Self-Reflective Mind: Psychologists Report on Continuing Advances in Animals

Patricia Donovan
PhysOrg

According to one of the leading scholars in the field, there is an emerging consensus among scientists that animals share functional parallels with humans’ conscious metacognition — that is, our ability to reflect on our own mental processes and guide and optimize them.

In two new contributions to this influential field of comparative psychology, David Smith, PhD, of the University at Buffalo and his fellow researchers report on continuing advances in this domain.

Smith is a professor in the Department of Psychology at UB, and a member of the university’s graduate program in evolution, ecology and behavior and its Center for Cognitive Science. His co-authors on the articles are Justin J. Couchman, PhD, visiting assistant professor of psychology, State University of New York at Fredonia, and Michael J. Beran, PhD, senior research scientist, Language Research Center, Georgia State University.


  • In “The Highs and Lows of Theoretical Interpretation in Animal-Metacognition Research,” in press at the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Smith, Couchman and Beran examine the theoretical and philosophical problems associated with the attribution of self-reflective, conscious mind to nonverbal animals.

    Philosophical Transactions is a highly visible journal in the biological sciences and one of the oldest scientific journals published in English.

    “The possibility of animal metacognition has become one of the research focal points in comparative psychology today,” Smith says, “but, of course, this possibility poses difficult issues of scientific interpretation and inference.” In this article, they evaluate the standards that science brings to making difficult interpretations about animal minds, describing how standards have been applied historically and as they perhaps should be applied. The article concludes that macaques do show uncertainty-monitoring capacities that are similar to those in humans.

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