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Understanding Evolutionary Theory in the Context of Animal Minds

Evolutionary theory refers to the ontogenetic, social and phylogenetic developmental trajectory of species as a mechanism for adaptation and survival. (Hewson et al., 2015, p. 67-68). Comparative psychology draws pathological and behavioural associations between human and nonhuman animals, including how evolution occurs interspecies through the use of tools. For instance, Taylor has been investigating the intelligence of birds (The Open University, 2019b). He built a complex puzzle apparatus which required eight steps to solve, and he demonstrated how a New Caledonian crow named 007 was able to quickly solve it to get the food reward. The bird had to be trained first to use each of the individual components of the apparatus (The Open University, 2019a). This shows that birds can enhance their sophisticated, transferable, problem solving skills through the use of tools.  Furthermore, when it comes to understanding cooperation as an evolutionary trait, Professor de Waal (The Open University, 2019d) explained how animals help each other in complex ways. Two monkeys were put through extremely stressful tasks for research purposes in which one of them was privileged in terms of food, and the other was not. This food competition paradigm (The Open University, 2019e) can be considered a form of monkey-economy based on inequality. Brosnan and De Waal (2003, p. 297) called their distressed, responsive behaviour an “aversion to inequity”. All this corroborates Panksepp’s theory (The Open University, 2019c) of the seven primary emotions among which empathy is included. Whilst chimpanzees might be able to understand perception and knowledge in conspecifics; they cannot, however, understand when another individual is misinformed (i.e. when someone has a false belief; Hewson et al., 2015, pp.96-98; The Open University, 2019e).   

References

Brosnan, S.F. and De Waal, F.B.M. (2003) ‘Monkeys reject unequal pay’, Nature. Nature Publishing Group, 425(6955), pp. 297–299. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_nature_a10.1038/nature01963 (Accessed 11 October 2019).

Hewson, C., Ramsden P., and Turner, J.  (2015) ‘Animal minds’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P.  (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 63-99.

The Open University (2019a) ‘Alex Taylor explains the problem-solving task for crows’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467709&section=5.2 (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019b) ‘Chris Packham and The New Caledonian crow puzzle’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467709&section=5.1  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019c) ‘Jaak Panksepp at the TEDx Rainier conference’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467709&section=4.2  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019d) ‘TEDx Talk: Professor Frans de Waal’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467709&section=5.3  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019e) ‘3.6 Animals’ understanding of false belief’, DD210-19J Week 3: Animal minds [Online]. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467709&section=6.2  (Accessed 11 October 2019).