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Infant cognition, Marine mammal cognition, Cognition paradigms, Dolphin cognition, Marine mammal behavior


Marine mammal behavior and cognition researchers often face a number of challenges, including the research subjects’ lack of interest and verbal abilities, as well as choosing a paradigm with appropriate stimuli for the subjects’ perceptual and cognitive abilities. Researchers who work with human infants often encounter similar challenges when studying infant cognition and have developed strategies to overcome these challenges, including using stimuli that capture the infants’ attention, determining what tasks are age-appropriate, and using conditioned responses to test discrimination abilities. This paper encourages marine mammal researchers to learn from the research paradigms and techniques used in human infant research and alter them appropriately for the intended study subjects. The conditioned head-turn response, Violation-of-Expectation paradigm, and the help/hinder paradigm have all been used in infant cognition research and show great promise for furthering the current understanding of marine mammal behavior and cognition. In addition, studying a subject’s spontaneous behavior can provide valuable insight in areas such as problem solving skills, creativity, and individual differences. Care must be taken to adapt the paradigms and use stimuli to fit each species’ perceptual abilities. For example, avoiding a task that requires color discrimination for species that do not possess color vision or using stimuli that fall within a particular species’ hearing range are necessary steps in designing an ecologically valid and informative study. Adapting paradigms previously used with human infants can help expand the current understanding of marine mammal communication, cognitive abilities, and social behavior.

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Kuczaj, S. A. II., & Lilley, M. K. (2016). Out of the mouth of babes: Lessons from research on human infants. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 3(4), 212–223. doi: 10.12966/abc.02.11.2016

Published under Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 3.0 license.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License