Joshua M Plotnik's research while affiliated with CUNY Graduate Center and other places

Publications (42)

Article
While researchers interested in the evolution of human intelligence have traditionally focused on the psychology of other primates, a growing field aims to understand how similar cognitive abilities emerge in evolutionarily distant taxa. Here, we briefly review what we know, and why we do not know more, about the ‘mind’ of one such animal — the ele...
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Innovative problem solving is considered a hallmark measure of behavioral flexibility as it describes behavior by which an animal manipulates its environment in a novel way to reach a goal. Elephants are a highly social taxa that have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for adapting to changing environments. To understand how individual differences...
Article
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Elephants are well known for their socio-cognitive abilities and capacity for multi-modal sensory perception and communication. Their highly developed olfactory and acoustic senses provide them with a unique non-visual perspective of their physical and social worlds. The use of these complex sensory signals is important not only for communication b...
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Cooperation is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom as it aims to maximize benefits through joint action. Selection, however, may also favor competitive behaviors that could violate cooperation. How animals mitigate competition is hotly debated, with particular interest in primates and little attention paid thus far to nonprimates. Using a loose-string...
Preprint
Camera traps provide a virtual window into the natural world of wild animals, as they provide a noninvasive way to capture anatomical and behavioral information. Regular monitoring of wild populations through the collection of behavioral and demographic data is critical for the conservation of endangered species like the Asian elephant (Elephas max...
Preprint
Innovative problem solving is considered a hallmark measure of behavioral flexibility as it describes behavior by which an animal uses previous experience to manipulate its environment to reach a goal. Elephants are a highly social taxa known for their ability to adapt to volatile environments. While innovation has been observed in elephants, one q...
Article
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1. To be effective, the next generation of conservation practitioners and managers need to be critical thinkers with a deep understanding of how to make evidence-based decisions and of the value of evidence synthesis. 2. If, as educators, we do not make these priorities a core part of what we teach, we are failing to prepare our students to make an...
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1. To be effective, the next generation of conservation practitioners and managers need to be critical thinkers with a deep understanding of how to make evidence‐based decisions and of the value of evidence synthesis. 2. If, as educators, we do not make these priorities a core part of what we teach, we are failing to prepare our students to make an...
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Reputation is a key component in social interactions of group-living animals and appears to play a role in the establishment of cooperation. Animals can form a reputation of an individual by directly interacting with them or by observing them interact with a third party, i.e., eavesdropping. Elephants are an interesting taxon in which to investigat...
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We are currently witnessing a mass extinction event. In this context, behavior and cognition research can play a vital role in our efforts to conserve biodiversity. However, research on threatened species also poses additional challenges for maintaining rigorous reproducibility standards. We identify four main barriers to carrying out replication s...
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Pangolins are of conservation concern as one of the most heavily poached, yet least understood mammals. The Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) in particular is a critically endangered species. Here, we investigate the behaviour of these pangolins, for the first time, using a battery of cognitive tasks based on a manipulation of available sensory infor...
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The three living species of elephants (Elephas maximus, Loxodonta africana, L. cyclotis) have evolved adaptive, sensory perceptual abilities to successfully navigate the physical and social environments in which they live. In this article, we review research evaluating the sensory perception of elephants across four sensory modalities—vision, audit...
Article
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Asian elephants have previously demonstrated an ability to follow olfactory cues, but not human-provided social cues like pointing and gazing or orienting to find hidden food (Plotnik et al. in PLoS One 8:e61174, 2013; Anim Behav 88:91–98, 2014). In a study conducted with African elephants, however, elephants were able to follow a combination of th...
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Animals often face situations that require making decisions based on quantity. Many species, including humans, rely on an ability to differentiate between more and less to make judgments about social relationships, territories, and food. Habitat-related choices require animals to decide between areas with greater and lesser quantities of food while...
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Conflict between humans and wildlife is an increasing problem worldwide due to human population growth and habitat fragmentation, with growing interest amongst scientists and conservationists in developing novel solutions toward sustainable coexistence. Current efforts to mitigate human–wildlife conflict, however, are often unbalanced; they conside...
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The capacity to recognise oneself as separate from other individuals and objects is difficult to investigate in non-human animals. The hallmark empirical assessment, the mirror self-recognition test, focuses on an animal’s ability to recognise itself in a mirror and success has thus far been demonstrated in only a small number of species with a kee...
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Cognition presents evolutionary research with one of its greatest challenges. Cognitive evolution has been explained at the proximate level by shifts in absolute and relative brain volume and at the ultimate level by differences in social and dietary complexity. However, no study has integrated the experimental and phylogenetic approach at the scal...
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Contact directed by uninvolved bystanders toward others in distress, often termed consolation, is uncommon in the animal kingdom, thus far only demonstrated in the great apes, canines, and corvids. Whereas the typical agonistic context of such contact is relatively rare within natural elephant families, other causes of distress may trigger similar,...
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The two-way object choice paradigm has been used extensively in studies of animal cognition. The paradigm involves presenting two options, one rewarding and one nonrewarding, to a subject and allowing it to make a choice between the two, potentially by exploiting specific cues provided by the experimenter. Using the paradigm, we tested first whethe...
Article
Choice by exclusion involves selecting a rewarded stimulus by rejecting alternatives that are unlikely to be rewarded. It has been proposed that in corvids, exclusion is an adaptive specialization for caching that, together with object permanence and observational spatial memory, enhances a bird's ability to keep track of the contents of caches. Th...
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Recent research suggests that domesticated species - due to artificial selection by humans for specific, preferred behavioral traits - are better than wild animals at responding to visual cues given by humans about the location of hidden food. \Although this seems to be supported by studies on a range of domesticated (including dogs, goats and hors...
Article
Elephants are widely assumed to be among the most cognitively advanced animals, even though systematic evidence is lacking. This void in knowledge is mainly due to the danger and difficulty of submitting the largest land animal to behavioral experiments. In an attempt to change this situation, a classical 1930s cooperation paradigm commonly tested...
Article
The field of animal cognition has grown steadily for nearly four decades, but the primary focus has centered on easily kept lab animals of varying cognitive capacity, including rodents, birds and primates. Elephants (animals not easily kept in a laboratory) are generally thought of as highly social, cooperative, intelligent animals, yet few studies...
Article
Full-text available
Considered an indicator of self-awareness, mirror self-recognition (MSR) has long seemed limited to humans and apes. In both phylogeny and human ontogeny, MSR is thought to correlate with higher forms of empathy and altruistic behavior. Apart from humans and apes, dolphins and elephants are also known for such capacities. After the recent discovery...
Article
Evidence for a visual field advantage (VFA) in the face perception of chimpanzees was investigated using a modification of a free-vision task. Four of six chimpanzee subjects previously trained on a computer joystick match-to-sample paradigm were able to distinguish between images of neutral face chimeras consisting of two left sides (LL) or right...

Citations

... Both (particularly apes and elephants) have demonstrated a capacity for flexibility in cooperative interactions (e.g., [4][5][6][7][8]) and reassuring conspecifics in distress [9,10]. However, primates are primarily visual animals [11], while elephants prioritize olfactory and acoustic information [12][13][14]. These differences in sensory perspectives make it challenging to draw comparisons about animal intelligence and to study it directly, as research on these different species may require markedly different experimental approaches. ...
... Motivation is considered a strong component of innovation rates, where persistence is a measure of task-directed motivation engagement (Griffin and Guez 2014). Persistence may be measured as the time spent manipulating an experimental task, the duration of a visit to a task (Thornton and Samson 2012;Jacobson et al. 2021), or the number of attempts to solve a puzzle (Chow et al. 2016). Individuals that were more persistent had shorter latencies to solve a task in meerkats (Suricata suriccata) (Thornton and Samson 2012), lions (Borrego and Gaines 2016), and gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) (Chow et al. 2016). ...
... In the current study, we investigated innovative problem solving (hereafter "innovation") as well as its associated behavioral traits in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Asian elephants have large brains relative to what is expected in mammalian species based on body mass (Shoshani et al. 2006), live in complex fission-fusion societies (de Silva et al. 2011), have demonstrated high levels of social behavioral flexibility through cooperation and consolation (Vidya and Sukumar 2005;Plotnik et al. 2011;Plotnik and de Waal 2014;Li et al. 2021), and are capable of flexible decision making (Plotnik et al. 2019;Barrett and Benson-Amram 2020). Based on these observations in captivity and the wild, we believe elephants make strong candidates for examining innovation experimentally. ...
... We have already begun to investigate innovative problem solving in wild elephants using steel multi-access boxes (after [20], and similar to those discussed in Ref. [69] in the current issue) installed in a number of protected and human-disturbed areas, and have found that more than 50 individuals have interacted with or solved the boxes (Figure 3), with possible variation in success, in solving strategy, and between locations (Jacobson et al., unpublished data). In order to collect behavioral and cognitive data remotely, we have expanded existing methodologies for identifying elephants from photographs to include the use of remote camera traps set to record videos [70]. The elephants' engagement with our puzzle boxes and our ability to record them using remote monitoring in their natural habitat is promising for future cognitive studies with wild elephants as it demonstrates that elephants will interact with novel apparatuses absent human intervention and can be recorded doing so. ...
... A common feature uniting the examples above, and simultaneously making a strong case for their integration across rescue-rehab-release, conservation breeding, and headstarting, is small sample size and species specificity (Shaw et al., 2021;Cope et al., 2022). The fragmented and separated nature of translocation programs (i.e., welfare vs. conservation organizations) exacerbate this challenge. ...
... More diverse teaching, with a focus on alternative knowledge systems and approaches from other disciplines, could therefore help to move beyond the traditional conservation model, and start to break down the colonial influence and uneven power dynamics that remain prevalent in many parts of the world (Downey et al., 2021). This does not mean forsaking the science and conservation expertise developed over centuries, but it requires the integration of diverse knowledge into the foundations of a fairer and more equitable field. ...
... Perhaps the elephants tested here were not relying on visual cues. It has been suggested that elephants rely on vision less than on other sensory modalities, because the occipital lobe is less developed than other parts of the brain associated with olfactory and auditory perception (discussed in Jacobson and Plotnik 2020). It is also possible we did not have enough statistical power to detect a difference in performance by Condition, or that the elephants were using a different cue besides visual cues (i.e., olfactory cues, which were present in both conditions). ...
... The time spent in literature search should be minimized considering the rapid pace of environmental degradation and an urgent need to react quickly (Xu et al., 2022). Specialized platforms (Livoreil et al., 2017;Sutherland et al., 2019;Downey et al., 2021), systematic reviews and meta-analyses (Moreira-Arce et al., 2018;Torres et al., 2018;van Eeden et al., 2018;Lozano et al., 2019;Khorozyan, 2022), and evidence prioritization (Malmer et al., 2020) boost the efficient search of the literature on conservation interventions. ...
... The experiment consisted of four sessions (described below) and generally followed that of Jim et al. [40]. We conducted sessions on separate days with a break of 2 days minimum between each session, but due to unavoidable logistical problems, some animals experienced Sessions 1 and 2 on the same day and Sessions 3 and 4 on the same day with a 2-hour break between sessions and a break of 6 days between the two testing days (see Fig 2 for an overview of the full procedure). ...
... Scientists have been able to study a larger number of species in part out of necessity as there are fewer opportunities for prolonged studies of laboratory animals that characterized work in the last century. Research has moved out of the lab and into other settings, allowing access to previously understudied species, such as carnivores (Vonk & Leete, 2017) and pangolins (DiPaola et al., 2020). This movement from the lab to zoological facilities and field sites has removed some of the capacity for control that was evidenced in work like Povinelli's, but it will open the door to understanding the diversity of species and the perceptual and cognitive processes that characterize and enable them to solve the challenges relevant to their own environmental niches. ...