Cognitive ethology, vigilance, information gathering, and representation: Who might know what and why?
Cognitive ethology, a relatively new interdisciplinary and integrative science, is under attack with respect to its scientific status. However, there also are strong supporters of research in this area. In this paper I consider (1) some of the topics in which cognitive ethologists are interested, (2) possible connections between cognitive analyses of social behavior and philosophical concepts including intentionality and representation, (3) recent work on vigilance or scanning behavior in highly social birds, Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus), that benefits from taking a cognitive perspective, and (4) what may be gained by taking a cognitive approach to the study of social behavior and what may be lost by not doing so. My study of vigilance indicates that the way in which individuals are positioned with respect to one another influences their behavior, and that when a flock contains four or more birds there are large changes in scanning and other patterns of behavior that may be related to how grosbeaks attempt to gather information about other flock members. When birds are arranged in a circular array so that they can see one another easily compared to when they are arranged in a line that makes visual monitoring of flock members more difficult, birds who have difficulty seeing one another are (i) more vigilant, (ii) change their head and body positions more often, (iii) react to changes in group size more slowly, (iv) show less coordination in head movements, and (v) show more variability in all measures. These differences in behavior argue against the pooling of data collected on individuals feeding in different geometric arrays. The variations in behavior also may say something about if and how individuals attempt visually to represent their group to themselves--how they form, store, and use records of the behavior of others to inform their own future behavior.
Bekoff, M. (1995). Cognitive ethology, vigilance, information gathering, and representation: Who might know what and why?. Behavioural Processes, 35(1-3), 225-237.