, memory and decision making;
    • communication; and
    • social knowledge
  • To clarify points of disagreement and progress within each area and to compare the structure of the problems and issues across areas.
  • To aim for comparison of species and areas, in search of common principles
  • To assess present experimental paradigms and propose new avenues for experimental research
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Group 1: Navigation

  • How do we investigate experimentally different mechanisms of navigation in animals?
  • What kinds of memory are involved in navigation?
  • How do animals integrate memories, collecting information from different domains?
  • What are the underlying neural mechanisms?
  • Do different species use different navigational strategies, and if so why?
  • What kinds of observation would provide evidence for cognitive maps?
  • Are there uniquely human navigational strategies?
  • Does navigation ever involve planning?
  • Are approaches applied to studying navigation paradigmatic for other areas of animal cognition?

Group 2: Planning, Memory, and Decision Making

  • How do animals remember the past?
  • How do we experimentally investigate what, if anything, animals know about the future?
  • Do they engage in mental time travel?
  • Is it useful to apply the notion of decision making to the behavior of animals, and if so, how do we find out about their decision making processes?
  • How do they integrate information from different domains and different times?
  • Do animals know what they remember, and how would we know that they do so?
  • Does tool use ever involve planning?
  • Does navigation ever involve planning?

Group 3: Communication

  • Where is the information in animal communication?
  • Are there parallels between communication and social learning?
  • Which role does communication play in group coordination?
  • What distinguishes animal communication from human language and why?
  • Animal signals: Motivational, referential, or neither?
  • Does communication differ across social systems and/or species and why?
  • How does communication affect social knowledge?

Group 4: Social Knowledge

  • What do different kinds of animals know about the relationships between others?
  • How can we conceptualize this knowledge?
  • What do they know about each other's intentions and motivations, and how do we know this?
  • What do they know about each other's knowledge and beliefs, and how do we know what they know?
  • How can we relate the findings to the Social Brain hypothesis?
  • What is the difference between social and physical cognition?
  • How does social knowledge affect communication?
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