To gain a better understanding of the evolution of animal cognition, it is necessary to test and compare the cognitive abilities of a broad array of taxa. Meaningful inter-species comparisons are best achieved by employing universal paradigms that standardize testing among species. Many cognitive paradigms, however, have been tested in only a few taxa, mostly birds and primates. One such example, known as the Aesop’s Fable paradigm, is designed to assess causal understanding in animals using water displacement. To evaluate the universal effectiveness of the Aesop’s Fable paradigm, we applied this paradigm to a previously untested taxon, the raccoon (Procyon lotor). We first trained captive raccoons to drop stones into a tube of water to retrieve a floating food reward. Next, we presented successful raccoons with objects that differed in the amount of water they displaced to determine whether raccoons could select the most functional option. Raccoons performed differently than corvids and human children did in previous studies of Aesop’s Fable, and we found raccoons to be innovative in many aspects of this task. We suggest that raccoon performance in this paradigm reflected differences in tangential factors, such as behavior, morphology, and testing procedures, rather than cognitive deficiencies. We also present insight into previously undocumented challenges that should better inform future Aesop’s Fable studies incorporating more diverse taxa.
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We thank the National Wildlife Research Center’s animal care managers and staff for their assistance with this research, and Brett Jesmer for his assistance with analyses. We also thank Kyle Stickelman and the Arts and Sciences Division of Research Support at the University of Wyoming (UW) for their help with the design and construction of our Aesop’s Fable apparatus. This study was partially funded by the UW Department of Zoology and Physiology L. Floyd Clarke Graduate Scholar Award to L.S.
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All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
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Stanton, L., Davis, E., Johnson, S. et al. Adaptation of the Aesop’s Fable paradigm for use with raccoons (Procyon lotor): considerations for future application in non-avian and non-primate species. Anim Cogn 20, 1147–1152 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-017-1129-z
- Causal understanding
- Tool use
- Choice task
- Problem solving