Syllabus for Theoretical Issues in Animal Cognition COGS Q700 / HPSC X755 Valid HTML 4.01! — version 2005-01-17
COGS Q700 / HPSC X755 — Theoretical Issues in Animal Cognition
Meeting time: W 4:00-6:30 Location: GB 107
Instructor: Colin Allen, PhD <>
Office / Telephone: Goodbody 113 / 855-8916
Office hours: Wed 2-4 and by appointment

Course Description
The study of animal cognition is a highly interdisciplinary subject to which psychologists, behavioral biologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have all made contributions. Practioners from these different fields bring varying presuppositions about the relative power of observation vs experiment, laboratory, vs field work, verbal vs non-verbal protocols, evolutionary vs. computational frameworks, and neurological vs. intentional approaches. The goal of this course is to examine current research in animal cognition along these dimensions with a view to understanding the relationship of animal cognition to cognitive science in general.

There is a large degree of overlap between the theoretical and methodological issues raised by animal cognition, and those confronted in the study of infant cognition. Yet there are also differences due to the incontrovertible fact that the cognitive abilities of infants are definitely a stage in the process leading to adult human cognition, whereas the relationship between animal cognition and adult human cognition is far less direct. Even those whose research interests fall squarely in adult human cognition can gain a novel perspective on the presuppositions underlying their methods and theories by considering the extent to which those methods and theories are applicable to nonhuman animals, and the extent to which the explicitly evolutionary context within which much animal cognition research takes place can or should be applied to studies of human cognition.

We will survey representative research on topics such as animal communication and deception, learning, memory and reasoning, tool use, self-recognition and self-conception, metacognition and theory of mind, pain and consciousness, altruism, morality, and animal culture. This will be a true seminar with students responsible for giving presentations of readings and leading discussions. Students will also be expected to carry out and present a research project appropriate to their own disciplinary backgrounds.

The text is listed as optional because manuscript versions of all chapters are available via this password protected link. (Optional text: Bekoff, M., Allen, C., and Burghardt, G.M. (2002) The Cognitive Animal: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives on Animal Cognition. MIT Press.)

Additional readings will be made available online. See schedule.

Grading Basis
Grades will be based on performance in the following four categories:

  1. In class presentation on topic selected from readings.
  2. In class presentation of research project / paper.
  3. Final paper, project report, or empirical research proposal, due Monday, May 2.
  4. Participation in class discussions.

See the schedule for presentation dates and topics.

Statement for Students with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact IU Disability Services for Students.

Statement about Scholastic Dishonesty
University rules concerning scholastic dishonesty will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part 3A for details.