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An Introduction to Animal Cognition. By John M. Pearce. Hillsdale, New Jersey:
Lawrence Erlbaum (1988). Pp. viii+328. Price £8.95 paperback.
For a number of years, psychologists who conduct experiments with laboratory animals
on such topics as conditioning, maze learning and perceptual discrimination have been
interpreting their results in terms of cognitive processes which are more elaborate than
reflexive associations. Although there have been useful collections of chapters to mark the
trend, such as Roitblat et al (1984) and Weiskrantz (1985), a coherent summary of it in an
undergraduate textbook would be valuable. Pearce has attempted to provide this by
organizing his book around the subsidiary theme of evaluating the relative intelligence of
different species. This is a topic fraught with difficulties. Macphail (1982, 1987) has
proposed that all non-human vertebrates are equally stupid, but has yet to convince many
commentators that this is a constructive position to take. Pearce's equivocation in his
treatment of Macphail's Null Hypothesis supports one's suspicions that a global notion of
intelligence is not likely to be helpful in the examination of the information-processing
capacities of animal species, but the issue may serve the purpose of engaging the attention of
student readers.
The substance of the book begins with Chapter 2 on The Representation of Stimuli .
Internal representations are said to be the fundamental units of animal cognition. This is an
accurate reflection of contemporary wisdom, although introducing the concept by reference
to experiments on Paramecia and using representation and memory interchangeably may not
be the best preparation for the very brief discussion on the neural coding of stored
information later in the chapter. A separate chapter on memory ends with the conclusion that
there is a striking similarity between the memory processes of different species and the
chapter on associative learning concludes with references to studies of Pavlovian
conditioning in Paramecia and Limax, but with the examination of experiments on selective
attention Pearce begins to entertain the possibility of demonstrable species differences in
cognitive capacities. Instrumental conditioning is analysed under the heading of The
Translation of Knowledge into Action , and there are further chapters on Problem Solving
and Reasoning and Communication and Language in which Premack's speculation that
primates form more abstract representations than other mammals is considered and an
appropriate variety of complex training experiments with chimpanzees is described. On the
basis of the evidence from chimpanzees, Pearce suggests that there are reasonable grounds
for believing the some animals possess at least the fundamental thought processes necessary
for language comprehension and production (p. 283). It is no surprise therefore, when, in
the final chapter on the distribution of intelligence, Pearce expresses reservations about the
Null Hypothesis for species differences in cognition.
Although in these final pages Pearce refers to the possibility that the cognitive
characteristics of a given species may be influenced by the demands of the ecological niche it
occupies, readers of this journal should be warned that he virtually ignores the ethological
questions of evolution, development and function — Lorenz, Maynard Smith and Krebs for
instance are noticeably absent, and though there are references to homing there is little on
reproduction and social behaviour and nothing on optimal foraging. However, the book is
written in a clear and straightforward style, and is well illustrated with figures and linedrawings. It may therefore be recommended as an introductory survey for the material it
Stephen Walker
Department of Psychology
Centre for Life Sciences
Birkbeck College
Malet St London WC1E 7HX
Macphail, E.M. (1982). Brain and Intelligence in Vertebrates. Clarendon Press:
Macphail, E.M. (1987). The comparative psychology of intelligence. Behavioural and
Brain Sciences, 10, 645-695.
Roitblat, H.L., Bever, T.G. and Terrace, H.S. (eds.) (1984). Animal Cognition.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: London.
Weiskrantz, L. (1985) Animal Intelligence. Clarendon Press: Oxford.