The role of natural history in animal cognition

Alex Thornton, Noa Truskanov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Animals’ cognitive processes are shaped by the challenges they face in their environments over developmental and evolutionary time, but cognitive studies are often disconnected from these challenges. Here, we argue that a failure to ground research in natural history can inadvertently misdirect research efforts and make results difficult to interpret. We highlight these potential pitfalls using a series of case studies and consider how field research, ecologically informed lab studies and formal theory can offer potential solutions. Animal cognition research is entering an exciting new phase, with technological advances providing opportunities to tackle previously intractable questions, both in the lab and in the wild, while mathematical models are increasingly helping to strengthen the field's theoretical foundations. Placing natural history at the centre of this work will be crucial to ensure that we capitalise on these advances to build a robust understanding of the proximate and ultimate basis of animal cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101154
JournalCurrent Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
StatePublished - Aug 2022


FundersFunder number
Leverhulme TrustRGP-2020-170
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen ForschungP400PB_194397/1


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