Daily Archives: August 13, 2012

Cognition among humans and other animals

Researchers did an interesting experiment comparing how crows and children problem solve.

The main difference between the birds and the children, Gopnik says, is that members of the crow family “have sophisticated but specific knowledge about how physical causal relationships work in the world,” whereas children “seem to have broader and more wide-ranging causal learning abilities.”

Mountain gorillas demonstrate all sorts of advanced cognitive abilities through their ability to identify and disable snares.  The snares are set for smaller animals but can catch young gorillas and cause serious injury.  The way these gorillas act may be indicators of not just forethought and planning but also empathy.

Speaking of primates, Scientific American takes a stab at explaining gun violence through the lens of primate behavior.

However, social capital …by itself, accounted for 82% of homicides and 61% of assaults. Other factors such as unemployment, poverty, or number of high school graduates were only weakly associated and alcohol consumption had no connection to violent crime at all.

In short, some primates have been identified to have groups of ‘high-reactors’.  These primates tend to be very aggressive and be hyper-aware to threats.  These primates can terrorize the primate groups they are a part of, ruling the group through violence.

In a unique natural experiment a group of baboons known as Forest Troop began feeding at the contaminated dump site of a Western safari lodge. As had occurred elsewhere, the largest and most aggressive males dominated the food source. But this time their despotic behavior resulted in untimely death after they all contracted tuberculosis. In the intervening years Forest Troop developed a culture in which cooperation was rewarded more than aggression and adolescent males who migrated into the troop adopted this culture themselves. Remarkably, the level of stress and stress-related behaviors in low-ranking males were dramatically reduced after the outbreak (and remained significantly lower than the nearby Talek Troop that retained its most aggressive males).

The author recommends embarking on a program of increasing social interaction through multiple means could be one way of strengthening bonds among people and thereby reducing violence.

I suppose, however, using the example of the Forest Troop the other way would be through identifying those ‘high reactor’ types and eliminating them.  How would we do that?  Well, John Carpenter had one idea