How Do Dolphins Solve Problems?

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Book Chapter

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Some animals appear to engage in purposeful problem solving. Trial-and-error learning and conscious reflection appear to lie at opposite ends of the problem-solving spectrum. The distinction between trial-and-error learning and the sorts of reflection involved in planning and insight is important in the history of the comparative study of problem solving. This chapter explores the problem-solving capabilities of bottlenose dolphins. Dolphins possess relatively large brains and have demonstrated a variety of cognitive abilities. However, relatively little is known about the manner in which dolphins solve problems. The chapter first considers two cases (dolphin "syntax" and dolphin "pointing") in which dolphins derive strategies in response to problems posed to them by humans. It then summarizes a series of studies designed to assess the ability of dolphins to plan their behavior when confronted with novel problems. It also presents recent findings on dolphin play and considers the role of play in the emergence of problem-solving skills.

Publication Title

Comparative Cognition: Experimental Explorations of Animal Intelligence

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