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Michigan State UniversityCognitive Science Program

The evolution of intelligence in mammalian carnivores

Dr. Kay Holekamp, Michigan State University

Monday, October 9 at 5:30 p.m., 118 Psychology


Intelligence should evolve to help animals solve problems posed by the environment, but it remains unclear how environmental complexity or novelty facilitates evolutionary enhancement of cognition, or whether domain-general intelligence evolves in response to domain-specific selection pressures. The social complexity hypothesis, which posits that intelligence evolved to cope with the labile behavior of group-mates, has been strongly supported by work on the socio-cognitive abilities of primates and other animals. I review the remarkable convergence in social complexity between old-world primates and spotted hyenas, and describe our tests of the social complexity hypothesis in regard to both cognition and brain size in hyenas. Behavioral and morphological data indicate remarkable convergence between primates and hyenas with respect to their abilities in the domain of social cognition. However, social complexity failed to predict either brain volume or frontal cortex volume in a larger array of mammalian carnivores. To inquire whether social complexity can explain the evolution of domain-general intelligence, we presented simple puzzles to members of 39 zoo-housed carnivore species, and found that species with larger relative brain size were better at solving the problem. However, social complexity failed to predict success in this task. Although social complexity appears to enhance social cognition, there are no clear causal links between social complexity and either brain size or performance in problem-solving tasks outside the social domain in mammalian carnivores.

Suggested Reading

Holekamp, K. E. & Benson-Amram, S. (2017). The evolution of intelligence in mammalian carnivores. Interface Focus, 7, 1-10. [pdf]

Benson-Amram, S., Dantzer, B., Stricker, G., Swanson, E. M., Holekamp, K. E. (2016). Brain size predicts problem-solving ability in mammilian carnivores. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(9), 2532-2537. [pdf]

MSU CogSci in the News and Announcements

Prof. Arun Ross was one of four panelists in a BBC Newshour Extra program titled Facing the Future, moderated by journalist Owen Bennet Jones. The panel discussed advancements made from automated face recognition and also personal privacy and biometrics. [link]

Prof. William Hartmann was awarded the 2017 Acoustical Society of America (ASA) Gold Medal for his contributions to the field of acoustics. His research has dealt with the perceptual analysis of sounds from varying sources, processing pitch, how humans localize sounds in space, and more. [link]

Profs. Devin McAuley and Natalie Phillips received an NSF Grant, The Role of Narrative in Music Perception, to study the factors which shape narrative listening to music and the relationship between narrative listening and other aspects of musical perception. [link]

Prof. Arun Ross and his colleague from NYU have had their research on the security of mobile fingerprint scanning featured in The New York Times, MSU Today, Popular Science, Homeland Security News Wire, and Science 360 News.

Professors Arun Ross, Xiaoming Liu, and Anil Jain received a 4-year grant from IARPA to conduct research on Presentation Attack Detection for fingerprint, face and iris biometric systems. [link]

CSE student Thomas Swearingen and his adviser Prof. Arun Ross won the runner up award for best paper at ISBA 2017. [link]

Research on laptop use and classroom learning by Prof. Susan Ravizza, Mitchell Uitvlugt, and Prof. Kim Fenn was featured in US News, BYU Radio, The Conversation, and numerous higher education journals [1, 2, 3, 4].

Prof. Cristina Schmitt received an NSF Grant, Effects of Variation and Variability in the Acquisition of Two Dialects of Spanish, to study first language acquisition of Spanish in the context of variability caused by contact between two very different varieties of Spanish: Paraguayan Spanish, which is heavily influenced by Guaraní (an indigenous language), and Rioplatense Spanish (spoken in Buenos Aires). [link]

Prof. Aline Godfroid received a Language Learning Early Career Research Grant for her validation project on "Measuring implicit and explicit L2 knowledge: Synthesizing 12 years of research."

Prof. Mark Becker has published five papers so far this year in Perception,Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance,Packaging Technology and Science,Visual Cognition, and Applied Ergonomics.

Sunpreet Arora and Anil Jain were part of a team that won Best Paper at BioSig 2016 for their paper titled "3D Whole Hand Targets: Evaluating Slap and Contactless Fingerprint Readers".

Dr. Anil Jain was part of a team that won Best Poster at BioSig 2016 for a poster titled "Advances in Capturing Child Fingerprints: A High Resolution CMOS Image Sensor with SLDR Method".

Dr. Anil Jain and Dr. Arun Ross were awarded a three-year NSF grant under the Secure & Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program for their proposal entitled "Imparting Privacy to Biometric Data in Cyberspace".

Dr. Arun Ross (with Dr. Nasir Memon, NYU) was awarded a three-year NSF grant for their project entitled "The Master Print: Investigating and Addressing Vulnerabilities in Fingerprint-based Authentication Systems".

Science writer Carl Sherman's story on stuttering for the Dana Foundation website, titled Seeking Clues to Stuttering Deep Within the Brain, featured research by Prof. Devin McAuley.

Summer 2016
Dr. Mark Becker was invited by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to present his work investigating individual differences in cognition and personality that predict rare target detection at their Workshop on Developing Personnel Selection Tools for Forensic Scientists.

Summer 2016
Prof. Mark Reimers and colleague Bruce McNaughton received an NSF grant to study the dynamics of hippocampal-cortical communication during memory formation and recall.

Summer 2016
Prof. Susan Ravizza became a senior editor for the journal Brain Research.

Summer 2016
Prof. Mark Reimers received a Templeton Foundation grant to study the molecular coherence of genetic variants related to behavioral traits, including IQ.

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