Joshua Plotnik: An elephant study in convergent cognitive evolution and conservation

Hunter College - Hunter College, City University of New York

Historically, psychologists interested in understanding the evolution of human behavior and asking questions about divergent cognitive evolution looked to our closest living relatives, the great apes and other nonhuman primates, for answers. However, a relatively new field suggests that convergent cognitive evolution – the emergence of similar physical and socio-cognitive traits in distantly related taxa such as primates, cetaceans, corvids and elephants – may also provide answers about the environmental pressures influencing the emergence of behavioral and cognitive flexibility in a wide range of species. In this talk, I will highlight my own work over the past 19 years studying the cognition of the Asian elephant, a fission-fusion, matriarchal, highly social animal with a capacity for innovative problem-solving, flexible cooperation, and multi-modal sensory discrimination. I will discuss the importance of identifying the common environmental pressures influencing the evolution of intelligence across species, as well as how my team’s current work aims to apply the study of individual variation in elephant behavior and cognition to conservation efforts aimed at protecting the Asian elephant from a rapidly approaching extinction.


Guests are welcome!


Organized by

Michael Brecht / Margret Franke

Location: BCCN Berlin, lecture hall, Philippstr. 13 Haus 6, 10115 Berlin

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