David Smith, Ph.D., a comparative psychologist at the University at Buffalo who has conducted extensive studies in animal cognition, says there is growing evidence that animals share functional parallels with human conscious metacognition — that is, they may share humans’ ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind.
Smith makes this conclusion in an article published the September issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Science (Volume 13, Issue 9). He reviews this new and rapidly developing area of comparative inquiry, describing its milestones and its prospects for continued progress.
He says “comparative psychologists have studied the question of whether or not non-human animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states by testing a dolphin, pigeons, rats, monkeys and apes using perception, memory and food-concealment paradigms.
“The field offers growing evidence that some animals have functional parallels to humans’ consciousness and to humans’ cognitive self-awareness,” he says. Among these species are dolphins and macaque monkeys (an Old World monkey species).
Smith recounts the original animal-metacognition experiment with Natua the dolphin. “When uncertain, the dolphin clearly hesitated and wavered between his two possible responses,” he says, “but when certain, he swam toward his chosen response so fast that his bow wave would soak the researchers’ electronic switches.
“In sharp contrast,” he says, “pigeons in several studies have so far not expressed any capacity for metacognition. In addition, several converging studies now show that capuchin monkeys barely express a capacity for metacognition.
“This last result,” Smith says, “raises important questions about the emergence of reflective or extended mind in the primate order.
“This research area opens a new window on reflective mind in animals, illuminating its phylogenetic emergence and allowing researchers to trace the antecedents of human consciousness.”