Proximate causes of cognition

Erica N. Feuerbacher, Alexandra Protopopova

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Research in the cognitive abilities of animals spans a vast array of species from invertebrates to primates, as well as cognitive domains, including social cognition, object permanence, fairness, and cognitive biases. Whereas ultimate causes are often explored and investigated in detail, proximate causes, such as learning effects, are often neglected in comparative cognition research. In this chapter we explore proximate mechanisms that unite these various cognitive abilities. This approach does not seek to reduce the value of cognitive research, but instead, encourages a more holistic, parsimonious, rigorous, and richer understanding of why and how animals behave. As a case study, we will examine recent research on cognitive abilities of the domestic dog, analyzing an array of cognitive domains for mechanisms that unite them. For example, we will describe proximate mechanisms that may be involved in recent intriguing findings in dog cognition research, including that dogs display fairness, guilt, optimism, recognize human emotion, eavesdrop, and are able to take another’s perspective. We will then bring research from various fields, such as neuroscience and learning psychology, to uncover the proximate mechanisms that underlie these complex cognitive abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnimal Cognition
Subtitle of host publicationPrinciples, Evolution and Development
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781634853835
ISBN (Print)9781634853637
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Animal cognition
  • Behavioral principles
  • Dog cognition
  • Domestic dog
  • Proximate mechanisms

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